A Warm Embrace of the Tropics

Discussion in 'Trip Reports and Trip Photos' started by Kiwi Flyer, Nov 25, 2006.

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  1. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
    4
    How do you say Niue?

    Earlier this year Air New Zealand launched flights to the small island nation of Niue. For those unsure where Niue is located I've included the map below plus a link to the relevant Google Map.

    [​IMG]
    Oh yeah Niue is pronounced new-ay or new-way.

    The start of Air New Zealand's flights has made Niue more accessible. Previously the only ways to get to Niue were by boat, by charter flight and, until last year, by commercial flight on Polynesian Airlines from Samoa. The new flights connects the Niuean people living in New Zealand (mainly Auckland) with their country - indeed more Niueans live in Auckland than on the island!

    Naturally with improved access to the island, I had to go there and booked a special fare. The flight is only once a week and so I ended up booking as a turnaround, despite wanting to stay longer - I just didn't have the time. A proper look will have to wait for another trip.

    Loads on this new flight seem to be light - the most discounted category of non-sale fare was still available for purchase right until hours before departure.
     

  2. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
    4
    A few months ago the flights were leaving AKL in the wee hours of the morning due to a 3-week power outage on the island preventing flights from landing safely in darkness. To think we feel hard done by to lose air-con for just an hour or so - makes you realise just how lucky we are. Anyway I was grateful that the flights are back to their normal schedule leaving AKL late at night, arriving in IUE (Niue's airport at Alofi) in the middle of the night and returning to AKL by early morning. Why you might ask given they both have middle of the night departures? It is because AKL airport virtually shuts down when the last flight to the US departs, leaving few amenities for passengers on any later flights.

    So it was after work that I found myself heading out to the airport for the all-night turnaround trip to IUE - it isn't that unusual for an FTer right? Traffic was particularly heavy, as normal on Friday evening but perhaps added to by the U2 concert on tonight. So I found myself reading all of the posts to date of jacob_m's latest report on an enviable trip, which I had printed out to read on the flights. Doh.

    Despite the best efforts of the traffic I managed to arrive at the sweet spot for evening departures - too late for check in for the early evening flights, and a bit early for the latest departures, meaning no queues. Nonetheless I still made use of Air NZ's premium check in facility to check in, pay my departure fee ($25 payable in cash - saves using the machines outside the bank or queueing at the bank to pay) and clear immigration.

    But first I have to check in. Being the only passenger using the premium check in at the moment the agent has time for a brief chat and joke about my craziness. Without prompting she changes my pre-selected seats to give me an entire row of 3 seats each way ^. No upgrades are possible for this flight uses the 737-300 aircraft which is fitted out in all economy, as it is mainly used for domestic main trunk flights.

    Looking back, the last time I flew on an NZ 737 internationally it probably would have been a 737-200 across the Tasman to Australia. Tonight I head northeast instead of west, and this will be the fourth different NZ aircraft type I have flown to the South Pacific Islands - the others being 747-400, A320 and 767-300. Nothing like variety!

    Formalities completed I head up the escalator bypassing the main immigration lines, through security and up to the lounge (via several twists and turns and up another escalator thanks to the terrible design of the international terminal). As the lounge bouncer scans my boarding pass I take a peek at the flight listing on her desk - each flight has notes about how many NZ gold elite, *G, and koru club pax; as well as any needing special attention (eg wheelchairs). It seems I'm the only elite pax on my flight tonight - a stark contrast to many of my main trunk domestic or hub to hub international flights which seem to be full of elites.

    I notice a few changes in the lounge but mainly concentrate on getting a bite to eat (nice curry), having a drink (nice red wine - oops did I really have that much already?) and seeing Australia make a strong start of demolishing England in the first Ashes test. I also take the chance to have a shower before the lounge gets too full from passengers on the 2 late NZ flights to London - one via Los Angeles and the other via Hong Kong. It was lucky I did go when I did since I grabbed the last shower - I can't recall seeing them all in use before.

