Flying to Milford

Friday Flashback

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This is New Zealand’s Queenstown airport in August 1979, ten years before the first jet aircraft arrived. Much of the business then relied on tourist flights in small ‘planes like these. I had something bigger for my flight to Milford Sound

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but not by much. I was lucky enough to get a seat beside the pilot after the Britten-Norman Islander had been refueled at a mobile Mobil station.

Milford flight 1-4

Queenstown is a mountain resort so the views of the Southern Alps are spectacular if you fly there. I don’t know about you but when I’m faced with a magnificent scene like this, with the natural environment stretching away to the horizon in all its awe-inspiring grandeur, I can’t ignore the little voice inside that says …..
“If anything goes wrong with this aircraft, there’s nowhere to land”.

Milford flight 6-2

A view to the left from the cockpit.

MacKinnon Pass

Approaching MacKinnon Pass on the Milford Track. It’s the little snow covered ridge in the foreground. Once over the pass, turn left.

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Fly directly at Sutherland Falls – the highest in the country with a 580 metre (1908 feet) vertical drop – until the cliff face ahead completely fills your windshield then pull up for a glimpse of Lake Quill, flick the ‘plane on a wingtip to execute a 180 degree turn, and continue to Milford Sound.

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Images of Mitre Peak have become something of a tourist cliché but you can’t fail to be impressed when you stand in its presence. It dominates the landscape and demands your attention.

Unfortunately my visit was cut short. I barely had time to fire off a couple of cliché’s and get bitten by the infamous sandflies when the pilot called us back to the aircraft. A nasty weather front was heading our way from the Tasman Sea and it would be best if we got out ahead of it. You should expect this in Fiordland where conditions can change rapidly, especially in winter.

We piled back into the Islander and he flew us to the seaward end of the Sound. It was part of the flight plan we’d already paid for, and maybe he wanted to prove there really was a nasty front out there. And there really was. Dark cloud, rain and, no doubt, turbulence rolling towards us. Time for another one of those 180 degree wingtip turns.

The ties that bind

Another Friday Flashback

Here’s an old maritime tradition you don’t see anymore – coloured streamers from ship to shore when a passenger liner is about to leave her berth.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

They’re supposed to have originated as a symbol of ties to family and friends, gathered on the dock to wave goodbye, and the breaking of them as the ship pulled away on its journey to distant lands. A poignant reminder of past times when some of those passengers were emigrants and would never return.

In later years, cruise ships adopted the practice to add to the carnival atmosphere at the start of a cruise but a combination of factors has put a stop to it in the past decade or two – the demise of ocean liners, restricted port access to non-passengers for security reasons, and environmental concerns. Now you can attract a nasty fine for throwing streamers and the rolls appear in museum collections.

The ship pictured here in more carefree days is the R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle (Union-Castle Line) leaving Capetown, South Africa, in the early 1970s. The “Eddie” had her maiden voyage seventy years ago. A you can see, that was in the era before rivets went out of style.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

Three conveniently placed dock workers complete the composition as the Edinburgh Castle backs away from her berth.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

The white ship in the background is P+O’s Orsova.

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Capetown harbour filtered through the window of a Cessna light aircraft. The “Eddie’s” red funnel can be seen at the dock below. The ship is berthed port side to the dock instead of the more usual starboard.

The R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle was scrapped in 1976.

Winter sports

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The Southern Alps are a favourite climbing ground for tourists who find in snow and ice a playground for their winter holidays, and the comfortable “Hermitage” hotel at the base of the main range is a popular rendezvous for patrons of the winter sports. The Hermitage is a modern hotel in the heart of the Alps, reached by a good motor road, and providing every convenience for climbers. The summit looks right down upon the hotel.

The Hermitage has expanded considerably since this was written in 1928.

M_Cook

I think this is from Sealy Tarns, not Mount Sealy.

The ascent of Mount Cook and its neighbouring peaks is the aim of many mountain climbers and the record of conquests is extremely small. The lofty peak of Mt. Cook is 12,349 feet [3764m] above the level of the sea, and its ascent is a task to try out the steel in a climber’s nerves. The track lies over crumbling glaciers and brittle snowfields where the first false step will probably be the last.
‘Beautiful New Zealand’ series, Three Castles cigarettes (W.D. & H.O. Wills) 1928.
Original images from the New Zealand Government Publicity Office.

Writers who record the heights of mountains should add “at time of writing” because it seems nothing is permanent. Aoraki/Mount Cook lost about 30 metres from its summit in a single rockfall in 1991. Luckily there were no climbers standing in the way. Then, in 2014, modern instruments measured it at 12,218 feet (3,724 metres). Its reputation as a dangerous mountain, however, has not been reduced and the warning about false steps still holds true. Many experienced climbers have died on its slopes since it was first climbed in 1894. The last unclimbed route wasn’t conquered until 1970.

The Southern Alps were a training ground for New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary who first climbed Aoraki/Mount Cook in 1948 and went on to famously “knock off” Everest five years later.

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Aoraki/Mount Cook towers above Lake Pukaki on a hot December day in 2013. Perspective is compressed by a 270mm (equivalent) lens. The mountain is about 60 or 70km away (40 miles).

M_Cook_Pukaki

The view from State Highway 8 at the bottom end of Lake Pukaki.

