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10 Plane Spotting Highlights in New Zealand

New Zealand is an amazing country to visit for its amazing sights, scenery and people. It also has a great selection of aviation highlights and attractions to enjoy. Split over two islands, North and South, New Zealand has long relied on air travel as a way of reaching its cities and remoter communities, as well as ferrying visitors around its sights. If you’re visiting as an aviation enthusiast, here are 10 plane spotting highlights in New Zealand you won’t want to miss!

1. Auckland International Airport

The main gateway to New Zealand is at Auckland. It is also the country’s busiest airport for airliner movements and sees the biggest range of opportunities for spotters.

Auckland International has a single runway and two terminals, but is currently undergoing a revamp that will eventually see a second runway to the north, as well as new terminal areas.

There are places to view aircraft movements both in the domestic terminal, and at the Puhinui Road Viewing Area to the east of the airport, near the end of runway 23L.

2. Wellington International

A busy airport on the southern tip of the North Island is Wellington. It is surrounded by the city, sea and mountains, so has a restricted runway length. The local weather also makes it quite a challenging place for aircraft to operate.

if you have a car you can easily tour the perimeter to find spots that suit you; walking a circuit takes about an hour. One favourite is a car park and lookout between Moa Point Road and Lyall Bay on the south western corner (near the tunnel). From here you can find a spot alongside the runway to watch and photograph the action, or walk north to log aircraft parked at the general aviation area.

3. Ardmore Airport

The second airport of Auckland is Ardmore, some 15 miles to the east. It is a former World War II USAF bomber base and has three active runways.

This is the main general aviation airport in the area, and is also New Zealand’s busiest airport in terms of movements.

Air Auckland and Sunair fly some local services from here. There is a warbird restoration company in residence with a number of aircraft. Spotting is best done by car, driving around the many hangars all around the airfield; some are friendly and allow access to spotters.

4. Fly Domestic in a Light Aircraft

Local carrier Sunair Aviation is based at Ardmore Airport and offers a number of domestic routes to places like Hamilton, Great Barrier Island, Whangarei and Tauranga.

The most interesting part is that you get to fly on some small, unusual types on these services, like the Piper Aztec. You can also organise scenic flights around the area.

5. Christchurch Airport

The second busiest airport for passenger flights is Christchurch, on the South Island.

Airlines include domestic New Zealand carriers, plus international carriers like Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Qantas and Singapore Airlines.

Spotting at Christchurch is easy if you have a car. From the terminal, it is possible to drive a lap of the perimeter and stop at various places where you can photograph and watch aircraft through the fence. Harewood Road has a spot which is best for morning shots, whilst Jessons Road and Pound Road are best on an afternoon. The flying club on the opposite side of the runway to the terminal also has a terrace which has good views.

6. Marlborough Airport and the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

This busy general aviation airport just outside Marlborough on the South Island is a great place to visit for the atmosphere of light aircraft coming and going, and the chance to see a preserved Bristol 170 Freighter up close.

Also on site is the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre which preserves wartime aircraft, and even offers joyrides in types like the Avro Anson, Boeing Steaman and Yak-3. See

7. Fly a DC-3

NZ3546, better known as Betsy, is a 1944 Oklahoma-built Douglas DC-3 which offers charter flights around the North Island. It wears the colours of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and you can fly on it from airports like Ardmore and Whitianga.


8. Visit the NZ Warbirds Association

Located at Ardmore Airport, the NZ Warbirds Association is a renowned organisation which restores, displays and flies vintage warbird aircraft. As well as seeing the aircraft at the museum, you can take flights in the DC-3, Spitfire, Kittyhawk P40, Mustang P51 and Harvard AT6!


9. Fly on Sounds Air

A small airline based at Wellington is Sounds Air, which has grown to a fleet of ten aircraft, including Cessna 208 Caravans and Pilatus PC-12s.

This little airline operates to many smaller airfields, as well as larger airports, making it a great way to get around and also enjoy flying unusual types in passenger service.


10. National Transport & Toy Museum

Located at one of New Zeland’s most scenic airports – Wanaka, on the South Island – the National Transport & Toy Museum is a collection of tens of thousands of objects, including 20 aircraft.

These include a de Havilland Dove, Fokker F-27-100, Antonov An-2, Embraer 110 Bandeirante and Lockheed Lodestar. See

Additionally, the Bring Our Birds Home project hopes to recover a number of nationally significant airliners to Wanaka over the coming years, including a Boeing 737-200, 747-400, Douglas DC-8 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10. See


  • Auckland, New Zealand
  • Matt Falcus