26 April 2014

New Zealand's remotest air service

The air service between Chatham and Pitt Islands must surely be the most remote air service in New Zealand. On Easter Sunday I had the opportunity to experience this unique air service...

In the early 1980s Craig and Judy Emeny started flying crayfish between Pitt Island's Waipaua airstrip and an airstrip on Chatham Island using Cessna 180K ZK-EYH. From this they decided to establish  their own Chatham Island based operation by purchasing a Cessna 337F, ZK-TAI, from Air Rarotonga in 1984. The aircraft was initially operated under Gisborne-based East Air’s licence with crayfish and passengers being flown from the Chathams to, initially, Gisborne but also to other mainland destinations. 

Craig Emeny's original Cessna 180 ZK-EYH at the strip at Owenga.

From the beginning the Cessna 337s (http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2010/03/cessna-337s-of-air-chathams.html) and later Cessna 206s (http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2010/05/cessna-206s-of-air-chathams.html) have provided a regular air link across the 22 km Pitt Strait. In terms of size Chatham is the much bigger island being having a land area of some 900 km2 while the Pitt Island only has a land area of 62 km2. The air service has become a life line for the 30-40 inhabitants of Pitt Island, flying in mail and freight and flying out crayfish and fish as well as the regular passenger traffic. With the opening of Flowerpot Bay Lodge tourist traffic is growing and the Cessna 206 can make four flights across Pitt Strait from the island to the Chatham's airport.

Before the flight, Pitt-pilot Andrew Hamilton does a thorough pre-flight...
The Pitt Island workhorse, Cessna U206G Stationair ZK-KAI at Chatham on 20 April 2014. And after the freight was loaded, and Andrew and the three passengers were ready the weather at Pitt wasn't co-operating... so instead of a 1.00pm departure it was a 3.00pm departure
What we were waiting for was the word from Boe Lanauze who has briefs the Air Chathams pilot on the Pitt Island weather as well as being the Pitt co-ordinator for flights. Air Chathams runs a couple of different types of service - on a charter basis for the whole plane or on a per seat basis when there are a number of people wanting to fly or there is freight to be carried. Boe and her late husband Ted have been servicing the Air Chathams' service to Pitt since it began.
Finally lining up Runway 05 at Chatham...
and after take off a right turn over Te Whanga Lagoon
Flying along the east coast - The Pacific Ocean to the left, Te Whanga Lagoon to the right and various lakes slipping by
Te Whanga Lagoon under the wing...

Te Whanga Lagoon outlet

Owenga fishing village
Coming up on the south coast of Chatham

From left to right - the top of Pitt Island and then behind, Mangere Island, Little Mangere Island and the Castle
The northern coastline of Pitt Island
Another view of the coastline... Flowerpot, the location of the wharf, is the inlet towards the right 
Heading down Pitt Island's east coast

Lake Tupuangi


The airstrip is on the bottom left of this map, so just south west of North Head, the major point on the east coast of Pitt in the map at the start of the post.
On finals for Waipaua airstrip on Pitt

Looking back down the strip while back-tracking
Andrew Hamilton in front of ZK-KAI at Pitt
And KAI enjoying the sunshine before heading back to Pitt with its passenger and some freight

I made the return flight on the 23rd of April...

The facilities at Pitt Island's Waipaua airstrip
People gathering to meet the flight
And at the appointed time ZK-KAI roars up the strip...

...with a full load of  mail, freight and a passenger.
All hands to pumps as the mail and freight is off-loaded

and passengers put on their life jacket - a requirement for all single-engine air-transport operations over the sea.
South East Island (Rangatira) is the third largest island in the Chatham Islands and it is where the Black Robin recovery programme was carried out
Second Water Creek reaches the sea
Andrew Hamilton in his office
Approaching Chatham... the lake to the left is Lake Huro... Te One and Waitangi would be to the left of the photo. Te Whanga Lagoon is to the right of Lake Huro
Cape Fournier
Wonderful views of Te Whanga Lagoon, Hanson Bay and the coastal lakes 

Before turning on finals for Runway 23 at Chatham... the end of the journey for three of us on the flight with one transhipping from New Zealand's remotest air service for the flight to Wellington


  1. Thanks for this photo/essay there is more to Air Chattams operation;s that we hear about .Got to visit there .

  2. Outstanding Steve!! And all part of the "job". Thanks so much for sharing this unique journey. Certainly a significant tick on your check list of things to do!


  3. Great photo essay Steve - really enjoyed.

    Thanks for making the effort to share your experience.


  4. Soooo Jealous Steve. You have made many people very envious. How long were you on the Chats for?