Winston Aldworth flies aboard Barrier Air FS95, from Auckland to Claris.

The plane:

A Cessna 208B Grand Caravan. Buying one brand new would set you back around $3.7 million.

Class: I had turned down the opportunity to fly to Chicago on board Air New Zealand's inaugural service so that I could honour a long-standing commitment to tramp the Aotea Track on Great Barrier with some old mates. That meant swapping the national carrier's swish Business Class lie-flat bed for a more cramped perch. Dear reader, there were no moist hand towels on offer upon boarding, nor was there champagne.

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Price: You can get return tickets for as little as $69. The six of us paid $182 (return) each, having booked many months in advance. They have a surprisingly complicated fare structure allowing for extra luggage, refunds and cancellations — I suspect it makes good sense to island locals using the service on a regular basis.

Check-in: Swift. With our bags dropped off, there was time to neck a quick coffee from Wayfarer at the regional end of the domestic terminal. They're my current champs in the Best Coffee At The Airport competition.

A map of the Gulf in a Great barrier Air Cessna Grand Caravan. Photo / Winston Aldworth
A map of the Gulf in a Great barrier Air Cessna Grand Caravan. Photo / Winston Aldworth

Entertainment:

We looked down upon the car ferry chugging painfully across the Hauraki Gulf. Ha! So long, suckers! We'd made the mistake of taking the ferry for our previous Aotea hike three years ago — losing the best part of a day and with one tramper felled by motion sickness. If you have no car to deliver, the flight is a much better way to go.

Tucked into the seatback in front of me was a handy map, explaining what's what in the gulf, and a nifty events listing for the Barrier. It'd be great to see laminated extracts from Peter Malcouronne and Chris Morton's superb book Aotea Great Barrier: Land and People.

Flight time: It's 30-40 minutes either way. A good westerly will affect your flight time.

The service: We had two pilots on the way out there, one on the way back. All nice blokes, and all looking young enough to be able to name the Wiggles.

Luggage: You're allowed 18kg checked-in baggage and if you're carrying more than that then you're going to have a tough time tramping.

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Airport experience: There's a perfectly good runway at Claris, but by all means mate, land on the grass alongside the runway if you must.

Worth noting: Barrier Air has just started going into North Shore Aerodrome again.

Final word: A top wee service in a fab wee plane going to a great, big island.