08 December 2019

3½ passengers are not enough - SPANZ's service to Matamata


In 1959 South Pacific Airlines New Zealand Ltd, founded by Captain R. Daniell and Captain R. A. L. Anderson, sought Air Services Licensing Authority approval to operate scheduled and non-scheduled services to link the Auckland, Matamata, the Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Blenheim, Nelson and Christchurch using two Douglas DC-3 "Hawaiian" aircraft. The “Hawaiian’ was described as “a swept-up version of the well-known Dakota aircraft used by the National Airways Corporation. Fitted with extra large windows to ensure a wider view of scenic attractions, the aircraft has comfortable seating capacity for 31 passengers.” Matamata’s Mayor, Mr K. N. Gouk, was delighted with the news saying, “I am sure the Council will vigorously support the establishment of the proposed air service. If successful in the application for a licence, the service will bring Matamata into line with modern developments of transport and tourist air travel."

By July 1959 four routes were proposed
Route 1: Auckland – Matamata – Tauranga – Masterton - Wellington. Four return services per week.
Route 2: Tauranga – Matamata – Hamilton - New Plymouth – Nelson – Blenheim -Christchurch. Two return services per week. 
Route 3: Napier – Takapau – Masterton - Blenheim, connecting with N.A.C. - Nelson and Christchurch. Two return services per week.
Route 4: Auckland – Matamata - Hamilton (N.A.C. connections) -Tauranga (Gisborne connection) - Napier.

In late July 1959 two meetings were held in Matamata to give locals the opportunity of becoming shareholders and also to discuss timetables and the advantages of the new service. Keen interest was displayed by Matamata businessmen and as a result local capital was invested. Captain R Daniell stressed that one of the many benefits to Matamata from direct air flights would be that the Matamata businessman who needed to go to Wellington on business could spend four hours in Wellington and be back in Matamata the same day. Captain Daniell also pointed out that the development of Matamata on a main air route would naturally be a further step in the development of Matamata as a tourist area.

A year later the airline was still to get airborne. Matamata’s hopes to be included in the new airlines network were stunted in June 1960 when it was announced that Matamata was not being included in the routes as the Waharoa airfield was not licenced for DC-3 operations due to the height of trees on the northern approach. A meeting of  representatives from the Piako and Matamata County Councils, the Te Aroha, Morrinsville and Matamata Borough Councils, the Te Aroha Chambers of Commerce and the Piako Aero Club was convened with the aim of ensuring the airfield was brought up to DC-3 standard. The trees were duly dealt with and Matamata was assured that SPANZ would provide a three-day-a-week service to Matamata provided that Waharoa airfield was granted a licence for DC-3 operations.

On the 22nd of November 1960 the Matamata County Mail announced the news the town leaders wanted to hear, As from December 14, Matamata will be linked by air services to main centres of New Zealand as well as many other towns. South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand, Ltd., will operate three southbound and two northbound services each week from the Waharoa Airfield. Recently representatives of the Company, Civil Aviation officials and members of local bodies held a conference on the airfield to see what could be done to bring it up to required standard. As a result of this conference, the major obstacle has been overcome. This was the fact that the main highway did not give a satisfactory angle of take-off from the airfield and the company was faced with either patrolling the highway at specified times or finding extra airfield space to increase the runway on the eastern side. A lease of sufficient area of land has been obtained by the company and the necessary preparation is well in hand for the initial flight. Specially converted DC-3's, Viewmasters, will be operated by the company. These aircraft have been especially chosen for sight-seeing and have specially constructed view windows. Incorporating the latest ideas for passenger comfort, convenience and pleasure, the aircraft will seat 31 passengers. The proposed Matamata service is:-
Mondays: An early morning flight to Masterton-Christchurch, linking with the service to Dunedin and Invercargill.
Wednesdays: An afternoon flight to Napier and Masterton.
Fridays: An early afternoon service to Napier, Masterton and Blenheim.
Northbound services are:-
Mondays and Fridays: An afternoon flight to Auckland.

