12 August 2012

Hokitika’s NAC Dakota Service

Hokitika received its first true airliner service on the 2nd of March 1953 when NAC introduced its 24-seater Douglas DC-3 service from Paraparaumu (Wellington being closed for the construction of the new airport), Nelson and Westport. Mr R Nossiter, the traffic control officer at Hokitika told the Hokitika Guardian that the Dakota was really too large for passenger potential but that the corporation did not have at present any smaller machine. The first one plane service from Wellington to Hokitika was operated by Lodestars for three months following the opening of Hokitika’s new airport. The re-introduction of the one plane service from Wellington was largely due to agitation by the Hokitika Progress League, with NAC insisting that it was for a trial period only, after which the position would be reviewed.

The first flight was made by ZK-AWO with Captains Buck and Wiltshire on the flight deck. The Hokitika Guardain reported that eight passengers came on the inward trip and 12 went of the outward. Passengers were as follows:- Inward: Mr A Wogan, Mr and Mrs L Cowan and infant and Master Cowan, Mr Ede, Mr Evison, Mr and Mrs D Springer. Outward: Mr D L Blumhart, Mr and Mrs B Blank, Mr J Stokes, Mr and Mrs Jordan (Auckland); Mr J Thomason, Mr D Kennedy, Mr Herring, Mr Levings (Wellington); Miss D Wilson, Mr McKay (Nelson). There was very little freight carried there being only two small packages on the incoming trip and three on the outgoing.

With the introduction of the larger aircraft the Hokitika to Westport sector was reduced a Monday to Saturday Dragon Rapide/Dominie service to a thrice weekly DC-3 service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On these days Hokitika was allocated 16 seats to Wellington, two to Nelson and six to Westport.

NAC timetable, effective 13 April 1953

Passengers from Wellington departed the city by bus for Paraparaumu airport at 8.50 a.m. for a 10.20 a.m. departure. The DC-3 arrived at Hokitika at 1.15 p.m. and passengers and freight reached Greymouth by taxi at 2.40 p.m. Northbound the Greymouth taxi departed at 12.40 p.m. to connect with the flight that left Hokitika at 1.40 p.m. The flight arrived at Paraparaumu at 4.35 p.m.

Early photos of NAC's DC-3 service to Hokitika... ZK-AYZ above and ZK-BKD below

In the early 1960s NAC upgraded fourteen of their DC-3 aircraft. These were designated as Douglas DC-3 “Skyliners” and they featured larger windows and a more modern passenger cabin.

An example of the 'updgraded' Douglas DC-3 Skyliner ZK-AWP taken at Hokitika in the late 1960s or 1970.  AWP continues to fly today with Air Chathams using it on charter and scenic work.


NAC timetable effective 24 August 1964

Greymouth Evening Star, 5 November 1963

Meanwhile, Hokitika continued to press for the introduction of a trans-alpine Fokker Friendship service to Christchurch and in May 1966 Sir Andrew McKee, NAC’s chairman gave Hokitika an assurance that a daily return service to Christchurch would be provided by 1968.

Loadings on the Hokitika service were never great even with DC-3s operating a daily service to Hokitika over the Christmas holidays. For the year ended 31 March 1965, Hokitika handled 3354 passengers, to 31 March 1966 3458 passengers and to 31 March 1967, 3452 passengers, the least number of passenger movements in the country. A more detailed glimpse of traffic showed in November 1966 an average of 13.1 passengers flew into Westport and 13.5 flew out. December was busier, with an average of 17.6 in and 15.4 out. In the busy holiday month of January 1967 the average was a more healthy 21.3 passengers per day were using the Westport DC-3 service both in and out. The Hokitika figures were much smaller. In November an average of 9.8 flew in and 10.7 flew out. The following month the average was 8.9 and 8.1 respectively and January 1967 saw an average of 7.3 passengers on each flight into Hokitika while 8.8 passengers was the outgoing average. NAC was losing some £18,000 annually on the West Coast service to Westport and Hokitika and the DC-3 was fast facing retirement and restrictions.

While Westport was performing a lot better than Hokitika plans were still being pushed ahead for a trans-alpine Fokker Friendship service between Hokitika and Christchurch. There was, however, serious doubt about Westport retaining its NAC service due to Kawatiri Airport being unsuitable for Friendships. In July 1967 Doug Patterson, the General Manager of NAC, warned Westport that all DC-3 services would be "phased out" by December 1968. Later that year he told Westport civic leaders that exploratory talks were being held over the possibility of setting up “feeder” air services to the West Coast when NAC withdrew its DC-3s.

Meanwhile, Hokitika received its first Fokker Friendship flight on the 4th of November 1967 when ZK-NAH flew from Christchurch to Hokitika to take a group of West Coast racing enthusiasts to Christchurch for the New Zealand Cup. The Friendship returned the race-goers at the end of the day. The flight was a preliminary exercise for the corporation's planned transalpine flights and NAC took the opportunity to fill the morning flight to Hokitika with various media and airline representatives.

