22 August 2010

Southern Scenic - Opening up Central Otago and Fiordland


From the 4th of December 1946 and over the 1946/47 summer a Gore resident, C. W. (Bill) Hewett, started offering scenic flights from Queenstown over the Central Otago lakes and over Fiordland with his Percival Proctor I, ZK-AJY.  These were advertised as Southern Scenic Air Trips. Flights were also offered from Alexandra.

Otago Daily Times, 30 November 1946

Bill Hewett's operation was very successful and he received offers of more work than he was able to undertake by himself and so he went into partnership with F. J. (Popeye) Lucas and Barry Topliss, a licensed engineer, to establish a charter company at Queenstown. 

Southern Scenic Airtrips, F J Lucas with Auster aircraft at Weheka (Fox Glacier), South Westland. Whites Aviation Ltd: Photographs. Ref: WA-13738-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23104809

Barry Topliss, engineer, and Mr Bill Hewitt (right), working on the engine in front of a Southern Scenic Airtrips Ltd Auster at Queenstown. Whites Aviation Ltd: Photographs. Ref: WA-14597-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22655573

Early branding... Southern Scenic Airtrips, Percival Proctor ZK-AJY airplane 'The Merry Widow' (Hewett's machine at Dunedin). Whites Aviation Ltd: Photographs. Ref: WA-06479-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/30636786

The company started operations with Popeye Lucas' Auster J/1 Autocrat, ZK-APO, and Bill Hewett's Percival Proctor I, ZK-AJY. The first official flight was made in the Auster on the 8th of September 1947, flying whitebait from South Westland to Queenstown. The next day, the 9th of September 1947, the company, Southern Scenic Air Trips Ltd, was formed. The licence finally caught up with a hearing of the Transport Licensing Authority at Queenstown on the 15th of September 1947 with the Authority granting Southern Scenic Air Trips' application for a passenger service licence 

The whitebait season offered a lot of opportunity for the new company but the season also presented a couple of problems.  On the 30th of September 1947 Bill Hewett flew the Auster ZK-APO to Jackson’s Bay in South Westland to uplift a load of whitebait. Departing about 7am the plane was over the Lammerlaw Range, about 45 miles from Dunedin, at about  10.00am when a downdraught over the range was so strong that Mr Hewitt decided he would be unable to clear the peaks, and he determined upon the hazardous course of attempting a landing in a valley of the barren and rocky mountains. The place he chose to land on offered no more than 10 feet of clearance on either side of the wings at the spot where the aircraft landed, and the nose of the plane was about 10 feet from the cliffs. Realising that it would be impossible to continue the flight, Mr Hewitt, who has a good knowledge of the country, decided to walk to 12 miles to Rocklands Station. The aircraft was eventually sledged out to the Rocklands station and then trucked to the railhead at Outram from where it was railed to Christchurch for overhaul.

More misfortune was to follow the following month. On the 29th of October 1947 the company's Proctor ZK-AJY, again piloted by Bill Hewett flew to Big Bay to uplift a load of whitebait. The Otago Daily Times reported that the plane had struck a soft patch of sand when it was preparing to take-off on its return journey, and had been partly upended, the propeller being bent. Otherwise, little damage was done. To add to the misfortune, however, the spring tide rose quickly, and the plane was partly immersed. The pilot, Mr C. W. Hewitt, clung grimly to the machine and at times stood chest deep in the sea to prevent the plane from being carried away in the high-running surf. Three hours passed before the plane could he finally secured by Mr Hewitt and the whitebait fishermen who came to his aid. Some slight damage to the plane's undercarriage and one wing was caused by the surf. The plane was finally flown out on the 15th of November. While these first flights had had their challenges they were also quite successful with 4,500lb of whitebait flown from Big Bay to Dunedin.

Southern Scenic quickly gained a reputation for being a versatile operator. On the 28th of January 1948 the Alexandra Herald And Central Otago Gazette reported that, A consignment of 20 cases of tomatoes grown by Mr Val Waldron, left Alexandra yesterday by a Southern Scenic Air Trips plane for Balclutha. It is understood that this is the first instance of locally grown fruit being flown to market. The company also offered seed sowing, stock spotting and supply dropping.

Otago Daily Times, 28 August 1948

The Otago Daily Times of the 20th of August carried a report on Southern Scenic's first seed sowing operation... Over 500lb of grass seed, about one third of the entire amount to be handled, was sown from the air near Lake Hayes yesterday. The area selected was on the steep faces of the hills bordering Lake Hayes, and the job is being done with a small Auster monoplane operated by Southern Scenic Airtrips Company. This is the first time an assignment of this sort has been carried out by the company and it involved rigging a small hopper in the cabin of the plane through which the seed could be dropped. The seed falls away from the aircraft in a long stream and then fans out to cover a wide area by the time it reaches the ground. Practice runs were made on Wednesday over the Frankton airfield in order to get some idea of the area which could be covered in each dropping run. Although this was one pf the first such seed sowing flights made in this province, the practice has been used extensively overseas and has been tried with success in the north. Working on the same principle, the spraying and dusting pf crops from the air have also been carried out. Air sowing on broken and hilly country cuts the time for the operation to a fraction of that required by more conventional means. Auster aircraft, with their manoeuvrability and low stalling speed, are particularly adaptable for such work.