    The flight was called later than I expected (already showing closed on the monitors which are notoriously unreliable, at least in the international terminal), followed moments later by final call. Ah good - they waited until boarding nearly complete before calling me then? Alas no. By the time I had wended my way to gate 2 (just a few metres away from the lounge) boarding had not even started, and furthermore there were no gate agents in attendance! Boarding did start a few minutes later and was slow - certainly much slower than on domestic flights. A combination of more carry-on baggage and more families of infrequent flyers chatting and sorting out who will sit by the window, who gets to sit by dad, who gets to sit across the aisle by themselves, etc. So we are about 30 minutes late by the time doors close.

    The taxi is quick and we are soon heading into the darkness of the midnight sky, but first doing a lazy turn over the bright lights of the city before heading out into the Pacific Ocean.

    Dinner is served straight away. We have a choice of crumbed chicken fillets or lamb pie, both with potato salad, alcoholic (cans of beer and mini bottles of wine - quite reasonable quality for economy without being stunning) and non-alcoholic drinks, and kapiti ice cream (fig and honey). Sorry mad_atta, I failed to get the names of the wines, there were 2 reds and 2 whites to choose from, plus Lindaeur sparkling wine. After my efforts in the lounge I imbibed only minimally.

    Once dinner was cleared away I made good use of the 3 seats, for I had 6 blankets and 3 pillows with which to make a nest (and that is without asking for any extras - perhaps a case of mistaken identity?). I managed to get a comfy position and lightly dozed and sometimes watched the IFE. The movie was The Devil Wears Prada, followed by Will & Grace, The Simpsons, and The Family.

    Throughout the flight there were problems with the cabin temperature which fluctuated between quite hot and rather cold. The crew came through many times with drinks and water ^
     
  3. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
    4
    There were no lights to be seen as we approached the airport. I have no idea if this is because we were coming in from the sea (we might have, I simply don't know) or if just a reflection that most folk are asleep in the wee hours of the morning. During the flight we crossed the international date line so it was another Friday for me.

    We landed and slowed to a halt right at the very end of the runway, turned and taxiied to the terminal. As we taxiied the announcements got a lot of laughs when mention was made of passengers clearing customs and connecting to domestic flights - for Niue has only 1 airport and this flight is the only scheduled service each week.

    Descending the stairs I noticed the humid slightly sweet tropical air instantly. There was a light breeze and so, while warm, it wasn't as hot as I expected.

    With so few flights they are not really prepared for crazies like me who turnaround, but they were all very helpful. The immigration officer had a departure card ready for me to fill out and stamped both arrival and departure stamps at once. I got a fright when a huge moth was pointed out to me right beside my feet. Wings outstretched it was as big as my hand and colourful also! So far so good. No checked bags to collect so drop off the customs form with minimal questions and head through to find the way to the departure gate next door. Ummm the security station is locked. I head back inside and get requestioned by customs and after some discussion they said security would be opened for me. It took a while for them to get organised, meanwhile I am standing around dazed and confused. Eventually the security is opened and I get my carryon screened. As with past experiences on other islands, they hand me a new boarding pass which is on old printer paper and handwritten. The seat is the same one I had before being moved to have a row to myself. We'll soon see what this means.

    Now back airside. The airport is sparsely appointed. There are no shops whatsoever - there can't be too many international airports you can say that about! Not only that but no drinks machine, no water fountain. There are toilets but either everyone here are giants or there was a mistake in the construction There is also a choice of small waiting room inside, or the open air outside. I choose outside as have most of the passengers.

    I wasn't sure whether or not I would need to pay the departure tax. It seems they are okay to waive for transit, but the boarding pass still gets stamped. I had cash in NZ$ for the right amount ($25) ready in case it was needed - thinking, rightly, that they would not have an ATM, eft-pos or even credit card facilities here.

    It is nice seeing the activity around the aircraft and on the apron. Much of this is hidden at larger airports with views obscured by airbridges, jutting out bits of the terminal and hidden roadways.

    Eventually the bags are all loaded and boarding commences. I hang around until quite late - to maximise the stretching of my legs. I decide, rightly or wrongly, that the hand-written boarding pass is in error. So I head to my seat, only to find there is another passenger in the window seat. At least the middle seat is empty. However, I then get asked to move to a different 3rd seat for "balance reasons". Huh? I realise the load is light with less than half full, but surely not that light. The only time I have before encountered balance reasons for specific seating has been in much smaller aircraft than a 737. So no lying down on the way back, but at least a bit of space around me and no-one in the seat in front to recline into my space.

