15 July 2012

Hokitika’s NAC Days

The New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC) took over Air Travel (NZ) Ltd’s West Coast services on the 1st of October 1947, some six months after NAC had begun operating under its own licence on the 1st of April 1947. At the time of the takeover Air Travel (NZ)'s services flew south from Hokitika to South Westland and north to Nelson via Greymouth and Westport. With the takeover Greymouth was dropped from the network. On the service to the south NAC's flights operated to Haast and Okuru landing at Wataroa (Whataroa), Waiho (Franz Josef) and Weheka (Fox Glacier) as required.

NAC's inaugural northern flight to Westport and Nelson on the 1st of October 1947 had a rather inauspicious start. Commander J. F. Cane flew de Havilland Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS Mokai from Hokitika to Westport. However, the Dragon Rapide developed engine trouble between Hokitika and Westport and made an emergency landing on one engine at Westport's aerodrome. A mechanic was flown up from Hokitika to repair the damage and a Dominie aircraft was despatched from Rongotai to collect passengers and mail brought to Westport by the Dragon Rapide, which after repairs, had returned to Hokitika.

First day cover for the first air mail on NAC's northern service to Westport

De Havilland DH89A ZK-AHS at Nelson. Photo Ed Coates Collection

On the same day Commander Frank Molloy flew de Havilland 83 Fox Moth ZK-AGM Matuhi on the inaugural flight to the south from Hokitika to Haast where private mail bags were set down. His flight then continued to Okuru's Mussel Beach aerodrome where mails for Upper Okuru (private bags), Okuru and Jackson's Bay were set down. 

First day cover for the first air mail on NAC's southern service to Okuru

De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth at Hokitika's Southside aerodrome

A poignant meeting of the pilots of NAC's first Hokitika service...  Captains Jimmy Cane and Frank Molloy at Hokitika on the 5th of June 1970 for the final DC-3 service to Hokitika. Captain Jimmy Cane flew the first NAC service from Hokitika to Westport and Captain Frank Molloy flew the first service to South Westland on the 1st of October 1947. Photo : I Woolhouse Collection

NAC based three aircraft in Hokitika for the West Coast services. All three were ex-Air Travel (NZ) aircraft, de Havilland 89A Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS and  ZK-AGM  which were used on the first day of operations as well as de Havilland DH83 Fox Moth ZK-AEK. 

The Dragon Rapide, ZK-AHS, had a long association with the West Coast, being one of the Cook Strait Airways’ Dragon Rapides, ZK-AGT, that had pioneered the Wellington-Nelson-Westport-Greymouth-Hokitika route. The Cook Strait Airways Dragon Rapides were impressed into service with the RNZAF during the Second World War, ZK-AGT becoming NZ558. When it was no longer required by the Air Force it was allocated to Air Travel (NZ) Ltd and was registered as ZK-AHS. NAC continued to operate AHS from Hokitika until it and the South Westland service was sold to West Coast Airways in 1956. AHS continued to operate the South Westland service until 1967 when, with the newly opened Haast Pass offering a road alternative, the South Westland service ended.

NAC's network as at December 1947. Initially, from the 1st of October 1947, the Hokitika-based aircraft operated all the West Coast services south of Nelson. From the 17th of November 1947 Hokitika-based aircraft operated all the West Coast services south of Westport. Source : Whites Air Guide, December 1947.

On the 17th of November 1947 NAC introduced the Lockheed L10 Electra aircraft on the Wellington-Nelson Westport service. The following day the Hokitika Guardian reported, The new airways timetable came into operation on the West Coast yesterday, and will provide a one-day; service between the province and Auckland, as well as intermediate stops. The Dominie aircraft, which previously took West Coast passengers to Nelson, where they transferred to another aeroplane for the trip to Wellington, took passengers, including one from Greymouth, from Hokitika to Westport shortly before noon yesterday. At Westport, they took seats in a Lockheed Electra 10-seater aeroplane, which flew to Wellington, via Nelson. The Lockheed arrived at Westport at 12.40 with passengers from the North Island and those for southern towns arrived at Hokitika about 2 o’clock. Greymouth passengers arrived at Greymouth at 2.45, travelling in a taxi, which will make all connexions with the aeroplane. The Electra service between Westport, Nelson and Wellington was operated with the larger Lockheed Lodestars from late 1948. 

