Coral Route: Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, flying boats & the South Pacific

Gerry Barton & Philip Heath


The Coral Route was the first scheduled air service through the islands of the South Seas. Inaugurated by Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL) in 1951 using four-engined Solent flying boats, it flew into the jet age, becoming the world’s last long-haul flying boat route. Since its final service in 1961 the Coral Route has grown into an aviation legend, the passing decades seeing regular embellishments to old tales. Coral Route is a timely return to the origins of the story.


Using accounts from former crew and employees, island memoirs and photographic archives never before published, forgotten aspects of TEAL’s tropical world are brought once more into the light. For the first time the development of the Coral Route style and TEAL’s emergence as a corporate entity are documented, using the reminiscences of people who knew the great graphic designers of the era.

Only two Solent flying boats remain: one in Auckland, New Zealand, and the other in Oakland, California. Worldwide research — complemented by a major conservation project on Aranui, the Auckland survivor — reveals how their distinctive interiors were designed and assembled.

This book brings the real Coral Route back to the realm of verifiable history. It is a story even more fascinating than the confections of its myth.

About the author

Gerry Barton has been in the heritage profession as a conservator, educator and historian for most of his career. He has worked in New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Switzerland, focusing on Pacific material culture and history. The author of a number of fiction and non-fiction books, Gerry’s most recent publication, co-written with Stefan Dietrich, is This Ingenious and Singular Apparatus: fishing kites of the Indo-Pacific.

Philip Heath has long been interested in New Zealand aviation, and has been involved in the reconstruction of Richard Pearse’s flying machines. He is an industrial designer specialising in products, interiors, exhibitions and graphics, and has a master’s degree in Design Management. He has published articles on early New Zealand military engineering and served on the council of the Auckland Museum Institute.

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