04 March 2012

Air New Zealand's Hokitika service

On the 1st of April 1978 the National Airways Corporation merged with Air New Zealand. At that time Air New Zealand was operating 13 Fokker Friendship flights a week through Hokitika, a daily service to Christchurch and a Sunday to Friday service to Westport, Nelson and Wellington. The two flights left within an hour of each and usually passed each other between Hokitika and Westport. It was about this time that Air New Zealand were gradually increasing its fleet of the larger 48 seat 500 series Friendship to replace some of the older 40-seat 100 series.

As a fifth the former at Hokitika's Westland High School it was a day of great excitement in April 1978 for a fellow aviation buff and myself when the koru replaced the godwit on the Friendship tail for the first time as the Friendship turned and its tail appeared above the cliff face at the end of Hokitika's runway 04/22. Pictured above is ZK-BXF taken at Hokitika in 1978. "Dad's Army" were employed for many years to the tarmac duties and included notable figures such as Jack Chesterman and Percy Crough. 

Air New Zealand's West Coast timetable was never great... when the "round the rocks" Wellington-Nelson-Westport-Hokitika-Christchurch service was being operated two Friendships departed Hokitika within an hour to 90 minutes of each other. They would normally pass each other between Hokitika and Westport, a route which was often flown VFR. Having two Friendships on the ground at Hokitika at the same time was an occasional occurrence when the northbound Friendship was delayed. ZK-BXE (left) and ZK-BXH (right) were photographed at Hokitika in 1979 (before I started dating my photos). While at Hokitika the crew normally had a cup of tea in the Flight Service Station. Following such a cup of tea I heard a conversation on my scanner... FSS: "New Zealand 792, Hokitika." NZ 792: "Go ahead." FSS: "Yeah, 1 across is tomahawk." One can almost picture the pilot or co feet on the dashboard doing the Press crossword!

In 1980 the company needed to trim its international and domestic schedules because of worsening economics. At this time the Nelson-Westport sector had an average load factor of 60.2%; Westport-Hokitika 41.9% and Hokitika-Christchurch 65.3%. Amongst the changes proposed were the replacing the Wellington-Nelson-Westport-Hokitika service with direct Wellington-Westport flights three times a week while Hokitika would be served by a daily flight from Christchurch. The proposal was later amended with Air New Zealand agreeing to continue operating a Wellington-Westport-Hokitika-Christchurch service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays meaning Hokitika received 10 flights a week. The changes took effect from the 27th of October 1980. The loss of the Nelson-West Coast connection was a sad result of the changes as Cook Strait Airways had pioneered the Nelson-Westport-Greymouth-Hokitika route in 1937. However, the number of passengers flying between Nelson and Hokitika averaged between 1 and 2 a day so it was certainly not viable for the airline.

The 500 series Fokker Friendship provided 48-seats (easily recognised by the extra windows, with the two rear windows being very close to together) as opposed to the 40-seat 100 series. Here 500 series ZK-NFA enjoys the West Coast sun in April 1980. Occasionally, however, the weather is not so good on the Coast. One memorable day, a few years later, I was at work at the NZ Forest Service on a wet, misty day with low cloud and visibility. I could hear the Friendship stooging around and got up to watch it fly past my window... I could hear it, but couldn't see it and then the engine noise faded away... a little later it popped out of the mist near the dairy factory at the eastern end of town as it put on full throttle climbed into the murk. It was landed successfully on its second go. I found out later the Captain had just returned to Friendships after being a co-pilot on 737s and had been flying up the river looking for the Hokitika road-rail bridge to line up on runway 04... in the time he had been on 737s, however, the bridge had been demolished... Oooops!

On the 30th of October 1983 Air New Zealand reintroduced a Sunday service through Westport giving Hokitika 11 flights a week, daily to Christchurch and four days a week to Westport and Wellington. There was a good response to the Sunday service and so a year later, from the 29th of October 1984, the link to Wellington via Westport was increased to six flights on week operated on Sundays through to Fridays. Air New Zealand's Regional Manager, said. "The move to add additional flights is a response by the airline to a healthy growth in passenger demand over the last year."  

Timetable effective 27 October 1980... Nelson has been cut, and two departures within 45 minutes! That can't have helped making a profit.

Westport News - 4 April 1984... after regaining a Sunday service

Northbound on on the 18th of March 1984 was 500 series ZK-NFH on NZ792 while southbound was 100 series ZK-BXF on NZ701

The Friendships continued to serve Hokitika on this schedule until 1988. In mid-September of that year Air New Zealand announced that it had bought a half share in Air Nelson. Air Nelson were to acquire two 19-seat Fairchild Metroliner III aircraft and take over Air New Zealand’s West Coast services to Hokitika and Westport.

Fokker Friendship 500 Series ZK-NFD (above) and ZK-NFE carried a white line between the teal and the blue. Photo taken at Hokitika in May 1980

The last timetable for the Friendship service, effective 28 March 1988

The final Air New Zealand Friendship services were flown to Hokitika on Sunday the 30th of October. 1988 The northern flight to Westport and Wellington was flown by ZK-BXE while the final flight, NZ703, was flown to Christchurch under the command of Captain David McDonald and First Officer First Officer Francis van Woerkom in ZK-BXI with 33 passengers on board. This was the official end of the Hokitika’s friendship with the aircraft which had launched the trans-alpine service some 20 years before on the 20th of December 1968.

FIight 703, its crew and Air New Zealand ground staff stand before the Kotare shortly before its final departure from Hokitika yesterday afternoon. From left, are: Stu Fleming, Bob Henderson, Jack Rowley, First Officer Francis van Woerkom, Trixie Hutton, Grace Trolle, Christine Cuff, Adrienne Dowell and Captain McDonald. Source: Greymouth Evening Star.

While this marked the end of Air New Zealand’s service to Hokitika Friendships were seen in Hokitika’s skies over the next few weeks as they operated a number of flights under charter to Air Nelson while the latter company awaited the arrival of its Metroliner aircraft.

Westport News, 6 August 1990

Some 31 years later, after Air New Zealand's flights had been operated by Air Nelson's Fairchild Metroliners, Eagle Air's Beech 1900s and Air Nelson's Bombardier Q300, Air New Zealand once again began operating into Hokitika in their own right. On the 18th of November 2019 Air Nelson ended operations with the cessation of its Air Operating Certificate. From the 19th of November 2019 the Air Nelson Bombardier Q300 aircraft began operating under the Air New Zealand Air Operating Certificate.

Bombardier Q300 ZK-NEQ departs Hokitika for Christchurch on 9 March 2020. 

My ride to Christchurch and on to Nelson... Air New Zealand Bombardier Q300 ZK-NEB arrives at Hokitika on 13 March 2020

At this time Air New Zealand was operating 13 flights between Christchurch and Hokitika each week, with a twice daily service operated Sunday to Friday and a single Saturday service. The service ceased during the 2020 Covid 19 lockdown with the last day of flights being the 24th of March 2020. Services resumed on the 25th of May 2020, initially with four flights a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. From the 2nd of November 2020 Hokitika received a full schedule of 12 flights each week with two daily flights on weekdays and a single flight on Saturdays and Sundays.


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