50 Years of Free Flight in New Zealand!

The NZHGPA turned 50 on 26 October 2023 and we celebrated our first 50 years of free flying in New Zealand with a number of events in Wellington over the weekend.  

It was an amazing weekend of catching up with new and old friends, a photo exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts, and a lunch at The Wellington Club.

Read on for information about free flying in New Zealand and more information about our celebratory events

Listen here to Wellington pilot Grant Firth who was interviewed by Radio New Zealand on 6 October 2023, about hang gliding and paragliding in New Zealand and the upcoming anniversary celebrations!

Free Flying in New Zealand

Free flying is primarily about human-powered flying; flying like a bird with no noise or environmental impact, just using the power of the sun and wind to soar through the sky.

Hang gliding, the original form of free flight, started in New Zealand in the late 1960s, with paragliding arriving in the mid-1980s. 

Free flight first caught the public eye in 1977 with the Oscar-nominated documentary, Off the Edge. This classic documentary follows two outdoors enthusiasts as they pioneer hang gliding around the mountains and glaciers of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, on a climbing, skiing and flying adventure. 

The New Zealand Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (NZHGPA) was set up as an incorporated society for hang gliders on 26 October 1973 and evolved to include paragliders on 16 August 1994. Over the years, the NZHGPA has trained around 17,000 pilots and hosted over 10,000 visiting pilots from around the world. Hundreds of thousands of tourists have also enjoyed tandem flying experiences!

NZHGPA’s 11 regional clubs host local competitions each year leading up to the NZHGPA annual national hang gliding and paragliding competitions. New disciplines like acrobatics, climb or hike and fly, and speed riding, have also been introduced to New Zealand’s Southern Alps and beyond.

 On 22 August 2023, NZHGPA was presented with prestigious FAI World Sport Medal and Diploma Award for 50 years of outstanding service to free flight, by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale – World Air Sports Federation (FAI). 

This is believed to be the first time a group rather than an individual have received the award for outstanding service.

Photos Through the Years

Click the image for full photo.