Shandelle Battersby flies Sounds Air S8802 from Wellington to Taupo.
The plane: A single engine, turbine-powered Pilatus PC12. Sounds Air was founded 30 years ago by Cliff and Diane Marchant to service the Marlborough Sounds, Wellington and Nelson, and these days also flies various combinations to Westport, Napier, Paraparaumu, Christchurch and Taupo. It has its own airport at Picton and runs a shuttle ($10) to connect to it from several locations around town (bookings essential). The airline has five Pilatus PC12s in its fleet and five Cessna Caravans.
Price: Sounds Air offers set rates for each route. There are three classes of tickets, each with different conditions mostly around the change fees. For Wgtn-Taupo Sounds Good tickets (from $159) are the cheapest, with a $40 change fee, while the most expensive option, Sounds Best (no change fee), is $269.
The airport experience: After you've checked in at Wellington you head to the regional departures area next to the Air New Zealand counter and scan your own boarding pass to get through to a waiting area at the gates. The planes park up wherever there is a space so gates can change slightly but there's little to zero chance that this will cause you any problems.
My seat: None of the nine seats are allocated. I asked Caleb the pilot where I should sit and he recommended the left. It was a beautifully clear and calm winter's day and we had great views of Wellington and the Kapiti Coast as we departed, the top of Mt Taranaki to our left and, best of all, a very close look at the crater lakes and snowy peaks of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe before sweeping over Great Lake Taupo.
The service: Caleb greeted us at the little set of steps you climb to board the plane, then delivered the safety briefing from the front seat before pulling a curtain across. He also made sure we deplaned safely.
Flight time: The guideline is an hour, but we made awesome time and landed 20 minutes early on what was a below zero morning in Taupo.
Fellow passengers: A couple of government types and one other gent. We took up half the flight.
Entertainment: A slick Sounds Good inflight magazine and the incredible scenery.
Food and drink: Nope. The pilot is too busy flying the plane to hand out coffee or lollies.
The toilets: Nope. Make sure you go before you board.
Luggage: There are no overhead bins, so whatever you have on board with you must comfortably fit down by your feet. There is no restriction to how many pieces of luggage you check in, but it — and your carry-on — should not exceed 20kg. Bag tags are handwritten.
When I said to the lovely lady at the check-in counter that I had a couple of craft beers as a gift in one of my bags, she said they'd take extra care of the case. At Wellington Airport, you take your bags right to the gate yourself (you're offered a trolley at check-in) and at the other end we were handed them on the tarmac.
Would I fly this again? Absolutely.