NAC's West Coast timetable, effective 2 August 1948

In December 1947 NAC announced it had ordered a twin-engined four-seater Miles M65 Gemini 1A (c/n 6472) monoplane for use on West Coast services to evaluate whether it would be  suitable to replace the Fox Moths. The airline suggested the aircraft would also be suitable for use as a light freighter or an ambulance. ZK-AQO was NAC’s first brand new aircraft which it purchased for the sum of £6000. The aircraft proved, however, to be unsuitable and, in July 1948, having flown only some 50 hours, and NAC made the decision to sell it. Instead of the Gemini, in July 1948 NAC’s Hokitika operation received a “new” de Havilland 83 Fox Moth, ZK-ASP. The aircraft wasn’t exactly new, however, as it had been Air Travel’s original aircraft, ZK-ADI that had been impressed into the RNZAF as NZ566. 

Miles M65 Gemini 1A ZK-AQO taken at the old Hokitika's Southside Aerodrome. Photo : I Woolhouse Collection

De Havilland Fox Moth ZK-ASP at Hokitika's Seaview airport sometime in 1952 or 1953.

On the 1st of June 1948 the larger Dragon Rapide replaced the Fox Moths on the Hokitika-Haast route.  The Dragon Rapides and Dominies were not licenced to use Okuru and so it was dropped from the network. The last flight to Okuru was flown by Commander Frank Molloy in De Havilland 83 Fox Moth ZK-AEK, Mohua, on the 28th of May 1948.

NAC's de Havilland Fox Moth ZK-AEK at Hokitika's Seaview airport in 1952 or early 1953

In addition to the Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS NAC used a number of Dominies from Hokitika... Above ZK-AKT from the D Walker Collection and  below ZK-AKU from the I Woolhouse Collection. The aircraft were photographed at the Southside aerodrome

Meanwhile, the Dragon Rapide service to Haast was relatively short lived due to the grass surfaces at Hokitika’s Southside airfield which was also susceptible to flooding. On the 9th of August 1948 the Southside airfield at Hokitika was closed to de Havilland Dragon Rapides and Dominies meaning that from the 9th of September de Havilland 83 Fox Moths had to once again provide all the West Coast services. The reintroduction of the Fox Moths meant that Greymouth gained and Okuru regained regular flights by NAC. The northern Fox Moth service flew Monday to Saturday. The flight would leave Hokitika around 11.00 am arriving in Greymouth 20 minutes later. After a ten minute stop the flight would continue on to Westport to connect with the Lockheed flight from Wellington and Nelson. Upon the arrival of the plane from Wellington the Hokitika based Fox Moth would fly the return flight to Hokitika via Greymouth arriving at Hokitika at 2.00 pm.

The Fox Moth service was temporary, however, as plans were well underway for a new airport at Hokitika. NAC first used Hokitika’s new Seaview airport on the 14th of December 1950 when a Dominie flew from Dunedin’s Taieri aerodrome to Haast where Ministry of Works’ employees were uplifted and flown to the new Hokitika aerodrome. Three trips were made bringing out workers on the Haast Pass construction for the Christmas holidays.

In August 1951 a contract was been let for the transfer buildings from the Southside airfield to the new Seaview airport, after an official of the National Airways Corporation's head office stated that no new services to Hokitika would be instituted until proper facilities were available. 

In these two D A Walker photos we get a look at Hokitika's Southside airport... the reception centre to the left and the hangar to the right were moved to the new Seaview airport. On the tarmac, NAC's Fox Moth ZK-AGM (left) and Tiger Moth ZK-ANL (right)  

In late August 1951 the Hokitika Guardian reported that with the opening of the new and enlarged Seaview Airport at Hokitika a new service maintained by Lodestar aircraft will operate between Wellington, Nelson, Westport and Hokitika, with connections on an "as required" basis to Wataroa and the Franz Josef Glacier. This information is given in circular issued by the Public Relations Office of the National Airways Corporation. Aircraft will leave Wellington at 10.30 a.m. and Hokitika at 1.45 p.m. This facility will enable Auckland travellers to leave Whenuapai by the 8,00 a.m. Main-Trunk service and reach the Franz Josef Glacier Hotel by 2.30 p.m. Likewise, a mid-day departure from the Glacier will permit travellers to be back in Auckland by 8.15 p.m. 

Meanwhile, while Hokitika awaited its new service the Fox Moth service continued. A Lockheed Lodestar, ZK-ANB, Kurawai, piloted by Captain H C Walker and First Officer L J Ransom, made a survey flight to the Hokitika on the 3rd of December 1951. The purpose of the flight was to familiarise pilots and crew with the route. Also on board were officials of the company and the Civil Aviation Department including Mr R. Taylor (District Sales Representative), Mr G. K. Growcott (District Manager), Mr A. Shand (Assistant Traffic Manager), Mr R. Nossiter (Traffic Officer, Hokitika), Mr Fawcett (Maintenance Department (Palmerston North) and Captains Cullinane, Kenning, Buck, Anderson and Miller. 

