Guy Menzies Landing Site

La Fontaine Road, Harihari

  • Guy Menzies Landing Site.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Max Avery.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7637 Date Entered 9th December 2005

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

The registration covers a ten metre square around the indicative marker pole.

City/District Council

Westland District

Region

West Coast Region

Legal description

RS 6584 (CT WS5C/584), Westland Land District

Location description

The position is in open farmland, marked by a pole with wind sock. It is visible and signposted from La Fontaine Road about 8km from Harihari. There is farm road access to within 600m of the site.

Summaryopen/close

Pasture created by humping and hollowing the swampland that existed at the time of the historic landing. There is now no resemblance to the flax covered swampland where Menzies landed.

A marker pole with a two dimensional stainless steel "windsock" which acts as a wind vane identifies the landing site. It was erected in May 2005 for the 75th anniversary commemoration scheduled for 7th January, 2006.

Some trees remain around the area's perimeter and willows now line the neighbouring La Fontaine and Berry Streams.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The place has outstanding historical value for the event that took place there, rather than any physical feature. The solo flight across the Tasman on January 7th 1931 in a single engined Avro Sports Avian biplane was of major significance in aviation history. It was the first solo flight across the Tasman, the first in a single engined aircraft and the fastest to date. It is remembered particularly at this spot where Menzies landed. The more famous crossing by Charles Kingsford Smith, 10-11 September, 1928 was in a three engine Fokker with a co-pilot and two crew. Because of this flight Menzies himself is an important figure in New Zealand's own history of aviation.

It is associated with considerable technological advances in South Westland communications. This and other flights in the early 1930s proved the viability of aviation in a region that was still largely unroaded. In 1934 New Zealand's first licensed, scheduled air service was established between Hokitika and South Westland.

The site is on the NZ Archaeological Association West Coast file as a recorded archaeological site (No. I34/41).

A quite overwhelming welcome that was accorded Menzies from Harihari to Hokitika and back after his landing is still reflected in local people's pride in their connection with this historic event, one of the most remarkable in the area's history. It would be fair to say that the aviator has greater fame in Harihari than in his own country where Kingsford-Smith is a national hero and Menzies is comparatively unknown.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The completion of the flight by Menzies was part of an important sequence of events in New Zealand aviation, spanning more than a century. The flight is recorded in New Zealand Famous Firsts and Related Records, identifying it as a notable event in the country's aviation history because it was the first solo flight across the Tasman. It was also the first in a single engine plane and the fastest to date.

Menzies' achievement was of significance through New Zealand and was also recognized in Australia. Thus the site's international significance can be claimed.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The event of his flight makes Menzies an important person in New Zealand history, although his time in the country was brief. He set three records: first solo trans-Tasman flight, the first in a single-engined aircraft and (at 11 hours, 45 minutes from take-off to landing) the fastest of three aerial crossings made to that date. It was also faster than 14 subsequent flights before NZ aviatrix Jean Batten beat the record by more than an hour in October 1936.

He was clearly an accomplished and talented pilot with the spirit of adventure which led him to undertake this flight after meticulous research and planning.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:

There is high public esteem for the flight on the West Coast in general and at Harihari in particular. The image of the crashed plane has become the town's main emblem. At the time the event was an outstanding one and it has remained so in the community's memory. A mural on a wall of the Guy Menzies Memorial Park is a prominent image on the main road through the town, while the local promotional brochure, titled "Come crash at Harihari", also features the plane.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

Proposed interpretation panels on La Fontaine Road near the landing site has the potential for public education along with the information at Harihari and the replica plane which will shortly be erected there.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

The site is symbolic of the important event in aviation history which occurred here and has high commemorative value as a permanent reminder of the occasion in January, 1931, as explained on the interpretation panel.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

It is important that the landing place for such an achievement be identified for posterity. But for recent interest, knowledge of the precise position could have been lost.