From an early stage the company wanted to operate regular air services and from mid-1948 through to mid-1950 Southern Scenic Air Trips sought approval to operate an air service linking Central Otago to Dunedin. On the 5th of August 1948 one of Southern Scenic's directors expressed his frustration to the Otago Daily Times... “We could have two six-passenger aircraft in operation between Queenstown and Dunedin within a month if the Government would grant us a licence,” a director of Southern Scenic Air Trips told the Daily Times by telephone from Queenstown last night. He was making his statement after hearing the broadcast from Parliament of the debate on the Civil Aviation Bill. “The two aircraft are twin-engined machines and are completely airworthy,” the company official stated. “One could be used on the run while the other was being serviced. In this way we could operate an efficient service linking Queenstown and Dunedin and calling at such places as Cromwell, Alexandra, Roxburgh or Middlemarch. “The Government is not in a position to operate such a service,” he added. “The. Minister of Civil Aviation, Mr Jones, admitted this only recently. All we require is the licence to give the people of Otago a badly needed air service.” The director of the company added that his firm could not even obtain a licence to operate an ordinary air taxi service, which was required in Central Otago to-day. Its activities were confined to scenic trips and the whitebait run between Big Bay and Dunedin. “Even if we could not get the twin-engined machines, we have two four-seater, single-engined planes that could provide a satisfactory service,” he stated. “These Percival Proctors could run between Queenstown and Dunedin in the same way as National Airways run their single-engined Fox Moths between Hokitika and Jackson’s Bay. These Fox Moths make two trips weekly over country far rougher than anything encountered on Central Otago routes. This service is being extended to Westport. If the Government can operate 'such a service with single-engined machines, why cannot our company be given a licence?” he asked.

At this stage, following the establishment of NZ National Airways Corporation as the national carrier, the licensing of private operators to operate scheduled services was up in the air, thereby grounding the ambitions of companies like Southern Scenic. In his book, Popeye Lucas Queenstown, Popeye Lucas wrote “We were rather shattered when the Air Secretary wrote in reply to one of our innumerable applications advising that National Airways had appointed aero clubs to operate air charter, air taxi, and air ambulance services, and that these aero clubs would in most cases be the exclusive sub-contractors to the Corporation. On the face of this there was no hope for the private operator at all.”

Big Bay is about 95km south of Jackson's Bay 40km north of Milford Sound and has no road access. A radio-telephone was installed at  which helped communications with Southern Scenic. An Otago Daily Times article gave an insight into the air freighting of whitebait... The nets used by the fishermen are the usual West Coast box type, consisting of a framework, covered with metal gauze, of about nine cubic feet capacity. The nets are slid into a frame placed in the River. They are constantly attended, and are emptied according to the flow of whitebait. Six or seven live boxes are also floated in the river to hold the fish after being caught. The fish are kept alive for periods of up to two weeks in these boxes. When the fishermen are advised that an aircraft is due, the whitebait is packed into four-gallon tins for dispatch. The tins are ferried down to the beach by boat to await the arrival of the aircraft. “Sometimes it is not always possible to get out all the whitebait that is caught, and in these circumstances it is released so that it can breed for the next season.” ... For a period last season the two fishermen had an exceptionally busy time, and after eight days of netting, piloted by Mr C. W. Hewitt, flew out 7000lb of whitebait. Both the fishermen and Mr Hewitt worked from dawn to dusk, the fishermen often working late into the night by torchlight. “This was exceptional because of the wet season, and the large amount of whitebait which would have been spread over a longer period, came in a rush when the floods subsided” continued Mr Midgley. This quantity constituted more than half the season’s catch. 

The 1948 whitebait season proved to be both a boon and costly for Southern Scenic. On the 28th of October 1948, the Proctor, ZK-AJY, had another incident at Big Bay. The aircraft was on a flight from Queenstown to Big Bay taking in supplies to the whitebaiters and bringing back a load of  whitebait. While landing on the beach it struck some half-buried driftwood and nosed over. An initial report indicated that the undercarriage might have been slightly damaged, but as it transpired the aircraft had to be written off.

In February 1949 the Otago Daily Times reported on Southern Scenic's supply dropping activities... In conjunction with the Internal Affairs Department, Southern Scenic Airtrips, Ltd., is dropping supplies to deer, goat, and chamois cullers in all parts of the South Island. This service, which was previously carried out by the Public Works Department, is allowing cullers to reach areas which would otherwise be inaccessible and unprofitable. The small aeroplane which drops the supplies can carry 350lb on each trip. The trips average about 50 minutes’ flying time. A small aeroplane is used as it is more manoeuvrable and is able to pass through confined valleys. Supplies can also be dropped with much greater accuracy. The company recently supplied the scientific expedition in the Sounds’ district on the West Coast.

Also in early 1949 a joint American and New Zealand expedition headed into Fiordland to do research on Wapiti deer which had been introduced into New Zealand in the middle of the 19th century. Southern Scenic was employed to do supply drops for the expedition as reported in the Otago Daily Times of the 4th of March 1949... A new method of dropping supplies to the Fiordland expedition in the Caswell Sound area will be inaugurated today when Southern Scenic Air Trips, of Queenstown, will drop supplies by parachute to the party at the advance camp in the Upper Stillwater River. Mr F. J. Lucas, a director of the company, told the Daily Times last night that he was leaving Queenstown at six o’clock this morning for the Manapouri landing field. There he would pick up provisions for the Fiordland party. On each trip he would take 3cwt of supplies and he hoped to make seven trips during the day The provisions would be attached to parachutes and dropped over the camp. This method of supplying the advance camps would probably continue in the coming weeks. Supply dropping throughout the South Island became an important part of the business and included, in 1949, dropping supplies to seven parties of cullers, who were engaged in the campaign undertaken by the Wildlife branch of the Department of Internal Affairs to reduce the numbers of wallabies in the Hunter Hills near Waimate. 

