Flight Report : JQ 298 Queenstown - Auckland

A crazy aerial photography tour!

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.

Queenstown's airport is located near the town centre and the approach is quite scenic. From Bob's Peak, I could see planes approach for landing this morning.

For a small resort town, it was surprisingly easy to get to the airport by public transport. Bus #11 leaves every 15 minutes from the town's main bus terminal. The ride was smooth with barely anyone getting on and off between the city and the airport and I reached the terminal within 20 minutes. That made the 12 dollar fare a bit steep.

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.

While Jetstar uses a manual way to check passengers in, the more conventional mainline carriers provide a less human interactive approach.

Queenstown uses the same building for both domestic and international flights. There were some shops on the land side, some with signs in Simplified Chinese catering for the growing crowd from mainland China coming to New Zealand. Arrivals is on the same level but on the other side of the building.

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.

Leather seats are a common feature among low-cost carriers. I'm not a big fan of these. They are cold and don't seem as comfortable as the fabric seats. Just a minor rant as I would still endure them if the price is right.

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 mountains are so near. Hope the winds don't get too bad on departure.

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!

Domestic arrivals is fairly simple. Exit through the 1-way gates and pick your bags in an open area that is also accessibly by the general public. The departures area is next door on the same level. I suppose crime is not too bad in New Zealand, but I would be concerned members of the public can just pick up my bags for malicious reasons.

I pre-booked my Skybus transfer online for a discount, and the agent was able to scan my phone as I lined up to board. We rode into the sunset for about 25 minutes to reach the city centre. If I had a larger group, a rental car probably would be more cost effective.

Jetstar is a typical low-cost carrier suitable for short flights. I compared against Air New Zealand, and despite buying checked bags and a guaranteed window seat, Jetstar was still cheaper. They got me to Auckland safely, which was all I asked for. I don't set much expectations for low-cost carriers anyway, but the crew had a smile and took care of us well.

To re-use these photos or notify of errors, please email me. Thank you.

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