New Zealand International Flights and Airmail Covers

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This site is about the history of international flights into and out of New Zealand and the covers carried on those flights. 

The more recent flights covered are those with some aeronautical significance rather than all first flights of, for instance, particular airlines or routes. 

This is a virtual collection, largely of images from internet auctions.

While New Zealand had early internal airmail flights, the small population and the long separation from other countries made the development of international airmail a late phenomenon. It was not until 1940 that reliable links commenced. The pioneering flights are with some very famous aircraft and aviators and many  are by the romantic classic flying boats. 

Browse on  -  there are lots of pictures so be patient while it loads.

Enjoy your visit

New on this site:

Like all good sites this site is evolving:

April 2008: Covers added and aircraft notes updated

April 2007: TEAL postcard and more

September 2007: More covers

December 2006: Rare Southern Cross second flight cover

June 2006: 1947 and 1951 covers


Cover from 1946 resumed PAA service to US

Why Airmail Covers?

Early airmail covers are often relatively easy to find. The pioneers of commercial aviation used airmail as a way of funding exploratory flights and sought airmail contracts to make scheduled services viable. In New Zealand philatelists had an early enthusiasm for collecting such covers. Covers of the first health stamps for instance are rarer than some early flight covers. Indeed some assert the New Zealand enthusiasm for first day covers grew from the air cover market.

The Flights

 All pictures in this column are thumbnails


1928 Southern Cross
A small mail was carried on the Australia to New Zealand flight of the first plane to cross the Tasman. See more below about Southern Cross.


1931 Christmas Mail to UK
Not a flight from New Zealand but from Australia. Still some New Zealand mail was prepared and sent by ship to connect to the flight.

1931toUK(2).jpg (139876 bytes)A rare early cover without an airmail stamp.

1931toUK.jpg (56308 bytes)Christmas Mail cachet.

1933 / 1934 C T P Ulm, Faith in Australia VH-UXX

Sydney (Dec 3 1933) - New Plymouth.  Return Muriwai Beach (Auckland) Feb 17 1934 - Sydney. 

The return trip carried the first official airmail from New Zealand to Australia.

Charles Ulm's Avro was originally an Avro X. The Avro X was a licence built Fokker of the same basic model as the Southern Cross. It was one of the Avros bought by Australian National Airlines and assembled by them in Australia. After the airline collapsed Ulm bought one of them - Southern Moon - VH-UMI,  to refurbish. He had it rebuilt in Australia with a new wing and the original engines replaced by Wright cyclones, the same as powered the Southern Cross. It was re-registered after that as an "Avro K". It ended its days as derelict at Townsville airfield, Queensland and in 1942 was bulldozed into a swamp during the Second World War airfield improvements.

awaiting National Library of New Zealand approval to show this

Charles Ulm is fourth from the left. 

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mätauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image."

(Where was this photo taken? The NZ National Library has this labelled as loading mail for Australia in February, but as 90 Mile Beach. If it is February it should be Muriwai. If it is 90 Mile Beach it should be April or July.)

40,000 letters were carried on the trip to Australia.

The 7d overprinted airmail stamp was specially produced for the occasion. It was the first instance where a New Zealand stamp carried the name of another country, and in world philately must be a rare occasion where the name of another country appears in larger letters than the national name.

Fokker F.VIIb-3m / Avro10 Page

1984 50th anniversary flight cover.

Ulm's pioneering of Australia's airways has been recognised on a postage stamps. Here is one about the Pacific flights with Kingsford-Smith (1978).

A second was on the 50th anniversary of the New Zealand flight (1984). Surprisingly New Zealand did not deem the event worthy of an issue. The stamp depicts a cover carried like the first pictured here. This stamp has "Australia" no less than 7 times.

1933postcard.jpg (95816 bytes) Australia to New Zealand - Card not postally used, signed by Ulm, G.U. Allen (CO-PILOT & RADIO OPERATOR) & R.N. Boulton (ENGINEER).


