Flight Test: Wellington to Westport with Sounds Air

Siobhan Downes
May 8, 2016

Flight Test: Wellington to Westport with Sounds Air

Sounds Air - Siobhan - reporter

A ride in a Sounds Air Pilatus PC12 is a novel way to cross the Cook Strait.

Sounds Air

A ride in a Sounds Air Pilatus PC12 is a novel way to cross the Cook Strait.

This is one of those occasions where the journey is just as spectacular as the destination.

AIRLINE: Sounds Air, a locally owned and operated airline based at Picton Airport in Marlborough.

THE ROUTE: Wellington to Westport, on the West Coast.  This service launched last April to fill the gap when Air New Zealand reorganised its regional routes.

Sounds Air - Siobhan - reporter

The view over the top of the South Island from Sounds Air's Wellington to Westport flight.

Siobhan Downes

The view over the top of the South Island from Sounds Air's Wellington to Westport flight.

At the time, Go West Coast chairman Brent Oldham spoke of the need for more options to access the region.  He summed up the problem: "We're the poster child for tourism yet we're the most difficult bloody place to get to."

There are 13 return flights a week between Wellington and Westport, and the route takes 40 minutes.  A standard ticket will cost you $199.

THE PLANE: Is the teeniest I have ever been on.  It's a Pilatus PC12, a Swiss single-engine turboprop that seats nine.  Sounds Air operates three of these to supplement its fleet of Cessna Caravans.

LOYALTY PLAN: Sounds Air offers a 10-trip ticket discount for frequent flyers.

THE SEAT STUFF: I'm at the front of the plane, right behind the pilot, in one of two seats that face the back. I enjoy lording it over the other passengers, fantasising about what it would be like to be a flight attendant.  There's little wriggle room though - I'm essentially knee-to-knee with the businessman sitting in front of me.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: The view.  Oh my goodness, the view.  As a homesick South Islander,  I come over all, "this is my country" as the Marlborough Sounds come into view, glittering in the buttery morning sun.  As we glide over braided rivers and mountains that jut out of the land like a giant spine, I can't help but lean over and take several hundred pictures from my window.  The businessman in front of me sheepishly follows my lead, taking out his phone and snapping the glorious landscape below.

THE SERVICE: It's a real novelty getting to see the pilot do his thing.  As he gives us a low-key safety briefing, a passenger's phone goes off.  The man apologises, embarrassed, but our friendly pilot says: "Don't worry mate, sometimes even my phone goes off when I'm in the air."  The flight itself couldn't be smoother - and while I'm sure that is in large part due to the pilot's skill, it has to be said, we had a cracker morning for it.

FEEDING TIME: Grab something at Wellington Airport before you board.  I check in half an hour before departure, and the lovely lady at the desk tells me I can feel free to grab a coffee, as long as I'm back five minutes before the plane leaves.

BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE: You get 15kg.  It is a tiny plane, after all.  I'm a bit surprised they don't weigh the passengers at the counter.

THE VERDICT: Sounds Air is an absolute beaut.  People pay thousands for scenic helicopter rides and the like, but I'm telling you, this is the next best thing.  As we land in Westport, waves crashing on the side of the runway, I feel as though I've already been on some sort of great adventure.