    We take off into the night once more. Breakfast is served shortly thereafter. A choice of muesli or a quiche, plus muffin and fruit salad. The usual drinks selections.

    Movie is Click, followed by the same tv programmes as on the way over. Again the cabin temperature fluctuates a bit.

    I managed to get a little bit of sleep before waking up to see the apricot hues of the sunrise, with a surprisingly sharp edge to the shadow of nights edge. We get the usual views over Hauraki Gulf and the twin harbours that occurs with flights arriving from the northeast. The flight is nicely timed to be after the 3 longhaul arrivals from LAX plus Perth, Santiago and Buenos Aires; and also after the early flights depart to Australia. So the approach is quick.

    Some of the Australia flights must be late pushing back since all the gates are full and 6 aircraft scattered around the international terminal on remote stands, our aircraft being the 7th. There are 3 buses ready which is more than enough for our flight and so with only a 5 minute delay I arrive back at AKL. The immigration queues are not as bad as I'd feared - evidentally the longhaul flights were on time or early thus giving time to process most passengers from the widebodies. Naturally I get a few questions at immigration about the short trip. I satisfied the officer and so no secondary for me this time. Agriculture xray queues are also short, with most of the longhaul passengers still collecting their bags off one of several carousels in use.

    While it is disappointing not to have time for a proper visit at the moment, I am glad I took the flight. For who knows, maybe by the time I can spare a week the flight will not be operating? In the meantime I can always plan for the next trip, and the next, and ...
     
  4. straitman

    Moderator

    Apr 27, 2003
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    Thanks Kiwi Klyer,

    A thorough and detailed report as usual.

    I've looked at your links and the place looks to be absolutely wonderful. Certainly worth some thought. :D
     
  5. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    Thanks. I am shagged now though. Early start on Friday, normal day then the short trip with minimal sleep, another full day of work, then out watching league last night and up early for the rugby this morning, then back to the airport, more meetings and flights. Tonight also looking to be a late one catching up with mates haven't seen in a while. Ah, who needs sleep?
     
  6. straitman

    Moderator

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    PICK ME SIR :!:
     
  7. Altair

    Altair Active Member

    Aug 22, 2006
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    Wellington
    Another nice littel trip report from Kiwi Flyer!
    You know sometimes one does need sleep, you could have given the League or Rugby a flick!;)
     
  8. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    Finally got a decent sleep Tuesday. Yay.
     
  9. serfty

    Moderator

    Nov 16, 2004
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    #9 serfty, Nov 29, 2006
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2006
    Wot, no suitable accomodation in the SSE Island 'til then? :)
     
  10. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    Nah just out too late :oops:
     
  11. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    Viva Vanuatu

    Another day, another early start to get to the airport. At least I wasn't on one of the early flights to Australia so I had the luxury of a sleep in until 4:30am. Not much traffic, but we seemed to hit every red light between the city and airport, thus taking 45 minutes instead of the normal 25-30 minutes (at this time of day - much longer is needed later due to traffic).

    I head to the premium check in where I see the same agent who checked me in for Niue is on duty so I head to her counter (there being no pax at this time I had the choice of several counters). It seems I managed to hit the sweet spot again for check in, after the rush for all the early flights to australia and before the other pacific and asia flights.

    We have a wee chat and again she moves me from the computer pre-allocated seat way down the back to the front of economy (non-bulkhead as I requested) and I get a seat blocked beside me. Even better my elite upgrade has cleared for the return (I used one of the 2 complimentary elite status upgrade vouchers having long since given up on using them on the longhaul flights that I take with NZ). So for very low price (much less than my recent domestic tickets) I get relative comfort both ways on this medium haul flight. Yay.

    I pay the departure tax, quickly clear immigration and make my way to the lounge. After being welcomed back I head inside and grab a much needed coffee. There is a spread of hot and cold breakfast foods on offer. I catch up on some emails including working on yet another itinerary with my TA. The expected boarding time comes and goes. As usual the flight monitors advance through the statuses to gate closed as if the flight is leaving on time. Eventually there is an announcement that the flight will be called in 10 minutes. Great for letting us know - saves leaving the lounge too early.