177321-2.jpg (60442 bytes)

ulm.jpg (35746 bytes)New Zealand to Australia.


1934ulmtoaus.jpg (17885 bytes)New Zealand to Australia - return by sea


1934ulmtoaus2.jpg (23481 bytes)New Zealand to Australia.  Signed by Ulm


1934NZ-UK.jpg (72447 bytes)NZ - Australia and on to the UK


1934 reuse.jpg (38696 bytes)Nelson to Aus and back.



1933 Kingsford-Smith's second trip to New Zealand, Southern Cross VH-USU  1933 waipapa.jpg (31040 bytes) Waipapakauri hotel cover - at 90 Mile Beach. Not official mail - carried and reposted in Australia.  

1934 Kingsford-Smith's third trip to New Zealand, Southern Cross VH-USU 

Sydney to New Plymouth January 1934. Return 90 Mile Beach (Kaitaia) to Sydney March 29 1934. This latter flight carried the second official airmail from New Zealand to Australia. The time in New Zealand was spent on joy rides. His aircraft was a one-off Fokker F.VIIb-3m. It was earlier registered as G-AUSU.

Smithy's earlier flights to New Zealand in the Southern Cross in 1928 and 1933 carried no official mail. Here though is an image of a postcard celebrating the 1933 visit. Kingsford-Smith's picture is on the reverse. Kingsford Smith requested a special stamp printing, as had applied to Ulm's flight but this was declined.

Southern Cross Page  Flights

In all Southern Cross  made three trips to New Zealand.

The Southern Cross is today preserved in Smithy's birthplace, Brisbane. It is housed at the Brisbane Airport, near Eagle Farm, its landing place after the pioneering cross-Pacific trip. It is arguably subservient only to the Wright Flyer and Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis as a famous surviving aircraft.  Story  

A replica also exists and occasionally flies in Australia. Replica home page

This New Zealand stamp was in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the 1928 flight. Australia used the same design in a joint issue.
This commemorative of 2001 shows "the old bus"

No mail was carried to New Zealand

1934.jpg (20906 bytes)New Zealand to Australia.


1934_3.jpg (44016 bytes)New Zealand to Australia, and return by sea.


1934 faith.jpg (51083 bytes)Southern Cross flight but with the Faith in Australia stamp.


1934y.jpg (59735 bytes)Another




1934 C T P Ulm, Faith in Australia VH-UXX

Second visit. Sydney, April 11, 1934 to- New Plymouth. Return  90 Mile Beach (Kaitaia) to Sydney, April 14 1934.

This was the first official airmail flight from Australia to New Zealand.

The New Zealand Trade Commissioner in Sydney sold New Zealand stamps for the return trip meaning many of the covers bear both country's stamps. 40,000 letters were carried to New Zealand and 20,000 on the return flight.

G. U. Allan was the co-pilot.



1934ulmtonz.jpg (32331 bytes)Australia to New Zealand.


1934ulmtonz2.jpg (135868 bytes)Another.


1934ulmtonz3.jpg (50172 bytes)Australia - New Zealand - Australia. The addressee for this - N Rogers, was Ulm's secretary. Signed by the crew.


1934ulmtonz4.jpg (129217 bytes)Cover using the 1929 Australian airmail stamp.


april34toaus.jpg (31835 bytes)New Zealand to Australia and return.


1934_plain.jpg (13894 bytes)Australia - New Zealand - Australia.


1934_official.jpg (103613 bytes)Australia-NZ and return - Official stamps both ways!


1934OS.jpg (79937 bytes)One OS stamp, one not. Registered.


1934 guallan.jpg (51557 bytes)Signed by the co-pilot G U Allan.