Hokitika's new Seaview airport was officially opened on the 17th of December 1951 by Mr J B Kent, member of Parliament for Westland. NAC's inaugural Lodestar flight was held in conjunction with the ceremony. The National Airways Corporation's Lodestar, ZK-AKW, under the command of Captain H C Walker, arrived at 1.15 p.m., and after a brief opening ceremony took off again on return to Wellington by way of Westport and Nelson. Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Kent said Hokitika was fortunate in having an aerodrome of such a size so near .the centre of town. The new aerodrome would undoubtedly prove a valuable asset to the West Coast and should greatly assist in encouraging air travel and in a continued improvement of air services. The decision to construct an aerodrome was the result of much deliberation but it would not be regretted, he said. As in all decisions of this nature, a balance had to be reached between technical and operational considerations and the natural wishes and claims of communities in these parts for efficient and convenient air services. It was no easy decision. Everyone could not be completely satisfied. It was obvious that the existing aerodromes were limiting air services. They were too small - certainly in the case of the old aerodrome across the Hokitika river - and were often closed because of the soggy condition of the ground. Larger aircraft could not use them. The gap system of transferring passengers to smaller aircraft at Westport was obviously unsatisfactory and a bugbear to travellers. The decision was therefore made to construct an aerodrome on the Seaview plateau, 150 feet above sea level.

At the opening of the new aerodrome, hopes were raised and suggestions made for the future expansion of air services, in particular for a trans-alpine service to Christchurch. Mr J. B. Kent, Member of Parliament for Westland, said while this would obviously be a great convenience, it was not so simple to start it as it was to wish for. There were technical problems involved, which although not insoluble, created some difficulties. For passenger comfort and safety a pressurised aircraft would have to be used, and there were none in use here at present. With the rapid development of internal air services, however, that service might come sooner than was expected. It was to be some 17 years before a trans-alpine service came to pass.

Other speakers at the ceremony were the Mayor of Hokitika (Mr A. E. Perry), the Mayor of Greymouth (Mr F. L. Turley), Mr R. J. Dippy, of the Civil Aviation Department. Wellington, Mr E. C. Smart, Ministry of Works, and Mr J. Shannon, chairman of the Westland County Council. Mr G. K. Growcott, the district manager of the National Airways' Corporation, said he was sure the airport would in time become the aerial gateway for overseas visitors stopping off to see the scenic wonders of the glaciers and fiordlands. The inaugural flight of the Lodestar that day coincided with the opening of the airport, and this service was designed to facilitate the seasonal flow of holiday traffic to Westland as well as giving West Coast residents a same-day link with Auckland and Christchurch. The service would continue on the present timetable till the end of March. 

During the winter months a service south of Westport to the Haast would be conducted by Dominie aircraft, but larger machines would be introduced later into the West Coast service as soon as they became available and the demand warranted it; The new aerodrome cost about £144,000 to construct. More than 2000 first day covers commemorating the .opening of the new Airport were dispatched from the Hokitika Post Office to-day on the planes return trip to Wellington. The first day cover depicts a map of New Zealand marked with the principal ports of call in connexion with the service but Hokitika is not included. 

The introduction of the Lodestar and later Dominie to operate between Hokitika and Westport marked the end of the Fox Moth service to Westport and also meant the withdrawal of NAC’s service to Greymouth.

Air mails with the first Lodestar flight to Hokitika on 17 December 1951  

First day cover to mark the opening of Hokitika Airport

Lockheed Lodestar ZK-AKW at Hokitika.

In its first two weeks of operation 63 passengers were carried northbound on the Lodestar service on 13 flights. The Lodestar operated the Wellington-Nelson-Westport-Hokitika run until the 29th of March 1952 when the Lodestars were withdrawn from service and sold in the USA. 

The NAC network as at 31 March 1952. Okuru and Fox Glacier had gone from the network and the Hokitika-based aircraft continued to operate all the West Coast services south of Westport.

The Hokitika-Westport sector reverted to Dominies while Douglas DC-3s replaced the Lodestars on the Westport-Nelson-Wellington sectors. Under the new timetable which started on the 31st of March 1952 a Dominie aircraft flew a thrice-weekly service to Haast, leaving Hokitika at 8.00am and returning at 11.00am. Under this new timetable it was possible for passengers to leave Haast to connect with all North and South Island services, including Auckland, Palmerston North, Blenheim, Nelson, Westport and Christchurch. Connections for these centres left Hokitika at 11.30am daily. The Dominie had seating accommodation for six persons. An "as-required' service to Whataroa and Franz Josef upon the return of the Dominie from Westport. 

De Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-AKY at Hokitika’s Seaview Airport

In September 1952, at a hearing of the Air Services Licencing Authority, it was announced that agreement for the purchase of the National Airways Corporation’s assets used on the Hokitika-Haast service had been signed by the corporation and Queenstown-based Southern Scenic Air Services Ltd. Mr F. J. ‘Popeye’ Lucas managing-director of Southern Scenic Air Services, told the Authority that his firm intended to operate scenic flights and charter service as well as the scheduled passenger and freight service. He considered that scenic and charter flights - a field into which the National Airways Corporation had not entered-would offset any loss which occurred in the scheduled passenger and freight service. The company's application, however, was adjourned by the Authority which expressed the view that the licence held by the Corporation and applied for by Southern Scenic Air Services should be considered jointly at a future hearing. This was to set to be heard in Hokitika in late January 1953 but Southern Scenic withdrew before the hearing.

Hokitika received its first true airliner service on the 2nd of March 1953 when NAC introduced its 24-seater Douglas DC-3 service from Paraparaumu (Wellington being closed for the construction of the new airport), Nelson and Westport. Mr R Nossiter, the traffic control officer at Hokitika told the Hokitika Guardian that the Dakota was really too large for passenger potential but that the corporation did not have at present any smaller machine. The first one plane service from Wellington to Hokitika was operated by Lodestars for three months following the opening of Hokitika’s new airport. The re-introduction of the one plane service from Wellington was largely due to agitation by the Hokitika Progress League, with NAC insisting that it was for a trial period only, after which the position would be reviewed.

On the erd of March the Hokitika Guardian reported on the arrival of the first DC-3 flight. The first Douglas airliner on the new air service to Hokitika arrived at the airport approximately 20 minutes late because of the weather conditions yesterday. It was the National Airways Corporation’s Douglas airliner ZK-AWO piloted by Captains Buck and Wiltshire. Eight passengers came on the inward trip and 12 went of the outward. Passengers were as follows:- Inward: Mr A Wogan, Mr and Mrs L Cowan and infant and Master Cowan, Mr Ede, Mr Evison, Mr and Mrs D Springer. Outward: Mr D L Blumhart, Mr and Mrs B Blank, Mr J Stokes, Mr and Mrs Jordan (Auckland); Mr J Thomason, Mr D Kennedy, Mr Herring, Mr Levings (Wellington); Miss D Wilson, Mr McKay (Nelson). There was very little freight carried there being only two small packages on the incoming trip and three on the outgoing.

With the introduction of the larger aircraft the Hokitika to Westport sector was reduced from a Monday to Saturday Dragon Rapide/Dominie service to a thrice weekly DC-3 service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On these days Hokitika was allocated 16 seats to Wellington, two to Nelson and six to Westport.

NAC's southbound timetable, effective 13 April 1953

Passengers from Wellington departed the city by bus for Paraparaumu airport at 8.50 a.m. for a 10.20 a.m. departure. The DC-3 arrived at Hokitika at 1.15 p.m. and passengers and freight reached Greymouth by taxi at 2.40 p.m. Northbound the Greymouth taxi departed at 12.40 p.m. to connect with the flight that left Hokitika at 1.40 p.m. The flight arrived at Paraparaumu at 4.35 p.m. 

Early photos of NAC's DC-3 service to Hokitika... ZK-AYZ above and ZK-BKD below

The arrival of the DC-3 service into Hokitika meant the Dragon Rapide/Dominies could be released to fly the South Westland services and this allowed the retirement of the Fox Moths. ZK-AEK was the first to be retired in March 1953, ZK-ASP followed in December 1953. The upgrading of the Franz Josef airfield allowed the retirement of the Fox Moths with ZK-AGM holding the honour of being the last NAC Fox Moth which was retired from regular airlines service on the 28th of February 1954. The Fox Moth had pioneered aviation in South Westland and had proved a great workhorse for connecting the Haast to the rest of New Zealand.

A couple of photos of Fox Moth ZK-AGM, at Hokitika as the type was withdrawn from regular service with NAC in February 1954 and below, undated, in Christchurch.

