14 January 2018

Air Kaikoura and it's Parikawa life line.

UPDATED May 2020

The Kaikoura Aero Club was established in 1983 offering training and air charter. 

A couple of the Kaikoura Aero Club's Cessna A150 Aerobats... ZK-DJP at Kaikoura on 12 September 1985
and ZK-DJW at Kaikoura on 14 May 1988

In the early 1990s the potential of whale watching flights was recognised and in 1993 the Kaikoura Aero Club established Air Tours Kaikoura which used the club's Piper PA28 Cherokee 180 ZK-DGM and Cessna U206G Stationair ZK-KAI. The Air Tours Kaikoura operation was soon taken over by local businessman Rodney Harmon. 

The Kaikoura Aero Club's initial whale watching operation was Air Tours Kaikoura.
Piper PA28 Cherokee 180 ZK-DGM at Kaikoura on 21 December 1993

With the closure of Air Tours Kaikoura in 1999 the Kaikoura Aero Club resumed its own whale watching flights in the early 2000s under the name Air Kaikoura.

Following the earthquake on the 14th of November 2016 Kiakoura was cut off from the rest of the country and Air Kaikoura began operating shuttle flights north to Blenheim's Omaka aerodrome and south to Rangiora.

From the 4th of December 2016 Air Kaikoura started operating a regular shuttle service between Kaikoura and Parikawa using Piper PA28 Cherokee 180 ZK-DUQ and Piper PA32 Cherokee 6 ZK-DOP. Parikawa is locality north of the Clarence River with a long airstrip. The shuttle flights enabled locals from this area to access Kaikoura while others drove from Blenheim, left their cars at Parikawa then flew around the slips. Such flights enabled people to easily do day trips to Kaikoura or Blenheim.

Air Kaikoura's Piper Cherokee 6 ZK-DOP at Kaikoura on 4 January 2018

Piper Cherokee 180 ZK-DUQ at Kaikoura on 23 February 2017

The location of Parikawa airfield north of Clarence

To assist with this work the Club bought Cessna 172 ZK-JCT. The 15-minute flight replaced what would have been a 40-minute drive if the road was open. The North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) alliance saw the importance of the service and supplied a 'terminal', or portacabin, and portaloo for travellers. 

Cessna 172 ZK-JCT gets airborne from Parikawa

Speaking on the Parikawa service Air Kaikōura's manager, Murray Hamilton, said We’re providing a lifeline for people to get between Clarence and Kaikōura. The new service was important as it helped the northern end of the district to feel connected with their own community, and was particularly busy on a Monday and Friday with people getting to Kaikoura to work for the week. Clients included hospital staff, insurance companies and even 20 people heading from Clarence to Christchurch for a Bruce Springsteen concert. "It's really important that they feel more connected to the Kaikoura community. Parikawa is particularly busy Mondays and Fridays running at least four flights on these days. Other days flights are on demand. "It's been great for our relationships with the local community from a club perspective...we have even had more people wanting to learn to fly."  By the end of April 2017 Air Kaikoura had operated a 175 flights into Parikawa. During the winter the service was put on a temporary hold due to flooding on the Parikawa airstrip. Kaikoura Helicopter Services introduced a replacement for the route for the weeks the airstrip was closed.

The Parikawa plane - Cessna 172 ZK-JCT at Kaikoura on 4 January 2018

By the time State Highway 1 re-opened in mid-December 2017 Air Kaikoura had flown the Parikawa loop service close to 600 times with locals, businesspeople and tourists using the service that operated up to 15 times a day.

Another feature of the Air Kaikoura operation was the addition of the Aeropro Eurofox A240 ZK-TUG to the fleet and this aircraft is used for pilot training and back country flying.

Aeropro Eurofox A240 ZK-TUG at Kaikoura on 4 January 2018

Following the earthquake Air Kaikoura worked closely with Ridge Air of Blenheim. This involved working on multiple charter contracts with Ridge Air as well as coming to an agreement to start multi-engine training, multi-engine instrument ratings and charter work. This arrangement did not develop. 

When I met Murray Hamilton on the 4th of January 2018 he told me Air Kaikoura is currently looking to build new facilities at Kaikoura Airport. When asked whether Air Kaikoura would be interested in starting an air service to Wellington he said, "Others have tried and failed and we are busy enough with our whale watching flights. Adding a twin to the fleet brings its own problems and a scheduled service doesn't guarantee the numbers we carry on our whale watching flights." From my observation I have never seen Kaikoura as busy as when I drove through on the 4th, an observation shared by the locals. With a booming tourist industry Air Kaikoura's future looked bright. 

Further development for Air Kaikoura came on the 5th of December 2018 when leased Gippsland Airvan ZK-EHS arrived in Kaikoura was added to the Air Kaikoura fleet. Being high winged the Airvan is ideal as a whale watching platform. The first whale watch flight for EHS got off the ground on Tuesday the 18th December 2018. December 2018 also saw the completion of the new hangar.

Air Kaikoura's Gippsland Airvan ZK-EHS at Kaikoura

Following the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 Air Kaikoura explored how it might assist restimulate Kaikoura's tourist economy. The Kaikoura Star of the 13th of May 2020 reported that Air Kaikoura had posted a poll on the Kaikoura Notice Board Facebook page by the company to find out the level of interest in the service. 309 members said they would use the service occasionally, 35 not at all, 26 regularly, eight as a once off, and one member said they might use the service. From this it was announced that a trial airline service running from Kaikoura to Wellington would be launched to boost the district's economy. Manager and pilot Murray Hamilton said it wanted to be able to take people either from Kaikoura or to Wellington each way for the weekend as well as re-begin its whale, scenic and trial flights. To make it economical we have to bring people the other way otherwise it is a dead leg. We are going to try and put a package together with the accommodation and the flight with activity and food and then see if we can market that in Wellington; he said.

The first flights operated on Friday the 15th of May 2020 with the Airvan, ZK-EHS, being flown by Austen Lee. Flights depart Kaikoura at 2.00pm on Fridays and Sundays arriving in Wellington at 2.50pm. The return service leaves Wellington at 3.30pm arriving in Kaikoura at 4.20pm. In announcing the new service the Air Kaikoura Facebook page said, "As we are here to help our community being an Aero Club and acknowledging the tough times we have all been going through we will talk to individuals about the cost of our seats. Special intro prices $100 child - $150 Adult PP. each way." The service requires two people to operate. 

One of the inaugural Air Kaikoura flights on 15 May 2020 at Kaikoura. Photo : Air Kaikoura Facebook page

To find out more about Air Kaikoura's operation see : https://www.airkaikoura.co.nz/ 

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