The President of Matamata Visitors' Bureau, Mr H. G. Harris, commented, “Linking Matamata with New Zealand centres such as Napier, Masterton, Blenheim and other main cities with weekly eights from Waharoa is yet another factor in the fast development of Matamata as a tourist centre. Not only will these service's attract visitors to Matamata but the charter flights service run in conjunction by the Company will enable visitors to Matamata having the opportunity to have scenic flights over the North Island departing from and returning to Matamata. This alone should attract an increasing number of visitors to Matamata."

On the 11th of December 1960 Airlines of New Zealand brought their Douglas DC-3 Viewmaster ZK-BYD to Matamata as part of a promotional tour the visited Hamilton, New Plymouth, Nelson, Christchurch, Oamaru and Alexandra, Blenheim, Wellington, Masterton, Napier and Matamata before returning to Auckland. The Matamata County Mail reported the event a couple of days later.

A crowd of over 300 at Waharoa airfield last Sunday saw Captain R. D. Daniell pilot Airlines of New Zealand's new Viewmaster D.C. 3 to a perfect touch down on the company's inaugural flight from Alexandra in the south to Auckland in the north. The arrival of the shining, brightly coloured aircraft marking Matamata's air linkage throughout New Zealand was a fitting tribute to those of the community who have laboured through the years to maintain Waharoa airfield. The first of the twice-weekly northbound flights will be on Thursday, December 15 and the first of the thrice-weekly southbound services will take off on Friday, December 16. To introduce the new service, the company choose the "Viewmaster" ahead of turbo-prop aircraft because this aircraft can operate in complete safety from grass airfields barred through-out the country to the prop-jets. Impressions gained by the County Mail from a courtesy flight on Sunday, are:- From two five-foot long windows on each side of the fuselage of the "Viewmaster" - other windows are also enlarged - passengers get an uninterrupted panoramic view. Other refinements in the aircraft include intercom which enables the crew to keep passengers informed on flight progress. Short commentaries can also be given on scenic attractions being flown over. And throughout all flight passengers are looked after by smartly dressed girl pursers... Fitted with 32 adjustable seats in eight -rows of four, the cabin of the aircraft is tastefully decorated in a powder blue ceiling, pink and mushroom walls, fawn carpets and tan fabric upholstered chairs. Each passenger has his individual cool vent and reading lamps. Ash trays for in-flight smoking are set in the arm rests. The temperature of the cabin is controlled and the buffet enables provision of adequate refreshments. The aircraft is painted a glistening white along the top of the fuselage and the letters A of NZ run vertically down the broad tail-fin.

A letter of greeting was sent by Mr R. J. Larkin president, Matamata Chamber of Commerce to his fellow presidents in Napier, Masterton, Nelson, Blenheim, Christchurch, Oamaru and Auckland and also to the Mayor of Alexandra on the occasion of the inaugural flight of Air-lines of New Zealand connecting those towns last Sunday. In his letter to the Mayor of Alexandra, Mr Larkin said:- On the occasion of the inaugural flight by Airlines of New Zealand from the Waharoa aerodrome, I desire to extend the warmest greetings to you and to all citizens of Alexandra from the Matamata Chamber of Commerce. We pay tribute to Mr F. E. Harris and other members of the Piako County Council, to the Piako Aero Club, to Mr A. E. Wrigley and more recently Mr H. Baigent of our Chamber and to all in the district who by their faith and vision have preserved the Waharoa aerodrome for this historic flight which will prove to be only the forerunner of many yet to come. The Waharoa aerodrome constructed as it was during the grim war years when the threat of invasion was very real was later honoured by the Queen's Flight during Her Majesty's visit to the Dominion and it is a tribute to the servicemen at the helm of Airlines of New Zealand that this company should show the way in providing a passenger and express freight service linking our district with you. You and your fellow citizens of Alexandra will no doubt share our pleasure that once again private enterprise has overcome all obstacles to give a service as distinctive as the planes it operates. It should not be forgotten that like Alexandra, Matamata is also the centre of a host of attractions for the tourist. Whether they come on business or pleasure bent, you and your fellow citizens will find the same warm welcome that we know awaits us from you in Alexandra. May God prosper this service and all who use and operate it.