In June 1954 the grass surface of the Hokitika Airport’s runways had deteriorated to the point that the DC-3 operations were briefly suspended and Dominie aircraft had to once again operate the northern link to Westport until the Hokitika airport was brought back up to DC-3 standard. 

Hokitika's DC-3 service from and to Westport operated on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as did the Haast service operated by the Dominie. Flights to Franz Josef were available, on demand, and these were operated by Dominies. During the Christmas holidays, that is from mid-December to early February the DC-3 operated a daily service to Hokitika.

NAC's timetable, effective 16 December 1955, including West Coast services. 

Meanwhile NAC were still keen to withdraw from the South Westland service. Agreement was finally reached with Southern Scenic Air Services Ltd and the NAC South Westland air service was handed over to a subsidiary of Southern Scenic Air Services’, West Coast Airways Ltd., in November 1956. On the 16th of November NAC operated its last South Westland services and on the 19th of November 1956 de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS operated West Coast Airways' inaugural Hokitika-Haast return service.

In the early 1960s NAC upgraded fourteen of their DC-3 aircraft. These were designated as Douglas DC-3 “Skyliners” and they featured larger windows and a more modern passenger cabin.

The transition to Skyliner... Above Douglas DC-3 ZK-APB in the post war configuration and colour scheme.

An example of the 'upgraded' Douglas DC-3 Skyliner ZK-AWP taken at Hokitika in the late 1960s or 1970.  AWP continues to fly today with Air Chathams using it on charter and scenic work.


NAC timetable effective 24 August 1964

Greymouth Evening Star, 5 November 1963

On the 25th of February 1966 the Nelson Evening Mail reported on a engine failure on the northbound DC-3 service the day before. Emergency services were alerted in Hokitika at 12.30 yesterday afternoon and rushed to the Hokitika Airport to await the return of an NAC Dakota airliner which had reported the failure of one motor 10 miles from Westport. The aircraft, with 10 passengers and three crew aboard, had taken off from Hokitika at 11.45 a.m. and was flying at 9000 feet when one motor cut out. After about 15 minutes, the pilot, Captain J. Shaw, was able to restart the motor and the aircraft returned to make a normal landing on two motors. The air hostess, Miss Maxine Hillam said the passengers had remained calm throughout. This was the second attempt the Dakota had made to leave Hokitika. On its scheduled flight from Wellington on Monday it was grounded because of a faulty radio-compass. Since then weather conditions had prevented its departure until yesterday. 

Meanwhile, Hokitika continued to press for the introduction of a trans-alpine Fokker Friendship service to Christchurch and in May 1966 Sir Andrew McKee, NAC’s chairman gave Hokitika an assurance that a daily return service to Christchurch would be provided by 1968.

Loadings on the Hokitika service were never great even with DC-3s operating a daily service to Hokitika over the Christmas holidays as shown

A report in the Westport News in April 1966 reported that during the year ending March 31, 1966 stated that Hokitika showed the smallest increase in passenger numbers during the year with numbers growing 3.1%, from 3354 to 3458 passengers. Hokitika-Wellington loadings dropped from 2023 to 1943, a reduction of 4.0%, but Hokitika-Nelson traffic increased by 24% from 541 to 671. Hokitika - Auckland rose 7.2% from 475 to 509. For the year ended March 31, 1967 NAC handled 3452 passengers at Hokitika, compared with 3458, the year before.

A more detailed glimpse of traffic showed in November 1966 an average of 13.1 passengers flew into Westport and 13.5 flew out. December was busier, with an average of 17.6 in and 15.4 out. In the busy holiday month of January 1967 the average was a more healthy 21.3 passengers per day were using the Westport DC-3 service both in and out. The Hokitika figures were much smaller. In November an average of 9.8 flew in and 10.7 flew out. The following month the average was 8.9 and 8.1 respectively and January 1967 saw an average of 7.3 passengers on each flight into Hokitika while 8.8 passengers was the outgoing average. NAC was losing some £18,000 annually on the West Coast service to Westport and Hokitika and NAC's DC-3 Skyliners were about to experience new weight restrictions and were fast facing retirement.

While Westport was performing a lot better than Hokitika plans were still being pushed ahead for a trans-alpine Fokker Friendship service between Hokitika and Christchurch. There was, however, serious doubt about Westport retaining its NAC service due to Kawatiri Airport being unsuitable for Friendships. In July 1967 Doug Patterson, the General Manager of NAC, warned Westport that all DC-3 services would be "phased out" by December 1968. Later that year he told Westport civic leaders that exploratory talks were being held over the possibility of setting up “feeder” air services to the West Coast when NAC withdrew its DC-3s.

