While holidaying in Stockholm last month, Philip Chandler caught up with former Queenstown bartender Julia Lonnerheden for a drink or three – and a chat about her new life flying turboprops around Sweden. She talks about her Queenstown days and explains why she spread her wings
You don’t get much farther apart than Queenstown and Sweden, but for one Swede it’s been a life-defining link.
Julia Lonnerheden nowadays flies turboprops in her native country.
But for about six years she was a popular bartender in Queenstown, finishing as bar manager at Lone Star before winging it home in 2014.
The bubbly 37-year-old says she couldn’t have been happier living in Queenstown.
“It taught me a lot about myself and what I want out of life.”
Lonnerheden originally discovered New Zealand – the North Island, anyway – on her way back from spending a year in Australia.
After being back home for a few weeks, she decided to go to NZ for a year, which of course turned out be a lot longer.
“I compare myself to the person who walks into the bar for one beer and by the end of that beer thinks, ‘that was a really nice beer, maybe I’ll just have another one .. then another one … then another one’.”
After a month in Whangarei and six months in Christchurch, she came to Queenstown, “and I felt at home”.
“I made so many good friends, and it’s interesting because you kind of become part of a new family.
“I really liked working in bars – I talk quite a lot, so I got to know a lot of people.
“The Kiwis are really good at enjoying what you’ve got right now, rather than the Swedish people – they’re always pushing for the next thing they can get.”
She also made Swedish friends in Queenstown including a flatmate who started talking to her about flying – Lonnerheden had got her private pilot’s licence in Sweden, just for fun, in her early 20s.
“She really wanted to become a commercial pilot – that got me thinking, so when I got back to Sweden I contacted my old instructors from the aero club.”
The long and short of it is she got her commercial licence, and then gave herself two years to find a job, “otherwise I was going to move back to Queenstown”.
Just within that timeframe, she picked up a job three years ago with Braathens Regional Airlines flying ATR 72-600s.
“It’s called BRA, for short, which means ‘good’ in Sweden.
“It means something completely different in English, so they didn’t really think that one through – or maybe they did, I’m not sure.”
Lonnerheden now couldn’t be happier in her current job, flying short-haul routes, mostly around Sweden.
One bonus is flying above the clouds and seeing the sun every day – “in December, the sun will be up at 10am and it will be pitch-black by 3pm, and obviously on an overcast day you might not see the sun at all”.
Over winter, she also gets to see the spectacular Northern Lights, which she’d never seen before.
businesspeople, but she also often carries the royal family.
Currently a first officer, but sharing the flying load with a captain, Lonnerheden doesn’t think she’ll progress to flying long-haul planes, partly because they’re less challenging.
“I think I would read a lot of books if I were to fly long-haul.”
She likes the fact she can work just 40 hours a week and make more money than in her Queenstown days.
And, what’s more, her late shifts only go to 10.30pm.
“People complain because they think it’s late, and to me it’s the early shift”.
Becoming a pilot, she reflects, is one of the best decisions she’s made “even though it was hard leaving Queenstown”.
Fortuitously, Air NZ flies the same type of turboprop, so she doesn’t rule out a stint flying NZ’s skies and, perhaps, returning to Queenstown.
“I have everything [Air NZ] want except residency, so maybe one day …”