Airport History

The history of Wanaka Airport 

The original airport at Wanaka was located near Mount Iron and used by a number of owners of fixed wing aircraft. During the tourist season in the 1950s, Southern Scenic Air Services Ltd became one of the first commercial companies to use the strip.

It became clear that this strip would never be satisfactory as a municipal airport, one of the main reasons being the close proximity to Wanaka Township and concern about the impact of aircraft noise. The present site near Luggate was deemed the most practical alternative site.

This site was used originally by the Gore Aero Club for pilot training some 40 years ago. The owner farmer, Mr Allison, who had an interest in aviation, made a paddock adjacent to State Highway 6 available for aircraft which included, from the late 1960s, Cessna aircraft operated by Tim & George Wallis.

In the 1960s Mr Allison hosted what’s believed to be the first private airshow at the airport. Sir Tim Wallis held the first official Warbirds Over Wanaka in 1998 and attracted over 55,000 people. In 1978, a price was negotiated for the purchase of land at the current site.

19881201 FQW NZLX Pacifica Air 3

The new Wanaka Airport was opened at the beginning of 1983 by Hon Warren E Cooper and Lloyd Dunn from the Wanaka Airport Authority. It opened with an initial sealed strip 15m wide and had over 3,500 people attend the open day with 80 aircraft flying.

In 1985, the Wanaka-based Aspiring air started a seven-day a week service to Queenstown in conjunction with Newman Air. The 20-minute flight departed twice a day and cost $161 one way to Christchurch - $3 more than the direct Queenstown-Christchurch flight. Passengers flew Aspiring Air to Queenstown and then picked up a Newman Air flight to Christchurch.

In 1986, the runway was lengthened to 1200m with a grass-seeded extension. This proved unsuccessful and over the next two years, the airport was upgraded with a new sealed runway and taxiway at a cost of $750,000.

On 6th January 1988, Pacifica Air, which was run by Sir Clifford Skeggs’ transport group, started twice daily flights (single flight on Saturdays and Sundays) from Christchurch to Alexandra and Wanaka. The first flight was operated by the Metroliner but normally a nine-seat Piper Pa31-350 Navajo Chieftain, ZK-FOP (c/n 31-7405227) was used. Marketed as the ‘Edgewater Express’, the service was designed to fly guests to Wanaka’s Edgewater Resort hotel as well as other holidaymakers and visitors.

This service was not sustainable and on 27 February 1989, Pacifica Air ceased scheduled operations and ended its Christchurch-Alexandra-Wanaka service.

E79 Scan A310 Opening Wanaka Airport Jan 1982 2012.842.38

Some other key highlights include:

  • In 1990, Wanaka Airport was transferred into the ownership of Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) from Vincent County Council.
  • In 1998, the authority for the airport was transferred to a Wanaka-based Management Committee and Airport Manager.
  • In 1992 Grant Bissett started bi-plane adventures at the airport with Sir Tim Wallis offering aerobatic joy rides.
  • Owned by Sir Tim Wallis, the Fighter Pilots’ Museum opened in 1992 showcasing classic aircraft and restoration
  • The Air Force Wise Owl training centre from Wigram, Christchurch, set up camp at the airport for training in April 1993.
  • Air New Zealand’s subsidiary Eagle Air flew domestic commercial flights into Wanaka from 1994 to January 2013
  • In 2004/6, parcels of land amounting to an additional 90 hectares were added to the airport by the purchase of land from Alpine Deer Group, Big River Co. Ltd. and a neighbour Mr. Pittaway.
  • QLDC awarded the management lease for Wanaka Airport to Queenstown Airport Corporation in 2010.
  • In Dec 2016, QAC acquired 106.4 hectares of land adjacent to Wanaka Airport spread across two blocks. The management lease with QAC was re-signed in November 2016.