The Coral Route
New Zealand's first package holiday in the Pacific was a glamorous island hop known as the Coral Route. In 1951, Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL) launched a flying boat service from Auckland to Papeete in Tahiti.
Flying to new destinations
In its early years, TEAL (the predecessor to Air New Zealand) flew just one passenger route: Auckland to Sydney return. The purchase of new powerful Solent flying boats allowed the airline to branch out into the Pacific and expand its international routes.
New Zealand and American soldiers had returned home from the Second World War with stories and souvenirs from their time in the South Pacific. Many were experienced at flying - and landing - in this remote area of the world. By the late-1940s, air travel was opening up new destinations for well-heeled tourists and seasoned pilots were soon flying for civilian airlines such as TEAL.
A glamorous island hop
In 1951, TEAL launched a romantic tourist package known as the Coral Route; a return journey from Auckland to Papeete in Tahiti, with stopovers in Suva in Fiji and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. Apia, in Sāmoa, was introduced as a stopover in 1952.
The name 'Coral Route' came from a TEAL staff competition. Head steward Eric Mullane's winning entry was inspired by the beauty of coral islands and of the song-filled (choral) welcome that was given to visitors to the islands.
The inaugural flight, from Auckland to Papeete via Suva and Aitutaki, left on 27 December 1951. It started as a monthly service but proved so popular, the airline began to fly once a fortnight.
The journey on the flying boats to each idyllic island was relaxing, despite a travel time of more than 30 hours. The stop at Aitutaki Lagoon was for refuelling, but passengers could disembark for a swim or to stretch out under the palm trees on shore. At Papeete, every boatload of disembarking passengers was greeted with the dance 'Soirée de TEAL'.
The Coral Route created a unique flying experience for tourists, the kind of imaginative venture that was to become the airline's hallmark. This was the start of the airline's close relationship with the Pacific, building goodwill by providing regular links to the islands.
Soaking up the culture
Adornments from Coral Route island stopovers
The Coral Route, shown in the silent video below, was a service for tourists who were keen to soak up the culture of the remote Pacific Islands they visited.
Many of these tourists were encountering the arts of the Pacific Islands for the first time. Adornments - such as these items from the Auckland Museum collection - were made from natural materials, including whale teeth, shells, pandanus fruits and coconut fibres.
A Royal service
Queen Elizabeth II flew with TEAL in Fiji in 1953. The flying boat Aotearoa II whisked the young Queen and Prince Philip from Suva to Lautoka and back on a sightseeing trip. It was the first time the British royal family had chartered a flight on a commercial airliner.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Queen looked 'much refreshed' after the flight – and that her husband had pleased his Fijian hosts by digging in to the plentiful lunch.
After visiting Fiji and Tonga the couple continued their first royal tour of the Commonwealth, travelling to New Zealand, where they flew with the national airline NAC.
TEAL's Coral Route service ended on 15 September 1960. It was virtually the last international flying boat route in the world.
Air New Zealand 75 Years exhibition
Learn more about the Coral Route and Kiwi holiday history at the current exhibition, Air New Zealand 75 Years - Our nation. The world. Connected.
Visit the exhibition
Cite this article
Keith, Michael, and Grant, Liz.
The Coral Route. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 3 November 2015. Updated: 11 March 2016.