12 April 2015

NAC's Glacier Service

NZNAC took over Air Travel’s services from Hokitika north to Westport and Nelson and to South Westland on the 1st of October 1947. The new NAC service to South Westland had a Monday to Saturday service being flown by Fox Moth aircraft from Hokitika to Haast and Okuru calling at Wataroa (now spelt Whataroa), Waiho (Franz Josef) and Weheka (Fox Glacier) as required. Initially two de Havilland DH83 Fox Moth’s were used by the NZ National Airways Corporation’s services to South Westland, ZK-AEK Mohua (c/n 4033) and ZK-AGM Matuhi (c/n T/S2810). The first NZNAC flight to Franz Josef was operated on the 1st of October 1947.

First day covers for the NAC services to and from Franz Josef. The first NAC flight to Okuru was flown on 1 October 1947 by Commander Frank Molloy in de Havilland 83 Fox Moth 83 Fox Moth ZK-AGM, Matuhi. It would seem probable that he flew the return service via Franz Josef but I have not been able to verify this. 

NAC's DH83 Fox Moth ZK-AGM at Waiho on a rather cloudy day... The hangar has gone, the Fox Moth has gone, the hotel has gone and the Glacier has receded way up the valley

De Havilland 83 Fox Moths were the mainstay of the services to Waiho as at this stage the de Havilland 89 Dragon Rapide/Dominie aircraft were not licenced to operate into the Waiho airstrip. Late in 1947, however, the Corporation announced that it ordered a twin-engined four-seater Mile's Gemini monoplane to evaluate whether it would be a suitable replacement for the Fox Moth for use on the South Westland services. NZNAC envisaged that the £6000 Gemini would also be suitable for use as a light freighter or as an air ambulance. Miles M65 Gemini 1A  ZK-AQO (c/n 6472) subsequently arrived in Hokitika in early 1948. By July 1948 the Gemini had only flown for some 50 hours and it was subsequently sold. The NAC service to Weheka (Fox Glacier) was short-lived and by August 1948 it no longer appeared on the NAC timetable.

The Miles Gemini, ZK-AQO, purchased for NAC's South Westland services proved to be unsuccessful. Photo taken at Hokitika. Photo : I Woolhouse Collection

At the same time as the Gemini left a “new” de Havilland 83 Fox Moth, ZK-ASP Mimiro (c/n 4097) arrived in Hokitika for the South Westland service. ZK-ASP wasn’t exactly new as it had previously been operated by Air Travel (NZ) Ltd as ZK-ADI, to company’s original aircraft, before being impressed into the RNZAF as NZ566 during the Second World War.

NAC timetable of August 1948 with three scheduled flights to Waiho each week

On the 9th of August 1948 the Southside airfield at Hokitika was closed to de Havilland Dragon Rapides and Dominies meaning that de Havilland 83 Fox Moths had to operate not only the South Westland services but also the feeder service between Hokitika and Westport via Greymouth to connect with the Lockheed Lodestar service to Nelson and Wellington. As well as flying regular services to Franz Josef the NAC Fox Moths were also used for scenic flights over the nearby Franz Josef Glacier, this probably being the only situation where NAC aircraft were regularly used for such a purpose.

A better day for flightseeing, DH 83 Fox Moth ZK-ASP at Franz Josef. Photographer unknown

In the late 1940s the NAC timetable showed a scheduled service from Hokitika to Waiho operating on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with non-scheduled flights operating on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays to connect with the northbound flights to Nelson and Wellington if there was traffic offering. Flight time between Hokitika and Franz Josef was 45 minutes.

The Greymouth Evening Star of the 2nd of February 1950 reported that Okuru and Waiho flights have been suspended on a scheduled basis. Flights are now made to these South Westland centres only when passengers are offering. During the Christmas week no passengers were conveyed from Okuru or Waiho. Seven were accommodated at Okuru in 1948 and nine in 1947, while two were accommodated in both 1947 and 1948 at Waiho.

The introduction of Hokitika’s new airport on the 17th of December 1951 and the introduction of a Lockheed Lodestar service opened Franz Josef up to new tourist potential. The Hokitika Guardian on the 27th of August 1951 reported that with the new air service it would be possible to fly from Auckland to Franz Josef Glacier in one day. 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 11.45 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.

The Lodestar service to Hokitika operated only until the 29th of March 1952 when the Lodestars were withdrawn from service. In September 1952 the Air Services Licensing Authority heard an application from Queenstown-based Southern Scenic Air Services, Ltd. to operate the Westport-Hokitika and Hokitika-Haast services. An agreement for the purchase of the National Airways Corporation’s assets used on the Hokitika-Haast service was subsequently signed. In the event Southern Scenic Airways Ltd withdrew their application for a licence. This led NAC to review its South Westland operation and more independence was given to the Hokitika unit. The Hokitika manager, Frank Molloy, was given greater powers regarding charter flights and other aspects of his work to suit the local conditions.

From the NAC timetable of 15 December 1952

The Hokitika-Westport sector reverted to Dominies until the 2nd of March 1953 when NAC extended the Douglas DC-3 service to Hokitika. The arrival of the DC-3 service meant the Dragon Rapide/Dominies could be released to fly the South Westland services, including the upgraded Franz Josef airstrip, 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 and with ZK-AGM holding the honour of being the last NAC Fox Moth being sold on the 28th of February 1954.

Shortly after the Franz Josef aerodrome was extended NAC DH Dominie ZK-AKU is seen at Franz Josef on 13 March 1954 with Southern Scenic's Percival Proctor ZK-APG in the background.
DH89B Dominie ZK-AKU at Franz Josef. NAC Airline Review, December 1956 edition

As well as the scheduled NAC service, the Hokitika based aircraft also flew air ambulance and search and rescue flights. Captain Frank Molloy recounted, A recent flight which I had to perform was to locate a disabled fishing boat somewhere off Greymouth in bad weather. We were lucky sighting it only 17 minutes after take-off from Hokitika and a tug from Westport was able to take it in tow later during the night and they reached Westport safely early on the following morning.  

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. At the time of the handover the air fare from Franz Josef to Hokitika was £2 10s, from Franz Josef to Wellington £9 4s and from Franz Josef to Auckland £14 13s.

On the 16th of November NAC’s South Westland service was taken over by West Coast Airways and their inaugural flight was operated by de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS on a Hokitika-Haast return service on the 19th of November 1956. 

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