06 September 2012

From Wellington to Whataroa on NAC

Whataroa was perhaps the most unlikely of destinations served by the New Zealand National Airways Corporation after its formation in 1947. NZNAC took over Air Travel (NZ) Ltd’s services from Hokitika north to Westport and Nelson and to South Westland on the 1st of October 1947 including Whataroa, or as it was spelt then Wataroa.

Located some 31 km north of Franz Josef by road, (though in the 1940s the road went via Okarito Forks and would have been some 10 kms further),  Whataroa  was served on demand as part of an unscheduled service to Waiho (Franz Josef). The airfield was located to the north of the township opposite the sawmill. Into the 1970s there were wooden runway boards and a windsock but I never saw an aircraft on the strip or, indeed, any photos of aircraft on the strip. 

1946 Whataroa airfield charts

How it looks today from Good Earth... A rough estimation of where the Whataroa airstrip was from my memory

My own guessimate it that it was most likely to be used by the Doctor doing a clinic at the Wataroa hospital or perhaps the judge heading to Wataroa for a hearing at the local court house. 

Bill Rawstron recalls, circa 1951-2, as a small child my brothers and I flew into the Whataroa airfield with my mum (née Jessie Gunn) to visit her parents Willie and Minnie Gunn. I recall we sat in a cabin across the plane. Two pairs of seats facing each other, and the pilot sat above and behind this compartment . He had a view hole from cockpit down into the passenger compartment. The airfield was in the front paddock of the (once) Hyndman farm with the driveway to the house from road crossing this airfeild paddock. The farm was approximately  1 Km north of the Whataroa village on the main road.

Until 1954 a passenger could fly from Wellington to Westport via Nelson in, at first, a Lockheed Electra then later a Lockheed Lodestar or later still a Douglas DC-3. At Westport they would change to a De Havilland Dominie/Dragon Rapide and fly to Hokitika, though for a time the Lodestars flew through to Hokitika and the DC-3 service extended there from 1953. At Hokitika the passenger would change to a De Havilland Fox Moth to fly to Wataroa. I wonder how many, if any did that!

NAC timetable, July 1949

From the NAC timetable of 15 December 1952

The Hokitika-Westport sector reverted to Dominies until the 2nd of March 1953 when NAC extended the Douglas DC-3 service to Hokitika. The arrival of the DC-3 service meant the Dragon Rapide/Dominies could be released to fly the South Westland services. Franz Josef's aerodrome was upgraded to take Dominies and this allowed the retirement of the Fox Moths. ZK-AEK was the first to be retired in March 1953, ZK-ASP followed in December 1953 and with ZK-AGM holding the honour of being the last NAC Fox Moth being sold on the 28th of February 1954. The retirement of the Fox Moth meant the end of NAC's services to Whataroa.

Any other info, stories, photos that you would like to share would be most welcome - Steve westland831@gmail.com

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