Hokitika Guardian, 7 December 1967

On the 1st of April 1968 passenger loads to and from Westport were reduced with the imposition of new weight restrictions on DC-3 aircraft with seating on the aircraft being cut. The restrictions were to give the DC-3s a better performance on take-off, especially if the aircraft encountered an engine failure on take-off. The immediate effect of the restriction was that on the Nelson-Westport route the aircraft was restricted to 21 passengers southbound and 23 northbound. Because of the higher temperatures during the summer the limitations were 18 passengers between Westport and Nelson and 19 between Nelson and Westport. This of course impacted on to loadings out of Hokitika. To compensate for this the DC-3 service to Hokitika was flown Monday to Friday inclusive from February 1968 until the 20th of May when the winter timetable reverted to Monday, Wednesday and Friday flights.

Douglas DC-3 ZK-AZN at Hokitika... the control tower is under construction

In February 1968 NAC received permission to use Hokitika airport for Friendship services without any improvements being necessary. NAC also agreed to delay the retirement of the DC-3s until 1970 to enable the upgrading of Westport airport. However, Mr R Gordon, the Minister of Civil Aviation, told the Westport Airport Committee that there was no immediate prospect of upgrading the Kawatiri aerodrome as the approximate cost of doing such work to take heavier aircraft than at present would be $300,000 on Ministry of Works costing. This compared with the $120,000 estimate on which local authorities have been working. He said there was on obligation on the National Airways Corporation to continue working Westport. Westport had two years to resolve its airport’s issues.

On the 3rd of September 1968 a promotional Friendship flight was made to Hokitika ahead of the trans-alpine service to Christchurch being inaugurated in December. Plans were also advanced for the connection of this service with the DC-3 flight from Westport enabling a connection from Buller to Christchurch and points south via Hokitika.

The Christchurch-Hokitika service commenced on Friday the 20th of December 1968. The Hokitika Guardian of that day described Hokitika as a “mini Harewood” when the start of the new trans-alpine air service sees connecting flights from north and south. First to arrive in the DC-3 from Wellington at 1.35 pm. Then a Mt Cook Air Services Fox-Glacier based 6-seater Cessna 185 touches down at 1.45 pm. The Friendship lands at 1.50 pm and departs at 2.10 pm on return to Christchurch and the other two aircraft leave shortly afterwards on return to Wellington and Fox Glacier.

The trans-alpine service ran on a daily basis until the 3rd of February 1969 when it was reduced to four flights weekly on Monday, Wednesday Friday and Sunday of each week. Meanwhile, the DC-3 service from Wellington, Nelson and Westport continued to operate on a Monday to Friday basis.

NAC timetable, effective 20 December 1968... the DC-3 operating the service north to Westport, Nelson and Wellington and the Frienship to Christchurch.

In Westport progress towards upgrading their airport remained slow and so in September 1969 the Minister of Transport, Mr Gordon announced that the DC-3 air services operated by NAC to Westport and Hokitika would be taken over by Nelson-based Golden Coast Airlines using a Grand Commander. This would provide Westport with NAC connections to Christchurch at Hokitika and to Wellington and points north at Nelson. With the prospect of losing its NAC service Westport finally made the decision to upgrade its airport. This necessitated the closing of the airport for some months and it was this that brought Hokitika’s DC-3 service to its end.

Douglas DC-3 ZK-BEU at Hokitika on 1 June 1970, a few days before it operated the final DC-3service to Hokitika.

The final Douglas DC-3 flight to Hokitika was on the 5th of June 1970 in DC-3 ZK-BEU under the command of Captain Max Schlegel, N.A.C.’s youngest captain, and First Officer Tony Foley with Pam White being the hostess. Among those on board was Captain Jimmy Cane who flew the first NAC Hokitika-Westport service on 1 October 1947. The Nelson Evening Mail recorded the final flight to Hokitika. Its last call at Hokitika was also marked with presentations - a picture of a DC3 to the people of the town from N.A.C. and signed by all the incoming passengers, was handed to the Mayor, Mr W. F. Richards, by Mr Bryan. Again there were short speeches touching on the sadder side of the day and again a final run over the town to give a last glimpse of a sight which has grown to be so familiar. Even Mount Cook came from behind the clouds to gaze in white splendour.

Presentation of photograph of DC-3 photo to Hokitika Mayor Mr J Richards

From Left First Officer Tony Foley, Mr J Cane, who flew the first NAC Hokitika-Westport service on 1 October 1947, Bob Bryan (NAC Manager Nelson), Mr Jack Richards (Mayor of Hokitika), Captain Max Schlegel and Hostess Pam White. Photo : Ian Woolhouse Collection

For more on NAC's service to see Hokitika

De Havilland Fox Moths and Dragon Rapide/Dominies


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