A great series of shots of Douglas DC-3 Viewmaster ZK-BYD at Matamata on a scheduled service.
Date unknown. Photos W. ‘Bill’ Schwarz via F B Gavin Collection

On the 15th of December 1960 ZK-BYD operated Matamata’s first scheduled service with the Viewmaster flying a scheduled Christchurch – Blenheim – Wellington – Masterton –Napier – Matamata - Auckland service. The original schedule saw flights a Monday morning flight from Matamata to Masterton and Christchurch, a Wednesday afternoon service to Napier, Masterton and Christchurch and a Friday afternoon service to Napier, Masterton, Blenheim and Christchurch. Afternoon flights from Matamata to Auckland operated on Mondays and Thursdays. The arrival of Airlines of New Zealand meant that Matamata, Masterton, Oamaru and Alexandra received regular services to main centres for the first time. 


In the first five weeks of the service 150 passengers were carried north and south from Matamata. Travel between Matamata and Christchurch was most popular with 40 passengers while Matamata-Napier totalled 31. Passengers came from as far away as Tokoroa, Mangakino, Rotorua, Mount Maunganui and Morrinsvile to use the service.

The schedule was increased to a six day a week service from the 14th of March 1961. The new schedule connected Matamata with Wellington.

The SPANZ schedule effective 14 March 1961

But also in March 1961 Captain R. Anderson, Airlines of New Zealand’s operations manager, told the Matamata County Mail that, "Unless something is done not only to increase traffic but also to improve the airfield, my company will be forced to review the place of Matamata on our scheduled flights." The company was using the Piako Aero Club’s clubrooms as a terminal. These contained a lounge, toilet and refreshment facilities but these faciliites were considered poor. Rapidly growing grass on the runways and a rough entrance drive and a general state of deterioration was also cited as needing attention.

The SPANZ schedule effective 8 June 961

In the first six months of services to Matamata to the 1st of July 1961 1378 passengers flew in or out of Matamata. During this period the airline experienced an operating loss of £21,949. By the end of the year the company was in dire straits.

On the 7th of October 1961 Matamata was included in SPANZ’s Figure 8 Route, a weekend aerial tour of New Zealand that left Auckland and flew south through Matamata, Hamilton, Napier, Masterton, Blenheim, Nelson, Hokitika and Invercargill. The following day the flight flew from Invercargill to Alexandra, Oamaru, Timaru and Christchurch before returning to Auckland all for the price of £35-0-0.

In December 1961 Matamata was included in a Gisborne-Matamata-Hamilton-Auckland  service and all Matamata passengers to and from Auckland passed through Hamilton.

By now the airlines was in serious financial straits and the airline decided to drop Matamata as a destination. The last scheduled service to Matamata was operated by Douglas DC-3 Viewmaster ZK-BYD on the 10th of February 1962.

In late March 1962 Captain R. D. Daniell, general manager of Airlines of New Zealand, told the Matamata Jaycee meeting that his company would recommence regular air services through Matamata provided the company can survive its present acute economic problems. He said that it was considered economic to operate the Viewmaster aircraft if the average passenger uplift per flight totalled five persons. He added that the 12 months figures out of Matamata showed an average uplift of three to three-and-a-half persons. Captain Daniell told the Jaycees that his Board had decided to meet their drastic position with drastic action. This resulted in severe retrenchments among the staff and the curtailment of services to Matamata. "We are in no position to run the airline on, potential, he said, "we have been right through our entire operation with a fine tooth comb in an effort to cut costs. We met with reasonable success and if we can maintain our present level of economy I feel that we will give every consideration to coming back to Matamata, we certainly didn't want to pull out of this town." He said that the company's present forward planning catered for heavy concentration on closed circuit package tours in which Matamata could be a focal point.


  1. Another very interesting article Steve. My first ever flight was from this airfield in the around 1970. It was in a glider, an experience I have never forgotten. There was a DC 3 I recall that crashed into the Kaimai Ranges not far from this airfield, I can't remember the year but I'm sure I saw the remains of it on that flight.

  2. I remember SPANZ when I was in Wanganui as they had the occasional stopover