Trans-Tasman Airmails

Two figures dominate early direct flights to and from New Zealand: Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm.

They made the first trans-Pacific flight from the USA to Australia in May/June 1928 in the Southern Cross, a Fokker monoplane and followed that with the first trans-Tasman flight to New Zealand in September.

Smith Ulm
Kingsford Smith and Ulm

The first stamps to honour Kingsford Smith were issued by Australia as early as 1931. Australia issued stamps in 1978 depicting both Kingsford Smith and Ulm to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the trans-Pacific flight.

Early trans-Tasman flights

Australia 1958 commem 1958 commem

Flying the Southern Cross, Kingsford Smith and Ulm made the first trans-Tasman flight from Sydney to Christchurch on 10 September 1928 and the return flight from Blenheim to Sydney on 13 October.

This was commemorated by a special stamp issue by both Australia and New Zealand in 1958 showing Kingsford Smith and the Southern Cross.

Ulm card

In 1933, Kingsford Smith and Ulm both made unofficial airmail flights between Australia and New Zealand as they tried to persuade the authorities to agree to an official airmail.

Trans Tasman

The first official airmail flight from New Zealand to Australia was made by Ulm on 17 February 1934.

There were three more experimental trans-Tasman airmail flights from New Zealand in 1934, two by Ulm and one by Kingsford Smith. The third of these flights continued on to Papua - New Guinea.

Kingsford Smith Second Papua

Aust-NZ Goodwill

In addition, in April 1934 there was an official airmail from Australia to New Zealand and an unofficial Goodwill Flight in May, both by Ulm.

Air race

In October 1934, after taking part in the MacRobertson Air Race from London to Melbourne, Hewitt and Kay continued their flight to New Zealand. They carried the first (unofficial) air mail that had been flown all the way from the UK to New Zealand.


In May 1935, Kingsford Smith planned a flight from Australia to New Zealand and return to commemorate the Jubilee of George V. The return flight would then connect with the regular Australia - UK airmail. However, the flight from Australia had to be abandoned half way across the Tasman Sea.

Air race

In March 1938, Clouston and Ricketts flew from the UK to New Zealand and return in a record time. They left London on 15 March, arrived in Blenheim on 21 March and were back in London by 26 March. Their plane was the DH 88 Comet that had won the MacRobertson Air Race in 1934.

Scheduled services


Although the United Kingdom was keen to set up an Empire airmail scheme linking the countries of the Empire, New Zealand was the last link and it was April 1940 before a regular trans-Tasman airmail service was set up by Tasman Empire Airways (TEAL) connecting with established services via Australia. Although the trans-Tasman service continued, the through airmail route to the UK was suspended in June 1940 when Italy entered World War II.


All scans were made by the author. Information on this page is taken from:
Airmails of New Zealand, volume 2 (1986) compiled by Douglas A Walker, and the New Zealand Airmail Catalogue, (2nd Edition, 1994) by James Stapleton. Both are published by the Air Mail Society of New Zealand