16 September 2012

Kaikohe's First Air Service

The New Zealand National Airways Act of 1945 created an airline structure which envisaged one airline serving New Zealand’s main trunk routes with the surpluses from these main trunk services subsidising secondary routes to provincial towns. Kaikohe was one of those towns. The new legislation created a single domestic airline, the New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NZNAC). NAC began operating under its own licence on the 1st of April 1947 when it formally took over the Union Airways and Cook Strait Airways’ aircraft, timetables, engineering services, and most of their key personnel while Air Travel (NZ) became part of NAC on the 1st of October 1947.

Nonetheless, even before NAC began operating under its own licence it was still able to inaugurate new services. On the 20th of January 1947 its national air network was extended into Northland with the introduction of an Auckland (Whenuapai)-Whangarei-Kaikohe-Kaitaia service. The first flight was operated to Kaikohe by Lockheed L10 Electra ZK-AGJ, Kahu, piloted by Commander G R White and Second-Officer D M Thomas.

The "Northern News" of Thursday, the 23rd of January 1947, published an account of the arrival of the first flight at Kaikohe.

The arrival on Monday of “Kahu”, National Airways Corporation plane marked the inauguration of the Northland air service. The plane was met at the airfield by a large gathering of citizens of Kaikohe and surrounding districts and an address to mark the event was delivered by Mr G S Penney, chairman of the Town Board. The first sight of the plane was a sheen of silver as it came through light cloud over the hills from the south. Red markings could, he picked out as it raced up the landing field and swept over the heads of the gathered spectators into the west. It banked as it did so dropping in altitude in its wide sweep back round to the south end of the field, and came in to a perfect landing. As it touched down the engines slowed and the whirling of the propellers became easily distinguishable. It taxied up to the alighting place and at once the spectators swarmed around it for a closer look. "Just like a car inside, only more cramped for room," was the comment of most as they look through the door. Grey leathered upholstered high-backed seats lined either side of the narrow aisle with white linen slips over the top where the head rests. Above was an elastic edged net for holding small items of luggage such as jackets, handbags or overcoats, the tight elastic edge keeping them immovable while the plane was in motion. At the rear of the plane was the toilet. While the spectators were thus occupied and passengers and crew were stretching their legs, ground staff were busy stowing a bag of luggage in the compartment made for the purpose in the left hand wing. There is a trapdoor in the upper side of the wing. Mail was stowed in a similar compartment in the right-hand wing. Passengers and spectators formed a circle beside the plane to hear Mr G. S. Penney's address to mark the inauguration of the service. The passengers climbed aboard again, the door closed, and they became mere faces behind the windows. A wave of the hand, a jerk of the thumb in parting and the engines roared to life, and the plane taxied off to the south end again; it gathered speed the tail lifted quickly and in a moment the plane was in the air and was gone. It was probably at its destination in Kaitaia before spectators had climbed in their cars and got back to town. Three hundred letters and several parcels were carried on the service on its first day. There were no passengers for Kaikohe on the upward trip. Mr  W. Thorpe, Secretary of the Bay Power Board, who travelled to Kaitaia, was the first local passenger. On the return trip two passengers boarded the plane. They were Captain B. H. H. Edkins of Kerikeri, and Mr J. A. Stubbs of Kawakawa. It is interesting to feel that this was not the first air mail service to be run to Kaikohe. The honour went to R.N.Z.A.F. plane which made runs during the railway worker's strike in January, 1945.

The arrival of Kahu at Kaikohe... A short address was made by the chairman of the Town Board, G S Penney (centre). From left is V F Crackness (chairman of the Kaikohe Chamber of Commerce), H F Guy (chairman of the dairy company), W Jones (mayor of Whangarei). Photo Whites Aviation

Kaikohe residents were interested to see their new airliner. Photo Whites Aviation

The flight crew for the first day, Commander G R "Tiny" White and 2nd Officer D M Thomas at Whangarei. Photo : Whites Aviation

Northland Age, 2 February 1947 

For the next three years the Electras gave Northland a sterling service. Initially a single Monday to Saturday flight was operated from Auckland’s Whenuapai airport to Whangarei, Kaikohe and Kaitaia. 

Northland Age, 10 February 1948 

From the 2nd of August 1948 the timetable was increased to a twice-daily Electra service to cope with the demand for seats to Auckland. The first flight left Auckland at 7.55 a.m. calling at Whangarei and Kaikohe to arrive at Kaitaia at 9.50 a.m. The return flight left Kaitaia at 10.05 a.m., arriving back at Auckland at midday. The second plane left Auckland at 12.20 p.m. arriving at Kaitaia at 2.15 p.m. On the return flight it left Kaitaia at 2.30 p.m. and arrived at Auckland at 4.25 p.m. With the introduction of this additional service and the amended timetable it was possible to travel from Kaikohe to Christchurch, Nelson and Blenheim or vice versa on the same  day. 

