Virgin Australia will start flying directly between Newcastle and Auckland from November, the first international route out of Williamtown airport in 16 years.
The three-hour flights will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at a cost of $350 one way. Tickets are on sale at $199 one way until midnight Thursday for travel excluding December 12 to January 28.
The plane, a 176-seat Boeing 737-800, will leave Auckland at 5.10pm (NZDT) and arrive in Newcastle at 6.45pm. The return flight will leave Newcastle at 7.30pm and arrive in Auckland at 12.25am (NZDT).
The flights will run initially only this summer, from November 22 to February 17, but will continue if they are deemed commercially viable.
The first passengers from Auckland will arrive the night before the Newcastle 500 Supercars race weekend, from November 23 to 25.
The airport estimates the new route will save Hunter passengers about 10 hours in travel time to Auckland compared with flying or driving to Sydney Airport.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack said on Wednesday that the flights were a tourism play for the Hunter and regional NSW.
“Importantly, these flights will help drive regional tourism growth and dispersal of visitors to Australia’s most popular tourism destinations,” Mr McCormack said.
New Zealand low-cost carrier Freedom Air operated between Newcastle and Auckland in 2001, but the service lasted less than a year.
Norfolk Air flew what was classed as an international route from Newcastle to Norfolk Island briefly in 2007.
The airport started work a year ago on $1.6 million Customs and immigration facilities after decades of speculation about whether Australia and New Zealand would adopt a common border.
The common border has not happened, but chief executive officer Peter Cock said the airport was responding to “strong community support” for direct international services.
“This seasonal flight is a huge step forward in becoming a second international gateway into NSW,” he said.
“We express our gratitude to our shareholders and local, state and federal government stakeholders for supporting our vision to deliver the airport the region deserves.”
Bali, Thailand and Fiji have been mooted as other potential overseas destinations out of Newcastle.
Virgin’s existing flights from Newcastle to Auckland cost about $500, stop over in Melbourne or Brisbane and take at least six hours and 45 minutes.
Virgin Australia’s general manager, network, revenue and alliances, Russell Shaw, said the Auckland service would be a “much more seamless international travel experience”.
“With this direct flight, local residents will arrive in Auckland within three hours, ensuring they have more time to enjoy the breath-taking sights and incredible experiences New Zealand is famous for,” he said.
“The greater Hunter region will also benefit from increased tourism opportunities, with New Zealanders now able to travel direct to Newcastle and explore the region and all it has to offer, including wineries, restaurants and the pristine beaches.”