Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Spread Your Wings Tour at Ohakea

We had been looking forward to our Probus group trip to RNZAF Base Ohakea, and about 50 happy souls boarded the bus bright and early in the morning.  Security was strict and we were accompanied on our tour by the smartly dressed pair, Rowena and Kenny, who boarded our bus at the gate.  Photos were not allowed to be taken unless express permission had been given, we were told.  It was lucky I had taken a quick snap through the  bus window before our minders climbed aboard. 

PB030057 Arriving at Ohakea

RNZAF Base Ohakea, located 22km West of Palmerston North, is a very busy place with several major building projects taking part over the last few years.   It opened in September 1939 as one of two operational bases for New Zealand’s new bomber aircraft. Today RNZAF Base Ohakea has over 1,000 staff and maintains its key role as a training base and logistics hub as well as for search and rescue, VIP flight operations and a variety of other functions.

Our group was ushered into the two year old Maintenance Support building, with the first stop being the parachute area.  There is a 23m tower attached which houses one of the largest parachute washing and drying facilities to be built in New Zealand to handle the cargo parachutes used in the air-dropping of supplies.  The staff pack and maintain parachutes for personnel as well as the large chutes used for dropping heavy freight. 

PB030059 Inside the parachute area

Next we visited the Composite area, where all manner of things using composite materials are repaired, replaced, or made to order using moulds.  Work was also undertaken for the NZ Army, such as practice mortars and land mines, and they also make heavy armoured slabs to protect the LAV111 (light armoured vehicle) from bomb, mine or mortar attack.

PB038493 Examples of some of the work undertaken in this area

PB030062 The helicopter under wraps was getting a proto-type composite step made and fitted

We boarded the bus again and were taken to see two enthusiastic young people of the 209 Expeditionary Support team, the group who provides force protection of assets, personnel, and undertakes security patrols.  They explained the training involved, and the special equipment used in case of chemical attack, and demonstrated some self defence moves. 

PB030065 Ready to protect the base

The Sir Richard Bolt Terminal, (Air Movements Terminal) is practically brand new and was only finished in May this year.  The job here is to “facilitate movement of personnel and freight out of the country and return”.  Staff are currently working with the Army on training exercises.  The airstrip and facilities can be used for Air NZ commercial flights in emergencies if needed.  We watched through the doors as the heavy C130 Hercules plane fired up its propellers one by one as it was readied for its flight to New Plymouth.

PB038496 C130 Hercules getting ready for take-off

Lunch at the Officers Mess was a little disappointing for me.  Don’t get me wrong – there was nothing wrong with the self service food and drinks.  But I had visions of starched white tablecloths, waiters, and officers in dress uniforms.  It just goes to show how little I know about life on base. 

Our last visit of the day was to the pretty little Memorial Church, the Chapel of St Mark.  Built in 1873, the building started life as St Mary’s Catholic Church in Bulls.  After lying empty for some years, it was moved to Ohakea in 1989, restored, repaired and given a new lease of life.

PB030071 Chapel of St Mark

Padre Janie McPhee told us the history of these lovely building, and explained the stories behind the stained glass windows.  The large Memorial Window, designed by Levin identity June Gillies,  glowed with light and colour – a memorial to those who served, and those who died.

PB038505Memorial window

The one original window in the church was a complete surprise, as nobody knew it was there.  The window was boarded up when the church arrived from Bulls, and was not found until renovations were underway. 
PB038506  Only original window in the church

Our tour was at an end, and just before we boarded the bus for our return journey home, there was time for a group photo taken by the official Probus photographer on her big flash camera, and I cheekily asked if she could take one on my little point and shoot camera too.

PB030078 Ready for home

It was a very enjoyable trip, and nice to hear some of the older men reminiscing about their earlier lives as military personnel during the war. 

1 comment:

fabriquefantastique said...

i am still following your travels and looking forward to my trip to NZ in January/Feb. My sister from England will join us this year as they want to take in some cricket.