Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport

From good coffee to railway crossings, Kiwi airports have it all.
From good coffee to railway crossings, Kiwi airports have it all. Photo credit: Newshub.

The COVID-19 pandemic means that the world is not currently our oyster, but rather more like a treasure chest locked up and bound in chains.

In order to get our travel fix, New Zealanders are flying to places within Aotearoa they perhaps may never have were it not for coronavirus.

As a result, our regional airports are the busiest they've been in a while, and are likely among the busiest in the world.

From oddly shaped terminals with historic protection to runways with railway crossings, New Zealand has it all when it comes to its regional travel hubs.

Newshub Travel spoke to a number of regional airports around the country asking them why they think they are the best in the country.

Here's what they had to say. Have a read before voting to help decide on New Zealand's favourite regional airport.

Voting will be open for one week.

GIS: Gisborne Airport - An airport on tracks

Gisborne Airport, like so much of its region, is a place of firsts. It was here in April, 1935 that New Zealand's first commercial flights began.

It was one of the first - and, unsurprisingly, remains one of the only - airports in the world to have a railway line running through it. 

While Auckland struggles to get light rail to the airport, in Gisborne....
While Auckland struggles to get light rail to the airport, in Gisborne.... Photo credit: Gisborne Airport

The pitch:

This is a place so close to town and so incredibly friendly the whole whānau comes along to wave travellers off and welcome them home again. The cafe's banana cake is world famous. Our staff are rated five stars for friendliness and helpfulness on Facebook. We're building an iconic new terminal in partnership with Ngai Tāwhiri, who hold mana whenua over the area, to celebrate the unique stories of te Tairāwhiti.

NPL: New Plymouth Airport

The original New Plymouth airfield opened in 1933 and had five runways. During World War II, the airport was transformed and renamed RNZAF Bell Block Airbase.

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: New Plymouth Airport

The Pitch:

We have transformed our 1960s airport into a modern regional gateway for almost half a million passengers per year in 2020. 

New Plymouth Airport proudly opened the new terminal building to its first flight in March. The terminal depicts the origin story of Puketapu Hapū and Te Atiawa.

The new terminal's modular design allows for expansion as passenger numbers increase year to year out to 1 million.  With the added space we are able to offer a new retail space Tātai, The Hangar, a convenience grab and go offering, while retaining the popular local café/bar operator Airspresso.

WRE: Whangarei District Airport - An aircraft carrier on land

Whangarei Airport was built on a natural plateau at the end of the Onerahi peninsular in the late 1930s. It was part of a regional development program intended to kickstart aviation in New Zealand... sound familiar?

The outbreak of war saw military activity essentially take over airport operations.

Whangarei Airport's unique position with water at both ends along with its height of 133 feet above sea level, plus its shorter than normal runway, make it a bit like an aircraft carrier on land.

Post-war, a regular air service was established in the mid '40s, which has lasted until the present day.

Landing here could be touch-and-go on some days.
Landing here could be touch-and-go on some days. Photo credit: Whangarei Airport

The Pitch:

Whangarei Airport is very close to the central city - just eight minutes' drive. 

We have a great friendly staff.

The Apron Café is run by Becky and Mel who do an awesome job. In fact they have a loyal customer base, most of whom aren't actually travellers but rather locals who like to pop in for a decent coffee and a chat.

NPE: Hawke's Bay Airport - From disaster to departures

Before the deadly 1931 earthquake, the land that is now home to Hawke's Bay Airport was a tidal lagoon used for fishing and sailing. The 7.8 magnitude quake was so strong that it transformed the seabed of the Ahuriri Lagoon into a piece of land that became part of the suburb of Westshore.

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: Hawke's Bay Airport

The Pitch:

Hawke's Bay Airport is the best regional airport in New Zealand because we are the gateway to all that the Hawke's Bay Region offers. Bountiful food, big skies, beautiful wine and world-renowned Art Deco architecture.

HKK: Hokitika Airport - Honey, I'm home

Hokitika's original airport was located on the southside of the Hokitika River, between the rail bridge and the driftwood-laden beach. Unbeknown to most, this airport was the home of New Zealand's first licensed air service, Air Travel (NZ) Ltd in 1934.

