Taking flight: Queenstown's Highland dancers pictured with iFly Queenstown owner Matt Wong, right, before they had free flights last week


When iFly Queenstown’s Matt Wong caught wind of a group of disappointed young Highland dancers, he knew he needed to help.

That’s why last week, nine young girls were the first of 200 people to receive free flights in
iFly’s famous wind tunnel as part of a ‘‘community uplift’’ project.

Wong received a call from the girls’ dance teacher, Carleen Dalton, who explained they’d missed out on their Highland dancing conference two years running due to Covid.

‘‘It just struck me that I needed to do something to lift their spirits,’’ Wong says.

But the call also prompted him to extend the offer to the wider community, putting out a call on social media for people to nominate ‘‘deserving locals’’ for a free flight at iFly.

‘‘Over the last 18 months community has been extremely important but also the pain and
the suffering that’s going on here that no one really talks about … now is the time we
need to start showing some real aroha and really give back to our community,’’ Wong says.

The dancers, before taking flight, performed a Highland fling as a ‘thank you’ to Wong.

‘‘It’s so exciting because you can hardly do anything [during lockdown] and the fact that we get to do this is just so cool,’’ a beaming 12-year-old Charlotte Hamilton says.

Isla Badenhop, 11, says the gesture is ‘‘kind’’.

‘‘We’re really lucky to have this opportunity.’’

Wong’s heard some heartwarming stories since he began the community uplift project, and says he’s offered flights to Cromwell’s Keas and Scouts, sports teams, buddy programmes and parents wanting to do something nice for their kids who’d been ‘‘amazing’’ during lockdown.

‘‘I think when we’re making money everyone’s happy, it’s a different story, but now when
our community needs us the most is where businesses should give back,’’ he says.