As a prelude to the new service Hokitika received its first Fokker Friendship flight on the 4th of November 1967 when a group of West Coast racing enthusiasts chartered a Friendship to who fly them from Hokitika to Christchurch and back for the New Zealand Cup Day race meeting. The first flight was flown in ZK-NAH under the command of Captain D W Barr. NAC used the occasion to bring a number of airline officials and media representatives across the Alps. During the two 20 minute-stops at Hokitika hundreds of people took the opportunity to inspect the aircraft. 

The first Friendship flight to Hokitika. ZK-NAH at Hokitika on 4 November 1967

A daily service for the school summer holidays - Hokitika Guardian, 7 December 1967

Over the school holidays of 1967/68 Hokitika, as usual, received a daily DC-3 service from Wellington via Nelson and Westport as seen in the advertisement above. In NAC's new timetable from the 5th of February 1968, however, the thrice weekly Monday, Wednesday, Friday service was replaced with a Monday to Friday service. The DC-3 left Wellington at 10.30am, Nelson at 11.35am and Westport at 12.40pm to arrive at Hokitika at 1.20pm. The return service to Wellington left Hokitika at 2.10pm, Westport at 3.00pm and Nelson at 4.15pm to arrive in Wellington at 5.00pm. Interestingly the NAC timetable did not show the DC-3 flights between Wellington and Nelson one presumes to ensure as many people as possible travelling to or from the West Coast could fill the aircraft. The Monday to Friday timetable operated until the 20th of May when the winter timetable reverted to Monday, Wednesday and Friday flights.  

In February 1968 NAC received permission to use Hokitika airport for Friendship services without any improvements being necessary. NAC also agreed to delay the retirement of the DC-3s until 1970 to enable the upgrading of Westport airport. However, Mr R Gordon, the Minister of Civil Aviation, told the Westport Airport Committee that there was no immediate prospect of upgrading the Kawatiri aerodrome as the approximate cost of doing such work to take heavier aircraft than at present would be $300,000 on Ministry of Works costing. This compared with the $120,000 estimate on which local authorities have been working. He said there was on obligation on the National Airways Corporation to continue working Westport. Westport had two years to resolve its airport’s issues.

On the 1st of April 1968 new weight restrictions on DC-3 aircraft were imposed. This meant passenger loads to and from Westport had to be cut and seating restrictions applied. The restrictions were to give the DC-3s a better performance on take-off, especially if the aircraft encountered an engine failure on take-off. The immediate effect of the restriction was that on the Nelson-Westport route the aircraft was restricted to 21 passengers southbound and 23 northbound. Because of the higher temperatures during the summer the limitations were 18 passengers between Westport and Nelson and 19 between Nelson and Westport. This of course impacted on to loadings out of Hokitika. 

Douglas DC-3 ZK-AZN at Hokitika... the control tower is under construction

On the 3rd of September 1968 a promotional Friendship flight was made to Hokitika by ZK-BXC. The Nelson Evening Mail recounted that the airline officials and invited guests were wooed with words, an airport welcome by the Kokatahi Band, schooners of beer, more whitebait than they could eat at lunch and greenstone gifts as they departed. One of the guests was 84 year old Mr T. E. Y. Seddon, son of “King Dick”, Richard John Seddon and himself M.P. for Westland from 1906 to 1920 and again from 1925 to 1928. Mr Seddon recalled that he rode in a cattle truck on the first train from Greymouth to Hokitika in 1983! During the day scenic flights were to be offered around Mount Cook but cloud around Mount Cook prevented the Friendship getting that far south.  

Plans were also advanced for the connection of this service with the DC-3 flight from Westport enabling a connection from Buller to Christchurch and points south via Hokitika.

Even before the opening of the new Hokitika airport in 1951, the town fathers were looking towards a trans-alpine service to Christchurch. The answer was always the same – a pressurised aircraft was needed for the service, and when Friendships arrived they were employed on main trunk and services to major provincial centres. It was the introduction of Boeing 737s that freed a Friendship to be used to inaugurate Hokitika’s trans-alpine service. 

Greymouth Evening Star, 2 December 1968

NAC inaugurated its Christchurch-Hokitika Friendship service on the 20th of December 1968. Fokker Friendship ZK-BXI flew the first flight which was under the command of Captain R W Patterson and First Officer R F Trowsdale with a local woman, Joan Gilbert, as hostess.  On board were the mayors of Christchurch, Mr A. F. Guthrey, Hokitika, Mr W. J. Richards, (Hokitika), Greymouth, Mr O. H. Jackson and Westport, Mr W. A. Craddock, and Mr W. J. Harrington, who made the first trans-alpine flight in 1925 and Mr Frank Molloy, former NAC chief pilot of Hokitika. 

