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Thinking of catching either of these buses to or from the airport? THINK AGAIN. (Image: Archi Banal)
Thinking of catching either of these buses to or from the airport? THINK AGAIN. (Image: Archi Banal)

OPINIONSocietyDecember 17, 2021

Alert: There is no airport bus service in Auckland or Wellington

Thinking of catching either of these buses to or from the airport? THINK AGAIN. (Image: Archi Banal)
Thinking of catching either of these buses to or from the airport? THINK AGAIN. (Image: Archi Banal)

Somehow, in 2021, New Zealand’s two biggest cities have no direct public transport to and from the airport. 

Update: Reader feedback has informed the author that the Puhinui Station + Airport Link service to Auckland Airport is in fact an excellent low-emission public transport alternative to the SkyBus service. Airport Link buses (all electric) depart the station every 10-12 minutes and the journey from Puhinui to the airport takes 13-17 minutes. We highly recommend giving it a try.

Picture this: You fly to literally any major city in the world. You step off the plane, collect your baggage, and then float breezily onto a bus (or even a train!) to be whisked closer to your accommodation. No hassle, no drama, even if there’s a language barrier.

That is an experience that doesn’t exist in Auckland or Wellington. If you land at either airport, there is no service that will take you directly from the airport to the CBD. There is no breezy floating. There is hassle. There is drama.

On September 23, a few days into Auckland’s alert level three, SkyBus quietly announced that they would be suspending all Auckland Airport Express services indefinitely. The service had recently expanded, providing residents on the North Shore with a direct transport option to the airport. The decision to suspend service wasn’t met with much outrage because very few people were flying in or out of Auckland during lockdown. Stuff reported at the time that SkyBus (which receives no funding from Auckland Transport) had been operating at a loss for several months, and was running at “an unsustainable level”.

And now? Auckland has no direct public transport service to or from the airport.

The defunct Auckland SkyBus, on the also defunct route down Queen Street. (Photo: SkyBus Auckland)

Wellington has been in this predicament for over a year now. Its airport service, the Airport Flyer, which had been running since 1999, was suspended in April 2020, in the wake of New Zealand’s border closure as the pandemic took hold around the world.

Earlier this year, Wellington Airport announced the Greater Wellington Regional Council would take over the service under the Metlink brand, derailing progress the airport had been making towards restarting the service with bus operator Tranzit. Wellington Airport CEO Steve Sanderson said at the time: “Unfortunately, the decision by Greater Wellington means a further delay to the start of a new service under the Public Transport Operating Model and a new tender process is required.”

Translation: no airport bus for a while yet. A Stuff report from March this year indicated the service would return no earlier than July 2022. However, it was announced just yesterday that a new service, fully electric, would return “in the new year”, which let’s face it, could mean any date between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022.

The now defunct Wellington Airport Flyer, hurtling down Manners Mall. (Photo: Wellington Airport)

It is ludicrous, embarrassing and near unfathomable that our two biggest cities, both with international airports, do not have a convenient and cost-efficient way to get from those airports into the city, and vice versa. So what are the alternatives? 

Well, they suck. That’s why they’re called “alternatives”.

A taxi or rideshare seems like the obvious option, but it’ll cost you.

In Wellington, a taxi to the CBD (around Courtenay Place) costs around $30, while an app-based car service will cost between $20-$25. Wellington Airport suggests using the Metlink Route 2 bus, which is a 700m walk from the airport, and therefore not an airport bus and definitely not an airport bus that is accessible if you are in any way otherly abled. There are also shared ride options, if that particular circle of hell interests you. 

The Wellington Airport Flyer, to compare, cost $15 towards the end of its run, although several Wellingtonians I talked to spoke of a golden age where it was as little as $8.50 or even $5.

If you’re looking to escape Auckland Airport, a taxi between the airport and the city will cost you about $70 (more than the cost of a lot of domestic flights) while an Uber/Ola/Zoomy etc is about $50 to get you to the CBD. That’s a hell of a lot more than the SkyBus, which had a ticket price of $18 – or $32 return – when it shuttered.

The other solutions offered by Auckland Airport involve taking either the Airport Link bus between the airport and Puhinui Train Station, or the 38 bus that takes you to Onehunga Train Station. Then you have to catch the train from there. Either of these options will take you well over an hour. Read musician Anthonie Tonnon’s helpful, still sadly relevant guide to the Onehunga Station + 38 bus trip here – he recommends allowing two hours (!) for the journey if you’ve got a flight to catch.

If all else fails, you could always ask a loved one to drive you to and from the airport. But then, if you really loved someone would you make them drive to the airport for you?

Keep going!