Douglas County welcomes New Zealand into the family

One borders the South Pacific, and the other sits in the Great Basin. One calls August winter, and the other calls it summer.

Both places boast mountains, though, high, snowcapped peaks. And together, both places make up two of only three places in the world with what soaring enthusiasts call "the wave."

"Like air surfing, ride the wave!" exclaimed Minden-Tahoe Airport Interim Manager Bobbi Thompson. "We are one of three places in the world with the right topography and weather conditions for the wave. It means glider planes can stay aloft for a very long time, and don't have to work the thermal so much to get lift."

Another place in the world with the wave is New Zealand's Waitaki District. It's no coincidence then that the scenic, sparsely populated area in the country's southern island has been chosen as Douglas County's sister community, as approved by county commissioners in an Oct. 6 resolution.

"We are excited about this partnership and the opportunities that exist to promote soaring, tourism and new business ventures in our communities," said Commission Chair Mike Olson.

"This is another great step in the right direction to make our community and airport the premiere world destination for soaring," said Laurie Harden, owner of Soaring NV.

Harden's company has long connected with Glide Omarama, a glider operator at the Omarama Airfield in the Waitaki District. During discussions at a glider camp in Minden last summer, many other natural commonalties were discovered between Douglas County and the Waitaki District.

The new partnership doesn't require any financial commitment from Douglas County.

"Waitaki district is like a county," explained Thompson. "Oamaru is the county seat (12,000 residents), and Omarama is actually the town where the airport is, a thriving community of 300."

When it comes to soaring, Thompson said, the two communities have been riding the same wave for years.

"People were coming here in our summer because it was winter there, and vice versa," she said. "There are a lot of similarities between the communities in other ways, too, in eco-tourism, fishing, hiking, winter sports."

The function of sister communities is simple, Thompson said.

"We provide our tourism information, hotels, restaurants, activities, to encourage more people to come here, and acquaint people in our community with what they can do down there," she said.

While the relationship started through soaring, Thompson said the formal partnership will allow both communities to broaden their appeal.

"We hope it will encourage more folks to come here, soar here and enjoy this beautiful area," she said. "We want them to bring non-soaring friends to enjoy the other things we have to offer."

Douglas County's new sister has plenty to offer as well. According to county officials, Waitaki is a long, skinny district that bisects New Zealand's southern island. The Waitaki River gushes from the high glaciers of the Southern Alps and winds its way easterly through turquoise lakes and lush, cultivated valleys until reaching the Pacific Ocean. Omarama is the western gateway and base for glider operations. Oamaru, though small, is the district's quaint coastal capital.

The entire district has a population of only 20,000 people. The area offers not only world-class scenery and gliding, but world-glass cuisine, a thriving wine and cheese industry, local farming, working gold mines, and every conceivable outdoor activity between sea and mountain, not to mention penguins.

"They might have beaches," Thompson said, "but we have casinos."

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