SYDNEY to AUCKLAND (SYD-AKL) on Air New Zealand A320 in economy class
I got back at the gate just as boarding was called. We had the gate in the corner, thus the elite line was completely blocked by the line of passengers in the non-elite line. There really isn't enough room for two lines at this gate unless they are well cordoned off.
On boarding there was someone in my seat. Apparently a teenage kid as his mom were split on separate rows. I made a rookie mistake. The mom said she had an aisle seat a couple of rows back so I said I could swap so they sit together. No sooner was I seated than another passenger arrived at that seat. The mom and son were in fact in middle seats. I redacted my offer and we shuffled back. Meanwhile the passenger who had the window seat in my row had arrived. She was also NZ*E and was grumpy that there was no empty middle seat. When the flight is completely full (as it was) there are no empty middle seats.
I wonder why the flight was so full? Earlier in the day I'd checked and load was medium-high without being overly full. While at the gate I'd heard the boarding calls for Jetstar, Qantas and Pacific Blue flights to Auckland so it wasn't a case of another flight being cancelled and passengers transferred across.
We pushed back slightly late and had a long taxi to the far end of the far runway, as is usual for flights to New Zealand. This gives space for a short right turn early on in the flight.
The meal was a choice of chicken kiev and beef pie. Yes, the same as on the way over. But not quite the same for both dishes looked different. The salad was a pasta one, and the cake was more banana cake.
Due to the short flight time there was only one run with the cart so we were given as many drinks as we'd like
Strong tailwinds meant we made up most of the lost time on departure. We got the gate at the very end of the main pier, so a long walk to immigration.
Smartgate had just been permanently introduced at AKL a couple of days prior (there was an earlier trial) so I headed there to save time queuing. I got through okay and headed for customs. The smartgate receipt says to use exit A so I headed there.
The officer on exit A took one look at my duty free bag and told me I had to use exit B. Fortunately the lines in exit B were not too long - at least the right hand one was empty while everyone queued like lemmings in the middle line.
The officer I got on exit B took one look at my smartgate receipt and asked why I was here. "I got sent here by your colleague". He ticked my form and I was okay to go to x-ray. I do not understand what the point of all this was. It achieved nothing other than wasting a few moments of my time and a 2nd officer.
Once landside I headed for the airbus. This now operates 24/7 so the days of being forced to take an expensive cab for the middle of the night arrivals or early morning departures is over. Unfortunately I just missed a bus, so I decided to take a cab after all - the next bus being over 20 minutes away. Amazingly there were no cabs, only shuttles!
I have flown every regularly scheduled route in the Air NZ network, bar one. There is one domestic flight which is unique in that it only operates once per week in each direction. This flight has been around for a few months. I'm not sure if it will continue, but since it looks a fun flight with close up views of the rugged hill country up the Whanganui River valley and the volcanoes and plateaux of the central North Islands, so I decided to book it.
The flight is Wanganui to Taupo, and it is a continuation of the Wellington to Wanganui flight. The schedule forces an overnight stop in Taupo (after Wanganui to Taupo or before Taupo to Wanganui).
From Auckland I had a choice of taking a flight to Wanganui to connect, but this left little room for error (eg poor weather) or taking a flight to Wellington to connect (with many more options).
AUCKLAND to WELLINGTON (AKL-WLG) on Air NZ 737-300 in economy class
Massive queues at the post office where I was picking up a parcel and bad traffic wiped out most of my planned lounge stay. I had a chat with one agent, and while I did so I heard another passenger asking about rebooking options as his flight to Wellington had been cancelled. Wind and rain in Queenstown had kept a 737 out of position.
Since I was flying to Wellington too I checked the screens and sure enough my flight was the one cancelled. In "rush hour" there are Air NZ flights every half hour but we got the short straw. So I checked to see whether I'd been brought forward or pushed back - either would work with my itinerary. The agent couldn't find me listed on either flight and called. Apparently I'd been protected by being rebooked onto the direct flight to Taupo which was leaving imminently.
Air NZ hadn't called me so if I hadn't enquired the first I would have found out would have been a page "Kiwi Flyer please board your flight to Taupo, everyone is waiting for you"! It is odd they didn't call me - Air NZ had my phone number and moreover knew I was in the lounge having entered with my epass.
