13 August 2023

Arthur Nancekivell, ZK-ABU and the first West Coast Airways

Recently I was asked to sort through the papers of the late Jim Jamieson. Among them was a personal history by pioneer West Coast aviator Arthur Nancekivell, that was sent to the late Bill Cropp, a West Coast aviation historian. This month marks 90 years since Arthur Nancekivell's West Coast Airways , (not be be confused with the 1950s and 1960s South Westland air service operator) was formed. 

Arthur Nancekivell begins...

Owing to my diary which was very complete and contained newspaper clippings and other valuable information, being mislaid, whilst I was proprietor of the Criterion Hotel, in Newcastle, I regret that I cannot give you a more complete record of my flying career in New Zealand. However, I still have in my possession, my pilot’s flying log book from which I have extracted the following information which I trust will be of interest to you. 

In late 1931, I could see the great possibilities and the future of aviation on the West Coast of the South Island especially between Hokitika and South Westland where shipping was greatly restricted and no overland transport was available at the time. I was very keen to take up flying as a career and I approached the late Jack Renton of Hokitika with the idea of forming an Aero Club in the district. He decided to call a meeting of the residents of the surrounding districts and this meeting was held at my hotel, the Railway. Quite a number of lads attended who were anxious to take up flying and at this stage we contacted Captain Mercer who was instructor for the Canterbury Club, and in return, he thought they would agree to send a plane to Hokitika regularly for the purpose of instructing pupils. This proposition appealed to us, but was rejected by the Canterbury Aero Club, partly because they considered the risk too great to send a plane regularly across the Southern Alps, and partly because the aerodrome was not a suitable one for the training of pupils. 

This report was, as you can imagine, a very disheartening one so I then decided to purchase a plane of my own. I fully realised the risk involved and the chance of losing the plane at any time whilst doing instructional work or first solo flights, but nevertheless I went ahead and interviewed pilot Captain McGregor with a view to purchasing a plane. On his return to Wellington, I received word from him, asking that I go to Wellington, and whilst there, I purchased the plane which he used on his flight to Hokitika which was a Spartan. On my return home another meeting was called and we anticipated signing up about 20 pupils who had already signified their willingness to train as pilots. However, the total number of trainees had dwindled to three, namely Hugh Preston, Jack Stewart and Horace Perry. This was very disheartening and it appeared that I would be left “holding the baby.” 

The N.Z.R.A.F regulations stipulated that an aeroplane could not be flown unless it was regularly serviced by a qualified engineer, and flown by a licenced pilot. This meant that I had to employ a ground engineer, and a pilot at very high salaries, and there being only three trainees, the proposition was definitely on a non-paying basis. I decided that I would learn to fly as quickly as possible, and before long I received my A licence, my A endorsed, and finally my B licence for commercial flying, the latter being obtained in record time. This was indeed my red letter day. Before a pilot can sit for a commercial licence, it is necessary for him to have flown and piloted a plane for 100 flying hours, and during most of this flying time I was accompanied, by my wife Mrs Nancekivell. 

She shared with me some of the very dangerous flights which I undertook, one of the most terrifying trips being a cross country flight from the Dunedin to Hokitika. When we approached the Alps, my engine started to miss. My height at the time was 10,000 feet over snowclad mountain peaks, and every peak ahead seemed higher than the last, and I wasn't able to gain anymore height. We were just clearing the tops of the mountains and a greater hour of anxiety has never been experienced by us. How the plane kept its height on three cylinders has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Mrs Nancekivell also claims to have been the first lady passenger to cross the Southern Alps on trip from Waiho to Christchurch and I must comment here, that she was a splendid passenger, and great company on many of my lonely flights. 

After receiving my commercial licence, I was entitled to fly for hire and reward, and I immediately took up duties of pilot and commenced taxi trips throughout the surrounding districts. It was surprising to me how quickly the people of the West Coast became air-minded, owing, I think, to the fact that they were continually seeing the plane overhead, and those were the days when people looked up when an aeroplane was overhead. 

My first exciting trip was when I was informed by the Postmaster General’s Department that permission had been granted for me to fly an airmail from Hokitika to Waiho Gorge, and Okura and return. The response to this airmail was excellent. The late Jack Renton shared the piloting of the plane on this occasion with me, and we were given royal receptions on arrival at each of the centres. 

It was at this time I can meet to prepare for increased business. I approached a friend, Mr W Stopforth, whom I knew would give thought to any future possibilities, and he agreed that there was a great future for aviation on the West Coast. We immediately decided to form a limited company which was called the West Coast Airways, and Mr Stopforth agreed to handle the clerical side of the business in which capacity he did a wonderful job indeed, he was a great asset to the company, and gave me every encouragement, and confidence, and I cannot speak too highly of him. 

With the formation of the company on the 17th August, 1933, we had the plane converted from a 2 to a 3 passenger plane and from then on this plane was responsible for some very valuable work. On one occasion, I received a telephone call at 5:30am from Okura, reporting that Mr. Saunders was severely injured and the plane was required immediately. Our plane was always ready for emergency calls, and I was able to take the air by 6:30am. I flew to the Haast, and found that I had to land on a very rough and rocky riverbed. After putting Mr. Saunders into the plane and supporting him with pillows, the rocks had to be cleared from the riverbed to enable me to get a safe take off. Mr. Saunders was in Hokitika hospital at 10:40am and the fact that an aeroplane was operating on the West Coast at the time probably saved his life, as he was bleeding very freely, and was in great plain. 

On the 5th December, 1933 Doctor Oakey was summoned to Okura to attend to sick patient, and on arrival I found the local towns people and placed two white sheets on the ground to enable me to pick out a landing runway from the air. It was just on dark when I arrived and as the plane was completing its ground run, the wheels contacted some loose sand, causing the nose to tilt downwards, and the propeller to strike the ground. My immediate reaction was that the propeller would be bent or broken, and we will be held up for at least a week. However, on inspection, all was well, and the relief was tremendous. The paddock where we landed was a very difficult one to get out of, as it was surrounded by trees, with a very short runway, and with the addition of an extra passenger, as the doctor had decided to put his patient in hospital, made the take-off precarious. However, the effort was successful, and we delivered the patient to the hospital safely. 

There was always great anxiety on the southern trips as we never knew the ground conditions on which one had to make a landing. At that time people were unaware of how to prepare a ground for emergency landings, added to which, at a time of emergency, time did not permit much in the way of ground preparations. I have taken joyriders, and landed on all of the following beaches, paddocks, aerodromes, and river-beds; Hokitika, Nelson, Westport, Runanga, Greymouth, Hari-Hari, Waiho, Haast, Okura, Rapahoe, Ikamatua, Maitahi, Blenheim, Ross, Dunedin, Timaru, Christchurch, Ratopoana, Wellington, Palmerston North and Te Kinga. At Te Kinga the largest number of passengers taken up for joy rides in one afternoon was 102. Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith was given an air pageant at Hastings and I was successful in winning a silver cup for an air race. 

The time eventually came for the company to have a larger and more modern plane in order to carry on with its increased business activities, but owing to the unsatisfactory landing facilities it was considered that the risk involved would be too great for a £2000 plus investment. However, I feel sure that had I stayed in Hokitika we would have eventually purchased a new machine I do not hesitate to state that the West Coast Airways during its period of operation did a fine job for the public, and good dividends were paid to those who made use of its services in those far off pioneering days. I feel sure that the services offered were really greatly appreciated by the community generally.