1934 to ulm.jpg (22979 bytes)Addressed to Ulm


1934 0ther.jpg (11841 bytes)To Australia


1934 and ret.jpg (26905 bytes)- and return



1934 C T P Ulm, Faith in Australia VH-UXX

Third (and last) visit. Sydney May 11, 1934 to New Plymouth. Return 90 Mile Beach (Kaitaia) to Sydney, July 2 1934. The long delay for the return was occasioned by awaiting for engine parts. These covers are relatively rare compared to the other 1934 flights.

Ulm flew to New Guinea after this flight. Airmail covers addressed to New Zealand on the return flight from New Guinea crossed the Tasman by sea.

756762.jpg (68007 bytes)Only 250 letters were carried to NZ.


NEWGUI~1.jpg (33203 bytes)New Zealand - Australia - New Guinea - Australia - New Zealand. This has cancellations of Christchurch on the New Zealand stamps, an Australian mark (receipt?) for trans-Tasman mail for June and the cancellation for the first New Guinea airmail for Faith in Australia's first New Guinea service in July. The last stage to New Zealand was by sea. 

1934 ng.jpg (29632 bytes)Another - this one supposedly to New Guinea but lacks stamps from there  

ulm1934.jpg (29558 bytes)New Zealand to Australia Signed by Ulm.


1934 not norm.jpg (17036 bytes)New Zealand to Australia


bde8_1_b.jpg (26425 bytes) On to USA - a late use of the 7d overprint.



1934 J D Hewett and C E Kay Faith in New Zealand - DH 89 Dragon Rapide VH-UON.

The aircraft was also called Tainui.  Sydney - Palmerston North. There was no return flight. The cover is an unofficial one and very rare. Hewett and Kay were New Zealand Air Force officers who had just taken part on the London to Melbourne air race in this aircraft. It was the first aircraft to fly relatively directly to New Zealand from Europe. Faith in Australia and the Southern Cross had done this before but with a long break in Australia. It subsequently operated in Australia - having recrossed the Tasman by sea.

Rapide Page  Another  Another

1934faithnz.jpg (40733 bytes)Posted in Australia then carried after delivered.



1934faithnz2.jpg (39153 bytes)As last but posted again in New Zealand by surface mail back to Australia.


1934kay.jpg (12931 bytes)Posted UK and NZ - carried on flight but not as official airmail.



1935 First Airmail New Zealand to England. King's Jubilee (George V).

This Kingsford Smith project was to fly mail from Australia to New Zealand, and return to Australia to link to the established airmail route to Britain (commenced 1931 and regularly from 1935). Leaving Sydney on May 14 in Southern Cross it suffered an engine failure less than half way across and turned back. In an epic return journey with second engine giving trouble almost all the mail was ejected, bar seven bags. That mail was delivered to New Zealand by steamer and the mail which was to be flown from New Zealand to Australia also went by sea across the Tasman.


1935.jpg (39038 bytes)New Zealand to London.


1935toNZ.jpg (20619 bytes)Australia - New Zealand and return - one of the survivors of the attempted crossing.



1935 Empire Airmail, Trans-Tasman service by ship "SS Monowai", airmail onwards. 

This was the first regular service from New Zealand to the UK - mostly by air. The 1½d rate never applied to Australia from NZ. By the time the all air service started (below), the rate to Australia was 5d.


Empire Air Mail

1935-2.jpg (26062 bytes)New Zealand to UK.


aa00047 1935.jpg (63688 bytes)1935 to Uganda


EmpireAirService.jpg (93311 bytes)1938 Empire Air Service  New Zealand - UK and return. New low postage rate. The 1½d brown KGV NZ stamp was issued especially for this purpose. This cover has a UK 1½d brown for the return journey - but this was not a special issue. 

72871454_full.jpg (17353 bytes) To an RAF station


72938351.jpg (8823 bytes) With a 1d and half d stamp.  


1936-1940 Monowai Service Continues.

SS Monowai off Wellington in post-war form
(Note the changed rear masts compared to the stamp image).

