Exploring New Zealand by a DC-3 Aircraft - United Hub

Exploring New Zealand by a DC-3 aircraft

By The Hub team

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By SFO A320 Captain Scott Cooper

I recently returned from an incredible tour of New Zealand. Instead of travelling by bus, we flew around on a true aviation classic, a DC-3. In 12 days, our group flew "low and slow," experiencing all this beautiful country has to offer, from the North to the South Island.

DC-3 Aircraft in New Zealand

On the first day, we met our crew (mostly retired pilots and flight attendants) and left Auckland for Rotorua (known locally as "RotoVegas") to experience the natural thermal springs, and a traditional Maori Haka dance and Hangi dinner. The following day, owing to bad weather, we were taken by coach bus down to Palmerston North for the flight down to Blenheim on the South Island. This region is home to the Marlborough wine region, and it's where you can find some of the best sauvignon blanc on the planet. We landed at the Omaka airfield, which is a grass strip and home to the incredible Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum. The next day, we boarded our DC-3 for the one-hour flight down the coast to Christchurch. Upon arrival, we toured the International Antarctic Centre (Christchurch has traditionally been the starting point for expeditions and military operations to Antarctica). Christchurch itself was devastated by a massive earthquake in 2011 but is being rebuilt anew.

Town of Te Anau in New Zealand

The following morning, we departed once again for the short, 20-minute flight to Ashburton, a large grass airfield and home to the amazing Ashburton Aviation Museum. After a barbeque lunch, we took off for the beautiful town of Dunedin. Dunedin, on the south east coast of the South Island, is home to New Zealand's first university and truly one of the most beautiful small towns in the world. After a great day of exploring Dunedin, we took off for the one hour flight across the tip of the Southern Alps to the charming lakeside town of Te Anau. Te Anau is the gateway to the Milford Sound region and home to some of the most spectacular and unspoiled scenery in the world. It's also where the "Lord of the Rings" movies were filmed. Cruising up the Milford Sound is quite an experience, as clear days are rare. Gale force winds are more common, but the scenery is simply stunning and worth the journey. The next morning, we left for Queenstown, which can only be described as a sportsman's paradise. The town of 18,000 is the starting point for hiking, kayaking, jet boating, bungee jumping or skiing (in the winter). In the evening, our group cruised up Lake Wakatipu on an old, coal-burning steamship, which was built in the same year as the Titanic. A fun fact about our tour director was that he is a direct descendant of William Murdoch, who was the First Officer on the RMS Titanic itself.

After a couple great days in Queenstown, it was off again to Wanaka, which is home to one of the biggest air shows in the Southern Hemisphere (one that our DC-3, "Betsy" participates in every year), as well as a great aviation museum and the largest collection of Packard cars in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world. For the next few days, we flew up to the towns of Hokitika, Greymouth, and Westport, before our final stop on the South Island, Nelson. Like Dunedin, Nelson is one of the most charming and livable small towns on the planet.

Scott Cooper with the DC-3 aircraft

After about nine days flying around the South Island, we left its beautiful shores to land on the North Island, once again in New Plymouth. After a great evening and tour of WWII exhibit at the airport, curated by none other than Jim Hickey (TVNZ's most famous weatherman and an all-around great guy), we headed back up to Ardmore airport in Auckland. After landing, the official tour wrapped up, capping off a 12-day trip of a lifetime, but the aviation experience was not quite over yet, as an optional scenic flight over Auckland in a PBY Catalina aircraft was on offer.

This was an incredible experience to fly in one of only two Catalinas left in the world today, certified to carry passengers. This tour is offered just once or twice a year and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If interested check out pacifictrailways.co.nz.

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