No time for a stretch in hop across the Tasman
Airline: Qantas Date: May 18 Flight no: QF121 Route: Sydney to Queenstown, NZ Departure time: 8.35am (on time) Seat: 3F Class: Business Aircraft: Boeing 737-800 THE weekend before this trip it took four hours for me to fly direct from Sydney to Darwin, and now this trans-Tasman flight is but a 21/ 2-hour jaunt. No matter how many times I look at the maps and do the maths, trans-continental hops in Australia always seem shockingly long.
It’s therefore interesting that Qantas has announced it’s putting internationally configured aircraft on its Sydney-Perth services; it’s a direct reflex, of course, to Virgin Australia’s fancy new business-class offering, and an acknowledgement that there’s a big market for executive passengers who want lie-flat beds and comfy extras on the red-eye route.
Queenstown makes an ideal destination for quick getaways and there are always extra flights in the ski season. There is no time to lie down on such a short flight and the three rows of businessclass seats (two abreast; total of 12 passengers) suggest there’s limited demand in that class.
Such a small cabin means the crew have time to chat and, on this flight, merry Captain Andrew pops out from the flight deck and announces he’s ‘ ‘ working the crowd’’ and ‘‘getting in everyone’s way’’. He tells us it’ll be a ‘‘basking 5C in Queenstown’’ for our arrival.
Breakfast is served shortly after take-off with a choice of continental or poached eggs with hollandaise sauce, sausage, sauteed spinach and sweet onion relish or blackberry crepe with spiced fruit compote and mascarpone. A strawberry energiser drink and a bowl of Brookfarm toasted muesli studded with macadamia nuts and cranberries does the trick for me.
Individual DVD players are offered, loaded with eight movies and a selection of docos, comedies and variety shows. But these require a bit of juggling on the fold-out trays, so back to my book, which is segmented into standalone chapters and thus perfect for dip-into reading. It’s Notorious Australian Women by Kay Saunders and it is terrific, full of often sensational details about remarkable women, including journalists Charmian Clift and Lillian Roxon, and lesser-known identities such as Ellen Tremaye and Marion Edwards, who lived as men in colonial Australia, even marrying and cavorting with fugitives.
It’s close to landing time and I am jerked out of the chapter on beauty industry entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein and back to reality by Captain Andrew, who’s on the PAsystem with a chuckle in his voice.
‘‘The Remarkables are laid out like a feast for our eyes,’’ he announces as the plane makes an approach through a corridor in these confidently named mountains. The close-up views are fantastic from either side: early snow on the hard peaks, cold green-grey rivers winding like gymnast ribbons through bare valleys. Suddenly we seem to pop out of a funnel and land at Queenstown.
Immigration staff at this little airport are as typically friendly as elsewhere in NZ — none of that ‘‘What do you think you’re doing here?’’ approach that is often encountered at, say, Sydney international airport. But the biosecurity measures are very thorough and unforgiving; you would not want to arrive with feathers, bulbs, fungi, tents ‘‘with soil attached’’, indecent publications keeping equipment.
Due to the two-hour time difference between Australia and New Zealand, lunch is already on the agenda. Off to the House Bar at Eichardt’s Private Hotel for what surely is the world’s best seafood chowder; I am sure Captain Andrew, an avowed ‘ ‘ fan of Queenstown’’, knows it well.
Tip: This morning flight gets you into Queenstown at 1.30pm, which is the ideal arrival time for hotel check-ins ( usually from 2pm).
More: Qantas flies from Sydney to Queenstown four times a week. All-inclusive economyclass fares start from $400 one way; qantas.com.
bee- About My Last Flight is an occasional column by T&I staff and key contributors.