Due to its susceptibility to flooding, the airfield was relocated to the elevated Seaview site just north of the Hokitika township. 

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: Hokitika Airport

The Pitch:

Most airport operators would agree that the funding of regional airports presents its challenges. We have adapted to secure alternative, non-aviation measures. These include honey production, sphagnum moss harvesting, two commercial grand quarries, balayage production, and stock grazing. 

BHE: Marlborough Airport - Runway to cabernet 

The Marlborough airfield first gained attention in 1928 when the local council prepared the land for an important visitor - pioneering aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his Fokker trimotor monoplane, Southern Cross.

Kingsford Smith and his crew of three used the field as their departure point for the return leg of their historic trans-Tasman crossing in 1928.

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: Marlborough Airport

The Pitch:

Marlborough Airport is surrounded by grapevines and 40 wine cellar doors. The flight time to Wellington is just 20 minutes and it's just over an hour to Auckland. Within half an hour of landing, you can be on a boat in the Marlborough Sounds.

You can sip on a glass of Marlborough's finest and view the stunning Wither Hills from the terminal lounge.

And, best of all, your bag is delivered via tractor and trailer, just like the old days.

PMR: Palmerston North - The crossroads

Palmerston North Airport is the central North Island's gateway to eight regions, all located within a 90-minute drive. It's said to be conveniently located for travellers spanning the Manawatu, Rangitikei, Whanganui, Tararua, Horowhenua, Wairarapa, Ruapehu and Kapiti Coast. 

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: FlyPalmy

The Pitch:

After consultation with Rangitāne kaumatua the story of Haunui-a-Nanaia has been adopted by Palmerston North Airport as a means of defining our sense of place, an airport at the crossroads of a region which extends from Ruapehu in the north, through Whanganui, Rangitikei, the Manawatu, to Horowhenua in the South and across to Wairarapa and then north to Tararua and Southern Hawkes Bay. Rivers and waterways served as major transport routes for local Māori historically, and today the airport has assumed a similar role, facilitating transport for modern waka in the form of aeroplanes.

IVC: Invercargill Airport - Size isn't everything

In 2015, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, was welcomed to the airport on his way to Stewart Island by one of Invercargill's most iconic residents, Henry the Tuatara.

INVERCARGILL, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 10:  Prince Harry is welcomed by a 100 year old Tuatara lizard called Henry after landing in Invercargill on his way to Stewart Island as part of his first visit to New Zealand on May 10, 2015 in  Invercargill, New Zealand. Prince Harry is in New Zealand from May 9 through to May 16 attending events in Wellington, Invercargill, Stewart Island, Christchurch, Linton, Whanganui and Auckland. (Photo by Arthur Edwards - Pool/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

The Pitch:

Just like everything else in Invercargill, the airport has punched above its weight.

Invercargill Airport is the gateway to New Zealand's third island, is home to the longest domestic aircraft service in the country - from Auckland - and has an architecturally award-winning terminal.

Because of its runway length, Invercargill Airport was able to take on the mammoth task of a direct return flight to Melbourne for southern punters heading to the Melbourne Cup in 2015. 

WHK: Whakatane Airport - The 'that's an airport?' Airport

Despite looking like it's a relic of the old Fantasyland theme park in Hastings, Whakatane Airport's terminal was listed as a Category 1 Historical Place in 2019. 

The pipe windows, exposed timber, cellular forms, striking colours and circular block tower will now be forever preserved.

Built in 1974, the quirky design was intended to be playful and adventurous, aligning with Whakatane as the 'sunshine town' at a time when tourism became important to the local economy.

Another huge positive... the parking is free!

This unique terminal was built in 1974 and designed by Roger Walker.
This unique terminal was built in 1974 and designed by Roger Walker. Photo credit: Whakatane Airport

The Pitch:

Our regional airport is definitely number one! With arguably the most unique airport terminal building in the world, how could this architectural gem not be NZ's best regional airport?