SS Monowai (Sometimes RMS for Royal Mail Ship) was a famous cross-Pacific and later trans-Tasman ship in the middle of the century. She joined the Union Company fleet in 1930 from P&O, having previously been called Razmak. She served as an auxiliary Cruiser (as HMS Monowai) and later troop ship in the war, was at D Day and returned to civil guise and the trans-Tasman service after the war. Monowai was withdrawn as uneconomic and scrapped in 1960. It is ironic that she helped support an early airmail service which helped found the airlines, only to be ultimately displaced by the airlines.

There were earlier civil Monowai ships and later naval ones

And of course she has her own stamp (Cook Islands 1932 - she serviced Rarotonga in the early 30s).

Monowai as an Auxiliary Cruiser.  


1936.jpg (25831 bytes)New Zealand to UK.


1936-2.jpg (27122 bytes)New Zealand to UK

"Monowai" on cover.


1938uktonz.jpg (24134 bytes)1938 UK to NZ



38UKTONZ.jpg (20235 bytes) 1938 UK to New Zealand.


1938nz to usa.jpg (17514 bytes)NZ to the USA via the UK - hence the two stamps, also FDC of the 1½d brown KGV.


1937 Pan American SIKORSKY S-42B Pan American Clipper II NC 16734 Ed Musick, March.

This was a proving flight, San Francisco, Honolulu, Kingman Reef, Pago Pago,  Auckland. This was the first cross-Pacific flight to New Zealand.

S 42 - over the unfinished Oakland Bridge

The S 42B model was  version with greater wingspan, more powerful engines,  greater payload and higher cruising speed, built particularly for longer routes.

Sikorsky Flying Boats 
The Flying Clippers
page is specially recommended

No mail was carried as Pan American did not have a US mail licence for the route.



1937/ 1938 Pan American SIKORSKY S-42B Pan American Clipper II, NC 16734 Ed Musick. Arrived December 26th, departed January 2nd.

This was the inaugural flight of an Auckland - Honolulu service on the same route as above. It connected with Honolulu - San Francisco airmails. 

This was the first NZ to US airmail.  

The aircraft and crew were lost off Samoa on January 12 on the next flight to New Zealand leading to the suspension of the service.

S42 Baggage Label

A baggage label of the era showing the S 42.

1937tous2.jpg (35840 bytes)New Zealand to the US.
As with the last there was no mail from the US to New Zealand. 


1937 to samoa.jpg (21922 bytes)New Zealand to Samoa


85513846_full.jpg (62304 bytes)Someone had lots of Faith in Australia stamps put aside from 4 years previously.  

1939 Fiji - Auckland  Mail carried on a survey flight by a TEA Short S30. 1939 fiji-ak.jpg (16679 bytes)Fiji to Auckland  


1940  Auckland - Sydney TEA Aotearoa, ZK-AMA. 30th April.

Short S30 Empire Flying Boat. This flight commenced a regular Australian air service for New Zealand as part of the Empire Air Service. Some survey flights were flown earlier. The aircraft had marginal ability to service the route. If headwinds of over 15 knots were forecast the service was cancelled. 

This was the first regular NZ- Australia airmail.

Short C class flying boat page  Another

These flying boats had a New Zealand stamp of their own in 1974, reproducing the photo above. 
Wartime covers are not as common as might be expected. The reason is that to keep weight down much airmail to and from service people overseas was by microfilmed airgraphs, printed for postal delivery at the receiving end.

ZK- AMA has its own stamp (1990 issued on the 50th anniversary of Air New Zealand, with a B747).

She was named Aotearoa - the Maori name for New Zealand. Confusingly she was first registered as - AMC and signed Awarua, but the first S30, intended to be - AMA, was retained in Britain so Awarua was renamed, first Ao-tea-roa, and then re-registered.

The Empire Air Service initially operated through Singapore and across the Mediterranean. War disrupted these routes but the service continued with a Perth to Ceylon link and the "horseshoe" route south from Egypt and across Africa. 

