31 December 2022

(5) Cliff Lewis' Air Travel Memoirs

Part 5 of a twelve part memoir written by Cliff Lewis, an Air Travel (NZ) pilot... 

This memoir relates to my my larger post on Air Travel (NZ) Ltd which can be found here -


Chapter 5 - - Newspapers and Mail Deliveries

Bert Mercer's exploits as chief instructor to the Canterbury Aero Club had always received the attention of Christchurch newspaper offices and they regularly featured any flight that the great pilot accomplished. Bert never forgot this, so, in return, he offered them a service. He would deliver the newspapers right down the West Coast to Jacksons Bay at no charge! - just supply him with sufficient copies of the daily. They willingly meet his request and at 1am as the West Coast railcar left Christchurch it always carried the required number of copies addressed to “Air Travel (NZ) Limited, Hokitika.”

The railcar reached Hokitika at 7am. Bert was there to meet it with his own car, then over to the aerodrome where Owen Templeton had his aircraft ticking over. A quick scribbling of names upon each copy and a few spare copies for fishermen on the rivers and guides climbing the mountains with their parties and Bert took them into the aircraft cockpit with him, except for bundles addressed to such places as Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Bruce Bay and Jacksons Bay. 

The Christchurch Press was actually delivered to the late Mr Peter Graham, one of New Zealand's most famous guides on the Southern Alps, and his party at the summit of Mount Tasman at 8 o'clock one morning. Bert would drop his aircraft down to approximately 50 feet, out would go the paper and land smack alongside fishermen, guides on the mountains and isolated homesteads. Jim Hewitt was just as adept as Bert and they both taught me how to be as accurate.

If Air Travel could deliver newspapers, why could they not deliver mail? Bert consulted with the Postmaster General for a contract price annually to deliver mail to South Westland without any extra airmail surcharge, just to offer the Post Office a service into this remote region. It was granted and the residents of South Westland quickly took advantage of this service. Their mail orders flowed into the various suppliers and the residents requested their orders to be forwarded by parcel post. 

Upon one occasion we received an extra large mail bag which was difficult to fit into the little Fox Moth. So the Post Office was requested to come over and break the seal and remove the large article so we could get it into the aircraft. It was a lounge chair!!! It got delivered just the same. On another occasion, upon putting a mail bag into the aircraft, the plywood flooring broke. Again the Post Office to the rescue. This time only a large packet of horseshoes. They were delivered to their recipient.

The old and the new... de Havilland DH83 Fox Moth ZK-AEK flies over mailman Charlie Smith. Before the advent of the aeroplane it took two days for the mail to go south from Fox Glacier to the Haast.

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