The first immigrants to fly all the way from Europe to New Zealand arrived in the early 1950s; the last to make this journey by ship came in the late 1970s. In 1966 Auckland’s international airport at Mangere opened and the newly formed Air New Zealand acquired three DC8 jet aircraft for a trans-Pacific service.
Among the first to travel from Europe by plane were a group of Dutch people, most of whom were women joining their husbands or fiancés. They travelled on the Royal Dutch Airlines entry in the 1953 London to Christchurch air race. The Flying Dutchman took 50 hours, with several refuelling stops en route.
The 1960s onwards
In the early 1960s the flight time from Europe was still measured in days, not hours. In 1960 a group of 87 European immigrants took eight days to reach Auckland, with stops at Damascus, Karachi, Singapore, Darwin and Brisbane. A three-day flight in 1961 saw the journey broken at Istanbul, Bombay, Singapore and Darwin.
After the 1960s most migrants flew to New Zealand. Those who came as refugees often had more difficult journeys. The ‘boat people’ fleeing Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s set out by sea, but usually reached New Zealand by air. And although Pacific Islanders were sometimes referred to colloquially as ‘fresh off the boat’, nearly all arrived by air.
A changed experience
Faster and cheaper air travel by jet dramatically changed the experience of making the longest migration journey in history. Return visits were not unheard of in the era of steam and sail, but air travel made the break with the past seem less permanent. It also made it possible for people to holiday in New Zealand before making the decision to emigrate.
All the same, moving to the other side of the world was still a huge step, accompanied by feelings of adventure and uncertainty. A Swiss immigrant in 1995 remembered thinking, ‘there goes Europe. It wasn’t fear. More a sort of uncomfortable feeling. Somehow we were heading for the unknown.’ 1
A German couple who migrated in 1995 after three previous visits, thought their journey of more than 30 hours by taxi, train and plane an ordeal. An immigrant who had spent more than 100 days cooped up on a sailing ship, with water rationed and indifferent food, enduring seasickness, insufferable heat in the tropics and storms on the cold Southern Ocean, would no doubt have gladly traded places.