I politely asked to be switched to one of the other Wellington flights since I really did want to fly to Taupo via Wellington and Wanganui - that was the whole point of the trip. Being peak hour and very last minute switch there were only middle seats left, but I managed to get a space plus seat at least when the agent bumped a silver member out of their seat. I think this is the first middle seat I've had in a few years (many hundreds of flights) -
Boarding was soon called. I took my seat. The flight was 100% full, but at least being peak hour with lots of businesspeople means I had no problem with overhead bin space to stow my carry-on.
This was a koru hour service. So we got a choice of cheese plate or bagel bites with hummous. The cheese plate had 2 large pieces of nice cheese, 2 crackers (used to be 3 but they've run out of those packets) and a couple of grapes. Washed down with a choice of nice red and white wine, L&P, water, tea or coffee.
I caught up on some papers and enjoyed the view. Coming into Wellington we were warned it would be bumpy with winds of 70 knots. The wind turbines at Makara were all in braked position due to too much wind, and the sea was mostly white caps and spray with patches of grey-blue in between. The landing itself wasn't too bad ... for Wellington.
Exit A is used for domestic passengers on the CHC-AKL leg of Japan to AKL flights, as well as other invited pax, and now also for smartgate cleared passengers. There is still an x-ray in this lane.
That makes it interesting.
I wonder what would happen in this case.
I'm traveling with my parents & sister, because she is under 18 they have to take her thought the normal customs process. While I cant be stuffed waiting in the long que so use the smart gate & start waiting for my bag. Now we met up again at the bag claim, usually the 4 of use would goto the MAF agent together. I wonder if i'll get the telling off for using exit B.
I though as part of the simplifying the tasman thing they where removing the 100% xray and changing it to random selection?
WELLINGTON TO WHANGANUI / WANGANUI (WLG-WAG) on Air New Zealand Beech 1900D in economy class
Apologies for the long heading. A couple of days ago Whanganui / Wanganui was officially given joint names (Whanganui being the Maori spelling and Wanganui the European mis-spelling that has been in place for over 150 years). The river on the banks of which the city sits was renamed Whanganui some years ago and does not have dual names.
Anyway, with an earlier flight to Wellington I had time for a quick drink, bite to eat and check messages in the lounge. Sorry I don't have an accurate beer count but it was about 12. A long way short of past years when typically it was over 20.
Our flight was running a few minutes late. As I walked out to the end of the prop finger pier I saw an air force C130 Hercules lumbering along the taxiway. With luck I'll get to see that take off too.
With the wind still very strong from the north, it was a battle to make it out to our aircraft without losing boarding pass, papers, bag. I felt sorry for the co-pilot who was on passenger greeting duties and the ground staff who was finishing loading the bags. I used the bag drop to give some more legroom and took my seat. Due to the rebooking I lost my preferred seat but every seat is a window seat (except rows 1 and 2) and also an aisle seat so it was still okay. The flight was almost full. We had a short wait for the last passenger and then we were off, some 15 minutes late.
The Hercules took off in front of us. Not much of the runway was needed today thanks to the strong winds. We followed a Q300 out along the taxiway, but just short of the end we turned and stopped at right angles to both taxiway and wind. I'm not sure why as we were not lined up with any of the bits that join taxiway and runway. A few moments there to ponder what was going on before our turn came.
It was at this point I wondered if putting my carry on in the bag drop was a good idea? What if the bag gets taken into the terminal at Whanganui and left there while I continue onward. The bag has my keys, passport and other important stuff in it.
No chance to wonder any more as our take off roll is also very short and before we pass the other end of the runway we have already turned right to cross Miramar peninsula. A sharp turn back to the left and we are flying up the middle of Wellington Harbour but off the flightpath for the bigger aircraft. We lose sight of land over the Hutt hills with thick cloud banked up against the Tararua ranges, but emerge a few minutes later on the edge of the Horowhenua coast.
The rest of this short flight we have fine views and much lighter winds also. A few minutes later we are already descending and we land to the west. The direct path has saved several minutes so we are only very slightly late arriving.