    After a while I mosey on down to the gate - we have the closest one to the lounge, but thanks to the terminal layout it is a 5 minute walk away. Sure enough, boarding hasn't yet commenced but it isn't a long wait. The flight looks to be about half full - no wonder NZ was selling on such a heavy discount through the grab a seat sale so recently. (Incidentally I had planned to take these flights and had booked flexible fares even before the sale - the sale was a nice bonus to save me a lot of money by cancelling and rebooking.)
     
  12. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    I don't have a complete row to myself, although there are some empty rows further back I could move to if I want.

    The A320 economy seats are a bit roomier than the 737 so I don't bother moving. We push back only a few minutes late, the boarding being completed in 10 minutes. Once airborne breakfast is served. A choice of french toast or scrambled egg + sausage potato and tomato. For some reason the FA forgets to offer me a bread roll but it doesn't matter since I am not that hungry having eaten in the lounge. Coffee juice and water to hydrate (or the choice of beer, or wine including Lindaeur sparkling wine).

    The flight over the Pacific Ocean is uneventful. We get a few bumps crossing a jetstream about 2/3 of the way over, the crew take an age to clear away breakfast trays (2 hours from serving until finally being cleared away) and I manage to catch up on reading some reports I needed to review.

    After 3 hours we descend through scattered light cloud getting reasonable views of Vanuatu's islands through the tropical haze. We descend seemingly inches above the forest to land at Port Vila's airport right on time. A small light shower is peppering one end of the runway while the terminal area is dry. By the time the steps are brought to the a/c and we deplane, the shower has reached us so get a few spots walking across the tarmac in the humid morning.

    The terminal is of modest size and reminds me of that at Noumea. There are only 2 immigration officers - one for Vanuatans and one for everyone else, and being island pace it takes a while to process the handful of people in front of me. The officer seems bemused I am here for such a short time but is happy to stamp a full page at my request and I am quickly through customs also. A few paces brings me to the check in counters, where there is a big queue even at the business/elite line. I wondered if there was a lounge here (airport seemed to be substantial enough to have a small lounge) but decided against queueing to get an invitation, for the turnaround is short (perhaps 15 minutes until boarding) and the half of the ceiling fans that are working are providing some comfort.

    So I proceed to immigration, fill in the form and duly get stamped out. It takes the officer a while to locate the entry stamp - there are too many stamps in my nearly full passport!

    Through security I take a look at the duty free and souvenir shops, and note there is indeed a lounge with a big sign on the door proclaiming that no entry will be permitted without an invite - no matter what your boarding pass or frequent flyer program status card. Oh well.

    Boarding starts late - even after the scheduled departure. I am glad that when I booked, on a separate ticket, some further flights today I chose the second one after I was due to arrive back at Auckland, not the first.

    As with many other pacific islands, they do not accept my boarding pass issued in Auckland and the agent heads off to check in to see if it is okay and get a replacement one. Standing here in front of the open door I realise it is more pleasant outside than inside - the fans aren't really helping much.
     
  13. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    I settle into my new seat for the return. Business class is very empty - 2 pilots from the flight over, myself and 2 other paying pax. Economy is slightly fuller than the flight over, maybe 2/3 full.

    The cabin crew are really chatty and so the pre-departure drink only arrives moments before the safety video is played. Glad I chose water to gulp down.

    We taxi and take off with very short roll. There are great views of the islands on both sides, in between the scattered cloud. It takes a while to get the dvd players set up (they first took meal and drink orders, handed out arrival cards for NZ, served drinks and vege crisps) and so mindful of the short flight I chose a short movie. The pilot behind me doesn't choose as wisely and misses the last few minutes when his player is collected on final approach to Auckland.
     
  14. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    Lunch Menu VLI to AKL

    Starter

    Rice paper prawn roll with sweet chilli and coriander dipping sauce.