The larger Short G Class S26 intended for trans-Atlantic use with a range of 3200 m would have been a much better choice for the Tasman route but they were a year later off the stocks, and in the event the three built were impressed to war service by Britain.

S25 Sandringham IVs, derived from Short's military Sunderland seaplanes, took over the trans-Tasman route in 1946. 

Short No Type Name First Flown Military Equivalent   NZ Use Range (miles)
S23 C Class Empire * 1936 -   1937 proving flight Imperial Airways 760
S26 G Class 1939 -  


S30 Empire   -   TEA (1940) 1300
S33 Empire* 1940 -  

S25 Sandringham 1946 Sunderland Series 4 TEA  (1946) 2410
S45 Solent 1949 Seaford (not put in service) Series 2 - 2040
Series 3 Teal  (1951) #  
Series 4 Teal  (1949) 3000


* Used by Qantas but not to New Zealand

# Second hand. Proved inadequate for Pacific routes and was laid up for most of its career.


1940toaus.jpg (10004 bytes)New Zealand to Australia.


1940touk.jpg (26303 bytes) New Zealand to the UK.


1940austonz.jpg (95505 bytes)Australia to New Zealand.


1940aus-nzret.jpg (58330 bytes)Australia to NZ and return.


1940aus_nz.jpg (23023 bytes)Australia to New Zealand.


1940 empire.jpg (82712 bytes)Commemorative card - but not carried by airmail


1940q.jpg (22150 bytes)1940 from Aus.

177321.jpg (57327 bytes)
138345301_full.jpg (58348 bytes)


1940 Pan American, American Clipper, NC18606,  Boeing 314. July 7th.

The Boeing 314 was the jumbo of its age.

Boeing 314 website   Another

The inaugural aircraft on the route was the American Clipper, NC18606. The route flown was San Francisco - Los Angeles - Hawaii - Canton Island - Noumea - Auckland and return.  The British had earlier denied PA the use of Canton Island, forcing the earlier flights to use Kingman Reef lagoon. By 1940 they had relented.


This was the first regular NZ- US airmail.


The 314 was much more suited to the role than the S42's.


Flying Boat Range
Sikorsky S42 1200 m
but 2540 m on minimal payload#
Sikorsky S42B >3000 m*
Martin M130 Loaded 3000 m
Minimal payload 4000 m
Boeing 314 3000 m

# A modified S42 stripped of fittings and with extra tanks made proving flights. It had a range of 3000 m.

* Normal range 1200 m. Extra tankage in the main cabin and the bilge extended the range to over 3000 miles, but at the expense of payload. Clipper III with constant-speed props is quoted as having 3500 mile range.


314 Clipper on USA 1997 Scott #3142

1940.jpg (72310 bytes)Honolulu to Auckland.


1940_2.jpg (62531 bytes)San Francisco to Auckland.


1940tous.jpg (20115 bytes)New Zealand to the USA.


1940tous2.jpg (32614 bytes)Another.


1940and.jpg (69582 bytes)A curiosity - USA - Auckland - USA but using Scott C7 of 1926-7 and the Scott C20 1935 Trans-Pacific issue. Must have been a philatelist with some old stock.


1940 la to auckland.jpg (27495 bytes) LA to Auckland


1940_nc_to_nz.jpg (24073 bytes) New Caledonia to New Zealand and return to New York


1940 noumea.jpg (16687 bytes)New Caledonia to New Zealand


1940 ak noum photo.jpg (23732 bytes)Auckland to Noumea - Clipper photo cover


1940 to canton.jpg (24133 bytes)To Canton Island



Continue on the next page - after 1940


Buying Covers And Stamps

The author of this page does not deal in these items.

ACS has an online catalogue covering the New Zealand stamps, as does Len Jury.


Reciprocal Links

Joseph Luft's Philatelic Resources on the Web



For more on the routes and stamps follow these links





 Page author:  G Law

  June 08, 2017