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Scenic Flying - How It Used to Be in the 1940's

Updated on May 24, 2011

The plane on this scenic flight cruised slowly over the sprawling city of Auckland, its magnificent sparkling harbor in all its beauty laid out below us. In the distance multiple white sandy beaches glistened in the late afternoon sun. On the opposing compass point the bush clad Waitakere ranges; its numerous walking tracks hidden by our altitude.

We were not cruising at a high altitude as this immaculately restored old Dakota (DC3) cruises at just 1000 feet - an altitude planes used to favor before they went “high tech”. The city and harbor seemed so close you almost felt as though you could reach through the window and touch the landmarks below us. We cruised over the sparse ancient volcanic cone strewn with scoria spewed out centuries ago.

A glimpse into the cockpit (a rare treat in this age of terror attacks) showed us a simple instrument panel reminiscent of aircraft in the 1940’s. This is flying as it used to be. The experienced cock-pit crew is clearly enjoying the hands-on controls.

Auckland City and Harbour from the top of Rangitoto Island
Auckland City and Harbour from the top of Rangitoto Island
DC3 on the ground. Thanks and Copyright to Craig Dealey.
DC3 on the ground. Thanks and Copyright to Craig Dealey.
DC3 over Auckland.  Thanks and copyright to Craig Dealey.
DC3 over Auckland. Thanks and copyright to Craig Dealey.

We are passengers in an old Dakota (DC3) aeroplane which has been given a new life and after a colorful history is now gracefully cruising the skies offering scenic flights. The occasion is our company Christmas party and we chartered this aircraft for the scenic flight.

She is authentic; a Dakota registered ZK-DAK in the 1940’s. She has had multiple lives, each time being reinvented for the purpose. She was once an army aircraft in the Pacific Islands used by the US Army Air Force and General McArthur once flew in her.

She has also done time in the commercial sector; first in the Philippines and then in New Guinea and Australia. But, her latest reincarnation began in 1987 when a group of New Zealand enthusiasts purchased her and bought her to Auckland.

The owners of ZK-DAK are a group of fifty passionate people. They are keen to see this classic aircraft remain in service offering scenic flights to pay her way. She has had to pass and maintain rigorous commercial Air Transport Standards.

She was restored by the enthusiasts and then began this new life of service to locals, tourists, and corporate jaunts and for anyone interested in experiencing flying like it used to be. Her cabin crew is current or ex-airline staff who wants to carry on the tradition of life in the air from a bygone era.

It’s a nostalgic experience and a chance to see a different side of Auckland. Walking into the cabin I am amazed to observe, that with her nose in the air, it is a steep climb to our allocated seats. No airbridges here! 1940’s music playing creates an ambience of a previous era.

Her cabin feels spacious. Sitting in one of the plush roomy seats, I am delighted to see how much room there is to stretch out my long legs. Sigh. I wish today’s commercial flights offered this level of comfort and space.

During the time the ZK-DAK flew commercially, it was such a new form of transportation that people dressed up for the experience. Many ladies wore suits and hats for the occasion. It was a rare treat. Many New Zealander’s were introduced to flying via the DC3. The national airline (NAC) used Dakota aircraft for many of its routes, partly, because of its reliability.

Although we chartered the restored aircraft for our scenic flight, the old aircraft is available for individual passengers to book a seat. Every Sunday, weather permitting she will take 30 passengers on an experience of a lifetime; a flight over the city of Auckland, just like it was 50 or 60 years ago. Certainly the aircraft will give people a taste of what it was like to fly then, but in the intervening years the city has mushroomed, a harbor bridge and sky tower added to the skyline.

During the flight, not only do we look down on the raw beauty of the old Rangitoto volcano, we peer down onto the many beaches snaking up Auckland’s North Shore suburbs. I tick some of them off -Takapuna, Milford, Castor Bay, Mairangi Bay and more up the coast. We are flying so low that we excitedly locate our individual homes.

It is a thrill to share the enthusiasm of the owners and operators of ZK-ZAK who all volunteer their time to restore, maintain and offer scenic flights. All too soon it is time to land and you see that experience via the video below. You can’t help but get caught up in their enthusiasm as they speak, lyrically of how flying used to be. I am a convert.

For more information see

Credits: Photos of DC3 and video of ZK-DAK landing thanks and copyright to Craig Dealey.

**This article and photos (except where noted) are copyright Travelespresso.  Respect my work and if you wish to use it, please ask me.**


This is Cool - the DC3 landing in Auckland


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