In September 1948 Popeye Lucas joined the war against rabbits in the MacKenzie country and Central Otago. Initial experiments of spreading poisoned pellets on a station in the Omarama district were successful and the further trials were carried out in August 1949 in the Kurow district. The Otago Daily times reported that, To lay a ton of the poison in a day the services of 110 men would be required at a cost, in wages, of about £150. The cost of laying a similar amount by air is £45. The spreading of the poison by air has not been perfected, but a high degree of accuracy has been attained. The plane travels at from 60 to 70 miles an hour at an altitude of 200 feet, spreading 10lb of pollard to the mile. The poison is poured through a funnel and the slipstream gives it a reasonably even spread. The pollard pellets cannot be seen leaving the plane and do not disintegrate on striking the ground. If this method of spreading proves as successful as is hoped, it will be one of the quickest and, cheapest ways of dealing with the pest in the high country areas. 

The 1949 whitebait season saw Southern Scenic also serving whitebaiters at Martin's Bay. An airstrip was cleared for the company's aircraft. When this was completed, One of the brothers tramped 12 miles over rough country to Big Bay, travelling along the beach where possible, but, despite this, the journey took six hours He advised Southern Scenic Airtrips, Ltd., by the company’s radio at Big Bay that a landing strip at Martin's Bay was ready for use. A few hours later an Auster Autocrat picked him up and flew him over to Martin’s Bay, but it was not until the aircraft was over the area that it was realised that a landing could not be made, on account of high bush at both approaches to the 200 ft runway. The pilot, Mr F. Lucas, shut off the engine of the plane, glided low over the ground and shouted out instructions for improvements which were commenced immediately—by expert hands, for the Mitchell brothers are among the leading competitors in sawing and wood-chopping on the Coast. A few days later the trees had been lowered and the stumps cleared and the plane was able to land. In one or two trips from Queenstown all the necessary whitebaiting equipment for the brothers was flown in and in addition the plane carried extra bush-felling equipment including a sawbench and motor so that timber could be made available for the erection of headquarters. As time allowed, further improvements were carried out on the airstrip which now has been extended to 300 yards, although the light Auster aircraft can land and pull up in 60. On one recent trip Mr. T. Cheetham was piloting the plane and as he came in to land, three' wild horses dashed out of the bush at the end of the runway and galloped towards him. He opened the throttle and took off again but only just in time to clear the horses and dodge the trees. At present it is possible only to land towards the bush and take off away from it, but this state of affairs will be rectified as working time allows. Only once previously has an aircraft landed at Martin’s Bay. This was in 1936 when Mr T. Bradshaw, of Invercargill, touched down on a sandspit which is now practically non-existent. Since early in September the. plane of Southern Scenic Airtrips has been making two or three trips a week transporting cargoes of up to 1200lb of whitebait from Big Bay for the Dunedin and other city markets. Meanwhile 43 loads of whitebait were taken out of Big Bay during the 1949 season.

In September 1949 it was reported that Popeye Lucas had used an Auster to bring a flock of Canadian geese within range of a hunting group near Wanaka. It was reported that the assistance given by the plane resulted in good bags being obtained.

In 1949 NAC finally announced that they would introduce an air service from Dune­din to Alexandra and they suggested that a private firm be allowed to operate a feeder service. The Licensing Authority required that such a feeder service use a twin-engined aircraft. The Minister of Civil Aviation visited Central Otago where Queenstown interests pushed for the extension of the proposed NAC Dunedin-Alex­andra service to include Queenstown. On the meeting with the Minister, Popeye Lucas wrote, “At this, for us, historic meeting, progress was made when the Minister, while reiterating the Government policy on commercial aviation, said that there "might" be one or two exceptions to their policy. One of these "could be Southern Scenic Air Services, as they were servicing the needs of a vast back-country area." He said, "I have the greatest admiration for Mr Lucas and his partners in the splendid pioneering work already achieved”, and, “if the local company applied for a charter and taxi licence, it would be granted.”

NZNAC did some survey flights from Taieri to Alexandra, and on the 12th of December 1949 carried their first passengers to Central Otago, but later announced that the service would be restricted to air charter. This did not meet with public approval and finally Southern Scenic Air Services were given the long awaited licence.

On the 6th of July 1950 the Otago Daily Times reported that A bi-weekly air service will be operated shortly between Queenstown and Taieri by Southern Scenic Air Trips, the headquarters of which are at Frankton. While the company has not yet announced the date of commencement of the service, it is hoped that the inaugural flights will be made on Friday, July 14. Calls will be made at Cromwell and Alexandra on both the inward and outward flights. Giving this information to the Daily Times last night, the chief engineer of the company, Mr B. Topliss, said that although the company had been granted an air certificate, a licence to operate the service had not yet been issued. The managing director, Mr F. J. Lucas was, however, in the North Island making arrangements and it would only be adverse conditions or some unexpected contingency which would stop the first flight being made on the proposed date. It had been intended to start the service earlier, but the insurance agreements had not been completed in time. The planes which will be used in the early stages of the venture will be the company’s two Proctors, the Mark V and the Mark I. “They will not make much money as each can only carry three passengers,” Mr Topliss said, “but they will give us some idea of the way the service is going to go. If it is found to be paying we will consider putting a twin-engined machine on the run.” The company was also considering the possibility of importing a Noorduyn Norseman single-engined Canadian machine which could carry six passengers in luxury conditions or nine seated facing each other in bench fashion. This type of plane had been used extensively by the Canadian Mounted Police as it was easily convertible for use on water. During, the winter the service will operate each Friday and Monday. On the proposed time-table the aircraft will leave Frankton Aerodrome at 8 a.m., arriving at Taieri at 9.30 a.m. It will leave the same day at 3.30 p.m. and land at Frankton at 5 p.m. Landings will also be made at Cromwell and Alexandra as required. These times will allow connections to be made with incoming and outgoing planes of the National Airways Corporation. A revised summer timetable will be operated. The price of a single trip from Queenstown will be £2 10s and from Cromwell and Alexandra, £2. The return fare will be double those charges, which include all taxi transport. No arrangement has so far been made about carrying mails but-the company intends opening negotiations with the authorities.