Most passengers leave us here. One person hops on. We stay in our seats for the short transit (about 5 minutes).
WHANGANUI / WANGANUI to TAUPO (WAG-TUO) on Air New Zealand Beech 1900D in economy class
It is a fine evening for flying and with stunning scenery in this region I was looking forward to the flight (bag worry notwithstanding).
Shortly after takeoff we turned and looped around the far side of the town centre. Almost immediately we had great views of the volcanoes - near perfect cone of Taranaki to the left (stand in for Mount Fuji in The Last Samurai) and the larger sprawled heap of Ruapehu ahead to the right with the smaller cones of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe tucked in behind Ruapehu.
We roughly followed the Whanganui River upstream, minus the tortuous twists and turns of course (see link). Every time I fly over this area it amazes me how the rivers have gouged deep paths through the hills in such a wending path.
In no time at all we are close to Ruapehu. The heavy snows of the past winter still evident in a thick cap of snow on the upper slopes. As we flew by Ohakune I saw a train passing over one of the many viaducts in the area).
We flew very close and just to the west of the summit of Ruapehu. So close that we could see into the crater. The pilot announced we could move around to take photos out both sides if we'd like.
Along the saddle and we flew just to the east of Ngauruhoe's young cone - again close enough to see into the crater. Past the messy jumble of Tongariro's craters and lakes.
After all this, flying the length of Lake Taupo close to the eastern shoreline was anticlimatic although still beautiful. We had a straight in approach, landing to the north.
It was a fantastic flight, which I was sorry was so short. The kind of flight that tourists pay lots of money to take in a small aircraft or helicopter, but in this case is available as a commercial scheduled flight. I disembarked filled with happy thoughts.
As luck would have it a few weeks ago the Terraces Hotel converted to a Hilton (only the 2nd in NZ) and also opened a new wing. With some HHonors points about to expire through inactivity and a new hotel to try out I decided to stay there.
It is a short ride from the airport (5 minutes) on the edge of town. Being slightly elevated there are fantastic views over the lake and across to the mountains.
Check in was quick. Due to my HH gold status I'd been upgraded to a top floor apartment suite. As they were new to the Hilton family all the staff were very keen to make a good impression and did their utmost to help all stay. Since I arrived just as the sun was beginning to set I didn't spend too long with chit-chat but instead raced to my room and it's balcony to take in the spectacular views. Sorry I don't have a picture but suffice to say the view was one of those moments you'd expect to see on an ad - and I don't just mean an ad for this hotel. It was stunning.
As for the room. It had plenty of space. Amenities suitable for a prolonged stay if desired. A large balcony. Special lobby to enter (ie pass through two sets of doors to get in or out). A new furnishings smell. The living area did not have dark curtains or blinds, just the light cloth to cut the glare. Nice bathroom with separate bath and shower and twin wash basins.
There is no lounge, but I was also comped a breakfast in the restaurant. The original historic building has a free business centre (or there is pay for wifi in the rooms).
Out the back of the new wing is a couple of nice pools and a small gym.
I didn't check but I believe there is parking underneath the building.
TAUPO to AUCKLAND (TUO-AKL) on Air New Zealand Beech 1900D in economy class
After an all to short stay it was time to get back to Auckland. The airport is rather basic and I had no checked bags so I didn't arrive too early. Our aircraft landed from the north, disgorged its load of passengers and moments later we were boarding.
The load was reasonably high. I again used bag drop for more legroom, and again was the only passenger to do so.
We took off slightly early, to the south and turned 270 degrees to head west. This gave great views of the whole region. We skirted the northern end of the lake and across almost to the coast before turning northwards.
Once over southern Waikato the clear skies gave way to thick overcast and we had no more views until close to landing at Auckland. A fairly smooth ride, apart from a couple of bumps passing through the clouds on descent.
Murphy struck again and I just missed an airbus to the city. The next one came by late and left, full, before I boarded. While it was loading up another bus cruised by but did not stop and left for the city empty. Why would they do this when it was patently obvious the queuing passengers would not all fit in the bus that was at the stop? Fortunately another bus came by 10 minutes later to get the rest of us. By then we'd already waited 40 minutes. Grrr.