Airline travel as a romantic mode of transport isn’t something that springs readily to mind these days. Long security queues, passenger ‘seat back rage’, shrinking leg room for economy class legs followed by an endless wait at luggage carousels have taken the gloss right off that notion. But imagine packing these items in your on-board bag before embarking on the Coral Route, labelled the world’s most romantic airline route by those who flew it.
Daytime wear: light, informal clothes, a plastic raincoat, swimsuit, umbrella and sunglasses. For evening, ladies are advised to pack full length dinner dresses, ballerina length cocktail frocks with hats and a fur, gentlemen to bring a tuxedo. Aah, the glamour days of flight when only the wealthy, famous and privileged could afford it, will we ever see its like again? Probably not but let’s reminisce a little.
Travel nostalgia is a marketable commodity these days. Staying in unique historic hotels rather than cookie-cutter global brands and the revival of luxury cruising, stopping off to explore countries along the way. Reminiscent of the great European tours, time – the ultimate 21st century luxury – is a prerequisite that has turned cruising into a favourite holiday experience for Baby Boomers.
“The greatest flight in history” is how one flying boat skipper described the Coral Route from Auckland to Tahiti, a fantastic 7,500km journey into the heart of the South Pacific. Imagine chisel-jawed pilots in Ray Bans, a line-up of immaculately groomed air hostesses, passengers sitting at tables playing cards and elegantly dressed ladies standing by a decidedly 1950s cocktail bar. It was like a film set, appropriate given that John Wayne and the oh-so-smooth Cary Grant were frequent flyers. Forget plastic cutlery and factory food, fifty years ago in-flight fine dining was silver service all the way dished-up by the glamour queens of the sky and there was only one class – First!
Launched in December 1951 by Tasman Empire Air Lines, the forerunner to today’s Air New Zealand, the Coral Route captured the romance of air travel during flight’s pioneering days. For nine years, twin-decked luxury Solent flying boats flew from Auckland calling in on remote Pacific destinations like Fiji, Samoa, Aitutaki in the Cook Islands and Tahiti. One can only imagine the local Cook Islanders’ amazement as this mechanical bird, the ‘flying canoe’, landed early in the morning and 45 passengers disembarked in bathing costumes to swim in Aitutaki’s pristine turquoise lagoon, rumoured to be the South Pacific’s finest and surely the most magical transit point ever. How enchanting it would have been to wander the coral sands for a couple of hours as the plane is refuelled and take a fresh water shower before re-boarding the flying boat. Sadly, it’s a world away from 21st century air travel.
Jet lag was still in the future. As night fell, the Solent would set down on an aquamarine runway where passengers would disembark and be ferried by a line of Daimlers to their overnight colonial hotel where after a pink gin and dinner, they would dance the night away. Very civilised.
Cruising between 395 metres and 2,400 metres in un-pressurised cabins over a boundless indigo Pacific, the views of some hundreds of islands like Niuafo’ou, Samoa and Palmerston, an imperfect donut in the midst of an empty ocean, would have been spectacular.
The glamour days of flight ended in September 1960 but Air New Zealand is still transporting visitors to the exotic islands scattered along the Coral Route and flying in to Aitutaki from Cook Islands’ capital Rarotonga, little has changed. On approach, this small, hook-shaped island nestles in a lagoon of unimaginable beauty. Washed in aqua tints of green and blue, ringed by a coral atoll, now people disembark in sarongs and shorts eager to exchange structured urban lives for the enduring romance of the South Pacific.
The days of the ‘flying canoe’ may be gone but Aitutaki’s opalescent lagoon and secret, uninhabited islets along with sunsets of epic proportions remain as nostalgic reminders of a place where life never rises above a slow simmer.
Tell us what travel experiences you’re feeling nostalgic for……..
Tags: Air New Zealand, Air Rarotonga, Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, Cook Islands, Cook Islands Tourism, Coral Route, Flying in the 1950s, Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Rarotonga, South Pacific Tourism, TEAL flying boats, Tourism Cook Islands, www.2onthewing.com