    Main Course

    Poulet fish with dill cream sauce in pastry crust, steamed gourmet potatoes and seasonal vegetables

    Peppered beef fillet steak with baked potato, roasted pumpkin and green courgettes

    Wok tossed chicken in oyster sauce with Asian greens and hokkein noodles

    Dessert

    Mango cheesecake with tropical fruit coulis

    Cheese

    A selection of fine cheese

    Beverages

    Freshly brewed or decaffeinated Gravity coffee, tea, herbal tea or hot chocolate


    Beverages

    Spirits

    Glenfiddich Malt Whisky
    Chivas Regal Blended Whisky
    Jack Daniel's Black Label
    Gordons Gin
    42 Below Vodka
    Courvoisier VSOP
    Captain Morgan Rum
    Ron Bacardi Superior

    Port and Liqueurs

    Portuguese Port
    Grand Marnier
    Baileys Irish Cream

    Beer

    A selection of beer featuring Steinlager, Export Gold, Heineken and low alcohol lager

    Soft Drinks

    Mineral water, orange juice, tomato juice, cola, lemonade, tonic water, ginger ale and a choice of diabetic drinks are available

    --

    Breakfast Menu AKL to VLI

    Beverages

    Start your day with a fruit smoothie, your choice of juice, freshly brewed or decaffeinated Gravity coffee, tea, herbal tea or hot chocolate

    Continental Selection

    Fruit selection with assorted cereals and yoghurts

    Croissants, muffins, wholemeal and fruit toast with fruit conserve

    Hot Options

    Bacon omelette with roasted tomato relish and chives, breakfast potatoes and veal sausage

    Creamy scrambled eggs with spinach potato cake, smoked chicken bacon and vine ripened tomato

    Ricotta griddle cake with caramelised cinnamon bananas, apple cranberry compote and manuka honey and apple syrup

    --

    mad_atta here are some of the wines carried.

    Economy - mixture or Montana and Jacobs Creek, 2 whites, 2 reds, plus Lindauer sparkling wine

    Business - Red Rock merlot, Fiddlers Green pinot noir, Veuve Clicquot champagne, White Rock, Crossroads, Fonseca port
     
  15. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    #15 Kiwi Flyer, Dec 4, 2006
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2006
    Reading the menus I was glad to have chosen to upgrade the return flight and not the way out. When I put in the request both flights appeared likely to be upgradeable. The other factor for me was pyschological - it is nice to know the next flight will be in comfort instead of spending it thinking about the next flight in discomfort.

    As you may guess from the previous post I had fun sampling the wines on offer and it gave the FA a chance to educate herself a bit too. (When I asked what was available the answer was red or white but she couldn't remember names or styles, oh dear!)

    After the dvd had finished and I returned the player I looked out the window to see we were just passing by Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of mainland NZ. While there was plenty of cloud it was all to the west of the Northland Peninsula. The flights from asia often pass by the west coast of Northland and often there is extensive cloud so I appreciate the view (most of the other pacific island flights come from further east and thus cross over the tip of Coromandel Peninsula rather than Northland.

    From this height the few kilometers between the vast sand expanse of Ninety Mile Beach in the west and the harbours on the east appears tiny. We have great views the entire length and breadth, passing over Bay of Islands and Whangarei and retracing my path from the previous day. This time we are flying much higher and slightly to the east of yesterday's flight path. Again I see the golf, plus the sprawl of Auckland spread across the isthmus.

    We haven't made up any time en route and so pull up to the gate half an hour late. Again I am lucky to get the closest gate to immigration. I rush to make my next flight. Upstairs NZ & Aussie queue looks long so I take a chance with downstairs - unlike the previous time I did this to find an even larger queue this time there are officers waiting for pax. Yay. Despite some scepticism of the officer I seem to answer the questions correctly and avoid secondary this time. There is no queue at xray either so I am soon through and rapidly walking across to domestic terminal.

    I wish NZ had a more frequent service to some of these islands which would make taking a break there much more easy, although given the loads I understand why there isn't.
     
  16. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
    4
    Isle of Pines

    As alluded to above I booked a quick trip to Norfolk Island, being the last of the South Pacific destinations that Air NZ flies to that I hadn't been to. An infrequent schedule by Air NZ and a hectic schedule for me meant that once again it would be a turnaround trip.