Follow this link for some spectacular images of the Southern Alps.

Out of Action

Today’s image comes from a WWI postcard.

Image from WWI postcard of captured German Pfalz DIII aircraft.

The original is a very dark sepia with almost no detail in the shadows so although this isn’t perfect, it’s an improvement, believe me. It shows a group of British military personnel gathered round what is left of a German aircraft. I think we can see a mixture of army and Royal Flying Corps uniforms there.

The wreck on the trailer used to be a Pfalz DIII, probably a DIIIa which dates the photograph to sometime between November 1917 – when the type was introduced – and the end of the war twelve months later. The shape of the cross on the fuselage suggests it might have been prior to April 1918. Two R.F.C. men are standing in front of the aircraft’s number which makes it difficult to be any more specific.

Although over a thousand of both variants were made, no originals have survived. There are only two replicas to show what the DIII would have looked like in one piece. This is one of them.

A replica Pfalz D.III German WWI fighter aircraft.

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It was made in 1965 for the movie ‘The Blue Max’ so, at 53 years old, it’s edging towards veteran status.

Riding the rails

This piece of history rolled through the region today so I thought I might share a few impressions. It’s a Ja locomotive built for New Zealand railways in 1956.

Ja_wide

Ja_cross

Ja_Mville

And, just for good measure, here’s one I prepared earlier – in better weather (3rd Dec.). A Da Diesel loco from 1957.

Da_gate

Da_bridge

Both locomotives are maintained and operated by the Steam Incorporated railway society north of Wellington, New Zealand. Their excursions are almost always booked out.

Virginia plane

U S S West VirginiaI bought these two old snapshots from the same online trader although, oddly, they were offered for sale several months apart. They could have been taken on the same day by the same person but were not printed on the same photographic paper. They feature a seaplane, which I didn’t recognise, and the name ‘U.S.S. West Virginia’, which of course I did.

VirginiaPlane2sIn the period between World Wars, American battleships, and those of other navies, carried observation aircraft – ‘spotter planes’ – fitted with floats. Launched by catapult from the deck, they landed beside the ship when their mission was over and were retrieved by crane. This was skilled, dangerous work and easier said than done.

The original images were obviously personal snaps taken by one or more of the West Virginia’s crew, not the work of a Navy photographer, but after a quick rinse through software they scrubbed up looking like this

VirginiaPlane4

VirginiaPlane3

I’ll admit that U.S. Navy aircraft of the 1920s are not my strong point. In my defence, I can’t possibly know everything and that’s why we have search engines. I discovered two things
(1) there are more to sort through than you might imagine
(2) as all you aviation experts already know, this is a Vought OU-1 – standard equipment in the U.S. Navy for ten years from 1923 and an aircraft with a couple of notable firsts to its credit.

In 1924 it was the first plane to be catapulted off a battleship at night and, five years later, the first plane to dock with a dirigible (airship) in flight! “Why?”, I hear you ask. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum have several better quality images on their Flickr site and you can find a good photograph of USS Pennsylvania with two planes mounted aft on this well researched page about the short history of catapult aviation.

Two mysteries remain – the location of the photographs (if you can help with that, please leave a comment) and how did these personal souvenirs from an American battleship end up in New Zealand?

The West Virginia found fame later in life when she was sunk at Pearl Harbour, salvaged, rebuilt, and put back into the fight. She was in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_1941_Virginia

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Two men can be seen on the superstructure, upper center. The mast of the USS Tennessee is beyond the burning West Virginia.
USN/AP via rarehistoricalphotos

Wellington architecture #1

Govt offices

The Government Buildings, built on newly-reclaimed land in 1876 and photographed by James Bragge soon afterwards. Wellington would continue to spread into the harbour for most of the next century.

To many, the gem of Lambton Quay, undoubtedly one of the finest structures the Dominion has to offer, is the Government Buildings, erected in 1876 to meet the needs of the rapidly growing civil service, a beautifully proportioned block somewhat resembling a wooden replica of Somerset House, and standing in grounds which, though limited, serve to enhance not only the building they surround but the whole northern end of the Quay. The building is constructed entirely of wood, and forms the largest permanent wooden structure in the world.

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c. 1902. The original “ugly” corrugated iron fence was replaced by railings, and the gardens improved, in the 1890s.

And what wood! A list of the materials used – a million feet of them – sounds like a building contractor’s dream. For the main block, the framework of Tasmanian hardwood, the weatherboards and interior of kauri, For the wings, added later [1897 and 1907], the framework of rimu, the piles of totara, the weatherboards and flooring of matai, the interior finishings of kauri – an epitome of all the most precious of New Zealand forest products. The thought comes uppermost: “What forests passed beneath the axe to rear its walls!”
‘The Streets of my City’, F.L. Irvine-Smith, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1948.

Govt offices 3

The civil service had outgrown its old offices by 1990 and left them empty. In recognition of its status as a heritage building, government sponsored restoration and conservation began four years later. Most of the interior is now leased to the Victoria University School of Law but parts of it are open to the public and well worth a visit.

The city has grown around (and above) it as cities do, and it’s a little sad to see the old building, that used to dominate its surroundings, being overshadowed by modern office blocks.

Govt offices 4

This is the first of three loosely connected posts about the New Zealand capital’s early architecture. Next – Government House, 1871.