This was my first flight with Air New Zealand. I had booked the ticket via Expedia after much researching of the available options between Australia and New Zealand. Although this relatively expensive fare (£210 for the return) didn't earn any miles, I would have full Star Alliance Gold privileges, which is what swung it over the other options for me in the end.
Check-in was uneventful and despite a bit of fluster at immigration where I had forgotten that I needed to fill out an exit form for Australia, I was soon through and enjoying the Air New Zealand lounge (Koru Club) in Sydney, which quite rightly has a good reputation. I had already eaten a very large breakfast at the IC lounge, so only enjoyed a coke and played around with the free wireless connection available in the lounge . Mindful of having to drive immediately on landing at the other end, I decided to completely refrain from alcohol during this lounge visit and flight .
The flight was soon ready for boarding and I entered the ANZ A320 from one of the gates close to the lounge and took my F window seat in economy, just behind the business class section. The aircraft seemed new, with excellent and extremely comfortable leather seats. I must say they were one of the most comfortable economy seats I have ever sat in. The really good news was that the E seat next to me was free, so I had some lateral space and extra storage room.
The flight departed on time and the in-flight service soon started. In flight entertainment was provided on the drop down screens from the overhead compartments and consisted of one feature length film (not a particularly memorable title) followed by some other programming. The meal was a box containing a pannini type sandwich, of very acceptable proportion and some other bits and bobs (sorry to be so vague, it is some time ago now and I forget the details, but I do remember being very impressed with the contents).
The flight is fairly boring from a visual perspective, being mainly over water, until of course you start the descent and then suddenly through the clouds the Southern Alps appear. I must say that descending over them into New Zealand's South Island is one of the most stunning approaches in the world. As I found last year, it was however quite turbulent, all the way through to touch down at Christchurch airport.
Overall I was very impressed with my first experience of Air New Zealand. Now, if it wasn't for the high cost of trans-Tasman travel, not getting any miles and not being able to afford business class, it would have been a perfect flight!
I arrived at Queenstown airport about 90 mins before my flight to Wellington via Christchurch. The airport is tiny and after leaving my rental car in the Avis lot, I checked in in no time at all. The useful thing about New Zealand domestic airports is that there is no effective airside and landisde split, as security is done (if at all) just before you get on the aircraft.
After trying to get into the Koru Club and realising I needed a PIN, I headed back all the way to check-in to get it (they could have told me really). However once I returned, the lounge wasn't really much at all. It was too early in the day to start drinking, so I just decided to go back to the cafe in the main departure hall which had nice views over the apron/runway. There were not many flights to see though - mainly Milford Sound sightseeing trip Cessna's and the like.
Eventually I saw our plane arrive, shortly followed by a Qantas 737. After watching everyone debark (lucky things) I headed to the gate area and security check. Once most people had been checked in to the secure gate area, we were allowed to board. There being no airbridges at ZQN, this was done via the tarmac and mobile steps up to this Air New Zealand 737. I was sat in 1F, which is one of my preferred seats.
We taxied all the way to the far end of the runway and did a U-turn to take off. Due to the mountains and frequent low cloud, take off direction in ZQN is dictated as much by cloud cover / visibility as by wind direction - today luckily this meant a take off over downtown Queenstown. The captain came over the PA and informed us that as soon as we'd lifted off, he would be powering down so that we could get some good views of Queenstown before powering up and away over the mountains.
True to his word, the views after take off were amazing and I was able to see most of Queenstown from a new angle. Then we powered up, performed a 180 degree turn and headed up the middle of the country back to Christchurch.
The in flight service consisted of a small packet of biscuits and a small tub of water. Hardly filling, but what can you expect on a 30 minute flight? Soon we were on our way into Christchurch which was shrouded in low cloud, almost all the way down to ground level, so no views were available.
A very competent flight, cheaper than the trans-Tasman segment and at least I got some miles for it!!
After an hour or so in the very nice Christchurch Koru Club, it was time to board the flight to Wellington and again I was in 1F. Due to the very low cloud in Christchurch, the ground disappeared very shortly after take-off.
As we climbed through the cloud, we eventually broke through to a layer of clear skies between two cloud layers and the cabin crew started their service, again with biscuits and small tubs of water. However they had only got to row 3 or so when the Captain came on the PA and asked them to retake their seats due to forthcoming turbulence. He apologised that we wouldn't be getting any service on this very short sector.
The turbulence was not that bad, although it wasn't the most comfortable flight. As we crossed the Cook Straight, it was mostly clear, although bumpy until we touched down in WLG. With such a small airport, deplaning was quick, as was baggage reclaim and I was soon on my way out of the airport.
I turned up to the airport with what I thought was plenty of time to spare, but check-in was a complete nightmare. Supposedly a premium check-in facility, it took about 45 minutes to negotiate, not helped by the fact that several people ended up having to queue jump in front of me so that they could actually make their flight. A big to Air New Zealand here I'm afraid, but at least you can pay the bizarre and annoying AKL airport tax at check-in in the premium zone.
The Koru Club was busy at this early hour, but it is so big that plenty of room was available. I had some toast and coffee and relaxed for a few minutes before my flight was called. Unfortunately it was 15-20 minutes of waiting at the gate before we could actually board.
Once on board, Air New Zealand's woeful ground performance quickly changed. The same type of extremely comfortable leather seats that I had found on the A320 were in evidence on the 777. And the seat I had been given, 31C, is the first row of regular economy and affords buckets of legroom. There is a bulkhead, but this only extends to the A and B seats, so in the C seat you can stretch your legs much more.
The cabin crew were very attentive and humorous and chatty, which gave a very positive impression of ANZ. Once boarding was complete, it took a while to be pushed back from the gate and make our way to the runway. We took off to the West and did a long, lazy 180 degree turn and climbed up over the Tasman. Mt Taranaki was visible a long way off in the distance.
The personal TV is located in the armrest in this seat and it has to be one of the largest and clearest screens that I have ever seen. The system is fully AVOD and is quite easily the best I have ever used. On long sectors that this type of aircraft normally flies (it will soon be on the LHR route via LAX) you could easily while away the hours with this excellent entertainment offering. I flicked around the system and ended up watching some of my favourite scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy - unfortunately this flight was too short to watch an entire LoTR film!!
The food was good - very similar to the outbound flight to CHC.
We were soon in the descent for SYD and approached from the north, with good views out over Sydney harbour as we came over. Landing, taxiing to the terminal and deplaning were handled very quickly indeed. Overall, apart from the AKL section of the trip, this is a very comfortable way to cross the Tasman.