    NZ flies their all economy 737 from Auckland to Norfolk Island, but service is the same as trans-tasman with the exception of showing tv programs on the screens instead of a movie. The flight is too short for that, with Norfolk Island about the same distance away as Dunedin - ie closer than the other end of New Zealand.

    I arrive at the terminal in plenty of time. The main check in area is chaos with 17 international flights leaving within the next 2 and a bit hours. So I was surprised that the NZ premium check in area had no pax at all. Check in was pretty quick and I was assured I would have an empty seat beside me each way - loads are light. Through immigration and security to the lounge for a coffee or two.

    2 of the 4 computers are out of order, but I manage to check messages and see to a couple of things. With so many flights to manage, they are announcing flights 10 minutes before boarding will be called in the lounge - so that pax have a chance for final bathroom visit or whatever. Out the windows I see a hive of activity. Not only do all the gates within view have an a/c parked up, but there are at least 9 a/c parked at remote gates, or moving to/from remote gates. Naturally quite a few are NZ a/c, but with all the cutbacks made there are a lot more widebodies parked up than there used to be (no wonder NZ's load factors are high).

    About 10 minutes before scheduled departure and still no call for my flight. The monitors say gate closed, but I know this is unreliable. I decide to wander to the gate browsing the duty free as I go. Outside in the terminal the monitors are instead showing 5 minutes until boarding and seconds later an announcement is made for final boarding call! So 3 different systems all having different ideas about when boarding is made :rolleyes:

    As expected we have a bus gate. 2 of the 4 gate number 4 bus gates are in use, as are 2 of the 4 gate number 5 bus gates. The last few pax are boarding the single bus used for the flight - yup light load (about 30). The drive across the tarmac is short and boarding is very quickly completed. So we start only a couple of minutes late. An announcement is made to stay in our allocated seats for takeoff due to balance issues.

    We take off over the city and get good views for the first ten minutes until we reach the cloud sheet. A breakfast is soon served - a choice of continental or bubble and squeak, as well as juice, champagne, water, tea & coffee.

    The crew are great.

    The IFE shown is Malcolm in the Middle and some other sitcom which we didn't get to see until the end due to playing a Norfolk Island arrival video. The last ten minutes or so we fly low over the entirity of the little island, completing a counterclockwise loop.

    It is a clear mild day here, so we get easy view of the low hills, open forest of Norfolk Pines, grass and a few buildings, some cliffs ringing the island. The landscape reminds me of a rural golf course on the outskirts of a small settlement.

    The airport is small and yet has 2 runways and a little prop a/c advertising scenic flights is parked up!
     
  17. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    We deplane by stairs. It is a lovely mild day with a light breeze - in fact pretty much the same weather and temperature that I'd left in Auckland.

    With no bags to collect I interrupt the immigration officers from their chat. The arrivals card has a nice little map of the island on it, but you can't keep it because on the back is the customs declaration. Processed with barely a question, and I just managed to stop the officer stamping on one of my very few blank passport pages as I try to eke out a bit more life in it (still 7 years life left but it won't last the distance since we cannot add any more pages than the 48 originals).

    Having some time before boarding I wander around. The small terminal is very nice - indoor and outdoor seating, some very nice gardens outside, cafe inside and lots of photos and memorabilia on display.

    On coming back inside I see most departing pax have cleared security into the gate lounge. I spy a sign about departure tax so I head to the counter to check whether I needed to pay, and also complete the departures card sitting on the counter. It seems they were expecting me (probably from the immigration officer who processed me in to the island), but were unsure whether or not I needed to pay. I guess turnaround pax are rare here. So I browsed & chatted while waiting for an answer. The answer is no. For information, the departure tax is A$30 and payable at the airport.

    So through security and I see boarding is mostly complete half an hour ahead of schedule. Back onboard and chat with the crew. The flight is 80% full and at least half seem to be a tour group. The pilot announces we are ready to go early and expect a fast flight back due to tailwinds with flight time of 80 minutes. However door 1L is still open and it seems we are missing one pax. I think she must have wandered off and caught unawares by the early boarding. Fifteen minutes later she comes onboard and we are ready to go.