Some (with architectural ineptitude) have dubbed the building 'ugly' or like 'Disneyland' but we think it's pretty cool!

As opposed to most city airports which generate a large portion of their income from retail rents, income is generated from surrounding land from grazing leases.

Visitors can admire the spectacular views as you land of Moutohorā/Whale Island and Whakaari/White Island.

NSN: Nelson Airport - The 'local's local airport'

Nelson Airport prides itself on being local, with connections to four airline partners servicing six different destinations.

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: Nelson Airport

The Pitch

Our newly completed terminal is constructed with 12m high glass on each side to provide a connection to the mountain ranges and foothills of Nelson filling the terminal space with natural light.  

The terminal is constructed with local Nelson Pine timber providing a warm soulful feeling to visitors. It's also home to local retailers and brands, but most importantly we have a great team of customer service staff, airline partners and retailers to make your experience in this stunning environment a great experience.

ROT: Rotorua Airport - Recently redeveloped

Rotorua is proudly the birthplace of aviation pioneer Jean Batten and there is an exhibit about her achievements on display at the airport terminal. 

Nestled right alongside the eastern edge of Lake Rotorua with Mokoia Island in the background, this airport is only 8km from the town centre and serves Rotorua and the wider Bay of Plenty community.

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: Rotorua Airport

The Pitch:

The architectural redevelopment has recently been completed with the detailed design incorporating highlights of local landmarks using resources locally found and delivered in an environmentally sustainable way.

Rotorua Airport has an exceptional cafe called Terrace Airside, which offers modern, local food and beverage in an ambient environment with open glass windows to the north and towards the runway. Ideal for a coffee or a wine before you fly, kids love plane spotting too.

Whether you are visiting Rotorua to go mountain biking, adventure tourism or visit whanau the Rotorua Airport will make your first entry point into Rotorua a memorable one.

WAG: Whanganui Airport - New Zealand's Top Gun

Whanganui Airport is home to the proudly local airline, Air Chathams, which provides a daily service to Auckland.

The airport's uniquely architectural control tower from the 1960s makes for a distinctive profile and keeps the airport's rich history alive. 

The airport is also home to the New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy.

The Whanganui Commercial Pilot School opened in 1953 and New Zealand's first commercial topdressing pilot training school, operated by Dalcom Aviation Training, opened here in the 1960s.

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: Whanganui Airport

The Pitch:

Whanganui Airport has everything you'd hope for in a regional airport. It's convenient, has friendly service and plays a valuable role in its community. 

We're such a perfect base for flying that our The Whanganui Airport has a long history of training pilots (we're not kidding about the weather – it's one of the reasons we're a base for training).

TRG: Tauranga Airport - Arrive on Air NZ, take off in a Czechoslovakian fighter jet

Tauranga Airport received the Canstar award for best regional airport this year.

It's busy by regional standards, serving over 500,000 Air NZ passengers last year alone.

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: Tauranga Airport

The Pitch:

You can do more at this airport than any other in the country. You can go skydiving, gliding, helicopter flightseeing, joy ride in a L 39 Albatross Czechoslovakian military training jet, fly jet simulators, fly gyrocopters, fixed wing recreational aircraft and helicopters, as well as visit the Classic Flyers Aviation Museum.

We even have funerals happen at classic flyers.

HLZ: Hamilton Airport - Gateway to the Mighty Waikato and beyond

Hamilton Airport is the second busiest certified airport for flight movements in Aotearoa, and has the fourth longest runway in the country. 

Since it began passenger services in the early 50’s, Hamilton Airport has played a big part in our country's aviation history. 

Vote to decide New Zealand's favourite regional airport
Photo credit: Hamilton Airport

The pitch: 

COVID-19 may have put plans to beautify our terminal on hold, but we’re still proud to be running a wonderfully functional regional airport.  There’s lots of business and leisure-friendly flight options, easy parking, a café with great coffee and fresh food; you can chill in our customer zone, charge your devices, use our free WiFi and take Instagram-able selfies with Gandalf! 



A number of other regional airports were contacted by Newshub to take part but either declined or didn't respond.