This really piqued my interest and this is the fruit of my research in Papers Past. I have pasted quite a bit of material simply because it is such a great story of a magnificent man in his flying machine.

So who was Arthur Nancekevill? He was born in Hokitika in 1898. In his early years he was known as real worker, having a trucking business, then taxis and being the publican of the Railway Hotel. He was always known for trying something new. One of his interests was aviation. 

In early January 1932 an aerodrome was being prepared at Hokitika on the Renton property situated on the south side of the Hokitika River and on the seaward side of the railway bridge. Simmonds Sparton ZK-ABU flown by Captain Malcolm “Mac” McGregor was the first aircraft to land on the new aerodrome on the 12th of January having flown across the Alps from Christchurch. The Grey River Argus reported that, About noon the drone of his plane was heard in town after it had made its appearance from among thick clouds above the ranges. He had left Sockburn Aerodrome about 10.30 a.m. taking less than 90 minutes to come over. His visit is for the purpose of inspecting the proposed site for the aerodrome on the south bank of the river, in view of the commencement of an air mail service to Hokitika from Wellington at an early date. The approach of the plane to town was observed by many as it made straight for Hokitika and after a spin over the business area, it immediately made for the airport, where the work of preparation has been proceeding. Captain McGregor nosed his plane to a straight dive and made a fine landing. He was welcomed by a large number of residents, who manifested keen interest in the plane. Captain McGregor was engaged this afternoon making a close inspection of the landing area.


The first aircraft to land at Hokitika's Southside aerodrome on the 12th of January 1932 as reproduced in the Hokitika Guardian on 9 April 1988 as part of an article on the death of Arthur Nancekivell

On the 2nd of March Captain McGregor, flew a Mr Peters, the New Zealand representative for Spartan aircraft, to Hokitika. Six weeks later, on the 14th of April the Grey River Argus reported that an aeroplane is being assembled at Wellington to the order of Mr A. H. Nancekivell, of Hokitika, who will go next week to the Empire City in order to fly back in the machine with Pilot Mathieson, of Rotorua. When the plane arrives local aviation classes will begin under Pilot Mathieson. 

On the 29th of April 1932 Flying Officer McDonald, of Wellington Airways, flew Simmonds Spartan ZK-ABU (c/n 49), the same aircraft that had been the first to land on the new aerodrome, from Christchurch to Hokitika with an unnamed passengerArthur Nancekivell had intended to join Flying Officer McDonald on the flight but had taken the train the day before. ZK-ABU became the first locally owned aeroplane on the West Coast. The Grey River Argus reported that Flying Officer McDonald's flight occupied a couple of hours, Christchurch being left at 2.30 p.m. and the landing ground at South Hokitika reached at 4.30. Strange to relate there was a horse on the ground to welcome the plane. In future,  however, it will be preferable to keep such four-footed aviation fans off the area, at least when planes are arriving. The landing was safely negotiated. The pilot stated that the journey was hampered by clouds, the plane having to ascend to a height of eight thousand feet, and fly at that level. It evidently veered to southward in crossing the ranges, as it approached Hokitika from that direction, and passed over Wataroa. No doubt the machine will soon become a familiar feature of the welkin in the near future.

An early photo of Simmonds Spartan ZK-ABU at an unknown location

The following day the aeroplane was overhead Greymouth. Flying Officer McDonald circled several times over the town dropping pamphlets advertising the Hokitika Aero Club ball. Unfortunately a strong easterly wind carried a great percentage of the papers out to sea before they came to earth. A few days later "aeroplane flights" from Hokitika were being advertised.

Hokitika Guardian, 3 May 1932

Two of those who were given the opportunity to go flying were Mrs J. McCarthy, of Arney Street, Greymouth and her sister, Mrs B. Blake. To celebrate Mrs McCarthy's 70th birthday she was taken by Mr McDonald for an aeroplane excursion over Hokitika on the 14th of May 1932.

A few days before, on the 7th of May, ZK-ABU met with an accident breaking the axle of the undercarriage when landing. This was to be the first of many incidents for ZK-ABU while in West Coast ownership. The plane was quickly repaired and was flying again the following day.

On the 12th of June ZK-ABU became the first aircraft to visit Franz Josef. The Hokitika Guardian reported that, Excitement was intense at Waiho Gorge on Sunday afternoon when the whirr of the Spartan plane, the Love Bird, from Hokitika, was heard approaching. Mr Jack Renton and Mr E, Matheson, R.A.S., were in charge of the machine. The weather and conditions were perfect and after flying over the Franz Josef glacier, the plane turned and settled over the landing ground. It quietly glided down and made, a most successful and perfect landing, making the trip in 50 minutes from Hokitika. The flyers were warmly welcomed and congratulated by Messrs Graham Bros, and the local residents, who had gathered for the occasion. After afternoon tea at the Glacier Hotel, the party started on its return journey. A most graceful take off was made, and they arrived in Hokitika 55 minutes after leaving the ground. This is the first occasion that a plane has landed at the glacier and the aviators are to be congratulated on their successfully inaugurating a new service. The flyers were greatly impressed by the wonderful spectacle of the glacier as seen from the air.

Simmons Spartan ZK-ABU, the first aircraft to Franz Josef, on 12 June 1932. Photo : Auckland Weekly News, 22 June 1932

Simmons Spartan ZK-ABU, the first aircraft to Franz Josef, on 12 June 1932

On the 23rd of August ZK-ABU was taxi-ing off the ground at Hokitika, when a wheel sank in a large rut, believed to have been formed during the West Coast earthquake. The aeroplane turned gently up on its nose, smashing a propeller blade as it came to rest. The jar was only slight, the machine having gathered no great speed, and there was no damage beyond that to the propeller. Unfortunately this was the day that set was for the flight-test for five of the club's pilots and this had to be postponed. On the 29th Flight-Lieutenant Somerset-Thomas flew from Christchurch to Hokitika in record time, taking 1 hour 5 minutes for the journey. On arrival the four pupils at Hokitika were examined for their certificates, and all, Rev. Father John McKay, Messrs Horace Parry, Hugh Preston and J. Stewart, were successful and passed the tests for licenses. Mr A. H. Nancekivell also was successful in having his license endorsed to authorise him to carry passengers.

The day of the flight test, the 29th of August 1932... from left, Pilot Officer Jack Renton, Flight-Lieutenant V J Somerset-Thomas (examiner), Fr John McKay, Flying Officer R Matheson (Flying Instructor), Hugh Preston, Arthur Nancekivell (Passed A endorsed), J Stuart, H Parry (Club President). in front of Simmonds Sparton ZK-ABU at Hokitika. Photo : J Jamieson Collection

On the 10th of September a trans-alpine trip was made by Mr A. Nancekivell in his Spartan aeroplane. Mrs Nancekivell, (Dulcie), accompanied him as passenger, thus achieving the distinction of being the first lady to fly across the Southern Alps. A noteworthy feature also was the carriage of some, whitebait, caught at 10 a.m. in Hokitika and delivered for lunch at Christchurch. The return journey was made yesterday, Mr and Mrs Nancekivell accomplishing the trip in 70 minutes. This is an extraordinarily good performance as the local plane is somewhat slower than the defence machine which broke the record. Mrs Nancekivell is incidentally, the only lady who has flown from Hokitika to Nelson and return, and also from Waiho to Hokitika, in addition to flying across the Fox and Waiho glaciers and around Mount Cook.

