20 January 2012

Flying to Haast with NAC 60 years ago...



From the archives... this article, from the Hokitika Guardian of 1 April 1952, shows a differnt way of flying and a different way of reporting 

Under the National Airways Corporation's amended timetable, which came into operation yesterday, Dominie aircraft will now fly a thrice-weekly service to Haast, leaving Hokitika at 8 a.m. and returning at 11 a.m. Under this new timetable it will be possible for passengers leaving Haast to connect with all North and South Island services, including Auckland, Palmerston North, Blenheim, Nelson, Westport and Christchurch. Connections for the North Island leave Hokitika at 11.30 a.m. daily. This is part of a Coast-wide revision of aircraft schedules with which will be incorporated the N.A.C.'s decision to use Dominie aircraft as a feeder service to Westport, connecting there with Lodestars for Wellington. The Dominie has seating accommodation for six persons. An "as-required' service will be run to the smaller dromes of Whataroa and Franz Josef. Through the courtesy of the National Airways Corporation our reporter accompanied the aircraft on the initial flight to Haast and here gives some impressions or the trip. This was one day of the week I had no trouble getting out of bed. I had been looking forward to the trip for weeks but was a little crestfallen when I saw that the sky was overcast and visibility none too good for our journey. Our taxi picked us up - us being Mr R. Nossiter Traffic Manager of N.A.C. at Hokitika - and we arrived at the Hokitika Airport some 20 minutes before the aircraft arrived from the Southside Airfield. There were two passengers also bound for the Haast on a hiking trip so I spent the intervening time idly chatting to them while awaiting the plane. It arrived within minutes and after mail and stores had been stowed aboard and one or two formalities completed we were ready for the take-off. Our pilot for the trip was Captain F Molloy, veteran pilot of many spheres and skyways. Seated in a forward position with camera slung around neck and pad on knee, I took stock of my surroundings as we revved along the field and executed a perfect take-off. We made a half circle over the 'drome and then headed away towards the mist-shrouded south. Below Hokitika was still somnolent as we winged over the town; over the straggling ribbon-like threads of the Hokitika River as it went winding to meet the Tasman, breakers in a surge of snowy spray and spume. The sea was a dull grey in the chill morning air as we crossed the grassy tussocks and tree-clad slopes below... and so over the sea streaked here and there with patches of dirty brown, and watching the breakers incessantly pounding the log-strewn beach. And further back the dim blue, bleak outlines of the Southern Alps were just discernible as shadows through the veil of low-lying cloud and mist. Thin streams of smoke heralded our approach to Ross - almost before I had time to realise we were airborne; a few seconds over the township with its Lilliputian houses and a few curious faces cast skywards as our engines broke the still morning air. I say curious but this is only presumption on my part for the figures were but specks in the world below. The twin engines of  the plane roared in a comforting cacophony of ease and power as on southwards we winged. The land below, I thought, has known comparatively little of man's exploitation... cut up by rivers, serried by lagoons and creeks and all held in the protective cradling lap of the mountain sentinels behind. A long crescent-shaped bay, bordered by almost virgin forest unfolded before our gaze, and below, with the sun striving to break through the cloud, the waters turn from dull grey to vivid green. And long tapering trails of seaweed turn the surface into a semblance of a giant’s palette. As we passed over of sheer bluff jutting out to sea we were caught in a series of air poc kets that tossed us up and down like a feather in a breeze, but this lasted for but a few seconds and the plane resumed her even tenor. We  saw a lone sawmill below presenting a hive of activity. The forest here was cleared where the miller had taken his toll; cleared as if some mighty power had lain the timber low with a gigantic scythe. What a wonderful, fantastic patchwork landscape unfolded before us as we headed southwards. We crossed a river - I know not the name of it - that was so multifarious in its tributaries that its intricate byways formed a maze of sand and water. And bordering this, nestling amid the forest pines, a thousand and one lakes dotted the green of Mother Earth’s bosom like so many gems, reflecting the trees in their peerless depths. We hailed and farewelled the coast many times as our plane headed towards Haast; we passed over a bay with waters of an incredible green that surged up to the shore and then fell back in the never ending motion of the sea. The silent sentries that divide Westland and Canterbury caught the noise of the engines and echoed it back and forth across the lonely valleys and glens of their mountain retreat. We had completed over half our journey when we espied the Franz Josef Glacier and though visibility was still bad we managed to get a good look at its silent splendour… a waterfall frozen and crystallised in the aeons of time; a thing of beauty, coloured with hues that Titian himself could not have dreamed about, cascading down a cleft in the cliffs; a mecca of tourists the world over; an object of art created by the Supreme Artist that we mortals can only gaze and gasp in awe at its silent majesty. Truly it must be one of Westland's finest sights. The kaleidoscope of river and forest, mountain and stream moves swiftly before us. We came upon a magnificent three-mile-long beach of golden sand, unlittered with logs or flotsam, that many a capital city would be justly proud of and which terminated abruptly in a rocky promontory. But around the next point - only a stone's throw from this beach - was a bav studded with reefs and slime-covered rocks, a grim deterrent to coastal vessels that may drift too close. The pilot told me that around the next bay, known as Seal Point, we would see hundreds of seals basking in the surf. But whether they knew we were coming or not I do not know, for when we reached the spot there were only a few of the denizens of the deep disporting themselves on the shore. We were now within minutes of our destination and a thick white mist had almost completely enveloped the slopes below and we could only occasionally see a gaunt skeleton of a tree standing out like a silent wraith; the scene was one of melancholia and mournful meres. The Haast Airfield was now in sight and we circled around a hill that might have been a massive plum duff with snow like the proverbial white sauce running from its summit in straggling fingers of white. A small knot of people had gathered to meet the plane as we taxied into the refuelling point. The mail and stores were quickly unloaded and while the plane was refuelling I took the opportunity to chat to same workers in that lonely area. I remember thinking how they must look forward to receiving their mail and newspapers. Most of us are so accustomed to waking up and finding the paper on the doorstep, but I wonder how many of us realise what it means to the outback settlers who are so far removed from all the modern amenities we enjoy - and take so much for granted. It seemed to me also that this land has changed but little since the dawn of time but now with the advent of a fast convenient air service linking the "outback" with civilisation the next decade may well prove and shape the future of South Westland -- the "Cinders" of the "Cinderella" province.

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