22 May 2011

The Planets over Greymouth - Cook Strait Airways' Service to Greymouth

The first airline to operate to a scheduled air service to Greymouth was Cook Strait Airways Ltd. On the 20th of February 1937 De Havilland 89A Dragon Rapides ZK-AEC, named “Mercury”, and ZK-AEW, “Mars”, flew a survey flight from Nelson to Hokitika and Greymouth. It was a milestone day for Greymouth with the new aerodrome and the aero club’s hangar and clubrooms being opened.

The West Coast timetable had a Dragon Rapide leave Nelson at 8.00am arriving in Greymouth at 9.15am. A 15 minute stop was scheduled for the plane continued to Hokitika, arriving there at 9.45am. The northbound flight left Hokitika at 10.30am for the 15 minute flight to Greymouth. Again a 15 minute stop was scheduled before the flight left Greymouth at 11.00am arriving in Nelson at 12.15pm. A connecting flight to Wellington left at 1.45pm. Fares were set initially at £4.5.0. from Nelson to Greymouth and £4.10.0. from Nelson to Hokitika. The fare to or from Wellington was 30/- higher and from Greymouth to Hokitika the princely sum of 10/- was charged.

First day covers for the first flights from Greymouth to Hokitika and Nelson, both having been date stamped twice after the first flights were cancelled.

The first attempted scheduled flight took place on the 23rd of February 1937 but the flight encountered bad weather rounding Farewell Spit and had to return to Nelson. The first successful scheduled flight operated on the 24th of February 1937. The Coast weather again precluded a direct flight to Greymouth with the aircraft, Dragon Rapide ZK-AEW "Mars", under the command of Captain George Bolt having to fly around Farewell Spit and then down the Coast. The delayed flight arrived at Greymouth at 10.00am before continuing on to Hokitika. The new service, which operated three days a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, proved particularly popular with northbound passengers who were able to fly right through to Wellington.

Evening Post, 26 Jue 1937

De Havilland 89A Dragon Rapide ZK-AEC at Greymouth. 

Evening Post, 29 July 1937

Responding to this need, from the 1st of October 1937 the service ran Wellington-Nelson-Greymouth-Hokitika and return three days a week. Dragon Rapide ZK-AED "Jupiter" inaugurated the service. The southbound flight left Wellington at 7.45am arriving back in Wellington at 2.15pm.

With the opening of the Westport airport at Carter’s Beach the service was expanded with a Monday to Saturday service being operated from the 15th of March 1939. Arthur Orchard piloted the inaugural flight though Westport in Dragon Rapide ZK-AEC "Mercury" accompanied by ZK-AGT "Neptune" between Nelson and Westport.

De Havilland 89A Dragon Rapide, ZK-AGT, Neptune, at Greymouth

The outbreak of the Second World War on the 3rd of September 1939 marked the beginning of the end for Cook Strait Airways. The airline’s Dragon Rapides were impressed into the Royal New Zealand Air Force. On the 9th of November 1939 Cook Strait Airways flew its last service to the West Coast. The following day, the 10th of November 1939, Air Travel (NZ) Ltd’s De Havilland 90 Dragonflies took over flying the Hokitika-Greymouth-Westport-Nelson service.

For more on Cook Strait Airways one cannot go past Richard Waugh's book Strait Across. Copies can be ordered at http://www.nzairlineresearch.co.nz/order.htm#sa

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