26 June 2022

Ross - One of Air Travel (NZ)'s Ports

I was browsing on Papers Past the other day and I found an account of an Air Travel (NZ) aircraft calling at Ross. For those of you who don't know where Ross is, and I can't imagine anyone not knowing, it is 26km south of Hokitika, and was the terminus of the West Coast-Christchurch railcar service until the railcars south of Greymouth were withdrawn in 1972.

The Ross aerodrome was first used on the of 21st of August 1934. The Hokitika Guardian recorded the event as follows

Captain J. C. Mercer, in a Canterbury Aero Club Fox Moth machine (ZK-ADH), arrived at Hokitika last evening, having travelled up the coast from Okuru, and landing at Waiho enroute. On his trip down, he took the District Engineer (Mr J. Smith), land purchase officer (Mr F. S. Reed), and Mr Smart (surveyor). The latter stopped at Okuru to carry out survey operations. This morning Captain Mercer, accompanied by Mr Paul Renton, junr., left Hokitika at 9 o’clock for Ross where the first official landing was made on the Ross aerodrome, which, has recently been prepared. There was a large crowd assembled to welcome the visitors. The new landing ground is situated between the township and Ross railway station, on the tailing site of the old Mont d’Or sluicing claim, and is formed of the sluice silt from the claim. There is an area of some 500 acres available. A portion of this has been drained and levelled, and the work is of an easy nature, there being only fine gravel and sand comprising the area. Captain Mercer received a warm welcome. He made a perfect landing, and spoke highly of the possibilities of the ground for aeroplane landing purposes, considering it could be easily made into one of the finest landing places on the Coast. Captain Mercer left Ross shortly after 10 o’clock and landed at Southside aerodrome about 10 30 o’clock, after a pleasant morning run.

The Canterbury Aero Club's Fox Moth ZK-ADH at Ross on the 21st of August 1934. Photo : The Press, 23 August 1934 

The first recorded landing by Air Travel (NZ) in the Hokitika Guardian appears on the 28th of January 1935... A busy day was spent in passenger transport by Mr J. C. Mercer on Saturday. He left Waiho at 6.30am far Bruce Bay and brought two passengers to Hokitika. He returned to Waiho and brought up two more, one of whom he took on to Inchbonnie. Mr Mercer there awaited the express, and later brought a passenger south landing here before going on to Ross, where he arrived at 4.10pm. Mr Mercer left Hokitika this morning for the south with the air mail and one passenger.

The locals were clearly very interested in developing their aerodrome and had ideas of grandeur that never came to pass. The Hokitika Guardian of the 14th of March 1936 reported that A visit of inspection was paid to the Aerodrome at Ross on Friday afternoon by his Worship the Mayor, Town Clerk, Messrs Johnston, Renton and the secretary of the Aero Club, Mr K. O. May. The party were shown over the ground by Mr Thornhill Cooper, Public Works Overseer, who pointed out the recent improvements carried out. Some five years ago the writer could not penetrate much of the ground even in gumboots and was agreeably surprised today to be driven over it in a car. The splendid results of drainage can be seen on every hand, as a large drain on the top side cut off water before reaching the landing ground. Another large drain on the sea side takes the seepage into the Totara River. It was decided to take in another block which will give a run of 800 yards in a north and south direction. Much more work will have to be done before the area is to its capacity, as it contains some 500 acres. The prevailing wind comes from a south-west direction and it is imperative that an extension in this direction should be made as soon as possible so that eventually a run of a mile can be obtained when required. It is admitted, by experts that the nearest lauding ground in New Zealand from Australia is the hop from Hobart in Tasmania either to Ross or Hokitika. With present day machines the hop can be accomplished under eight hours so whether Ross or Hokitika will be the main landing ground or not depends on the facilities offered.

From the N.Z. Air Pilot, 1936

The Guardian of the 30th of August 1937 reported that a second runway was being developed. The whole of the area, comprising 41 acres, is at present being ploughed. The ground has already been levelled and drained, and when the ploughing is completed, it is the intention to disc, lane, manure, and sow it down in grass. The work is being done by Mr W. Hamilton, of Ross. When completed the aerodrome should have a runway in two directions of about 600 yards, and should form an important link in the chain of aerodromes throughout the West Coast air route. 

So where was Ross aerodrome... it was located between the town (the edge of the town is seen in the top right hand photo of the following photo) and Stuart and Chapman's sawmill and the Ross railway station bottom left) as seen in these 1948 aerial photographs of the Ross area.

From the https://retrolens.co.nz/ site... photos taken 12 April 1948

By 1966 there is no sign of the airfield in the aerial photos.

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