Otago Daily Times, 13 July 1950

The first flight was to have operated on the 14th of July but this was thwarted by a snowstorm. “Everything was grounded here this morning—even the birds were walking,” remarked Mr B. Topliss, chief engineer of Southern Scenic Airtrips, speaking to the Daily Times by telephone from Frankton airfield yesterday. There had been heavy weather in the area, he said, and snow had fallen during the night. As a result the first flight on the air service between Queenstown and Taieri, which was to have been made yesterday had had to be cancelled. “We were out at the field about 7 o’clock this morning, but there were about two inches of snow on the ground and the weather, was bad over the Cromwell Gorge,” said. Mr. Topliss. The snow had cleared away by the afternoon and there were signs that the weather was breaking, but the flight had been postponed. Weather permitting, the first flight is now to be made on Monday. In the meantime, the company intends to operate the service on a non-schedule basis, but will keep as far as possible to the Monday and Friday timetables which have been planned. The two Proctor aircraft which were to inaugurate the service yesterday were over-booked, and some of the passengers have carried over their bookings until Monday. 

Southern Scenic’s Queenstown-Dunedin service began on 17th of July 1950 as reported in the Otago Daily Times the following day. The first flight of the bi-weekly Queenstown - Cromwell – Alexandra - Taieri service was made yesterday, one of the company’s Procter aircraft bringing three passengers and a limited quantity of air freight to Taieri in the morning and returning in the afternoon. When more hours of daylight are available next month, the company proposes to make its morning flights in time to connect with the first NAC plane north from Taieri. The return flight to Queenstown will be made half an hour later. As the summer months come on and more daylight operational hours are available, the company’s schedule will be progressively extended to permit the maximum stay in Dunedin. Several inches of crisp snow were on the Frankton airfield when the plane took off yesterday morning, and the thaw during the afternoon had turned it to slush by the time the aircraft returned. No difficulty was experienced in landing, however, and the passengers had a smooth trip in both directions. The plane was slightly late in arriving at Taieri in the morning, as weather conditions had enforced a deviation from the normal route. The pilot was Mr John Kilian. The freight brought to Taieri included several brace of chukor, which had been shot on Sunday. They were reconsigned to the north by the NAC freight service and would be in Auckland by last evening.  

Popeye Lucas also reflected on the establishment of the air service in his book Popeye Lucas Queenstown... Weather was poor, and the pilot, John Kilian, had to use the alternative route down the Clutha River via Beaumont. Originally our schedule was operated to cater for the local patronage, but after a long and losing trial, we found that we couldn't get a high enough load factor, and eventually organised our timetable to connect with the first NAC northbound flight, and to return to Queenstown after the last southbound one. This made it possible for passengers to get from Auckland to Queenstown in one day, arriving at the aerodrome at 3.30 p.m. They even had time to get up to the Coronet Peak ski field for an hour before skiing finished for the day. The service was welcomed by skiers and tourists alike. Our usual flying time to Dunedin was about 45-50 minutes in the single-engined plane, a great improvement on road travel, which took a good eight to 10 hours, as the roads were then poor, unsealed, and terribly dusty. 

Percival P44 Proctor 5 ZK-AQK at Taieri. Photographer unknown

First Day cover for the Queenstown-Dunedin service

A month on from the launch of the Dunedin service the company reported that it was increasing in popularity but the service was more popular from Queenstown to Dunedin. After two months the popularity of the air service between Dunedin and Queenstown had grown so much that the company was considering extending it to include a service on Wednesdays. Popeye Lucas told the Otago Daily Times the company had been using two aircraft on both days. Mr Lucas said that the service had been started with one plane, but the demand was such that the two aircraft now being used were full on every trip. 

Percival Proctor ZK-APG at Christchurch. Photo : S Lowe Collection

On the 22nd of August 1951 the Popeye Lucas an Auster into Milford Sound landing on a comparatively small, but flat, beach at Deepwater Basin, near the Milford Sound hostel, this morning. The aeroplane was flown to the sound to see if a landing could be made in the event of an emergency. The aeroplane landed at 8.15 a.m. and took off before the tide began to rise. Only two other landings are known to have been made in this manner in the Milford Sound area. Landings by amphibian aircraft, however, are not uncommon. It brought fresh bread, meat, newspapers, and mail. By the following year an airstrip had been developed and on the 5th of June 1952 Southern Scenic Air Services' Auster Aiglet ZK-AWS, flown by F. J. Lucas carried the first official air mail from Milford Sound to Queenstown. 

