17 March 2013

South Westland Skiplane Air Service

Mount Cook Air Service's scheduled skiplane service from Fox Glacier and Franz Josef to Hokitika operated from late 1968 to early 1971 and this is the first third level service that I recall. When we would go up to the Hokitika Airport to see someone off on the NAC Friendship service to Christchurch I would talk my parents into staying on to watch the NAC DC-3 go to Westport and further north and then the Mount Cook Air Services’ Cessna 185 skiplane depart to South Westland.  This is story of the skiplane air service. 

For many years Air Travel, NAC and West Coast Airways operated an air service south from Hokitika to South Westland. The last of these operators, West Coast Airways, as well as operating a service to Haast, also operated a thrice weekly service to Franz Josef and Fox Glacier with de Havilland DH89 Dominie aircraft. This service ended on the 31st of March 1967.

The following year, on the 20th of December 1968, NAC commenced trans-alpine Fokker Friendship flights from Christchurch to Hokitika. On the same day Mount Cook Air Services reintroduced flights to and from South Westland by starting a non-scheduled service from Fox Glacier and Franz Josef to Hokitika using Cessna 185 skiplanes. The Hokitika Guardian of that day reported that Air traffic movements will turn Hokitika Airport into a 'mini Harewood' today when the start of the new trans-alpine air service sees connecting flights from north and south. First to arrive is 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. The same day there was a large advertisement for the air service in the Greymouth Evening Star. These are the only two references to the air service in the local newspapers.

Greymouth Evening Star, 20 December 1968
Timetable Effective 20 December 1968

The first flight from Franz Josef to Hokitika and return was flown by Lyall Hood, a son of Hokitika, in Cessna 185D Skywagon ZK-CKT on the 20th of December 1968. Over the summer holidays until the 2nd of February 1969 the skiplane flights operated on a daily basis, if there were passengers offering. 

Cessna 185 ZK-CKT, which flew the first South Westland-Hokitika skiplane service at Fox Glacier. Photographer unknown.

After the summer holidays, from the 3rd of February 1969, the Friendship service from Christchurch to Hokitika was reduced to operate on only four days a week, namely on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The Douglas DC-3 service to and from Wellington, Nelson and Westport to Hokitika continued to operate Monday to Friday. While the introduction of the Friendship service was the stimulus for the skiplane service, it continued to operate six days a week, Sunday to Friday, connecting with all the NAC Friendship and DC-3 services at Hokitika.

The Skiplane timetable effective 27 May 1969 - 12 October 1969

Timetable Effective 13 October 1969 - 1 February 1970

The normal aircraft used for the service was Fox Glacier based Cessna A185E Skywagon ZK-COH or the Franz Josef based Cessna 185D Skywagon ZK-CKT. Occasionally other skiplanes were used. One of the pilots on the service noted in his logbook that two Cessna 185s, ZK-CKP and ZK-CKT operated flights NM101/102 from Franz Josef to Hokitika and back to Franz Josef on the 21st of August 1969, commenting “there must have been passengers that day.” 

One of the mainstays of the air service, Cessna 185 ZK-COH at Franz Josef in December 1970. 

From 1970 over the peak summer season or when larger loads dictated the need, de Havilland 89B Dominie ZK-BCP was also used on the service between the Glaciers and Hokitika. The Dominie's first flight on the Hokitika run, NM101/102, was flown by Jerry Savage on the 3rd of February 1970. ZK-BCP thus became the last Dominie to operate an airline service in New Zealand. 

De Havilland 89 Dominie ZK-BCP was occasionally used instead of the skiplane on the Glacier service. It is seen above at Franz Josef and below at Hokitika on 12 July 1970.

On the 5th of June 1970 the DC-3 finally bowed out of services to the West Coast and Hokitika, for a time, lost its one plane service to Wellington. This meant all passengers for the capital now had to fly on the increased Sunday to Friday Friendship service to Christchurch where they transhipped to Boeing and Viscount services to Wellington or other centres. The skiplane service continued to meet NAC services at Hokitika when there were passengers offering. Over the holiday periods NAC operated Saturday services to Hokitika and the skiplane service connected with these flights as well.

The meeting of the air services... NAC Friendship ZK-NAF and Mount Cook Air Services' Cessna 185 ZK-COH at Hokitika. As there is no DC-3 present it was either taken after the 5th of June 1970 or, if before that, on a Sunday. 

Timetable : Winter 1970

In the nine months from July 1969 to March 1970 142 flights were operated carrying 249 passengers and in the 12 months from April 1970 to March 1971 147 flights were operated carrying 247 passengers. The service was mainly used by tourists. While some locals used it road travel was obviously much more convenient and economical. The final flights between Fox Glacier and Hokitika operated in February 1971 and between Franz Joseph and Hokitika, in March 1971. In September 1971 Mount Cook Airlines were given Air Services Licensing Authority approval to  abandon the non-scheduled passenger and freight service between Hokitika, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. So ended South Westland’s last regular air service.

The final timetable - Summer 1970-1971

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.

Pilots of the skiplane service included :

Robbie Hansen
Lyall Hood
Jerry Savage
Bill Winefield

Aircraft recorded as being operated on the service :

ZK-CKP - Cessna 185D Skywagon (c/n 185-0796)
ZK-CKT - Cessna 185D Skywagon  (c/n 185-0929)
ZK-COH - Cessna A185E Skywagon (c/n 185-1009)
ZK-CVG - Cessna 185C Skywagon (c/n 185-0681R)

ZK-BCP - de Havilland 89B Dominie (c/n 6648)


  1. Yes, I remember piloting those services in the C185 & Dominie well. Halcyon days for sure! Jerry Savage.

  2. Hi Jerry - Would you mind emailing me... I've got a few questions on the South Westland skiplane air service... Cheers, Steve - westland831@gmail.com