Hokitika Guardian 20 December 1968

Greymouth Evening Star, 20 December 1968

NAC timetable, effective 20 December 1968... the DC-3 operating the service north to Westport, Nelson and Wellington and the Friendship to Christchurch.

The Hokitika Guardian of the 20th of December 1968 described Hokitika as a “mini Harewood” when the start of the new trans-alpine air service sees connecting flights from north and south. First to arrive in the DC-3 from Wellington at 1.35 pm. Then a Mt Cook Air Services Fox-Glacier based 6-seater Cessna 185 touches down at 1.45 pm. The Friendship lands at 1.50 pm and departs at 2.10 pm on return to Christchurch and the other two aircraft leave shortly afterwards on return to Wellington and Fox Glacier.

NAC Fokker Friendship ZK-NAF and Mount Cook Air Services Cessna 185 skiplane ZK-COH at Hokitika ca. 1969

Loading the airmail on the same day.

NAC’s service was not the first trans-alpine service. That honour belonged to Greymouth-based Phoenix Airways http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2011/03/first-trans-alpine-air-service-phoenix.html. The NAC service, however, was much more successful. In the first five weeks close to 2000 passengers were carried on the trans-alpine Friendship flights, with an average of 28 passengers out of Hokitika and 25 in each day. NAC was delighted with the response which was been greater than anticipated.  

On the 3rd of February 1969 NAC reduced the frequency of the service to four flights a week. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the flight left Christchurch at 1.00 p.m. for the 50 minute flight with the return flight leaving Hokitika at 2.10 p.m. On Sundays the Friendship left Christchurch at 3.05 p.m. and with the return flight leaving Hokitika at 4.15 p.m. The impact of the trans-alpine service quickly became apparent on passenger numbers handled at Hokitika. For the year ended 31 March 1968, with the DC-3 service to Wellington alone, Hokitika had 3,581 passengers pass through. The following year, with the trans-alpine service being operating for three months, 7,400 had been handled at Hokitika. The following year, ended 31 March 1970, 13,595 passengers had used NAC’s Hokitika service. 

From the NAC timetable 20 December 1968, showing the first Friendship flights. These ran daily over the summer before the schedule reduced to four flights a week.

Great evidence of Hokitika's gravel runway. ZK-BXC at Hokitika in December 1968.

In Westport progress towards upgrading their airport remained slow and so in September 1969 the Minister of Transport, Mr Gordon announced that the DC-3 air services operated by NAC to Westport and Hokitika would be taken over by Nelson-based Golden Coast Airlines using a Grand Commander. This would provide Westport with NAC connections to Christchurch at Hokitika and to Wellington and points north at Nelson. With the prospect of losing its NAC service Westport finally made the decision to upgrade its airport. This necessitated the closing of the airport for some months and it was this that brought Hokitika’s DC-3 service to its end.

Douglas DC-3 ZK-BEU at Hokitika on 1 June 1970, a few days before it operated the final DC-3 service to Hokitika.

The final Douglas DC-3 flight to Hokitika was on the 5th of June 1970 in DC-3 ZK-BEU under the command of Captain Max Schlegel, N.A.C.’s youngest captain, and First Officer Tony Foley with Pam White being the hostess. Among those on board was Captain Jimmy Cane who flew the first NAC Hokitika-Westport service on 1 October 1947. The Nelson Evening Mail recorded the final flight to Hokitika. Its last call at Hokitika was also marked with presentations - a picture of a DC3 to the people of the town from N.A.C. and signed by all the incoming passengers, was handed to the Mayor, Mr W. F. Richards, by Mr Bryan. Again there were short speeches touching on the sadder side of the day and again a final run over the town to give a last glimpse of a sight which has grown to be so familiar. Even Mount Cook came from behind the clouds to gaze in white splendour.

