Wellington Airport Runway – Wellington, New Zealand - Atlas Obscura
Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington Airport Runway

High winds and a short landing strip make this one of the scariest runways in the world. 

Wellington International Airport has earned itself a reputation for having one of the scariest runways in the world. It sometimes takes pilots multiple bumpy, hair-raising attempts to stick the landing.

Its landing strip, which is nothing more than a short ribbon of asphalt, is flanked by water on either end and streaks through steep, rolling terrain, making it feel as though planes are sure to either plunge into the bay or crash into a hill. Because of its minute length, the airport isn’t equipped to handle large commercial aircraft.

The short runway isn’t the only reason a trip to this airport can be so harrowing. Thanks to its location, Wellington is also incredibly windy. It’s right in the middle of a wind tunnel created by the mountains stretching across the top of the South Island and the bottom of the North Island. Air that would otherwise be blocked by the craggy land gets funneled across the Cook Strait.

These blustery conditions mean planes are in for an extra turbulent landing. The wind isn’t particularly kind to the aircraft, often tossing them about as pilots attempt to hit the pavement as smoothly as possible. Being strapped inside a flying tube of metal as it bops up and down and tumbles side to side while zooming closer to the earth is a heart-racing, stomach-churning adventure. Sometimes the strong winds send planes boomeranging back into the sky seconds after their wheels have hit the ground.