The first airmail flight, Southern Scenic's Auster Aiglet ZK-AWS at Milford Sound on 5 June 1952. Photo : D Walker Collection

The Milford Sound airstrip enabled regular flights from Queenstown with Austers, Proctors and later Cessnas. In 1956 the airstrip was upgraded to handle Dominies, with the Queenstown to Milford Sound flights becoming the heart of the company’s tourist flying.

Piper Tripacer ZK-BLB was leased by Southern Scenic Air Trips sometime between 1955 and 1958. It is seen here at Milford Sound. Photo D Walker Collection 

In September 1952 the company, by now known as Southern Scenic Air Services, announced that it was seeking approval to operate a scheduled passenger and freight service between Dunedin, Oamaru, Timaru, Ashburton, and Christchurch using the company's Proctors. The application was considered by the newly formed Air Services Licencing Authority. The residents of Oamaru were not happy about the prospect of a single engine aircraft operating their air service and instead South Island Airways were granted permission to extend their Christchurch-Ashburton-Timaru service to Oamaru. Southern Scenic Air Services was granted permission to operate flights between Taieri and Oamaru. 

The company announced that the schedule would operate Monday to Saturday, as required, with the plane departing Queenstown at 10.45 a.m. to arrive at Taieri at 11.45 a.m. The Oamaru flight would then depart Taieri at 12.30 p.m. to arrive at Oamaru 1.05 p.m. The return service would depart Oamaru at 1.20 p.m. arriving at Taieri 1.55 p.m. and then departing Taieri at 2.30 p.m. to arrive at Queenstown at 3.30 p.m. The Oamaru-Dunedin fare was set at £2 10s. 

Oamaru Mail, 15 December 1952

The first flight was flown on Thursday the 18th of December 1952 “when in perfect weather conditions at precisely 1.05 p.m. (right on time)” Percival Proctor ZK-AQK touched down. The inaugural flight was flown by company director John Kilian. On the return flight to Dunedin Cr. A. E. Claridge (representing the Mayor who was unable to make the trip), Mr E. M. Freeman, president of the Oamaru Junior Chamber of Commerce and Mr J. H. F. White of the Oamaru Mail were the passengers as guests of the company. 

First Day Cover for the extended service from Taieri to Oamaru

On the 30th of June 1953 the Oamaru Mail carried the news that Southern Scenic intended to apply for the cancellation of their service between Oamaru and Dunedin due to lack of patronage.

At the same time as the company was looking to expand to Oamaru Southern Scenic were looking at taking over NAC's air service from Hokitika to South Westland. By early 1953 the company had withdrawn their application. In 1956 Southern Scenic returned to the Air Services Licensing Authority and this led to the company establishing a subsidiary company, West Coast Airways Ltd, to take over and operate the NAC South Westland service from Hokitika. West Coast Airways commenced operations on the 19th of November 1956 serving Haast, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef and with a feeder service between Hokitika and Greymouth. The company hoped to extend this service from Haast to Milford Sound to connect with their own flights from Milford to Queenstown and on through to Dunedin. While there may have been great tourist potential with this connection the West Coast Airways service to Milford Sound, which operated weekly, was never popular. 

For a fuller history on West Coast Airways see :

At this time Southern Scenic Air Services were not strangers to the West Coast, flying into various airfields and beaches in support of the whitebaiters, hunters and trampers. They also provided scenic flights over the glaciers from Franz Josef.

Southern Scenic's Percival Proctor ZK-APG and NAC's de Havilland Dominie at Franz Josef on 13 March 1954. Photo : S Lowe Collection

In the early years of the Queenstown-Dunedin air service was operated by the Proctors but in 1953 Southern Scenic bought three Avro Ansons. 

Southern Scenic purchased Anson, Avro 652A Anson 1 ZK-BCL from RNZAF in May 1953. This aircraft was going to be used for freight only but it was only used for a very short time. Southern Scenic also bought another Anson from the RNZAF, ZK-AYJ, but it parted out and used for spares. Also in July 1953 the company purchased an ex-RAF Avro Anson Mk XII, ZK-AXY from Mount Maunganui company Adastra Aviation and this aircraft was used on the Dunedin air service. Popeye Lucas recounts the operation of the Anson. The Anson was ready for delivery and I went to Tauranga to test-fly it and bring it back to Queenstown. The RAF roundels had not been removed, and I had a twinge of nostalgia when I saw them, which stayed with me all the way back to Queenstown. This aircraft was a Mark XII, and in much better condition than the one we had bought off the RNZAF. We had intended to use the other for freighting, but this one was perfectly adequate for passenger service work. She'd been used as a VIP aeroplane in Australia to transport the then Governor-General, the Duke of Gloucester, on official visits about the country. She had only 650 hours up since new, and had been especially designed for feeder-line services, with a cruising speed of 150 mph. Registered ZK-AXY she was a good aeroplane and deserved more use than she had had. With the acquisition of this machine we had to extend the airfield at Frankton. The existing length was quite adequate in our experience, and in all our use of the plane we never at any time had need to use any more of the runway than that, but Air Department were adamant that a longer runway was necessary and refused to license the aerodrome for an Anson until we had complied with this requirement. We were compelled then to rent a strip of land from a neighbouring farmer at $10 a week just for the privilege of looking at it. 