Arthur and Dulcie Nancekivell and the Lovebird, Simmonds Spartan ZK-ABU

On the 20th the Spartan made the first first passenger flight from Franz Josef to Christchurch. Arthur Nancekivell left Hokitika for Franz Josef early in the morning taking down a passenger. The Christchurch Star reported on the flight. Leaving the Franz Josef Glacier at 9 o’clock this morning, Mr Paul Sheeran, with Mr A. Nancekivell as pilot, landed in Christchurch at 12.20 p.m. The trip was made in the Spartan ’plane of the Hokitika Aero Club. It was the first occasion that this flight had been made. A stop was made at Hokitika, which was reached at 9.50 a.m. The Hokitika Guardian reported they motored to the Railway Hotel for refreshments. The Star coverage continued, The 'plane took off again at 10.40 a.m., and reached Christchurch after an uneventful trip. Perfect weather was experienced during the early part of the trip, there being an absence of clouds west of the ranges. On the Canterbury side, however, fairly thick cloud banks were met with, and the 'plane flew above them at an altitude of 9000 feet for most of the way. Mr Sheeran intends to spend a few days in Christchurch before proceeding to Wellington. Mr Nancekivell took the Spartan back to Hokitika this afternoon.

The first passenger flight from the Franz Josef Glacier to Christchurch was made by Mr Sheeran, of Waiho Gorge, in the Hokitika Aero Club's machine on Tuesday. The photograph, shows the machine on the landing ground at the glacier just before the start of the flight. Inset The pilot, Mr. A. Nancekivell (left), and Mr. Sheeran. Source : Wanganui Chronicle 27 September 1932.

Simmonds Spartan ZK-ABU at Franz Josef. Date not recorded.

1932 was a year that saw a number of trial air mail flights. As part of these flights, ZK-ABU flew the first airmail from Hokitika to South Westland on the 28th of September 1932. The Hokitika Guardian reported that The first air mail from Hokitika to Okuru left Hokitika this morning at 7 o’clock by Mr A Nancekivell in his Spartan aeroplane, and he was accompanied by Mr J. Renton. The plane reached Waiho at 7.50 o’clock and left Waiho at 9.06 o’clock for Okuru, and arrived there at 10.05 a.m. The mail taken by the plane comprised 1483 letters and packets, and it is understood there was a fair quantity at Waiho also. The weather was beautiful for the flight, a fine clear spring morning with a perfect atmosphere. Considerable interest is being shown in South Westland in the flight, and Okuru is enfete for the occasion. The Guardian continued its account of the return flight that was operated the following day… The return air mail service from Okuru to Hokitika was completed this morning. The plane left Okuru an 8.15 a.m. and arrived at Waiho at 9.15 a.m. Waiho was left at 10.46 a.m. and the aerodrome at Hokitika reached at 11.36 a.m. Wednesday, September 28th, was a day of days in the little village of Okuru when Mr J. Renton and Mr A. Nancekivell carried from Hokitika the first air mail to arrive in the district. Some months earlier, the aviators had communicated to Mr R. Eggeling, who owns the landing ground, a wish to make the trip, and this wish was given hearty encouragement. The residents spent much time and labour in improving the ground and when Mr Renton wired September 28th as a suitable date, eager anticipation and fervent hopes that the God of the weather would be kind, characterised the feelings of the residents. The morning broke fine and with gladness in the air almost the entire population of Okuru was in attendance to witness the arrival of the first air mail to Okuru. With a rest of about a quarter of an hour the airmen took passengers above and many were the expressions of delight heard. The time occupied in the trip was 60 minutes to the Waiho where a stop was made and mails were discharged. Another hour brought the plane to Okuru, A short address was delivered by Mr Gillin, who, in welcoming the aviators to Okuru, expressed the wish that this was but the forerunner of a series of visits. Both the airmen responded expressing their thanks for such a hearty welcome and the kindness received, and also endorsed the wish that future trips would be common. In this connection they assured the residents that they would welcome the opportunity to co-operate in establishing frequent visits. Three hearty cheers were given for the aviators and a responsive compliment by the visitors. After partaking of refreshments the gathering left the ground. In the evening the visitors were entertained at the residence of Mrs R. Eggeling who proved an efficient hostess. Games, cards and dancing were enjoyed by all, and with the weather in its most pleasant mood, one of the most delightful events Okuru has known will long be remembered. Interviewed, this morning Mr Renton said that perfect flying conditions were experienced on the trip. Leaving Hokitika at 7 a.m. yesterday, Mr Nancekivell piloting the machine to Waiho arriving at 7.50 o’clock on schedule time. Delay was experienced at Waiho owing to the heavy mail and it was not until 9.50 o’clock that Mr Renton took off, and Okuru was reached at 10.04, During the trip a wonderful view was obtained of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and neighbouring peaks, The landing ground at Okuru has been vastly improved and no difficulty was experienced in landing. The residents were to be congratulated on the complete manner in which they have fixed up the landing ground. The plane left Okuru this morning at 8.15, Mr Nancekivell being at the controls, Waiho being reached at 9.15. The plane left Waiho at 10.46, Mr Renton being pilot, and Hokitika was reached at 11.36 a.m.. When leaving Hokitika yesterday morning the plane, was somewhat overloaded, carrying a heavy mail, and four gallons of benzine in the back locker, which later was left at Waiho. They replenished at Waiho and Okuru. There is nothing definite in view at present in regard to future mails. In case of sickness, the Okuru people are assured that a plane can be used to great advantage and the distance from civilisation, now does not seem so great. The success of the initial mail service is a matter for general congratulation the more so as it has been carried out by a local plane, and the owner pilot is locally trained, while the assistant pilot is also a local resident, who received his instruction in Canterbury.

Simmonds Spartan ZK-ABU at Okuru on 28 September 1932. The Star : 30 September 1932

Presumably at Okuru during the first airmail flight, Arthur Nancekivell on the left and Jack Renton on the right.

The airmails...  Arthur Nancekivell holding the mail from Okuru and Jack Renton holding the mail from Waiho Gorge

First day covers from the South Westland air mail flights on the 28th and 29th of February 1932

On the 30th of September Arthur Nancekivell was landing ZK-ABU in a paddock on Mr W Coburn's farm at Marsden near Greymouth when the wing of the plane struck a post and was damaged. Neither Arthur nor his wife Dulcie, who was his passenger, were injured. The plane was later trucked back to Hokitika. 

