MAY 23 2018
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Bangers to Bluff

Posted by: Phil Ashton in opinion

Picture the scene. Twelve old cars purchased for less than $2,000 each, to be driven the length of New Zealand over twelve days using little-known highways and byways, stopping overnight at motels, attending formal welcomes and promoting Rotary and the year’s chosen causes. This year, Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Twenty-six punters packed into twelve bangers starting an adventure that had been completed for the previous two years, over slightly different routes. The more unreliable the vehicle the more points you scored, and then there were bonus points to be earned by spotting particular signs or attractions that had to be photographed with your car in the photo. All very competitive. Driving a Lada earned the most points for type of car though there were none on this trip. My co-driver, Bill, and I drove a 1996 Fiat Punto 1200cc bought earlier by Bill for $1,200 thinking his grandson would use it – though it failed on the measure of ‘coolness’.

We set off on 10 April (or so we thought) just avoiding an electrical storm that erupted across Auckland later that morning. By midday, and now at Raglan, Bill received a phone call to say his house was on fire, relayed by a very concerned wife who summed up the seriousness of the situation when she declared that two fire engines were resident in their driveway. So, we tootled back North again, Bill sorted out what proved to be a contained fire from a lightning strike, and we left again the next morning having suggested the others tootle on.

We missed a stopover in Taumarunui and headed directly to Stop 2 in New Plymouth. A decent day for driving down through the Ngaruawahia-Otorohanga bypass but it turned nasty through the Forgotten Highway running from Taumarunui to Stratford which travellers will recall is not yet fully sealed. So, we slid and bounced our way through to Whangamomona trying to avoid the impossible – skirting endless potholes. The Punto earned its stripes through this section, its only complaint being through a rear torsion bar that was trying to keep the rear-end straight. The intensity of the drive was then alleviated by two glasses of shiraz whilst chatting to two tourists visiting from offshore who were trying also to keep their circulation going in close proximity of the open log fire. Needless to say, the rest of the journey to Stratford flew by. For those few of you with an interest in Whangamomona, it sports a historic pub and has history going back to the late 1800s when coal was found in commercial quantities.

The New Plymouth Top 10 Holiday Park was on the water’s edge overlooking Bellblock, the land-based storage of gas and condensate harvested from out to sea. The following morning, we enjoyed the sun sweeping into our unit, but it was chilly. A certain five degrees cooler than Auckland. We drove down the West Coast from Taranaki via Manaia and then onto Lower Hutt. It was a lovely day’s driving (a task we shared) through what seemed to be arable and bountiful farmland, again dry and sunny. The Hutt Top 10 is located on what was the old Hutt Park trotting track – a sport that I funded as young man by losing money almost every night meeting until I splashed out a rash bet on a three-legger called ‘Spare Parts’, which happened to come in and paid a fortune. I think that was the one and only time I went home with money in my pocket!

When we arrived at the Hutt Top 10 there was one major drawback – there was a canal between us and the entrance gate. We tried every which way to get around it or across it and other than dismantling the car and sending the parts across on a Lilo, then reassembling; so, we left by the road we came in on and re-entered the Hutt and tried again. Looking intently in every direction we eventually found a Top 10 sign on a round-about that was created for those blessed with 20/20 vision. Magoo didn’t stand a chance. But we finally arrived, as did most campervans in the Lower North Island. It was busy.

Dinners were by this time becoming a regular barbecue, a trailer conversion being towed around for the purpose. So, we each bought our own fare and proceeded to cook it and then claim the tastiest morsels leaving the charred ones for those either far too slow or generous to elbow their way in. But it was good, convivial stuff, communal eating and plenty of humour. By this time, we had worked out the larrikins and the jokesters, and those who were smart enough to get in early, cook their food and escape to the sanctity of their rooms. We started to get to know everyone.

Wellington city was swathed in sunshine the next morning as we all headed to the ferry, though by the time we had driven on board it had clouded over and the crossing was uneventful. On a brilliant day the sail through the Sounds is magnificent – but it was still cold and few ventured outside. Thankfully, it was dry.

