Flight Report : VA 98 Melbourne - Christchurch

Australia and New Zealand are close friends, but a big sea separates the two. Flight times are not that short, and the options from Melbourne are not as great as leaving from Sydney. Redemptions were also difficult with my last-minute trip. Virgin America came up with a decent flight time and price. I haven't tried them before, so this would be a new airline for me.

The flight would depart at 7:45am, so I had to get up just past 5am for the long taxi ride to the airport. Check-in formalities were reasonably quick and I was through security rather efficiently. What irked me was the disappearance of my flight on all the displays. At first I thought my flight was cancelled, but I got my boarding pass so it was quite odd.

After the duty free shops, a nice lounge opened up with mood lighting and a few restaurants.

The sun was only starting to rise at this time. It was another grey day in Melbourne.

I would fly Cathay's flight home some time later.

Ebola caused a stir recently, but the latest faze is Zika. Wear a condom.

My boarding pass noted boarding would start at 7am, but it didn't. But eventually we did get under way. The disappeared flight came back!

There was a small Business Class at the front of the cabin. But I don't think it is worth such a premium for this flight duration.

The flight was not full and I settled into my window seat towards the back of the plane.

I try to avoid sitting along the wing since it would impede taking aerial photos from my beloved window.

We pushed back about 10 minutes behind schedule with a flight time of just under 3 hours. No biggie.

We took off towards the south and made an easterly turn. The blue skies peeked out, which is a rare occurrence in Melbourne, and I was out of luck for skyline views today. Ah well ...

I could barely stay awake, but went on to photograph the features of this fairly new aircraft. It didn't have the commercialism on European budget carriers such as Ryanair. It was a comfortable cabin - perfect for flights of 3 hours or less.

I turned my eyes to the in-flight food menu for purchase. I had a granola bar with me so I didn't buy breakfast. Prices were high but not particular out-of-line with other airlines' menus.

The flight was relatively smooth and the clouds cleared out as we neared the South Island. The forecast called for spectacularly blue skies in Christchurch today. I wanted the right window to see if I could capture the West Coast mountains on descent.

Yes, the mountains were visible. Let the craziness begin!

It was still winter in this part of the world, so the snow was an added bonus. I probably wouldn't come to New Zealand in the middle of summer. Being off-season, the hotels were cheaper and blue skies make up for the cold temperatures anyway. I would drive along these mountains in the coming days.

This is why I love to fly - 100,000 km a year even.

Is that Lake Tekapo?

The snow cover got less and less as we headed east, an obvious sign of the rain shadow. Once we reached flat land, the landscape looked quite agricultural.

The South Island is actually not that wide when flying. It didn't take long for us to make a north-easterly turn to align with the approach.

Welcome to New Zealand.

Virgin America brought me to my destination safe and on-time. That's all I wanted. I never expect budget carriers to provide exemplary service. The crew were friendly and did their work properly. I paid a decent fare for the flight, and would try them again if the price is right.

The airport was quiet and there wasn't much activity on the international side today. With only hand luggage, I was out through customs in no time. But before that, I noted the strict quarantine laws just like in Australia. Clearly, the sign had a demographic target. They asked whether I had hiking boots, but I was only going to do some light hiking with my runners. The agent seemed a bit surprised but let me through.

The exit area was bright and cozy with the typical restaurants and mobile phone stores. I exited looking for the bus stop to the city. I love these smaller airports.

The airport bus was parked next to the terminal with an exposed walk required. Why didn't they build a cover in case it rains?

Or does it not rain much on this side of the rain shadow?

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