Arthur Nanckevill's Simmonds Spartan in a rather sad state at Marsden on 30 September 1932. Note "The Lovebird" titles below the Spartan logo. Photos : I Coates Collection

The plane must have been seriously damaged as the next mention it received in the local newspaper was some six months later on the 6th of March 1933. The Hokitika Guardian reported that, On Saturday afternoon, Mr A. Nancekivell’s Spartan aeroplane ZK-ABU was flown after its recent repairs. Flying continued throughout the afternoon, seven flights being made. Amongst those who flew were Messers Parry and Stuart, Father McKay and the ground engineer (Mr J. B. Flynn). The test flight was carried out by Mr A. Nancekivell, and Mr J. B. Renton afterwards flew solo. Yesterday two more crossings of the Southern Alps were made by air. Leaving Hokitika at 8.10 a.m., the Spartan plane flew to Christchurch piloted by Messrs Nancekivell and Flynn. Visibility was perfect, and the route chosen was via the Teremakau, Otira and Arthur’s Pass. Headwinds were met with from the start, and the flight took 1 hour 50 minutes. The aviators arrived at Wigram aerodrome in time to see the Southern Cross monoplane taxied out to commence the day’s flying. At lunch time, Messrs A. H. Nancekivell, H. Preston and J. B. Flynn had the honour of being introduced to Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

At 2.35 p.m. the return flight from Wigram to Hokitika was commenced, a direct compass course being taken. On crossing the Alps at 9,500 feet, clouds a thousand feet below indicated another head wind. Nevertheless the plane landed at Hokitika at 4.15 p.m., the time for the return trip being ten minutes less. On both trips magnificent views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman were obtained as well as the Rolleston and other smaller glaciers. Lake Coleridge was also seen quite plainly. Almost immediately flying was resumed, a number of Marsden residents being taken up by Mr A. Nancekivell. Mr J. B. Renton completed the day’s flying, taking up Miss Helen Renton as passenger.

The following month, on the 8th of April 1933, the Nelson Evening Mail reported the Nancekivells flying in the Spartan from Hokitika to Nelson. A refuelling stop was made at Ikamatua.

The two-seater Simmonds Spartan ZK-ABU at Hokitika. 

On the 18th of May 1933 the Hokitika Guardian reported that Mr A. H. Nancekivell, who recently underwent an examination at Christchurch, for his “B” pilot’s license, has received word from the Defence Headquarters to the effect that he has been successful. This license entitles Mr Nancekivell to carry passengers and ply his plane for hire

Nancekivell's first commercial flight was made in June 1933. In Hokitika Guardian of the 16th of June 1933 a South Westland correspondent says that the first local passenger flight from Hokitika to Okuru via Waiho and Fox Glaciers was made this week and the time taken was two hours, Mr Jack Cron, of Haast, being the passenger. There was a number of people to welcome him on arrival, after which several made flights over the district. We people of this district very much appreciate Mr Nancekivell (pilot) for the service which he has offered to us, by putting bis plane at our disposal, in our isolated district at any time whatsoever. Quite a number of trips is expected to and from our district by plane in the future owing to the journey which used to take three or four days being reduced to a two hour trip, and the price being most attractive. In case of serious illness this service moans a considerable amount to us.

On the 10th of July 1933 a meeting was held that led to the formation of West Coast Airways Coy., Ltd., with a capital of £700 on the 23rd of August 1933. The Hokitika Guardian reported that there was an attendance of fourteen shareholders. They were  A. H. Nancekivell 350, J. McIntosh 25, H. Parry 25, G. Keller 25, W H. B. Stopforth 25, H. Preston 95, J. Johnson 25, J. Turner 50, E Teichelmann 25, J. Murdoch 25, S. Preston 25, T. McCallum of Kokatahi 50, and T. Seddon of Woodstock 25. Mr J. A. Murdoch was appointed chairman of the company and Mr W. H. Stopforth, secretary. It is proposed at the outset to recondition the local Spartan plane and fit it with a cabin for passengers. The company will fly up and down coast and for East Coast and North Island trips. The company will arrange probably for the control and management of the local landing ground.

On the 11th of July Arthur Nancekivell flew to Timaru with his wife in the Simmonds Sparton for its modification for its new use. The aircraft was sold to West Coast Airways. At Timaru the work was carried out by Mr W K Clarke, ground engineer for N.Z. Airways Ltd. The Timaru Herald reported that The machine is being thoroughly overhauled, and converted into a coupe three-sealer. It will be fitted with the latest Hermes Mark II engine which will be mounted with rubber feet, in order to overcome all vibration in the machine. The Company will commence operations with the one machine, but expect to enlarge their fleet at an early date. They are at present awaiting specifications of the Percival Gull plane, owned by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, which is the type of machine to be flown across the Tasman by Squadron-Leader T. White  about Christmas time.  The work of reconstructing and reconditioning the company's present ‘plane is expected to occupy about a fortnight.

The Spartan received its its certificate of airworthiness at Wigram on the 10th of August 1933 and flew back to Hokitika on the 12th.

A couple of photos of West Coast Airways' Simmonds Spartan ZK-ABU at Hokitika after its modifications to a three seater with cabin for the passengers... seen with the canopy closed and with local pilot Hugh Preston standing in front.

With the canopy open... Photo : I Woolhouse Collection. 
and from the rear with the canopy open. Photo : I Coates Collection

The new company was not slow in gaining business. On the 15th of August Arthur Nancekivell, flew to Okuru, carrying as passengers, Messrs S. A. C. Darby, and Mr Wilson, an Auckland resident, who will later go on to Jackson’s Bay. On the 28th of August it flew two passengers from Hokitika, to Timaru to connect with the express train to Dunedin. The passengers were Hal Rumberg and Al Pereira, the wrestlers, who arrived in Hokitika on Sunday and were booked for a bout at Dunedin last evening. Conditions were unsuitable on Sunday, and the flight was undertaken yesterday morning, via Arthur Pass. A landing was made, at Christchurch for refuelling purposes, and Timaru was reached at 11 a.m. The crossing was not pleasant owing to there being no ground visibility between Otira and Christchurch. The flight, however, proved a remarkably good performance for a light machine as the two passengers weighed 35 stone without luggage, and there was a deal of favourable comment upon arrival. The return trip was made via Whitcombe Pass, and the plane landed here at 1.30 p.m. On the 2nd of September two members of the Westland Rugby Sub-Union, Messrs J. McCallum (Kokatahi) and J. Johnson (Hokitika), chartered a West Coast Airways machine and flew to Christchurch to see the Shield match. The machine was piloted by Mr A. Nancekivell, and the trip over to Christchurch via Whitcombe Pass took 1hr 23min.

While in Christchurch Arthur Nancekivell was interviewed by the Press who reported... A prediction that communication between Christchurch and the West Coast would, within two years, be made in 45 minutes by air travel was made yesterday by Mr A. Nancekivell, of Hokitika. Mr Nancekivell has been prominently associated with flying on the West Coast, and 18 months ago formed the West Coast Airways for the purpose of promoting commercial flying in Westland. He made the first flight from Franz Josef over the Alps 14 months ago, and recently made the first two-passenger flight from the West Coast to Christchurch. The fastest flight from the West Coast to Christchurch was done by an Air Force machine in 65 minutes, he said, but he had no doubt that it would be possible to carry passengers across in 20 minutes less than this time, and he considered that such an improved service would be available within the next two years. As long as visibility remained good there was no danger in the flight. Arthur was out by 33 years in his prediction for it was not until December 1968 that NAC introduced its trans-alpine service between Christchurch to Hokitika which Air New Zealand continues to operate today.

A fine collection of cars and planes at Hokitika's Southside aerodrome in 1933... From left Robinson Redwing II ZK-ADD, West Coast Airways' Simmonds Sparton ZK-ABU and de Havilland DH.60G Moth ZK-AAI. 