    As with the flight in, we circle the island at low altitude - but this time clockwise. Then it is off across the ocean. We are short one meal and I let the FA know I don't need to eat. It is a lunch choice of chicken salad or salmon salad. Plus full drink service (wines, beers, spirits etc).

    No view of Northland due to the cloud cover. We finally see the land close to the Waitakere Ranges and Manukau Harbour. A short approach and we are down 30 minutes ahead of schedule. At this busy time of day we get a bus gate. However it seems we arrived too early and there is a 5 minute wait for the stairs and buses to arrive.

    I walk quickly down the pier - seeing lots of pax streaming out the other gates I expect big queues at immigration and quarantine, but surprised there is no queue at the upstairs Australia and NZ lanes. So I use them, quickly processed and down the escalator where I see the downstairs lanes are very full. I don't understand why some people skip an obviously short line upstairs to queue up at a much longer one downstairs.

    I managed to get the only xray machine without a queue and so bus gate to exit time was about 3 minutes. Not bad at all.
     
  18. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
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    AUCKLAND to CAIRNS (AKL-CNS) on NZ A320

    Continuing on from mini tour of NZ.

    When I made the 2 separate bookings the connection was a tightish 100 minutes. The late inbound flight saw this reduced somewhat. So, I was relieved that I had been able to check in for this flight (and the turnaround return) at Palmerston North - thus eliminating the rush to make check in close off, scrambling between domestic and international terminals (of which the arrival gate was far end of domestic terminal and premium check in the far end of international terminal).

    But I am getting ahead of myself.
     
  19. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
    4
    Although I have flown to Cairns before (on Qantas) I have not on Air NZ, and it is one of only a handful of Air NZ destinations that I have not flown on Air NZ. So when a great sale fare came up I nabbed it. I first checked that the connection from my domestic travels the same day was reasonable. 100 minutes is a bit tight but doable if no bags and prepared to take the risk as I was. I noted the NZ booking engine gave this connection as an option when flying from Palmerston North (departure point of my previous flight) to Cairns. I would help my odds by selecting an aisle seat near the rear door for Palmerston North to Auckland (possible thanks to my status) and being able to use the NZ premium check in facility at international terminal (thus bypassing the worst of the queues). I was also prepared to run between the terminals if needed. So I was reasonably confident of making the connection.

    With the windy weather through much of the country causing delays and cancellations I decided to try to check in at Palmerston North, just in case I would otherwise miss the 1 hour international check in cutoff. Good news - I was able to do so despite being separate tickets. Earlier in the day I had noted the loads looked reasonably light - judging by the booking classes still available for sale. So I asked if I could get the seat beside me blocked. No problem.

    Now, I resume arriving in Auckland late. I rushed between the terminals. It is still early for check in for the evening US bound flights so I have no wait at the premium check in counter. I pay my departure tax and check I still have a blocked seat beside me. Oops - that seat has been taken. So I get moved to another row. The boarding pass to Cairns is reprinted on magnetic strip BP stock (the originals are the slim barcoded domestic ones), but not for the return flight.

    Quickly through immigration and security and off to the lounge. I notice the new signage advising that liquid duty free can be taken on US-bound flights, but only if purchased at least 90 minutes before departure. There is no mention that any pax connecting in US (including NZ2 same a/c service to LHR) cannot then take the duty free onto the next flight - they will need to be checked in at airport of the entry to US.

    In the lounge I head first to the showers to freshen up. The amenity kit has changed - nice large clear bag to comply with liquids rules, and a few extra amenities that had been gone from NZ for a couple of years. Nice to see the improvement. By the time I'm done I have just enough time for a quick glass before heading off to the gate. I notice the lounge is already crowded, and yet most qualifying passengers bound for LAX, SFO, HKG and LHR won't be in the lounge yet. The success of NZ in loads and numbers of elites really needs to be matched on the ground. In the past couple of years the international lounge capacity has decreased - first with the removal of the first class lounge, and then with such improvements as replacing the sleeper room with a kids room, and cordoning off an area for massages (complimentary to certain qualifying passengers, or paid for everyone else).