Before Mount Cook Airlines starting flying to Queenstown the only way to fly there was by NAC to Dunedin to connect with the Southern Scenic's flight. The Press, 23 July 1954

The Anson started being used on the Dunedin air service from December 1953. It had provision for 7 passengers which was a step up from the 3-passenger Proctor. On the 1st of November 1954 the Christchurch Press reported on the flying of whitebait from the West Coast. A twin-engined Anson freighter aircraft has, in the last 10 days, made six trips from the Haast aerodrome to Christchurch, and has brought a total of nearly six tons. Mr F. J. Lucas, chairman of directors of Southern Scenic Air Services, which is operating the Anson, expects the charter to continue until well into this month. Wellington as well as Christchurch is served by this new air freight service. Whitebait is transhipped at Christchurch from the Anson to one of the National Airways Corporation’s Douglas DC-3 aircraft and carried to Paraparaumu. Messrs D. Nolan and Sons, cattle, runholders in the area, have many whitebait fishermen working in South Westland rivers such as the Arawhata (which runs into Jacksons Bay, a well known source of whitebait), the Haast, Okuru, Waiatoto and Cascade rivers. From these points the whitebait is collected either by truck or by the Nolans’s own Miles Messenger aircraft, and taken to Haast aerodrome where it is transferred to the larger aircraft for the flight to Christchurch. Mr Lucas said in Christchurch last evening that the Dunedin demand for whitebait was served by fishermen in Big Bay further south than the source for the air freight to Christchurch, and it had been decided to send the Haast whitebait to Christchurch and Wellington.

In the words of Popeye Lucas, The Anson served us until the purchase of the Dominies from National Airways. After that we found the Dominies so much cheaper to run that the Anson was taken off passenger work completely, and we were happy to be able to relinquish the renting of that perfectly useless strip of land. 

Avro Anson XII, ZK-AXY, at Queenstown

In August 1955 Southern Scenic was given approval to lease and operate de Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-BFK previously operated by South Island Airways.

In March 1956 Southern Scenic acquired its first De Havilland DH89B Dominie, ZK-BAU, which came from the Auckland Aero Club. These were followed in late 1956 by two ex-NAC Dominies, ZK-AKS and ZK-AKT, ZK-AKT being registered to the new formed West Coast Airways. De Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS joined West Coast Airways in March 1957. A final De Havilland DH89B Dominie, ZK-BCP, previously operated by Brian Chadwick's Air Charter joined the fleet in July 1964.

Southern Scenic's first de Havilland 89B Dominie, ZK-BAU at Christchurch in the late 1950s.

De Havilland DH89B Dominie, ZK-AKT, at Taieri on the 29th of August 1960. Photographer unknown

The arrival of the Dominies allowed the retirement of the Ansons, the Dominies being much cheaper to operate than the Ansons. Anson ZK-AXY was apparently withdrawn from use on the 28th of February 1955 and its registration was cancelled on the 21st of July 1961. Both Ansons sat idle at Queenstown. ZK-BCL was destroyed in a grass fire at Queenstown in June 1959 while ZK-AXY was sold as is where is in late 1962.

During the summer of 1957-58 the company trialled a six-day a week air service between Queenstown and Invercargill using  Dominies. The service commenced on the 17th of December 1957 with the first flight being piloted by Russell Troon in de Havilland Dominie ZK-BAU. The Invercargill service, however, did not generate much traffic and ended at the end of the summer.

First Day Cover for the Queenstown Invercargill service

In September 1958 a Southern Scenic aircraft dropped poisoned carrots in a 20-acre area at the head of the Caples Valley, above Lake Wakatipu. This was the climax a Forest Service trial and two months of experimental airdrops with ordinary carrots. Popeye Lucas was reported as saying, the Forest Service had been experimenting with unpoisoned carrots at the head of the Caples Valley for the last two months, to see if the deer would take them. “Three scientists have been in the valley since we started our drops, and they found that the deer took the bait well,” Mr Lucas said. “The density of deer in the area is terrific, and they are doing untold damage. It is not before time that something was done.” Mr Lucas said the poisoning was only experimental, and he thought it would not be used in the area again... Mr A. F. Sutherland, on whose run the poison bait was dropped said Dead deer were found last night, but birds did not seem to be affected, Mr Sutherland explained. “I don’t think the birds will be,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Queenstown-Dunedin service continued to be a loss maker. However, as Popeye Lucas wrote, it produced intangible benefits: it rounded off our activities, gave us control of our area provided a vital service to the community, and put us on the map for incoming visitors. Some of the losses for the year could fairly have been considered advertising because of the goodwill generated and the indirect advertising we received, of which we were much in need, having no advertising formally budgeted in our annual estimates. I felt the good it did outweighed the loss. Having struggled so hard to get it going and having persevered when the loadings were low, I felt it was worthwhile hanging on now, as the tourist influx was increasing annually and in a few more years there would be a far greater volume of traffic. If it did nothing else it kept the aircraft fully utilised, which was most important

Relics of Southern Scenic's Dunedin air service... baggage tags for Dunedin and Queenstown

Southern Scenic acquired their first Cessna 180s, ZK-BDE and ZK-BFT, in September 1957. They were used largely for the rabbit poisoning but the versatility of the aircraft was proven. ZK-BJY was purchased for subsidiary company West Coast Airways in 1958. 

Cessna 180 ZK-BFT at Queenstown. Photo : F B Gavin Collection

Competition arrived in the early 1960s in the form of two companies operating Douglas DC-3s. SPANZ began scheduled services into Alexandra on the 14th of December 1960 and Mount Cook Airlines started scheduled air services from Christchurch to Mount Cook and Cromwell on the 1st of November 1961, Queenstown airport still being developed to take DC-3s. 