By September 1933 West Coast Airways were also looking at other options to expand. At a meeting of the company on the 8th of September J. A. Murdoch suggested that inquiries be made to the cost of a twin-engined commercial plane, capable of carrying six to eight passengers (a Dragon Moth for preference) and that the Government be requested to exempt the machine from customs and other charges in consideration of the company undertaking to police the coast-line sealing grounds between Jackson Bay and Milford Sound. The Hokitika Guardian reported on the rationale behind the proposal… In the earlier days seals were very numerous in the locality of the fiords and were responsible for the visits of whaling and sealing vessels who reaped rich harvests. Then came the day when these incursions into the sealing grounds were no longer permitted, and the vessels ceased calling, For a long time past, however, it is understood, but actual confirmation is so far lacking, that surreptitious “raids” have been made from time to time, while rumours have frequently been circulated in far South Westland that boats, have been seen in the locality behaving in a manner not in conformity with vessels on the usual commercial route, arid there has been no telling whence they came or whither they went. Further it is common knowledge that seal skins have been pirated. Inquiries have been made, and detectives sent down to the locality, but nothing tangible was found, sufficient to warrant the inquiries being prosecuted. It is quite possible for vessels engaged in this illegal occupation to come up devious routes, practically, from nowhere, anchor say 30 or 40 miles off the coast, and launch fast pinnaces, and the marauding parties could kill and skin thousands in a very short time. The isolated nature of the country adjoining the coast, with its absence of population, would eliminate almost all risk of detection from the land, and, as a deterrent is absent, the present alleged pirating would be able to continue. Now that the charge has been preferred, though, as yet, not substantiated, it is advisable that steps, should be taken to provide some form, of protection. The present Government coastal tender does not possess sufficient speed in the event of the latter being demanded, while its visits to this locality are not of sufficient frequence to provide anything like a regular patrol. The knowledge that a fast plane is within handy reach, and at any time likely to appear, the element of risk is increased to such a degree, that these stealthy visits would not be found at all profitable as the planes could quickly establish the identity of a ship and the nature of its activities, and if giving rise to suspicion, report the facts and the vessel’s nautical position to the authorities. With the acquisition of the twin-engined machine the company could maintain an adequate supervision of the sealing grounds. Leaving Hokitika the plane would complete its survey on a non-stop flight, whereas the present plane would have to stop at Okuru on the way down and back for refuelling purposes.

On the 11th of October Arthur Nancekivell flew West Coast Airways’ Spartan from Hokitika, stopping at Greymouth for a passenger, and then on to Wellington for the funeral of the leader of the Labour Party, Harry Holland. The Hokitika Guardian reported that the plane reached Wellington at 10.40 a.m. after a fast trip, and it will return to Hokitika tomorrow.

Passengers for Cup week in Christchurch - Hokitika Guardian, 2 November 1933

The Hokitika Guardian account on the 5th of December 1933 emergency flight to Okuru gives some more information to the account in Arthur Nancekivell's personal history... The immense benefit of the local planes to the residents of South Westland was again exemplified yesterday and to-day, one patient at Bruce Bay receiving medical attention, and another being brought up from Okuru to Hokitika. While in Greymouth yesterday afternoon, Mr A. H. Nancekivell received word to go south, and on arrival at Hokitika was notified to proceed to Okuru for a patient. With Dr A. C. Oakey, he took off from Hokitika in the Spartan machine at. 5.30 o’clock and after an hour and a quarter’s flight landed in a small field at Bruce Bay at 6.45 p.m. This was the first landing that has been made at Bruce Bay, and was made in a field which is being prepared as a landing ground by local residents. The doctor attended to a patient here, and, an hour later the machine and its occupants took off again for Okuru where another patient had to be attended to. Okuru was reached at 8.30 p.m., and this morning, they set out on their return to Hokitika bringing the patient with them. The journey up this morning took an hour and three-quarters, Hokitika being reached at mid-day. The weather on leaving Okuru was wet, and a coastal trip was made, at a very low altitude at times owing to the density of the clouds. Mr Nancekivell brought about thirty letters and a number of parcels with him on his return flight this morning.

On the 27th of December Arthur Nancekivell, with Mr Cummings and Miss Tucker as his passengers, made a record trip from the Glaciers to Hokitika, the time taken being 33 minutes. Further coverage of the company is found in the Grey River Argus. It reported that on the 16th of January 1934 there was considerable activity at the local aerodrome this afternoon, three planes being on the ground. South Westlanders are making good use of the reduced fares. The West Coast Airways’ passenger machine, piloted by Mr A. H. Nancekivell, had a busy day yesterday. Mr Towers jnr.. and Mr George Small chartered the machine for an aerial tour. They took off from Hokitika aerodrome at 9 o’clock, landing at Waiho for refreshments, leaving an hour later to fly over the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers and then going forty miles further south. After arriving in Hokitika at 1.30 p.m. the machine was refuelled and took off for Ikamatua, arriving back here at 8 p.m. For the benefit of patients in South Westland requiring medical attention at Hokitika, the West Coast Airways Coy. has made provision for the conversion of its Spartan plane, into an ambulance plane. Since the machine has been converted into a three-seater there is sufficient room in the front cockpit to enable a stretcher to be placed therein when the seat is removed.

At Ikamatua West Coast Airways Spartan joined Stan Blackmore’s Desoutter in welcoming the Fokker Tri-Motor “Faith in Australia.” A large crowd of between 1,500 and 1,600 people assembled at the Ikamatua Aero Club’s landing ground to witness the arrival of the famous monoplane ‘‘Faith in Australia.” Shortly after 2 p.m. a Desoutter monoplane piloted by Mr J. S Blackmore of Hamilton made a perfect landing. After an inspection of the ground which he described as one of the best in New Zealand Mr Blackmore. accompanied by Mr G. G. McInroe took off in the “Aorangi” to meet the huge monoplane and to pilot her to the landing ground. Great excitement was caused when at last the ’‘Faith in Australia” came into sight and swooping gracefully over the ground once banked round and made a perfect landing. She presented a splendid spectacle and with her massive silver wing quite dwarfed the smaller machine. When Flight-Lieutenant Allen who was piloting the plane and his crew descended from the cabin they received a great welcome from. the large crowd. The President of the Ikamatua Aero Club, Mr J. Green welcomed the visitors to the district whilst other who spoke were Messrs W. Clayton and G. B. Mclnroe. Flight Lieutenant Allen responded and srated that he was very surprised to find such a remarkable site for an aerodrome; it was quite large enough for the landing if any trans Tasman plane. He also congratulated the members of the Aero Club on the first class arrangements that they had made to welcome the visitors. In the meantime the West Coast Airways 'plane piloted by Mr A. H. Nancekivell of Hokitika had arrived from there and all three machines were busily engaged in passenger fights until a late hour.

On the 23rd of January Father P. O’Doherty, parish priest of Ross, left Hokitika, today by aeroplane at 11 a.m. for Okuru, South Westland, reaching his destination at 12.30 p.m. The 'plane was piloted by Mr A. H. Nancekivell, of the West Coast Airways Ltd. Thu Ross parish is one of the largest in New Zealand, it embracing all of South Westland. This is the first occasion in the history of the South Island of New Zealand that an aero plane has been used by a Catholic clergyman in the course of his parochial duties.

West Coast Airways' Simmonds Spartan ZK-ABU with Arthur Nancekivell presumably somewhere in South Westland 

On the 4th of February the Spartan was at the railway picnic at Te Kinga, near Lake Brunner. Arthur Nancekivell was kept very busy taking 102 passengers for flights during the nine hours he was there.

