Air NZ to trial Mt Cook service for six weeks
Air New Zealand is resurrecting flights from Christchurch to Mt Cook and on to Queenstown for six weeks this summer.
The national carrier is hoping a recovery in Japanese tourists will help make the service profitable.
It last operated services between Christchurch and Mt Cook a decade ago, with the final flights in February 2002.
With the relaunch, a 68-seat ATR aircraft will fly from Christchurch to Mt Cook airfield near the Hermitage complex three times a week. The aircraft will then continue on to Queenstown, with a return service departing Queenstown mid-afternoon.
The service will operate for just six weeks, from December 23 till January 27, to meet high-season demand from overseas markets, particularly Japanese visitors.
When Air New Zealand first announced the new service, group general manager Australasia Bruce Parton said the decision to launch came after a combined effort from Christchurch International Airport chief executive Jim Boult, Hermitage chairman John Davies and the airline to make the route feasible.
Davies acquired the Hermitage property, including an associated alpine village, a few years ago.
Parton said the service would make it easier for groups to stay overnight at Mt Cook.
"It would also make day trips possible to the region by cruise ship visitors.
Boult, who has a long association with Queenstown and Central Otago, said that before 2002 flights from Christchurch to Queenstown had a regular stopover at Mt Cook.
"I moved to Queenstown in 1982 and there was not a flight that went to Queenstown then that didn't stop at Mt Cook . . . Then Mt Cook lost favour as a destination with the falloff of the Japanese market."
There had been a resurgence of numbers recently.
Davies and his family have spent a lot of money refurbishing the Hermitage hotel and building up tourism activities around it.
Boult said: "We came up with the idea of recommencing services into Mt Cook effectively on a trial basis this year to see how it goes, and if it works we're hoping Air New Zealand will extend it and put more services on in future summers."
The 40-minute flights between Christchurch and Mt Cook, leaving before noon, will be timed to connect with the arrival into Christchurch of a direct service from Tokyo.