Gisborne Airport is as unique as it is beautiful. Set in the fertile plains on the outskirts of the city, with the sea on one side and hills on the other, it’s a scenic way to arrive in the region.
It also happens to be one of the very few airports in the world with a railway line running right through it.
On the evening of Saturday 25th February, the scene at the airport was even more unexpected and dramatic than usual. As the vintage Wa165 steam train puffed onto the airport runway, the gates opened and 2,000 locals poured out across the tarmac.
They were riding bikes, scooters and skateboards, on rollerblades, and there was even a homemade go-kart or two. Parents pushed babies in prams, kids in super-hero costumes imagined they were flying, and train passengers disembarked and joined the happy throng.
Then, to cap it all off, the ECT Rescue Helicopter roared out of the hangar and delivered a sky high lolly scramble.
This was the debut of Eastland Group Flywheels, a community event organised by Eastland Group and Bikeys that gave people the opportunity to experience the local airport in a completely different way.
Eastland Group Chief Executive Matt Todd said the turnout far exceeded expectations.
“As the operator of the airport, we see many thousands of travellers fly in and out every year. We’re also accustomed to the steam train cross the runway now and then. But looking out and seeing the runway covered in pedestrians and cyclists was extraordinary. This event offered us all a completely different perspective.
“Riding out onto the runway with 2,000 other people was a magical experience, and we were overwhelmed by the interest and support. We’re delighted that we also helped to raise funds for the ECT Rescue Helicopter, which provides such a crucial service to our region, and the Wa165 steam train, which is the only remaining Wa class locomotive in the world.”
Patrick Willock, Chairman of the Eastland Rescue Helicopter Trust, said that that the event raised $2,458.00 for the charity.
“On behalf of the Trust and the wider community, I would like to thank Eastland Group and Bikeys for organising such an outstanding event and choosing the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust as one of the charities linked with it.
“Each year the chopper completes anywhere between 150 and 200 lifesaving missions. Because of the permanent on-call nature of the service, we are heavily reliant on community donations, so the support of local organisations and families is critical to our sustainability.”
The volunteers who run the Wa165 steam train were “abuzz” at being part of the event. “When the train arrived at the airport, the crew were blown away at the number of people riding on the runway,” said Gisborne City Vintage Railway Secretary Penny Shaw. “It was an incredible occasion.”
Tickets for the train sold out in two days, with all proceeds going to the Gisborne City Vintage Railway.