On the 10th of February the Hokitika Guardian carried a long article of an attempted flight from Franz Josef to Mount Cook that captures something of the adventure of alpine flying in these pioneer days…  

The desire of a guest at Waiho Hotel, Franz Josef Glacier, to fly to the Hermitage at Mount Cook, and thereby reduce the travelling time from three days to one hour, resulted in a thrilling flight taking place. Pilot Arthur H. Nancekivell, of West Coast Airways, Ltd., decided to fly over the mountains to ascertain if conditions were suitable on the eastern side of the Alps for a landing at Mount Cook. He took with him as passengers Mr Eric N. Rowley, of Sydney, and Mr Carl Scheidt, of Germany, both of whom were staying .at the Waiho Hotel. They started off at 6.30 a.m. on a perfect morning, with excellent visibility on the western side, of the Alps. Lake Mapourika was first encircled, and when the altitude was sufficient the sea coast was followed in a southerly direction under the shadow of the mountains, the plane rising continually all the time. Turning to the left Mount Tasman and Mount Cook came into view. The plane then continued past the Weheka and the Fox Glacier. The Karangarua River was then followed right to its source among the ice. This brought the plane to Mount Sefton, which it encircled and turned farther south, passing over the Balfour, La Perouse, Strauchon and Marchant Glaciers. On reaching the top of the range at about 10,000 feet, the flyers were met with a vast blanket of white cloud reaching as far to the east as the eye could see. The plane then ascended to 11,000 feet and cruised over the ice and cloud 1000 feet below, endeavouring to see the Tasman Glacier and the Hermitage at Mount Cook. Both were entirely hidden from view beneath the vast blanket of cloud which had blown up against the mountains from the east. It was soon obvious that it was impossible to see the Hermitage, end the trip from the Waiho Hotel could not be done - without descending beneath the clouds at a great risk. The view from the mountains to the West Coast was perfectly clear, while nothing but cloud could be seen to the east. Had the visibility been the same on both sides of the range the flyers could have looked, across New Zealand from coast to coast.

The majestic peaks of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook stood out above the clouds like two gigantic sentinels. The plane then climbed up the back of Mount Cook and rose another 500 ft. to soar triumphantly over the top of Mount Tasman. It then returned, and at 11,500 ft. encircled the summit of Mount Cook in all its alpine glory. Only who were fortunate enough to be in the plane could possibly conceive the thrills of flying round the summit of “The Cloud Piercer.” Having cruised round the peak for some time, the flyers went on to the head of the Franz Josef Glacier, and obtained a splendid view of the skiing field thousands of feet below. Having descended to the top of Franz Josef, the next thrill was coasting down the face of the glacier in circles within a few hundred feet of the crevasses and ice pinnacles, the plane finally arriving at the landing ground in front of the Waiho Hotel, after being one hour and 10 minutes in the air.

Mr Rowley staled that no words could adequately express the noble grandeur, the rugged beauty, and the awe-inspiring magnificence of that amazing flight. Soaring over tree-covered gorges, yawning chasms, and ice-covered mountain peaks glittering in the sunlight of a perfect morning, and passing over numerous glaciers, where the slightest mistake meant certain death in regions where a forced landing was impossible, provided thrills which nothing could describe. The conquest of the majestic peaks, including Mount Tasman, and the encircling of the summit of Mount Cook in all its glory, was an exhilarating experience, which cannot he told in words. To look down upon the vast sea of clouds, to view ice glaciers from many thousands of feet above them, to find oneself above those rugged peaks conquerable only from the air were feelings entirely indescribable. Behind it all and in the midst of danger, and the possibilities of what would have happened had anything gone wrong, was the feeling of supreme safety and confidence, which the careful piloting of Mr Nancekivell inspired. Whether rising over mountain peaks, encircling Mount Cook, clipping into gorges, sliding down mountains of ice, or volplaning in circles down the very face of a glacier, he had his machine always in perfect control. Never for a moment was there any thought that anything could go wrong. “I love New Zealand very much. There have been many sights of grandeur and beauty to remain in my memory, but nothing has stirred me so much as the wonderfully thrilling experience of that amazing mountain flight,’’ said Mr Rowley.

On the 12th of February the Spartan had another mishap at Te Kinga at the McNamara sports meeting. Flying low, the aeroplane struck some telephone lines leading to Mr A. Robertson's house, and in landing the machine tipped forward, through the damage to the undercarriage, and the propeller snapped. The aeroplane was sent to Hokitika by rail.

The aircraft was airborne again by mid-March and on the 12th flew to Mahitahi with two passengers and to Okuru on the 13th with two cattle buyers. While there he intended to seek out suitable landing grounds for deerstalkers While there he received a phone call from Bruce Bay to land and pick up the daughter of Mr and Mrs J. S. Thompson, whom he brought back to Hokitika where she was admitted to the Westland Hospital. He returned to pick up the two cattle buyers on the 15th. On the 23rd the Spartan flew from Hokitika to Hastings for an air pageant via Nelson and Palmerston North taking his wife and Mr Stevens as passengers.

The Spartan had a lucky escape on the 14th of April 1934 when it made a forced landing at Marshlands near Christchurch after its propeller broke free from the aircraft. Relating the exciting and at times anxious moments enroute, Mr McDowall told an “Argus'’ reporter that the course arranged was Greymouth to Ashburton, and thence to Christchurch. On Sunday morning, it was intended to visit Culverden, leaving after lunch on return to Greymouth, via the Lewis Pass. “Were it not for the fact that we had to fulfil an important engagement in Christchurch on Saturday night, the trip would not have been undertaken as the weather was anything but favourable for a crossing of the Alps,’’ stated Mr McDowall.

“Leaving Greymouth at 1 o’clock we made for the Teremakau, climbing steadily till we reached the clouds. The pilot decided to climb through, the clouds and after a few minutes of that eerie sensation, cloud flying - a few minutes that seemed an eternity to me - we came through at 8000 feet, only to find that towards the mountains the clouds reached up to probably ten or twelve thousand feet. There was nothing left to do but put back in Greymouth, where a landing was made three-quarters of an hour after the take off. “Not wishing to be beaten and being encouraged by a slightly better appearance of the weather further north, we decided to try the Lewis Pass, so having filled up we set a course for the Waiheke Gorge. When up the Ahaura River we found that this Gorge was becoming blocked with low clouds, necessitating a deviation still further north. From here on the country was very rough with not a sign of an emergency landing ground, and with the air becoming increasingly rough it was indeed fortunate that no trouble occurred for at the very best it would have meant a night in the open.

By this time we had reached our ceiling which was limited by heavy clouds and were flying with the mountains on either side. It was quite interesting to see a small lake on the top of one of these hills with a rather pretty waterfall coming from it down a sheer cliff. Here the pilot had to make a steep turn and lose a bit of height to avoid running into a cloud bank that had swept down lower than the ’plane. All this time we kept a sharp look out behind to make sure we were not going to be pocketed by clouds closing in behind. Lake Chrystobel soon came into view and before many minutes we were delighted to see a beautiful patch of blue sky and the sun shining on a distant range. Fifty five minutes after leaving Greymouth we had reached Cannibal Gorge and were flying in warm sunshine, a clear blue sky in front and a clear view right across the Canterbury side. “As the ’plane swung on a due southerly course I felt that the fun was all over and we had plain sailing all the way to Christchurch. Little did I expect that we were to run into a howling north-westerly gale on the Canterbury side of the Pass.

