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Bombs Away With Aviator Experience & Café

July 2025 - Please note this story was written whilst the The Aviator Experience was based in the Karangahake Gorge. The business is currently re-locating premises. The Café aspect of the business may not initially be operational. Please contact direct for further information.

The Aviator Experience & Café offers visitors an unexpected, mesmerising experience which goes far beyond its excellent Café fare. Owner operator, Craig Saunders is currently looking for new permanent premises so keep an eye on their Facebook Page for updates and keep reading to find out more about the exciing venture.

So what exactly can visitors to the Aviator Experience & Café look forward to we hear you ask? The answer is enjoy great food and coffee from the military style themed Café, and the pièce de résistance... check out the award winning flight simulators.

We donned our Bomber Jacket for a mission with owner operators Craig and Anita Saunders, to hear about the different simulators on offer, what makes the experience so fascinating, and of course what you need to do to secure a spot in the cockpit.


What can visitors to the Aviator Experience & Café expect to find?

Hopefully other than good food and service, we have several flight simulators which offer the most realistic flying outside of a real aircraft. We jokingly talk about our “first class” and “economy” seating with cinema class seats. Customers will often have to listen to the sound of WWII V12 engines roaring across the skies of Southern England.


Photo: Aviator Experience & Café 


Which is the most popular simulator, and what makes it so fascinating for visitors?

We currently have four simulators available. Customers can enjoy most of the WWII aircraft such as the P51Mustang, Mk IX Spitfire, German BF109 and FW190 aircraft plus an array of fast jets such as the F-18 Hornet and F-14 Tomcat.

What is extra special, is that all of our simulators can be linked. We can therefore teach you the art of air-to-air combat against your family members, friends or work colleagues. Our combat nights are also popular.


Photo: Simulator


Tell us about your visitors to date?

Interestingly, it’s mostly young males (under 50) that like to think of themselves as Tom Cruise or Douglas Bader that love them most. However we do cater for 12 years and older, and our oldest customer so far was 92. It really does appeal to both men and women of all ages.


Do visitors come to the Café and also fly to enjoy all you have to offer? What is the proportion of drop in visitors riding the Trail, and those who book as a destination?

It’s early days, but there are places to park and lock bikes in the stands provided, with a number of outdoor tables nearby. Most people don’t realise about the aviation side until they walk in the door and we hope to change that, but it is an “oh wow” moment for sure.

We currently offer everyone who dines in a free demo which is a taster of 2-3 minutes. Once they’ve seen what all the fuss is about, customers can select to fly for 20, 40 or 60 minutes.


Photo: Fuel up and choose your blend of Flight Coffee


The Café offers All Day Breakfast which is hugely popular with our Trail users. Tell us about your menu and why visitors should refuel with you en route.

Everything from the Café is fully customisable, because everyone is different. There is always a Gluten Free or Vegan option for just about everything. My favourite, like many kiwis, is the Eggs Benedict with Rosti and Bacon.


Photo: Dine in or take away from a great range of delicious food and coffee


The Café can host up to 30 guests fully catered, with group bookings for Birthdays, Work Functions or Christmas Parties available on request. Tell us more about your event offering.

Yes, something a little different is that we take group bookings for the simulators and can do corporate entertaining. We are currently not licensed for alcohol, but it’s something we’re going to look at very soon.

We’re also looking to add some extras, with maybe an outdoor pizza oven and covered areas for the coming summer. We might introduce a late night offering with a dinner menu in the coming months too, which would be great for guests who are staying in the area.


Photo: Aviation style themed Café


Here’s what two recent visitors had to tell us…


Being a professional pilot and self confessed aviation nut, Matt says he loved his visit to the Aviator Experience. He flew several different combat missions in the Spitfire and also low level flying in the mountains in the F18 simulator.

He said the combination of the VR headset and the physical cockpit made flying both very immersive, realistic and extremely addictive activities. Matt enjoyed being coached by Craig and told us he'd highly recommend the experience for anyone, but particularly those with a love of aviation.


Mark on the other hand confessed to being a bit of a WW2 enthusiast, and so bought himself and his Dad a flight in the new Spitfire flight simulator. He found it quite impressive to climb into a fully modelled cockpit that provides a sense of realism over and above just wearing a VR headset.


The boutique Café is open to the public Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10.00am until 4.00pm. If you’re planning an adventure in the Gorge and would like to visit NZ’s ultimate Military Flight Simulator Man-cave you can find more information and book here.

Bookings on non Café days are available. These sessions are much like a private flying lesson with a qualified pilot, and teach you how to get the most out of the experience and allotted time. Please note the Spitfire simulator is no longer available.


Aviator Experience & Café are currently relocating premises. Keep an eye on their Facebook Page for updates


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