NAC's northbound Electra timetable, effective August 1948

The Northern Advocate of the 26th of September 1949 gives a good glimpse of the Northland air service. The statistics issued by the Civil Aviation Branch of the Air Department for the first quarter of 1949 showed the Northland Electras flew 457.2 hours and 43,544 miles in that time. In the quarter under review, the Electras were scheduled to make 308 flights. They commenced 296 of them and completed 292. Thus, their regularity was 94.3 per cent. Details are also given as to the numbers of passengers and the weight of freight and mails carried between each stop on the various services. For instance, it is shown that, in the quarterly period, 829 passengers arrived at Kaitaia, 813 at Whangarei and 493 at Kaikohe. Departures were: Kaitaia 793. Whangarei 776, Kaikohe 572. Of freight. Kaitaia received 3498lb. Whangarei 3431lb. Kaikohe 2766lb. Kaitaia sent out 3413lb, Whangarei 1695lb. Kaikohe 2272lb. Kaitaia used the planes for mail far more than did either Kaikohe or Whangarei, receiving 915lb and despatching 1110lb. Kaikohe was next, with 653lb received and 938lb despatched. Whangarei received 585lb and sent out 915lb. 

Lockheed Electra ZK-AFD at Kaikohe on 4 February 1950. Photo : Whites Aviation

On the afternoon of the 6th of February 1950 and for both flights on the 7th Kaikohe received an unusual visitor with British registered Handley Page Marathon G-ALUB replacing the usual Electra aircraft while on a demonstration tour for NAC. The four engine Marathon accommodated up to 22 passengers and their luggage, but the type proved unsuitable for NAC's needs.

Handley Page Marathon G-ALUB which visited Kaikohe at Wellington

In 1949 NAC had signalled their intention to retire the Lockheed Electra fleet. The Electras served Kaikohe until the 25th of February 1950. With their withdrawal the twice daily Monday to Saturday service was replaced with a thrice daily Auckland to Whangarei, Kaikohe and Kaitaia service operated by 6-seat de Havilland DH89 Dominies. This service commenced on the 27th of February 1950. The Dominie service was, however, temporary.

On the 15th of May 1950 NAC introduced the larger Lockheed L18 Lodestar on its services to Kaikohe and Kaitaia with a Monday to Saturday single flight schedule. The first Lodestar flight was flown by ZK-AOT, Korohia. The Lodestar was unable to use Whangarei’s Onerahi Airport and so Whangarei was served by a de Havilland Dominie service from Auckland. The Northern News reported that the Lodestar was considered to be the best small line aircraft in the world… and the fastest and most serviceable aircraft possessed by the Corporation. The new service promised some real benefits for Kaikohe including an increased seating capacity from the Dominie’s six to fifteen, an increased seat allocation between Kaikohe and Auckland, from four to eight, an increase in freight carrying capacity and a reduction in the time of the flight to Auckland from 70 minutes to 45 minutes. This was the actual flying time but the "time-saving" was considerably increased because the Lodestar flew direct to Auckland, consequently the time formerly spent at Whangarei was saved.

A Dominie (left) and Lockheed Lodestar ZK-AOT at Kaikohe. Source : Northern News, 18 May 1950

Introduced at the same time was a Whangarei-Kaikohe feeder service that was operated by Dominies. The Dominie arrived at Kaikohe from Whangarei at 12.10 p.m. with the Lodestar arriving from Auckland at 12.20 p.m. Passengers from Whangarei could tranship to the Lodestar which then flew on to Kaitaia. Meanwhile the Dominie pilot headed into town for lunch as the Dominie waited at Kaikohe for the return of the Lodestar from Kaitaia, and passengers for Whangarei to tranship. The Lodestar then returned direct to Auckland, leaving Kaikohe at 1.45 p.m. and arriving at Whenuapai at 2.30 p.m. The Whangarei-Kaikohe feeder service did not last long and was dropped from the NAC timetable in 1951.

Dominies for service through Whangarei, Lodestars to Kaikohe and Kaitaia. NAC timetable, effective 18 December 1950
The Lodestars did not last long on the Northland service for on the 2nd of April 1951 Douglas DC-3s were introduced on the Auckland-Kaikohe-Kaitaia route. The new DC-3 service was branded as "The Northlander." This service left Christchurch at 7.50 a.m., Wellington at 9.40 a.m., and Auckland at noon, to reach Kaikohe at 12.45 p.m. and Kaitaia at 1.25 p.m. The return flight left Kaitaia at 1.50 p.m., and Kaikohe at 2.30 p.m., reaching Auckland at 3.15 p.m., Wellington at 6 p.m., and Christchurch at 8 p.m. The new service enabled people from the main centres to travel to or from the Bay of Islands in little more than half a day's travel. The introduction of the DC-3 meant the Kaikohe timetable remained relatively the same until 1964 when the upgrading of Whangarei’s Onerahi airport brought it up to DC-3 standard.