I was busy studying a map of the course and picking up land marks, when the roof came into violent contact with my head. This was the start of a really lively buffeting, and I take my hat off to Arthur Nancekivell for the skillful way he handled the machine. A less skillful pilot at the stick and the consequences would have been serious. The ’plane bucked and skidded and got caught in down draughts rushing down at a terrific rate. The dirt and dust off the floor came up in one’s face, filling the ears and mouth. On one occasion we experienced a drop of about 500 feet and before the ’plane was free of it the air speed of the machine had reached 100 m.p.h. The machine was pulled and twisted about like a feather in the turbulent air, but through it all I had absolute confidence in the bus and the pilot’s ability to handle it - that to my mind was a bit of real flying and as we crossed ridge after ridge with very little height to spare, I realised what a good show the pilot was putting up.

It was during the recovery from one of these prodigious down draughts that I distinctly heard something give. I looked about, thinking one of the. flying wires had gone, but they were intact. It is possible that it was the commencement of the trouble, with the propeller. I hate to think what would have happened had the prop gone there. “As we got out over the plains flying conditions became, quite pleasant and one did not dream of possible trouble. However, just as we were concluding a little duet we had been singing, the machine commenced to vibrate violently, and as I turned round I saw Pilot Nancekivell looking out for a landing ground and realised we were in for that experience we often hear about but rarely, if ever, meet with - a forced landing. Once again the pilot displayed great skill and brought the machine down in the only field available, the propeller having by this time completely vanished. The landing was perfect, not a bump, and so concluded a most eventful and valuable trip under conditions that I would not have missed for quids and the like of which I will probably never experience again. An eye witness stated the air seemed Io be filled with flying wood and he was sure I the ’plane was breaking up. This impression would be created by the shattering of the boss from which a number of small pieces must have flown.’’

I suspect this photo which was was on sister NZ Civil Aircraft blog may have been taken at Marshlands after the incident. The prop seems to be missing and the poplar is losing its leaves which would indicate an autumn date... see https://nzcivair.blogspot.com/2015/07/spartan-zk-abu.html

The repairs to the Spartan were done at Wigram Aerodrome. The damage was greater than was at first thought, and the plane did not return to Hokitika until the 8th of June.

On the 25th of July Arthur Nancekivell landed ZK-ABU on W D Nolan’s new landing ground at Upper Okuru. He expressed himself as well satisfied with the conditions. This landing ground should prove a good asset to the district on account of its convenience and accessibility. Mr Nolan is to be commended on his enterprise. which is unparalleled in Westland as he himself and his sons constructed the landing, which has over six hundred yards of a runaway, entirely off their own bat. When the pasture grass becomes properly rooted, and a few forest pines felled, it should vie with any of the rest in Westland as an ideal landing ground. The convenience of the landing ground was well demonstrated on this occasion as Mr Nolan’s eldest, son was landed at his door after undergoing an operation in Dunedin recently. Mrs Nolan returned to Hokitika by the same plane to seek medical advice.

Greymouth at this stage did not have an adequate aerodrome and was using a landing ground at Omoto. On the 29th of October the Grey River Argus reported that, Another instance of the inability of an aeroplane to land at Omoto ground was that on Saturday afternoon when the Hokitika machine piloted by Mr A. Nancekivell had to make a landing on the adjacent riverbed. He had brought, from Hokitika a couple of passengers hailing from South Westland, who had made a quick trip, but the air currents at the landing ground prevented a safe descent thereon, and the pilot made a safe landing further on on the riverbed, where the air current was more constant. Before the plane took off again, however, it noted that the wind had reversed and the pilot restarted with a move in the same direction as that followed in landing.

Meanwhile, on the 22nd of August 1934, piloting the West Coast Airway’s Spartan machine, Mr A. H. Nancekivell flew from Hokitika to Bruce Bay yesterday, with Mr Thompson as passenger. Mr Thompson is an engineer engaged by the Alluvial Gold Prospecting Syndicate, and has been working in that locality for some time. On the return trip, the pilot was accompanied by Mr and Mrs Hunter as far as Ross where a landing was made. The plane then continued on to Hokitika. The Ross aerodrome had its first visitor the day before when Captain Mercer flew the Canterbury Aero Club's de Havilland Fox Moth ZK-ADH to Ross. Meanwhile Nancekivell flew the Spartan to Okuru again on the 24th. 

The importance of the aeroplane in South Westland was highlighted in a Hokitika Guardian article on the 12th of October. Great credit is due to the local pioneers of aviation (Mr H. T. Parry, and Mr A. H. Nancekivell, of West Coast Airways) who have placed their machines at the service of humanity, and shown through their pioneering efforts that aviation is not only a quick way of, travelling, but has been a great comfort to the sick and injured in the southern, district. It may also be mentioned that on two occasions West Coast Airways Ltd can claim to have been instrumental in landing on improvised grounds in the far south, picking up seriously injured settlers and landing them at Hokitika within a few hours, and thereby saving them from what might have been certain death, had they been compelled to travel overland. In view of the expansion of sawmilling and dredging industries in, the far south, and the numerous unemployed seeking for gold in the isolated parts of South Westland, the aeroplane is indispensable. It behoves the Government to investigate the hazardous efforts of the local pioneers, and it would be in the interests of humanity if some grant or subsidy could be arranged to encourage these pioneers of aviation on the West Coast.

In May 1934 in was announced that Tourist Air Travel and Transport Service, Ltd. had been formed by Messrs J. C. “Bert” Mercer, H. Worrall and J. R. Delahunty, of Christchurch, P. E. L. Renton, of Hokitika, and R Graham, P. Graham and A. C. Graham, of Waiho Gorge and that the company had decided to purchase a de Havilland Fox Moth. When South Westland residents heard of the formation of the company, they suggested that it should tender for the new South Westland air mail contract.

By the end of October Arthur Nancekivell was negotiating the purchase of a Fox Moth aeroplane, and on the 29th dispatched a cable to London to this end.

The day before he had flown to Waiho with Messrs Walsh and Harcourt of South Westland as passengers. Returning solo he called at Wataroa to inspect the landing ground on Mr Nolan’s property. Considerable interest in his visit here was displayed by the local residents. The late departure meant that he arrived back at Hokitika after dark creating some interest in the town.

On the 1st of November the West Coast Airways Spartan plane, piloted by Mr A. H. Nancekivell, flew from Christchurch to Greymouth and Hokitika with a cargo of 50.000 cigarettes. It was recently announced that a reduction would be made in the retail price of cigarettes, becoming effective oil November 1, and retailers consequently had not been replenishing their stocks until the new duties were operative. Consequently the majority of tobacconists have been working on very reduced stocks. In some cases, in Hokitika, certain brands have been unobtainable for several days. Arrangements were accordingly made by the distributors for the transport by air of cigarettes to replenish stocks in tobacconists shops in many districts. Piloting the West Coast Airways Spartan plane, Mr A. H. Nancekivell, in response to a request to go to Christchurch to pick up supplies, left here at 12.30 p.m. and arrived at Christchurch at 1.40 p.m. where a load of 250lb of cigarettes, and other cargo was taken aboard. The plane took off again at 3 p.m. and arrived at 4.35 p.m. at Greymouth where half of the load was discharged,. An hour after landing there the plane again took off for Hokitika which was reached by 6 o'clock. Mr Nancekivell experienced beautiful weather on the other side, but on the return flight he had to descend at Otira, and fly at the low altitude of 300 feet to escape heavy clouds, which continued until Moana.