On the 28th of April 1962 Southern Scenic Air Services' Queenstown-Dunedin service was cut after thirteen years of operations. Mr D. W. Davies, a director of the company, said the move was a result of decreased passenger loadings, which he attributed mainly to the inauguration of the service by the Mount Cook Air Services. Ltd., from Christchurch to Manapouri via the Hermitage and Cromwell.

The 1960s saw Southern Scenic adopt its iconic red and white colour scheme which was worn by the whole fleet. Between 1961 and 1963 more Cessna 180s were acquired and these were used for agricultural operations, flying into the back country and for scenic flights on wheels and floats. Also in the 1960s, in mid-1963 Cessna 185 was purchased and a Cessna 205 ZK-CEZ was leased in 1965.

Southern Scenic's Cessna 180 ZK-BJY  on floats on Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown. Photographer unknown.

The modern generation of scenic flyers... Cessna 180 ZK-BUQ at Milford Sound. Photo : F B Gavin Collection

Southern Scenic Air Services' Cessna 180 ZK-CBL at Queenstown.

Cessna 185 ZK-CCX at Queenstown ZK-CCX. Photo : Des White Collection

With the cessation of the Dunedin air service this left West Coast Airways' South Westland service as the only scheduled air service operated by Southern Scenic Airways aircraft. Initially ZK-AKT and ZK-AHS carried West Coast Airways titles but later they were painted in Southern Scenic colours. Southern Scenic's other Dominies and Cessna 180s were often seen working West Coast Airways operations.

Southern Scenic's de Havilland DH89 Dominie ZK-BAU at Franz Josef

Southern Scenic's de Havilland DH89 Dominie ZK-AKT at Hokitika in early 1965. Under the Southern Scenic titles are Southern Scenic Airservices Ltd and West Coast Airways Ltd titles

De Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide ZK-AHS at Franz Josef on 6 January 1966

One of Southern Scenic's ill-fated Cessna 180s, ZK-BJW, at Hokitika. It was destroyed while working with subsidiary company West Coast Airways.

De Havilland DH89B Dominie, ZK-BCP, at Queenstown. Photographer unknown

Classic Southern Scenic Air Services' colours... de Havilland DH89B Dominie ZK-AKT at Queenstown (above) and at Milford Sound, ca 1968 (below)

Over the years Southern Scenic had its share of accidents. De Havilland Tiger Moth ZK-ASO crashed while taking off on agricultural work at Waitaha in South Westland on the 20th of April 1957. The aircraft was written off.  

On the 13th of February 1962 Cessna 180 ZK-BFT had to make a forced landing at Harrison's Cove, Milford Sound. The pilot had been taking part in the search for missing Air Charter's De Havilland Dragonfly ZK-AFB and was completing his four-hour run over the Arawhata river-Milford area. His aircraft landed upside down after slithering 60 yards on a boulder-strewn beach. The pilot was unhurt. Newspaper coverage said The mishap is a serious blow to Southern Scenic Air Services which will begin its annual poisoning operations in three weeks. The job is a big one and every available aircraft is used. The company’s general manager, Mr D. W. Davies, said tonight it was not yet known if the aircraft could be salvaged and repaired. He was waiting for a report from the company’s insurance assessor. The aircraft was rebuilt as ZK-CZW in July 1969. It had another incident later that year before being rebuilt again. It had a stint being reregistered as ZK-FDP but is now flying again as ZK-BFT.

On the 22nd of April 1964 Southern Scenic Air Services' Dominie ZK-BAU crashed over a stopbank on the Milford Sound airstrip. Two new pilots were being checked out for the Milford Sound airstrip The plane had taxied to the end of the runway where the pilot opened the throttles to take off. The plane veered off the runway and finished nose-in 10 feet below the stopbank. Both pilots were unhurt. The aircraft was dismantled and taken by road back to Queenstown but was not repaired, 

On the 4th of March 1965 Cessna 180 ZK-CBL crashed on Lake Shirley in Fiordland. The aircraft had been picking up two hunters to fly them back to Queenstown. On the second take-off attempt the aircraft crashed with the sad loss of the pilot and one passenger. One passenger survived. The accident investigation was inconclusive. This was Southern Scenic's only fatal accident.

Leased Cessna 205 ZK-CEZ at Milford Sound in 1965. Photo : F B Gavin Collection

On the 7th of May 1965 it was announced that Tourist Air Travel, Ltd., and Southern Scenic Air Services, Ltd. were to merge forming the biggest private airline in New Zealand. At that time Tourist Air Travel operated amphibious aircraft at Auckand Invercargill and Te Anau and Southern Scenic operates its fleet from Frankton airport, near Queenstown. Tourist Air Travel recently merged with Ritchie Air Services, of Te Anau, and a subsidiary of Southern Scenic is West Coast Airways, of Hokitika. The four merging companies operate a total of 21 aircraft, providing them with a total of more than 100 passenger seats. Southern Scenic has 10 aircraft, four Dominies, two Cessna 180s on wheels, two Cessna 180s on floats, a chartered Cessna 205 and a Cessna 185. Tourist Air Travel operates five five-seat Grumman Widgeon amphibians— three at Auckland, one at Invercargill and one at Te Anau. Ritchie Air Services have two Dominies, a Cessna 206 on floats, a Cessna 180 and a Tiger Moth used for pilot training. West Coast Airways has one DHB9 Dragon Rapide based at Hokitika for scheduled and non-scheduled flights round the glaciers and the West Coast. Despite the merger Southern Scenic continued to operate under its own name, as a subsidiary, of Tourist Air Travel until 1967.