    On the way to the gate I notice the airport has installed yet more advertising - electric billboards. At the gate boarding begins. Even though I can board at any time thanks to my status I elect to wait until the end (yup last passenger to board) to reduce by a few minutes the amount of time I'm squished up.

    This is my fifth flight of the day, fifth different aircraft type and fifth "airline". (Despite all flights having NZ flight numbers each different aircraft type is a different subsidiary with the exception of one flight operated by Vincent Aviation for NZ, and Air Nelson operates 2 aircraft types Q300 and Saab 340 of which I only flew Saab 340 today. The other airlines flown are Zeal320 for A320, Mount Cook Airlines for ATR 72-500 and Air NZ mainline for 737-300.)

    The flight is fuller than I expected - over 80%. But the middle seat is indeed empty. After doors are shut there is a wait while apparently some bags are located in domestic terminal and brought over to the aircraft. Something must have gone wrong.

    After take off meal service begins from the front of the economy cabin. A choice of crumbed fish or chicken and mushroom pie - both with a rice salad and Kapiti icecream. Usual offerings of 4 Montana wines, Lindaur sparkling, beer and spirits.

    On the screens first there is the short wellbeing video, then a couple of promotional videos for NZ. Then the movie Casino Royale. There are also several audio channels available.

    I grab a bite to eat then doze fitfully for the remainder of the flight.

    We arrive on time at Cairns.
     
  20. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    5,453
    4
    CAIRNS to AUCKLAND (CNS-AKL) on NZ A320

    The scheduled turn around is one hour. NZ used to use the Qantas Club for business class and *G passengers, but stopped this a while back. Apparently there is a shower landside but not airside. Given the short turnaround time, and likely grilling by immigration I decided to do an international transfer airside. I was unsure whether Cairns had such a facility given the low numbers of international flights, and so was delighted to see that it did. Through security quickly with no queues. It seems most passengers on the return flight are already airside, and even most of the later Continental flight to Guam. Both are lightly loaded - there is plenty of space for all.

    I head to the bathroom to freshen up and suprised to find a shower. Great, that saves me some time on arrival into Auckland. The shower cubicle is tiny - I need to stand in the shower itself to both open and close the door. Never mind, it is refreshing, although that feeling quickly disappears in the humidity after I turn the shower off. By now boarding has already been called and again I'm the last passenger to board. At the gate they have trouble with my barcode boarding pass - this is no surprise to me. They decide they have to reissue as a magnetic one but can do that once I'm onboard. The agent had noted my turnaround and offered to change seats since the block failed to work Unfortunately no op-up, but I do get a row to myself. Unfortunately it is the bulkhead row with tables in the armrest so I cannot lie down. Oh well, at least I'm assured of a quick exit at Auckland.

    The flight is well under half full. We have the same crew coming back - since this flight is not daily that is expected.

    We depart 15 minutes early. The meal is a dinner, not a breakfast which I expected. The choice is between chicken and steak & mushroom pie. No icecream but instead a sweet cake/slice.

    I manage to doze a little without getting much sleep. We make good time and land quite early. The airport is busy with every gate taken and a number of aircraft scattered around the hard stands. Yup we get a bus gate which means slow taxi and even slower to get to immigration. While the bus loads up I see some widebodies land - and even those aircraft get bus gates too. That would be disappointing after a longhaul flight. I know some airports like LHR and FRA no aircraft type is immune from getting a bus gate and have experienced the buses on 747 flights (down to little aircraft). Still this is the first time I can recall at AKL that a widebody has gotten a bus gate - normally they try to allocate them to 737s and A320s.

    I positioned myself strategically in the bus and walk fast thus am the first to reach immigration. We have gotten lucky - in the sweet spot in between the wave of first arrivals and the next wave. So I'm through in seconds, a slight wait at customs and over to xray. To my surprise no secondary screening and I'm landside within 3 minutes of the bus reaching the terminal.

    I notice the domestic transfer desk has a huge queue stretching out across the arrivals area. It would be quicker to walk to domestic terminal and recheck in there. In response to a question by an FTer I looked and was able to confirm the transfer desks are for NZ only - for QF there is no transfer desk.
     
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