Flight Report : JQ 298 Queenstown - Auckland
When I planned my South Island driving route, I considered starting and finishing out of Christchurch, where fares to Australia are usually cheaper than out of Queenstown despite a greater distance. However, further research revealed Queenstown's flight paths are very scenic, so I gave up driving back to Christchurch through Lake Tekapo and booked a domestic flight from Queenstown to Auckland, then Auckland back to Melbourne. The fare was not much more costly than Queenstown direct to Melbourne.
There were 2 Jetstar flights to Auckland for the rest of the afternoon. Jetstar has only a 3 counters open, which I had expected anyway for a low-cost carrier. The passengers in front of me had lots of luggage so I waited patiently as the line slowly moved. Since I was way too early for my 5pm flight, I asked whether it was possible to standby for the 3:45pm flight. The agent didn't seem to understand what that was and thought I was on staff travel. He initially said the airline doesn't do standby, but then turned to check what was the fare difference. 3 NZD later and getting confirmation from his colleague it was OK to do so, I got a boarding pass and a window seat out back for the 3:45pm flight.
Domestic and international passengers go through the same entrance but in 2 separate lines. A display at the entrance shows which flights are departing as the waiting area inside is too small to handle everyone. This turns out to be a smart move since the domestic air-side area has no shops or restaurants but only vending machines and bathrooms. Security check was quick and soon I was at the windows spotting the many Air New Zealand planes coming and going, including some interesting livery planes.
Our Jetstar flight arrived late and our boarding was also delayed as a result. There are no air-bridges here. The gates are just doors opening to the tarmac and we would board by staircase. This reminds me of Yogyakarta earlier in the summer. With arrivals just gone, I suspected the crew did not have enough time to clean the plane, and I was right. There were bits of garbage on the floor and the paper materials in the seat pockets were quite badly beaten up. The plane didn't look too old though.
We eventually pushed back almost half hour behind schedule. It was still spectacularly clear and I didn't have anything planned for Auckland anyway so I didn't mind. After a short taxi, we took off towards the west.
The flight path is quite interesting since Queenstown is surrounded by mountains. We looped around to climb, first heading south, then turning 180 degrees to head back north with lovely snow-capped mountains and lush valleys all along the way. Had I stayed with the later flight, the sunlight would have been too minimal to capture these aerial shots. Money well spent!
I believe Cromwell is in the distance with Lake Dunstan edged between the mountains. I drove through there just yesterday.
I felt like this flight was re-tracing my driving tour of the South Island. Here is Wanaka. I lived just a short walk from the waterfront.
A whole line of snow-capped mountains came next, although I couldn't tell which one was Mount Cook or the Fox Glacier, where I rode a helicopter up for a look a few days earlier.
It looked like the further lake is Tekapo while the closer one is the turquoise Pukaki I reached yesterday. It took many hours on the road from Queenstown while it was just minutes by plane!
As we progressed up the West Coast, the snow got less and less and there were more lush green valleys, which was expected given the huge amount of precipitation in this part of the country, where glaciers and tropical rainforests co-exist.
During this time, the crew passed by offering paid drinks and food. A menu was in my seat pocket, although I was surprised Vietnamese noodles got on there and didn't cost so much money compared to sandwiches. I didn't smell anyone in my vicinity eat one though.
After an exciting hour of taking aerial photos of South Island, the announcement came that we were descending into Auckland. They were also experiencing good weather today, and I was able to make out Sky Tower in the distance on final approach. There wasn't much of a skyline but lots of single family home sprawl all over the place.
Sprawl, sprawl, sprawl. Bad urban planning!
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