After the merger with Tourist Air Travel, Southern Scenic Air Services advertising 

On the 15th of June 1965 Dominie ZK-AKS was destroyed after it crashed about 4500 feet on Mount Soho near Arrowtown. The pilot and three passengers were able to walk away from the aircraft. The plane had been chartered by Coronet Peak and Mount Soho Stations for sheep spotting on their high country stations. The station owners chartered a plane each year to find small groups of sheep which have become isolated by snow. When the accident occurred, a downdraught caught the plane, forcing it onto the snow-covered mountainside. The pilot and his three passengers were able to walk away from the accident.

On the 12th of November 1965 one of Southern Scenic's Cessna 180 topdressing aircraft, ZK-BGO, crashed on a Lands and Survey block at Bell Hill about 30 miles east of Greymouth on Friday. The plane was taking off with a full load of lime when a port side undercarriage leg collapsed. This caused the machine to slew round on to its wing and fuselage resulting in much structural damage. The pilot had been topdressing for about four hours before the mishap and had spread 50 tons of lime. It was on its sixtieth take-off, the hops being of about four minutes’ duration. The damaged machine will be partly dismantled and taken to Hokitika for repairs. The aircraft was returned to service.

Increasingly, however, the Tourist Air Travel name took precedence. In 1967 the Southern Scenic name disappeared and the aircraft were rebranded with Tourist Air Travel  titles ending the proud history of this pioneering company. 

Tourist Air Travel officially became part of the Mount Cook and Southern Lakes Tourist Company which became more commonly known as Mount Cook Airlines on the 1st of January 1968. Mount Cook's Queenstown flightseeing operation was sold and became known as Milford Sound Flightseeing.  Around 2002, a joint venture between The Helicopter Line and Real Journeys Limited was formed, the most recent name change was to, when Real Journeys bought 100% ownership, and the Real Journeys brand was added to the fleet.

PEOPLE included:

F.J. (Popeye) Lucas (co-founder, managing director and pilot)
W. (Bill) Hewett (co-founder, director and pilot)
Barry Topliss (director and chief engineer)
Trevor Cheetham (pilot)
John Kilian (director and pilot)
Tex Smith (pilot)
Russell Troon (pilot)
Bruce Irving (pilot)
Don Nairn (pilot)
Alan Nicholas (pilot)
Hank De Heus (pilot)
Rex Dovey (pilot)
Brian Waugh (pilot)
Paddy Moxham (pilot)
Dave Cowan (pilot)
Clive Coates (pilot)
Geoff Houston (pilot)
Peter Blewitt (pilot)
Tom Harris (pilot)
Malcolm Douglas (pilot)
Sam Sands? (pilot with SSA or TAT?)
Ted Crawford (pilot)
Alister Gibbons? (pilot with SSA or TAT?)
Eric Ewington (chief engineer)
David Bell (aircraft engineer)
Alec Johnston  (aircraft engineer)
Colin Reid  (aircraft engineer)
Bill Davies  (aircraft engineer)
John Muir  (aircraft engineer)
Brad Lynton  (aircraft engineer)
D.W. (Bill) Davies (general manager)
Lorie Lucas (business manager)
Tom Donaldson (business manager)
Steve Sutton (joined the staff to help develop the Milford Sound airstrip)

AIRCRAFT included:

Auster J/1 Autocrat
ZK-ALW (c/n 2132) 
     Whites Air Directory, 1947, records this aircraft as registered to
     Southern Lakes Scenic Trips Ltd, Queenstown
ZK-APO (c/n 2212) 
ZK-AQL (c/n 2245) 
ZK-AUO (c/n 1955) - hired

Auster J/1B Aiglet
ZK-AWS (c/n 2667 and 386W)
ZK-AWY (c/n 2668)
ZK-AZE (c/n 2748) - hired
ZK-BGT (c/n 2803)

Avro 652A Anson 
ZK-AXY (c/n PH599) Mk XII
ZK-AYJ (c/n NZ418) Mk I - Never flown - Used as spares
ZK-BCL (c/n INST152) Mk I

Cessna 180 
ZK-BDE (c/n 180-30459)
ZK-BFT (c/n 180-30961)
ZK-BGO (c/n 180-31183)
ZK-BJW (c/n 180-31404)
ZK-BJY (c/n 180-31421)
ZK-CBL (c/n RA/3/62)

Cessna 180A
ZK-BUQ (c/n 180-32995)         

Cessna 185
ZK-CCX (c/n 185-0115)

Cessna 205
ZK-CEZ (c/n 205-0134)

Chrislea CH.3 Super Ace Series 2
ZK-ASJ (c/n 129)

De Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth
ZK-AQH (c/n 82970)
ZK-ARV (c/n 82232)
ZK-ASO (c/n 83533)

De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide
ZK-AHS (c/n 6423)

De Havilland DH.89B Dominie
ZK-AKS (c/n 6647)
ZK-AKT (c/n 6673)
ZK-BAU (c/n 6654)
ZK-BCP (c/n 6648)
ZK-BFK (c/n 6903)

Percival Proctor
ZK-AJY  (c/n H.1) P.28 Proctor I  
ZK-APG (c/n H.524) P.34 Proctor III 
ZK-AQK (c/n Ae.79) P.44 Proctor V 

Piper PA.22 Tri-Pacer  
ZK-BLB (c/n 22-3379) - leased  

I am grateful for the archives of the late Bruce Gavin in developing this post. For further history of the company see :
F J Lucas, Popeye Lucas Queenstown
R Waugh et al, Taking Off - Pioneering Small Airlines of New Zealand 1945-1970

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