Air New Zealand's inaugural flight to Argentina has just touched down in Buenos Aires, welcomed by performances from a kapa haka group and tango dancers.

On the flight was Air New Zealand brand ambassador and former All Black captain Richie McCaw who revealed that despite being a fearless flyer he finds horses scary.

He said he won't be queing up to take the field when he attends a polo match later in the trip.

McCaw, who last month retired from professional sport, told the Herald he hadn't done much long-haul travel recently without playing a rugby game at the other end.

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"Normally when you get on you get offered a champagne or something and you can't have that but it's quite nice to have a wee wine before you get there. But it's probably a bit different to get off the plane thinking 'jeepers, I haven't got a game in five or seven day's time' - that always puts a bit of stress on you. So it's quite nice travelling a little bit different," he said.

McCaw will attend a rugby event in Buenos Aires this week as part of promoting the new Air New Zealand service and also believes he'll be off to a polo game during his stay.

Despite his sporting prowess, McCaw wasn't that keen on trying polo himself.

"Horses scare me to be honest so we'll see how we go. We'll play that by ear, I don't think a horse will enjoy a big lump like me on it," he said.

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Air New Zealand's inaugural flight to Argentina has just touched down in Buenos Aires, welcomed by performances from a kapa haka group and tango dancers.

Today's flight marks the first time Air New Zealand has operated a regular service to South America in its 75 year-history.

The national carrier's non-stop service, which will run three times a week, reduces the flight time to the Argentine capital and brings more competition to the travel market between New Zealand and South America.

The direct flight takes under 12 hours on way up to Argentina and under 14 hours on the return journey.

The journey's most high-profile passenger - took pride of place up the very front of the Boeing 777-200ER.

Horses scare me to be honest so we'll see how we go. We'll play that by ear, I don't think a horse will enjoy a big lump like me on it.

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Air New Zealand's flights from Auckland to Buenos Aires begin today, boosting competition in the travel market between this country and South America. Among the passengers on this evening's inaugural flight is former All Black captain Richie McCaw, who recently re-signed as an Air New Zealand brand ambassador for a further two years.

The airline's chief strategy, networks and alliances officer Stephen Jones, among the first off the plane, performed the formalities by unravelling a blue and white ribbon at at Ministro Pistarini International Airport in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires.

A kapa haka group made up of the national airline's staff then performed for incoming passengers.

The group's leader, Andrew Baker had arrived earlier in the week and said he had found the Argentine people "warm and hospitable".

Jones also exchanged gifts with represenatives from airport company Aeropuertos Argentina and the National Institute of Tourism promotion, with the Air New Zealand executive gifting what appeared to be a wooden koru.

Associate Minister of Tourism Paula Bennett was also on the flight and said the service will make it easier for Kiwis to travel to South America as well as opening up the market for the continent's tourists to come to New Zealand.

About 4160 visitors visited New Zealand from Argentina in the year to September and Bennett acknowledged lot of work needed to be done to attract more.

"A lot of work from Tourism New Zealand, certainly from the Government investing in them to make sure they can do what they need to do. It's pretty hard to do without this flight really," she said.

Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon
Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon

One thing that could help expand tourism was more international students coming to New Zealand from South America, she said.

"Their families come and visit and I think we get over two visits a year from [each] student being here," said Bennett.

As well as meeting her tourism counterparts in the new Argentine Government, Bennett - New Zealand's former Minister of Social Development - will also talk with the incoming Minister of Welfare during her trip.

"The Minister Elect of Welfare has asked to see me to talk to some of the welfare changes we've made in the last six years in New Zealand and to look at some of them for Argentinians," she said.

Speaking to the Herald an hour before departure, Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said the Buenos Aires route was an important part of the airline's "Pacific Rim strategy".

Over time...Auckland will be the fastest way to connect South East Asia with Latin America as well...initially we'll focus on New Zealanders and Australians getting out of South America but there's a bigger opportunity and bigger play here.

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"Looking at our Pacific Rim strategy the one continent we didn't have any access to, [which] was a big white space, was really South America. Buenos Aires is the most visited city in South America so it made sense for us to actually fly there and start up services. In doing that what we're hoping is we can fundamentally get flows [of] traffic and tourism and trade moving between continents - South America, Australia and New Zealand," said Luxon, who wasn't on the flight.

Asked how Air New Zealand plans to fill the thrice-weekly planes, Luxon said the company had been working with Tourism New Zealand for over a year and would now spend tens of millions of dollars building demand for the service.

He pointed out that "green shoots of connectivity" between Argentina and New Zealand already included rugby and education.

"It's also about Australia, because essentially if you're sitting in Melbourne, you've got three stops in order to get Buenos Aires. So to be able to come from Melbourne through Auckland into this international terminal makes it one seamless transition. Essentially Auckland acts as a hub that then connects you into South America." Luxon said.

"Over time...Auckland will be the fastest way to connect South East Asia with Latin America as well...initially we'll focus on New Zealanders and Australians getting out of South America but there's a bigger opportunity and bigger play here."

Passengers on the inaugural flight included a mix of those getting away from New Zealand on holiday and those returning home to South America.

New York-based New Zealanders Sara and Jordan Boyd, both 29, were just two travellers taking advantage of the direct flight to holiday in Argentina and Brazil before heading home to the United States.

Henrique Franca, who is a part way through a degree in medicine, was on his way home to Brazil after 10 months studying at University of Otago.

Hamish Fletcher was flown and hosted in Argentina by Air New Zealand.