02 October 2013

For Sale - One Airfield

The October 2013 issue of Aviation News reported that the Fox Glacier airfield was for sale. 

The Harcourts' website described the Fox airstrip as follows...

This air field is within a freehold lifestyle block of 24 hectares located near the main West Coast Highway (SH6), close to the township of Fox Glacier. The air field was formed about 1935 by a local farming family who still have a very strong presence in the Fox Glacier area. It is the only air field servicing Fox Glacier. Pilots and passengers are only about five minutes walk from the village. The land is farmed with five paddocks all with a water supply for stock, plus a holding paddock and cattle yards. It winters about 40-50 dairy cows and produces good quality feed. There is a small area of native bush on the northern boundary and the property is adjacent to Westland National Park. This is the first time outside the family that this property has come to the market. There is an opportunity here for engagement in the tourist industry.
The only problem is that this was not the original Fox airstrip. The current airstrip that was for sale was established in the mid-1950s following Harry Wigley's first ski landing on the Tasman Glacier on the 22nd of September 1955. The airstrip was developed by local Mick Sullivan and the Mount Cook Air Services enabling an Auster to be based on the strip. This was flown by Struan Robertson. With its close proximity to the village the airstrip was ideally placed to encourage tourists to undertake a skiplane adventure.
As well as the scenic flights the airstrip was also used for regular services. West Coast Airways used this airstrip for their services to Hokitika and Haast from 1956 to 1967 (http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/06/west-coast-airways-last-airline-to.html) and Mount Cook Air Services used it for their air service to Hokitika from late 1968 to early 1971 (http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2013/03/south-westland-skiplane-air-service.html).
In more recent years the skiplanes have largely disappeared replaced by helicopters and the airfield is used as a base for skydiving. Ironically the skydivers' landing place is not to far from the original airstrip.
The original airstrip at Weheka, as Fox Glacier was called at that time, was established by Air Travel (NZ) Ltd in 1935. It's location, some kilometres down the flat is still easy to find. One needs to simply take Cook Flat Road towards Gillespies Beach. The airfield was located on the left immediately after the road veers hard right towards the bush. There is nothing to be seen to recognise it as such.
The landing chart for Weheka, 1946
Google Earth today - the road to Fox Glacier on the right, the road to Gillespies Beach heading to the top of the photo.
After Air Travel (NZ) was taken over by the National Airways Corporation on the 1st of October 1947 Weheka was also used as an on-demand stopping point on NAC's services between Hokitika and Haast. The NAC service to Weheka was short-lived, however, and by August 1948 it no longer appeared on the NAC timetable.
The NAC air route map and timetable extracted from Whites Aviation, December 1947



1 comment:

  1. Very well researched. I think my first ride in an aircraft was from the Fox Hotel down to the School and back, in Mt Cooks Piper Tripacer, I think Struan was the driver....we never left the ground but went quite fast!