We were already dealing with the guilt of flying again after a 20 month break. Sure it wasn’t long haul but it was the longest flight you could make while still technically in NZ. 1,000km from Auckland to the Chatham Islands which are located on the international dateline 800km east of Christchurch. The flight was on an Air Chathams Convair 580, a plane built between 1947 and 1954, gosh, as old as me. The anticipation was for an interesting flight. We were not disappointed.
On our way to Auckland airport we received notification that the flight had been cancelled, fog in the Chathams, and the window for them being able to complete a return flight had closed. There are no lights on the runway at Tuuta Airport which means night landings are off the menu. We were told that we would fly out the same time the next day. On the morrow we duly made our way out to the airport and at our appointed boarding time we got the news that the flight had been delayed.
Two hours later, as we were finally making our way across the tarmac to the board the plane, the rain decided to descend on Auckland. We had been bussed to a hangar located some way from the terminal, it was all a bit novel . Those of us who had faith in Auckland’s weather were a little soggy by the time we reached our seats, well attempted to reach our seats. What we didn’t appreciate was that the allocated seat number on the boarding pass was ‘fake’, and bore no relationship to the seat numbering on the plane. The crew member greeting us aboard added the comment, ‘sit anywhere’. Anywhere, for us, was in the emergency exit row next to a large windowless door complete with instructions on how to open it, “in the unlikely event of an emergency”. A quick scan of the plane did not fill me with confidence about the ‘unlikely’ aspect of that caveat.
Ruth helpfully pointed out a persistent dripping of water from a light fitting just in front of us asking; “should we worry about that?” It soon became evident that there were multiple leaks as passengers called for help to avoid a second wetting before takeoff. The cabin crew member was not fazed and hushed the complainants in order to go through the safety procedures, information that had suffendly taken on a lot more significance than your usual pre departure briefing. However, once airborne, without any fuss, she undertook a thorough mopup of the cabin. The rest of the flight was thankfully dry and uneventful.
On the outbound flight there were around forty passengers whereas, on the return (thankfully dry) leg, there were around twenty plus a large shipment of crayfish (lobster). For that return flight, the interior of the plane had been reconfigured so that there was more space for the valuable freight. An older plane with the versatility to act as both a passenger or freighter or a bit of both makes a lot of sense. It probably also accounted for the more ‘battered’ look of the dual purpose area that we were seated in during our outbound flight.
After the bustle of Auckland airport, Tuuta airport was a blast from the past, although a not so recent past for those of us from Kerikeri. We had hired a rental van and, once we had organised the paperwork our first task was to drop the rental rep back to their country house which was located down a long, ‘crater’ strewn and dusty driveway. There was a little initial ‘posterior pain’ but after a few days of bumping along unsealed and often rough roads and tracks, our bodies toughened up (a little).
While waiting for our return flight the cabin crew member on our outbound flight arrived with a young child in tow. One of our team commented that this was a positive sign for leaving on schedule but she quipped that she was not on today’s flight and soon settled into the task of managing the baggage check-in, along with her young assistant. Maybe she even flew the plane on other days, it would not have surprised us.
The flight to Chatham Island was all part of the experience of visiting such a remote destination. We had a belated chuckle about it over a medicinal drink when we finally reached our homestay accommodation in the tiny settlement of Waitangi.