Presentation of photograph of DC-3 photo to Hokitika Mayor Mr J Richards
From Left First Officer Tony Foley, Mr J Cane, who flew the first NAC Hokitika-Westport service on 1 October 1947, Bob Bryan (NAC Manager Nelson), Mr Jack Richards (Mayor of Hokitika), Captain Max Schlegel and Hostess Pam White. Photo : Ian Woolhouse Collection

Up until this point the flights to and from Christchurch had operated on four days a week. With the withdrawal of the DC-3 Friendships operated a Sunday to Friday service. Hokitika saw further expansion on the 1st of  November 1970 when the Westport Airport was reopened. A two-way service Friendship service from Wellington to Nelson, Westport, Hokitika and Christchurch which operated six days a week, Sunday to Friday. On weekdays the southbound flight left Wellington at 11.05am, Nelson, at 12.25pm and Westport at 1.25pm to arrive at Hokitika at 2.00pm. It then left Hokitika at 2.15pm to arrive in Christchurch at 3.00pm. The northbound service left Christchurch at 12 noon to arrive in Hokitika at 12.45pm The Friendship then left Hokitika at 1.00pm, Westport at 1.50pm and Nelson at 2.50pm to arrive at Wellington at 3.30pm.

Friendship ZK-BXG at Hokitika a few days before the DC-3 service ended. The DC-3's wing is to the left of the photo. Photo taken at Hokitika on 2 June 1970 by B Whebell

First day cover for the introduction of Friendships between Hokitika and Westport

While the trans-alpine service continued to be successful the Nelson-Westport-Hokitika service continued to be a loss maker. There was very little through traffic on the Nelson-Hokitika and Westport-Christchurch links. Only 1.8 passengers travelled from Westport to Christchurch each day, 1.4 from Westport to Hokitika and 1.85 from Hokitika to Westport and Nelson. These numbers were not helped by two departures within 90 minutes of each other in the middle of the day. With this overcapacity NAC announced it was going to withdraw the flights between Westport and Hokitika from the 6th of June 1972 with Hokitika receiving a Sunday to Friday service from Christchurch and Westport a Sunday to Friday service from Wellington and Nelson. This cut saved the National Airways Corporation some $ 85,000.

Mount Cook Airlines returned briefly to Hokitika during the 1972/73 summer season. NAC chartered a Hawker Siddeley 748 aircraft from Mt Cook Airlines to relieve the pressure caused by Christmas travel. The 48 seat aircraft, which had a slightly bigger passenger capacity than NAC's 40 seat Fokker Friendship flew to Hokitika daily as well as operating on the Christchurch-Nelson-Wellington flights. In the early 1970s it was not uncommon for Mount Cook 748s to replace the Friendship on Hokitika service.

Mount Cook Airlines' Hawker Siddeley 748 ZK-CWJ at Hokitika on a NAC service during the 1972-73 summer. Note the two Road Services' buses between the tower and the terminal... one came from the Hokitika town depot and the other from Greymouth to connect with the Christchurch flight.

The daily summer holiday schedule with flights to all centres being via Christchurch, 21 December 1973

ZK-BXB taxis to the terminal on 24 February 1974

By 1974 16,945 people were flying through Hokitika each year and from the 14th of September 1974 NAC introduced Saturday flights from Hokitika to Christchurch. This was the first time Hokitika had had a daily air service. While the Hokitika-Christchurch service was enjoying good loadings passengers often found they were unable to get seats and make connections at Christchurch with flights to the North Island. To counter this NAC reinstated the Hokitika-Westport link on the 3rd of June 1975 on a year’s trial. The airline hoped that a proportion of passengers wanting to get to the North Island would use it and get to Wellington, via Westport and Nelson, more quickly. 

Christchurch Star, 17 September 1974

In 1975 NAC introduced its new "Wings of the Nations" orange and red colour scheme.

From the NAC Sales Brief, November 1975... Above "Dad's Army" and below long time NAC agent Des Wright

The two Friendship timetable as in the NAC timetable, effective 31 January 1977

Friendship ZK-NAH at Hokitika on 25 September 1977. The new terminal on the left is still under construction while the original terminal that was used on the Southside aerodrome by Air Travel is behind the Friendship.

My only photo of an NAC Friendship. ZK-BXE at Hokitika in 1978.

On the 31st of March 1978 NAC ceased operations. The following day it was merged with New Zealand's international airline Air New Zealand keeping the latter airline's name. The godwit logo on the tail gave way to the Air New Zealand koru and it was Air New Zealand who were continued the Hokitika air service.


  1. Where abouts was the airfield at Whataroa they used to operate from ? Do you have any pictures from there ?

  2. I vaguely recall the Whataroad strip was down on the Flst somewhere. Perhaps not far from Guy Menzies memorial airstrip?

  3. Whataroa aerodrome was alongside State Highway 6, about 1 km north east of Whataroa township.

    Guy Menzies' landing place is on La Fontaine Rd about 15 km north of Hariharihari township. Harihari is 35 km north of Whataroa

  4. Correct spelling is Hari Hari, not the two spellings I gave above.