Disaster struck West Coast Airways the following day. Arthur Nancekivell was flying ZK-ABU from Hokitika to Christchurch. The trip was uneventful until passing over the Rolleston range where the throttle control worked loose. The machine lost height. Mr Nancekivell was within gliding distance of the river bed of the Bealey River. He was forced to land on a narrow patch of shingle on the east bank of the Bealey River. The landing was abruptly interrupted when the aeroplane struck a boulder, overturned and smashed both wings and badly damaged the undercarriage. The propeller was smashed to pieces as the nose of the plane buried itself in the shingle. Neither Arthur Nancekivell nor his passenger, Mr A. Beban, junr., of Greymouth, nor were hurt and they were able to crawl out of the cockpits. 

Newspaper coverage of the Spartan after it had been righted.

Manawatu Standard, 10 November 1934

The Spartan plane was transported back to Hokitika on the 9th of November for repair. 

The second disaster had two phases. The first was the awarding of the air mail service from Hokitika to South Westland to Air Travel (NZ) Ltd. The second phase was the company’s difficulty in being granted a continuous licence to operate a commercial air service on the West Coast from the Transport Co-ordination Board yesterday. On the 30th of November 1934 counsel for West Coast Airways Ltd., and N.Z. Airways Ltd, argued that Air Travel (NZ) Ltd had only recently been formed and the application was for a licence for a new service. Counsel argued that other applications in respect of the same territory had been lodged by companies in existence for some time. Evidence was given by Mr A. H. Nancekivell that West Coast Airways Ltd., had been registered in August 1933, since when it had carried on the air-taxi services established in April, 1932. It had operated over the territory covered in the application of Air Travel (N.Z.) Ltd., and further afield, and had an arrangement with the Westland Hospital Board for the conveyance of patients. Mr Mercer submitted that in view of his aviation record and the fact that his company had secured the mail contract it was entitled to the licence.

A few days later the Transport Co-ordination Board granted Air Travel (NZ) its licence but left in limbo West Coast Airways application.

At this time West Coast Airways remained without an aircraft. On the 28th of December the Hokitika Guardian advertised that The West Coast Airways Ltd., have arranged with New Zealand Airways, of Timaru, to carry on their air taxi service during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Mr Clarke, New Zealand Airways pilot, who has just returned from series of trips to all parts of New Zealand is in charge of the plane, and will undertake similar trips from the Hokitika aerodrome. The plane is built to accommodate two passengers, and is also available for joy riding. See your town from the air. Inquiries, c/o Railway Hotel, or phone 116 Hokitika.

Shortly after, on the 11th of January 1935, Arthur Nancekivell’s Railway Hotel was offered for sale.

On the 6th of January 1935 the Transport Co-ordination Board heard Air Travel (NZ)’s and West Coast Airways’ application for air taxi licenses. Mr J. C. Mercer, managing director of Air Travel (N.Z.), Ltd., which had been granted a license for a service at the last meeting of the board, applied for an air taxi service. He had been kept very busy since he had started, he told the board; but he could still cope with taxi work. His was the only company in the British Empire carrying all mail, including parcels; and his application had the approval of the Post and Telegraph Department, the Director of Air Services, the Railway Department, the main passenger service by motor-car, and the settlers. He asked for an exclusive license. It would lead to undue risks being taken by the pilots of rival concerns if more than one license was granted, and in misty weather would make it possible for two machines to be flying along the same route without knowledge or each other. West Coast Airways, Ltd., also had an application before the board for an air taxi license; but Mr A. H. Nancekivell, the operator, was taken suddenly ill to-day and had to undergo an immediate operation. For him, Mr J. P. Ward said that his client did not agree that if there were two machines on the coast they might collide. They had not done so yet. "It seems that the point about these air taxi licenses that will give us difficulty is the question of fares, said Sir Stephen Allen. Both cases were adjourned sine die. 

On the 11th of March 1935 the Press reported on the transfer of the licence of the Railway Hotel, Hokitika. A week later, on the 19th of March 1935, Arthur and his wife took the express to Christchurch en route to Sydney where he first purchased a hotel in Newcastle then a jam factory in Sydney. Arthur died at the age of 89 in Gerringong, New South Wales.

West Coast Airways Ltd never got airborne again and the company was wound up on the 22nd of June 1939.

After publishing this post a great-nephew of Arthur, John Nanckivell, wrote to me of Arthur saying, I think he left Hokitika feeling a bit dejected with the lack of support. That was my sense in preparing this blog post. Arthur Nancekivell was the owner of the first aircraft on the West Coast. He employed the first commercial pilots, including Jack Renton and Bob Mathieson. He was the pioneer of the first South Westland air mail and was instrumental in founding the West Coast's first aviation company. He was this company's first pilot and flew numerous flights over the Southern Alps. He also flew Westland's first air ambulance flight. He went from having no flying experience to doing all this within  three years. In the end the lucrative South Westland mail contract was awarded to Bert Mercer and his company Air Travel (NZ) Ltd. Mercer was certainly more well-known, had considerably more  flying experience and had a far superior aircraft.   

Nonetheless Arthur Nancekivell is surely the first pioneer of West Coast air services and who opened the minds of Hokitika and South Westland people to the possibilities aviation could offer to West Coast. I hope this post gives credit to a great West Coast aviation pioneer.


  1. This is just amazing. Will have more to say

  2. Hi Steve. This is a fascinating account and it's great to have it published.

    Do you know anything more about "Mr E Matheson RAS" (RAeS?), "Flying Officer R Matheson (Flying Instructor)" and "Pilot Mathieson of Rotorua"?

    The Hokitika Guardian (e.g. 1/7/1932) refers to "Pilot Officer Matheson" and Nancekivell flying together, so it's possible that he and "Pilot Mathieson of Rotorua" are the same (the two spellings are sometimes used interchangeably).

    What about F/O Matheson and P/O Matheson; could they be the same or are they different?

    And what about Mr E Matheson?

    Would appreciate any further info you could provide.


  3. Hi Steve thanks for sharing this. What a great read. It includes many photos I haven't seen before. I've been doing some research about the spartan ZK ABU. My grandfather William Charles McKaskell was a photographer for the Christchurch Sun and he took the first aerial photo of Mt Cook in ZK ABU with Pilot Captain Mac McGregor, in mid feb 1932. He had to stand up in the plane using a plate glass camera. I am trying to find some more information about the flight apparently it left from south Westland. Do you know how to find more information about this story also it would be interesting to find out where the plane is now. I'll email you the articles I have. thanks Anna H

  4. Aurther Harold Jacob’s Nancekivell was my great uncle such a great life he had

  5. Arthur nancekivell was
    My grandfather
    What a great article only just discovered this article whilst research
    A pub in newcastle australia called criterium he was a publican .
    There were photos we have not seen of my grandmother dulce with him
    On the plane . I will share this with the rast of my family
    Karin nee nance-kivell

  6. Would there be any recollection known of a plane that flew under the bridge in Franz Josef Glacier ?