Let me tell you a tale of two journeys. To get to Kapiti Island to write one of this week's stories I flew Air New Zealand from Auckland to Wellington; caught the bus from the airport to the railway station; took the train to Paraparaumu; got a taxi to the Kapiti Boating Club where I was to board the ferry to the island. Total time three-and-a-half hours. Quite an expedition.
To get back I walked from the ferry to Kapiti Coast Airport and caught one of Air NZ's new direct flights between Paraparaumu and Auckland. Total time an hour and a quarter. Easy peasy.
And cheap too. As Grant Kerr, general manager of Air Nelson - the Air NZ subsidiary which is providing the service - put it: "Our headline fare from Kapiti to Auckland is $99. The locals tell me the shuttle bus from Wellington Airport usually costs about $100. So you could say they're flying for free and they save an hour."
The airline is running 18 flights a week on the new route, so that's quite a few more Aucklanders getting the chance to explore the attractions of Kapiti's Nature Coast with its spectacular beaches, amazing wildlife, top golf courses, great transport museums and, at Kapiti Candies, the nicest fudge I've ever tasted (plus quite a few more Kapiti folk being able to experience Auckland's cafes).
It's a perfect example of how improved transport links can make it easier for us to visit the beautiful corners of our country.
The introduction of direct flights between Auckland and Paraparaumu, the first new airport to be added to the network since the launch of a service from Auckland to Masterton a couple of years ago, means Air NZ and its regional airlines now fly to 27 airports - pretty impressive coverage for a country this size.
On top of that, of course, there are lots of independent regional aviation companies like Great Barrier Airlines, Salt Air, Air Chathams, Stewart Island Flights, Air Nelson, Air2There and Sounds Air which service a great array of smaller places.
Kerr said Air NZ is not at the moment looking at any further expansion though once the Auckland-Paraparaumu service settles down it might consider a Paraparaumu-Christchurch link.
"What we do is look at the size of the catchment, which in Kapiti's case is around 110,000, and the distance from an alternative airport, which depending on where people live could be an hour's drive, to get an idea of what the demand is likely to be," he said.
"At this stage we think we've got the country pretty well covered."
Hmm. I live in an area with a catchment of 185,000 and I have to allow two hours to get to the airport. How about a regional air service for the North Shore?
"You're talking about Whenuapai," he said in horror.
"Oh no, no, no, no. We're not going there. Don't mention Whenuapai."
Pity. Remember that journey of mine which took an hour and a quarter to get from the Kapiti Island ferry to Auckland Airport?
Well it took slightly longer than that to get from the airport to home ... and we had a good run.By Jim Eagles Email Jim