October 5th, 2007

Wanaka tree

The flight from Christchurch to Wanaka

lijago I promised that I would post this piece that I wrote about my flight from Christchurch down to Wanaka.

I hope it appeals.

'Travelling alone and having done the, by turns spectacular road trip on many occasions, I decided well before I left the UK that I would use the newly opened Air New Zealand Link service to get me down to Wanaka. It was $102 very well spent. The aircraft, a Beech 1900D, was the smallest I had ever flown on, just nineteen passengers, including myself, plus two cockpit crew. From the very start I knew it would be a great flight. It seemed that the pilot was determined to just get on with it. There was no fannying around on the ground. As soon as we had boarded and settled into our seats we were off. There was hardly time for the safety briefing from the slightly preoccupied co-pilot as we raced, powered by two propellers, across the tarmac at Christchurch airport. Having arrived at the main runway there was none of the usual waiting around for a slot. Without missing a beat the pilot just gunned it and we were away, airborne after what seemed like only a few metres. We climbed quickly and were soon enveloped in the clouds that had been hanging around the Garden City all morning. The flight only took about forty-five minutes, no time for a cabin crew to have doled out drinks and things even if there had been any.

 'For the first twenty minutes or so there was nothing to see as we sped our way south over the thick clouds.  Then, to the right of the aircraft, the unmistakable shape of Mount Cook rose out of the cotton wool sea in which it sat. The Maori named this mountain Aoraki, or Cloud Piercer, and that is exactly what it was doing on this January morning. It felt good to know that I would not have seen it if I had made the journey by road, therefore justifying my choice of transport for that reason alone. From that point the clouds began to fragment and appear more broken. Lakes and valleys, Lake Pukaki and the plains at Twizel came into view through gaps in the clouds.
'As we neared our destination the clearing continued and the Clutha River could be clearly seen as we banked over the Lindis valley and made our rapid descent towards the tiny airport outside Wanaka. I recognised the lake and the town from the air and it brought back vivid memories of happy times spent there on those previous visits. Touching down to a landing that was a little hairy at times with lots of banking and swaying to and fro, my only thought was a supremely happy one, I was back in Wanaka. The landing strip was a mixture of grass and tarmac and we used both surfaces as we landed and taxied to somewhere near the terminal building.

'On leaving the aircraft, baggage retrieval was simplicity itself; if you see your bag just grab it off the trolley, as there was no terminal building as such beyond a glorified rustic shed. I saw my bag so did just that. I wandered into the glorified shed just to make sure that there wasn't any particular procedure I had to go through, but there wasn't, so I wandered out again. The other side of the slightly pointless chain link fence separating airside from everything else, there was a Wanaka Connexions bus waiting to ferry anyone who wished the eight or so kilometres into town for the bargain price of ten dollars. Given that the alternative was walking, there was no contest. It was quite amusing that the bus comprised at least half its length as luggage space, but that was just as well as we had had a few American adventure addicts on board, keen to get paragliding, climbing and sky diving. One of those Americans actually commented on this by saying that it was a short bus, to be told by the driver that it was, ‘…but only from one end.’ Points of local interest such as the local micro-brewery were gleefully indicated by the driver as we passed them, with special advice on what could be done in Wanaka on a ‘crook’ day. Today was not a crook day, the sunshine was now glorious and being here and now just felt so good.'