There are few such sites associated with the "firsts" in aviation history that have been recorded. Others include the site of Richard Pearse's powered take-offs in 1903-4 at Waitohi in South Canterbury and the landing place for the Southern Cross following the first trans-Tasman flight in 1928. On the West Coast the old south-side Hokitika aerodrome, the base for the country's first licensed, scheduled air service, is also commemorated by a plaque. None of these sites are registered (though the Kingford Smith landing site will be included in a proposed historic area at Wigram) and nothing similar has been found on the Register database.

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Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

La Fontaine Swamp was the landing place for the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea, made by an Australian pilot, Guy Lambton Menzies, in a single engine plane on 7th January 1931. This was a unique and very significant event in New Zealand's aviation history.

Menzies (1909-1940) was a remarkable young man who indulged his love of speed by riding a motor cycle until a speedway accident diverted him to flying in 1928. He had obtained a passenger carrying licence by the beginning of 1929, was engaged for a period as a flying instructor and had logged 800 hours of flying before his Tasman flight. Apart from being a very capable and careful pilot, he "also set out to seek an occasional thrill in the air. It is recorded, for instance, that on more than one occasion he flew an aircraft under the decking of the Kempsey traffic bridge". In 1930 he became involved with two men interested in achieving a flight from Australia to Japan for which Menzies would be the pilot. For this purpose an Avro Sports Avian biplane, Southern Cross Junior was purchased in December, 1930. Southern Cross Junior (British registered No. G-ABCF) was already a historic aircraft, having been used by Australian aviator Charles Kingsford-Smith to reduce the England-Australia record to slightly less than 10 days in late 1930. Kingsford-Smith had piloted the Southern Cross on the first trans-Tasman crossing in 1928.

Menzies, aged 21, took off from Mascot Aerodrome, Sydney, at 1am (local time) in the Southern Cross Junior ostensibly to attempt a record breaking flight to Perth as a test of the aircraft's capabilities. He had kept secret his plans to fly to New Zealand, because he feared the Department of Civil Aviation might forbid his flight and if he failed he wanted responsibility to be his alone. He left letters explaining his plans to be read after his departure. Those watching his take off from Mascot airfield were mildly surprised that no circuit was made and instead of flying west he turned eastward over the Tasman Sea, sighting land near Okarito almost 11 hours later.

Because head winds and bad conditions had caused delays and the Southern Alps were shrouded in cloud Menzies abandoned his intention of making Blenheim his destination, deciding instead to seek a landing place on the west coast as soon as possible. "I was afraid of those mountains," he said later. "In addition to heavy clouds , a fog was gathering. It was time to get down." In the overcast, drizzly conditions he mistook a flax-covered swamp near Harihari for farm paddocks. A perfect touchdown almost turned to disaster as the plane's wheels dug into the soggy surface, pitching the plane forward to an upside-down position with its tail in the air and its propeller broken. "The ground certainly looked a bit soft from the air," said Menzies afterwards, "but it was certainly softer than I expected. I thought I was all set for a good landing. I did make a good landing, but the wheels bogged as soon as the machine came down and caused it to somersault over on its back." Menzies was able to release his harness and drop head first to the ground, unharmed.

News of the flight was released in Australia when the flight had been underway for several hours and there was great delight when his safe arrival was learned. There was also considerable excitement around Harihari with people alerted by the unique sound of an aircraft in the vicinity. The first arrival, the farm's owner Mr Alfred Hall, finding the pilot walking towards him, took him to the nearest neighbour for afternoon tea. Menzies was anxious to visit the Harihari Post Office to telephone home and send cable messages about his flying achievement. News of the flight spread swiftly. When he finally reached Hokitika about 9 pm he was greeted by the deputy mayor and several hundred enthusiastic people. Back in Harihari the plane itself attracted attention, with many small items collected as souvenirs in the days following. Press representatives managed to reach the isolated spot to photograph the plane before it was removed across the Wanganui River by horse-drawn wagon four days later. It was taken by motor truck to Wigram for repair so that it could be flown to Wellington. From there it was shipped back to Sydney and on Menzies' return he was afforded a civic reception and freedom of the city. Not long after being shipped back from New Zealand to Australia, Southern Cross Junior was destroyed in a crash when the wings collapsed during a loop manoeuvre on 12th April 1931.

