02 November 2014

Kaikoura Airfield - A History

Kaikoura’s airfield at Puketa, about 8km south of Kaikoura was opened by the Minister of Labour, the Hon. Tom Shand, on Sunday 9th August 1964. The airfield was constructed by county staff under the supervision of the county superintendent of works, Mr T Guniessy, at a cost of about £4000. The airfield originally had one grass vector of about 575x60 metres with further land available if the runway had to be extended. Before the opening of the airfield at Puketa, light aircraft working in the district used a strip at Kincaid, about 10km north of Kaikoura.

The Kaikoura Aero Club came was formed in 1983 but the impetus for further development of the airfield came with the commencement of commercial whale watching flights by Whale Watch Air and Air Tours Kaikoura in the early 1990s.  

In late 1995 the runway was sealed mainly because of increased traffic and rabbit damage of the grass runway. The Kaikoura District Council raised an $80,000 loan for the work, and this was funded from rates (20%) and by the airfield users (80%). The Kaikoura Aero Club captain Colin Bittle told the Kaikoura Star that, "Had we not got that runway, there is a question whether the grass surface would have held up for another season."

The following year the Whale Watch Air and Air Tours Kaikoura made a joint approach to the Kaikoura District Council for approval to build a new terminal. The council leased the airfield from the Department of Conservation and administered it. Rodney Harmon, of Air Tours Kaikoura, told the Kaikoura Star that “operators, not council, would pay for the terminal and while it would then be privately owned, it would still be a public terminal and could be used by other operators. Air Tours Kaikoura and Whale Watch Air, who mainly operate whale watching and sight-seeing trips, now service about 10,000 tourists in a year and a decent facility for them was well overdue,” he said.

Construction of the Mount Lyford log-style terminal began in late 199 with the Kaikoura District Council guaranteeing the loan taken out by Air Tours Kaikoura and Whale Watch Air to finance it. The $160,000 terminal was finished in May 1997 and was officially opened by Kaikoura’s mayor, Danny Smith on the 5th of November 1997. The Kaikoura Star reported “It was built by Matt and Murray Chambers and is one of the largest buildings made by Mt Lyford Chalets. The natural glow of the logs, complemented by the green roof and window surrounds and the large welcoming entrance-way, makes the terminal an attractive building. Inside, the spacious ness and well-designed interior incorporates a shop, cafeteria, toilets and the two counters serving Whale Watch Air and Air Tours Kaikoura on the ground level. Upstairs is an observation lounge with comfortable seating and a deck overlooking the airfield and beyond to the sea.” The District Council purchased the terminal in 2009 and lease it to Wings Over Whales.

Kaikoura has certainly grown as a tourist destination in the last 25 years. During that time a handful of operators have attempted to operate scheduled and non-scheduled air services into Kaikoura. Over the next few months I intend to do a series of posts on the operators that have flown air services through Kaikoura. 

A full history of Sounds Air may be found here

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