NAC's Northlander DC-3 service, from timetable effective 17 December 1951

Northern News, 17 September 1951

On the 8th of June 1964 Whangarei finally received a DC-3 service. Initially two DC-3 flights were offered to Northland each day, a morning Kaitaia-Whangarei-Auckland service with a late afternoon return service and an Auckland-Whangarei-Kaikohe return service in the middle of the day. It had been 13 years since Kaikohe and Kaitaia were linked by air to Whangarei, apart for 27 days in 1958 when Coastal Airways operated an Auckland-Whangarei-Kaikohe-Kaitaia service (see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/04/27-day-airline-coastal-airways.html).


By April 1965 the service to Kaikohe and Kaitaia had changed and instead NAC operated a middle of the day Auckland-Whangarei-Kaikohe-Kaitaia and return service with the DC-3. This was to be the pattern of NAC’s flights through Kaikohe for the next few years, but even in 1965 there were two clouds looming on the horizon.


The first was that the increasingly uneconomic Douglas DC-3s were being withdrawn from service. Kaikohe’s grassed aerodrome was not suitable for the larger Fokker Friendships, not only because of the runway, but also by what NAC described as "problematic terrain." Responding to the threat of losing its NAC service the Mayor of Kaikohe, Mr P M E Williams, said in 1967, "This is something that is bigger than Kaikohe. The whole of the Bay of Islands, Hokianga and Whangaroa will be affected." He suggested a feeder service with a smaller plane might be the answer.



The second cloud that threatened Kaikohe was that by 1969 it had handled the least number of passengers of any of NAC’s destinations. In that year reported NAC carried 5000 passengers through Kaikohe, an average of seven in and seven out daily. So it was inevitable that the service would end.

The last time Kaikohe appeared on the NAC timetable, effective 8 June 1970

That day came on the 20th of August 1970 when NAC operated its last flight to Kaikohe and its last DC-3 service to Northland. The flight of NAC’s Skyliner ZK-BBJ was under the command of Captain R (Bob) A L Anderson and W (Bill) K Pattie and on board were the chairman of the National Airways Corporation Board of directors (Mr A. F. Gilkison) and his wife, deputy-chairman (Mr E. T. Beaven), board members, (Messrs J. N. Laurenson, W. S. Armitage and G. N. Roberts) and the NAC general manager, Mr D. A. Patterson. 

The headline of the Northern Advocate of the 21st of August captured the mood as the grand old lady bowed out of Northland’s skies - North’s Skies Wept as DC3 made its Farewell Flight. The account continued, As if they mourned her passing the Northland skies darkened and wept torrents of rain yesterday for the DC3 scheduled passenger flight in New Zealand. In typical fashion NAC's Skyliner, Gisborne, scorned the weather and, true to promise, carried her VIP passengers to Kaitaia, to Kaikohe and to Whangarei for the functions planned to mark her last appearance. Gisborne, ZK-BBJ, proved a worthy representative of a long, proud line. Recounting the final call at Kaikohe the Northern Advocate reported that The final flights into and out of the Kaikohe airport were carried out in the worst possible conditions. The DC3 sent out sheets of spray as it taxied to a stand-still on the water-covered grass runway after a perfect touchdown in an 18 to 20 knot nor-easterly. At a special afternoon tea attended by leading Kaikohe citizens and their wives, Mr Gilkison said: "Today is significant to Kaikohe and district because it marks the closing of an era in aviation history." He deeply regretted the severance of the corporation's air link with the borough and district, and expressed sorrow that there was no airfield in the mid-north able to carry a licence for the handling of the larger aircraft now being used by the corporation. It was with a feeling of deep nostalgia that be had to record the ending of a happy relationship between the Mayor (Mr P. M. E. Williams) and the borough council and its administrative staff, and with a large number of people in the borough and district. Mr Williams said the conclusion of, the DC3 service and the direct link with the National Airways Corporation was a sad day for Kaikohe. "The NAC has taught us all to be air minded, and we have appreciated the great interest shown in us by the staff," he said. He said that the corporation's customers had always had the utmost confidence In the ability and skill of the pilots. He thanked the corporation for "the fine memento of the model T of all aircraft - the DC3." Mr Gilkison paid a tribute to the outstanding service given the corporation by its Kaikohe agent (Mr C. P. Finnerty) over a long period of years, and presented him with a gold watch. Mrs Gilkison presented Mrs Finnerty with a bouquet. The official party left Kaikohe in heavy rain.

Northern News, 20 August 1970

The Chairman of the NAC, Mr A F Gilkison (left) presenting the framed photograph of a DC-3 to the Mayor of Kaikohe, (Mr P M E Williams). Northern News, 24 August 1970

As a final postscript the Auckland-Whangarei-Kaikohe-Kaitaia service topped NAC’s loss list for the 1969/1970 financial year with a $223,116 loss. However, what NAC couldn’t do a private operator economically was keen to try and on the 22nd of August 1970 Geyserland Airways took over the NAC service. Geyserland Airways’ story can be found at 

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