The area of the La Fontaine swamp which Menzies chose, at that stage an undeveloped part of Mr Wall's farm, was later drained and converted to pasture. The precise landing site, about eight kilometres north and slightly west of Harihari township, has been identified recently by Mr William Jack Levett who has lived within two kilometres of the site all of his life and was 11 at the time of the landing. He saw the aeroplane in the swamp and knew that part particularly well because he used to go spearing flounders in the adjacent Berrys Creek. Using a bend in the creek

and a stand of kahikatea trees (since replaced by willows) as a reference point, he judges that the spot nominated is within 100 yards (91.44 metres) of where the plane landed. The spot nominated by Mr Levett is marked by a pole and windsock, visible from La Fontaine Road. An interpretation panel is to be erected adjacent to the road and about 530 metres from the landing site.

Guy Menzies later joined the Royal Air Force and was posted missing, believed killed in action, when the Sunderland flying boat he was piloting disappeared between Malta and Sicily in November 1940. In 1951 his mother presented the Southern Cross Junior's propeller hub (with the broken stump of a blade on one side and the other apparently sawn off) to the Dominion Museum, Wellington. It remains in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (accession no. 1951/25). One of the propeller blades is displayed in the West Coast Historical Museum, Hokitika. There was also a blade in the Harihari Hall for some years, and a blade hanging in the Harihari Motor Inn is now described as being from the Menzies plane, but its validity is in question.

The first solo crossing of the Tasman in 1931 has remained a notable event associated with the town of Harihari where the principal reserve area, Guy Menzies Park, displays an information board proudly recounting the occasion's significance. The 75th anniversary celebration planned for 7th January, 2006 includes a re-enactment of the flight from Sydney by Dick Smith in a single engine Cessna, dedication of the landing site, unveiling of a full sized reproduction of Menzies' plane and interpretation panels, a book launch and an anniversary dinner. Max Avery, the initiator of the celebration project, hopes that it will put Harihari more on the map while providing an opportunity for the town to remember this significant part of its heritage.

Physical Description

At the time of the landing the area was swampland covered with low flax bushes and apparently looked like a grassy field from the air in poor visibility. Today it is a humped and hollowed dairy pasture with willows lining the neighbouring streams.

Notable Features

There are no buildings on the site.

Construction Dates

Completion Date

1st October 2004

Report Written By

Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Avery, 2005

Max Avery, Registration Proposal, 2001 and brief history of Guy Lampton Menzies' life and achievements, 2005

Berry, 1987

Vic Berry, Goa Way Back. 1987 (pub. Author)

Chinchester, 1966

Sir Francis Chichester, 'Alone over the Tasman Sea' (Temple Press), 1966

Christchurch Press

2nd May 2005

Davis, 1977

Peter Davis, 'Charles Kingsford-Smith: the World's Greatest Aviator' (Summit Books), 1977

Ewing, 1944

Ross Ewing, The History of New Zealand Aviation, Heinmann, 1944.

White, 1941

Leo White, Wingspread: The Pioneering of Aviation in New Zealand, Unity Press, Auckland, 1941

Jillett, 1953

Leslie Jillett, Wings Across the Tasman, 1925-53. A H and A W Reed, 1953.

Menzies, 1931

Menzies, Guy. Flight logbook

7th January 1931

Rendel, 1975

David Rendel, 'Civil Aviation in New Zealand', (A H & A W Reed), 1975

Searle, 1985

W Searle, 'Memoirs of an Old West Coaster', (pub. author), 1985

Sutherland, 1961

Alan Sutherland, New Zealand Famous Firsts and Related Records, (publisher unknown), Auckland, 1961

Hokitika Guardian

The Hokitika Guardian

'Report of the flight and landing', 8th January 1931.

Waugh, 1994

Richard J Waugh, When the Coast Is Clear, South Westland Air Service Celebration Committee, Christchurch, 1994

West Coast Regional Council

West Coast Regional Council

Shearer, M.J. Engineering officer, (GPS reading of the landing spot as indicated by Mr Levett.)

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.