Omarama, New Zealand. 14 November 2009
The first thing you see when entering the township of Omarama is a wooden sign that reads, "OMARAMA: PLACE OF LIGHT." This morning, from a rusty weed-tickled bleacher stand, I counted nearly 50 sailplane trailers lining a field south of the town's airstrip. It is the South Island Regional Gliding Championships, and pilots here are rewarded for cloud-hunting. From my spot on the edge of town, I noticed more than a few lenticulars squirming above the mountains.
Omarama, as far as I can tell, spans an area slightly smaller than Sewanee's central campus. It's a handful of establishments dribbled around a T-junction of highways. A couple petrol pumps, a police station, general store, and two of the most active gliding clubs in this hemisphere.
As the day wore on, I watched 28 gliders evaporate from the airstrip and materialize on Nursery Ridge. They had some help: a couple '70-something Piper Pawnees and a Supercub from the previous decade. The Pawnees were painted red and white, and looked like clowns that someone clapped in the head with a pair of cymbals. Their task for the day involved caressing the neck of Mt. Aspiring, among others in the area. All of this flying makes me think that they got the spacing wrong in their welcome sign. Just bump the F forward, and you've got a proper welcome to Omarama...