14 January 2018

Air Kaikoura - Keeping Kaikoura Connected

UPDATED June 2024

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 Kaikoura 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 a locality north of the Clarence River with a long airstrip. The shuttle flights enabled locals from this area to access Kaikoura. Others from Marlborough would drive south from Blenheim, leave their cars at Parikawa and then fly south to Kaikoura skirting the slip covered State Highway. 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 service is important as it helps 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 and we are 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 service for the weeks the airstrip was closed.

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

With the reopening of State Highway 1 in mid-December 2017 the final flights to and from Parikawa were flown on the 15th of December 2017. Aero club manager Murray Hamilton told the Marlborough Express, the club had completed nearly 600 flights into Parikawa airfield, and up to 15 flights a day since last November's earthquake. In the year prior, the club did fewer than 10 charter flights. "That's a seismic shift of our own for a club more used to providing flight training and whale watching. "We're glad to have been able to provide the service, however it couldn't have happened without the community getting behind it." The club grew to four aircraft and four pilots, and a little air terminal built at the Parikawa air strip became a social meeting place. The 15-minute flight proved popular with residents living on the other side of the northern road block. Te Hā o Mātauranga co-ordinator Sarah Beardmore called it the best air transport service in the world. She said the aero club had gone out of their way to look after passengers and worked really hard to make it work for everybody. "There was no way I could get to work without the service," Beardmore said.

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. 

To that end further development came on the 5th of December 2018 when leased Gippsland Airvan ZK-EHS arrived in Kaikoura and was added to the Air Kaikoura fleet. Being high winged the Airvan is ideal as a whale watching platform. EHS's first whale watch flight was operated on the 18th of December 2018. December 2018 also saw the completion of Air Kaikoura's new hangar.

Air Kaikoura's Gippsland Airvan ZK-EHS in front of the new hangar 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 an air service to Wellington. 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 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

In June 2020 Air Kaikoura added a second Gippsland Airvan to its fleet, ZK-ORC. Both the Airvans and the Cessna 172 were used on the Wellington service as needs dictated which though scheduled operated on demand.

Air Kaikoura's Gippsland Airvan ZK-EHS taxis at Kaikoura for a whale watching flight on 7 January 2022

Later on the same day the Airvan ZK-EHS was in Wellington operating a scheduled service from and to Kaikoura

In February 2021 Air Kaikoura's twice weekly air service between Kaikoura and Wellington dropped to an "on demand only" service and regular services were no longer offered on the website. Air Kaikoura manager Murray Hamilton told 3rd Level NZ the on demand service is operating "probably every third week or so and usually in the Cessna 172. Kaikoura is a pretty small pool to pull from."  

Air Kaikoura's Cessna 172 ZK-JCT landing at Wellington on 2 January 2022 after a passenger flight from Kaikoura.

However, later in 2021 freight flights began between Kaikoura and Wellington flying live crayfish to the capital. Up to two flights a day were being flown. These flights have continue flying paua or crayfish according to the season. The passenger service to Wellington continued to operate for a time on peak weekends if there were passengers offering. 

Air Kaikoura's Gippsland Airvan in cargo configuration on 5 January 2022

Restored to passenger configuration, ZK-ORC on 7 January 2022

In mid-2024 Merlin Labs' Cessna 208B Super Cargomaster ZK-MLO was chartered by Air Kaikoura to assist their airfreighting of crayfish from Kaikoura to Wellington. The Cargomaster did some proving flights between Kaikoura and Wellington on the 7th, 10th and 12th of May with the first flight from Kaikoura to Wellington operated on the 16th of May 2024. These are non-scheduled freight flights. Normally the aircraft positions from Paraparaumu to Kaikoura before operating an air freight flight from Kaikoura to Wellington. The aircraft then returns to Paraparaumu. The Cargomaster is being used to supplement Air Kaikoura's Gippsland Airvan ZK-EHS which remained the mainstay of fulfilling the air freight contract. 

Air Kaikoura remains a real supporter of its local community. In addition to its regular freight flights to Wellington to continues to operate its core training and whale spotting flights and is always looking for new ways for people to see Kaikoura's beautiful scenery from the air.  

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

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