We had two nights in Blenheim. Much of the time on the full day was spent at Omaka, the airbase where Peter Jackson keeps most of his WWI aircraft, in fact the biggest collection of airborne WWI planes anywhere in the world. Interestingly we met a retired NAC/Air NZ captain, Alan McGreavy, who chaperoned us through the collection with various stories of interest, not the least for me was that he was Jim Collins’ stand-by in the event the latter was not fit or able for the Erebus flight TE901 that never came home.
We then drove to Christchurch through the revitalised Kaikoura Road – what a monumental recovery that has been – the shifting of earth that collapsed from surrounding hills has been massive and the roadway is still littered with orange cones as Transit New Zealand seeks to bring the whole network back into use. We stopped at Kaikoura for coffee on a very blustery day buying lunch at a market – it was cheese scones and coffee, with the store holder trying to prepare our food whilst swinging on the guy ropes to hold the roof in place. And then we called in at a mate of one of our drivers for lunch, who welcomed all twenty-six of us and fed us with crayfish and whitebait. The trip was getting tougher and tougher!

The following morning, we headed West and through Arthurs Pass to Greymouth, wet going over the pass – is it ever dry? – and then across the Alps into a lovely sunny evening in accommodation overlooking the West Coast. The land of coal, Richard John Seddon and wild food. We stopped at a couple of beaches heading South down to Fox – at Bruce Bay some enterprising family had set up a caravan selling proper espresso and scones and whitebait fritters. That was an essential break from the rigours of driving, and then at the Curly Tree Café another whitebait lure. Fritters for $10 - we rolled through two of these each. Magnificent fare.
On the way through we stopped at Franz Joseph and walked to the receding glacier – avoiding the showers. Tourists abound in these regions. We stayed at Fox the night, another barbecue. Early morning, we walked the half hour to Lake Matheson nearby and witnessed the beautiful mirrored lake, sidestepping the camera enthusiasts who were snapping the dripping lichen, the sunlight streaming through the native bush and of course Matheson itself. Without a tripod I felt inadequate. I simply carried my camera over my shoulder and relied on a steady hand and shutter finger. The weather was by now sublime – warm, sunny and windless. We tripped down to Wanaka stopping off at the Blue Pools then foolishly getting in the car and driving the wrong direction for 10 minutes (me at the helm I hasten to say). Much of the water in the deep rivers and streams is glacial of a gorgeous blue/grey hue. This country of ours is spectacular. DOC perform a fantastic job looking after the tracks which are maintained in pristine condition.
We had a rest day in Wanaka and spent the day in Cromwell with the drive around Lake Dunstan – again in magnificent setting. The following day we drove to Dunedin where we were welcomed by the MS team for a further acknowledgement of our efforts. We then headed to Bluff and finally Invercargill where the vehicles were auctioned. The route from Dunedin took in the Catlins – an area which was new to me. It was everything it was cracked up to be. The piece de resistance was the oysters in Bluff – those large juicy morsels that are swallowed whole. Heaven.


Picture the scene. Twelve old cars purchased for less than $2,000 each, to be driven the length of New Zealand over twelve days using little-known highways and byways, stopping overnight at motels, attending formal welcomes and promoting Rotary and the year’s chosen causes. This year, Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Twenty-six punters packed into twelve bangers starting an adventure that had been completed for the previous two years, over slightly different routes. The more unreliable the vehicle the more points you scored, and then there were bonus points to be earned by spotting particular signs or attractions that had to be photographed with your car in the photo. All very competitive. Driving a Lada earned the most points for type of car though there were none on this trip. My co-driver, Bill, and I drove a 1996 Fiat Punto 1200cc bought earlier by Bill for $1,200 thinking his grandson would use it – though it failed on the measure of ‘coolness’.

We set off on 10 April (or so we thought) just avoiding an electrical storm that erupted across Auckland later that morning. By midday, and now at Raglan, Bill received a phone call to say his house was on fire, relayed by a very concerned wife who summed up the seriousness of the situation when she declared that two fire engines were resident in their driveway. So, we tootled back North again, Bill sorted out what proved to be a contained fire from a lightning strike, and we left again the next morning having suggested the others tootle on.

We missed a stopover in Taumarunui and headed directly to Stop 2 in New Plymouth. A decent day for driving down through the Ngaruawahia-Otorohanga bypass but it turned nasty through the Forgotten Highway running from Taumarunui to Stratford which travellers will recall is not yet fully sealed. So, we slid and bounced our way through to Whangamomona trying to avoid the impossible – skirting endless potholes. The Punto earned its stripes through this section, its only complaint being through a rear torsion bar that was trying to keep the rear-end straight. The intensity of the drive was then alleviated by two glasses of shiraz whilst chatting to two tourists visiting from offshore who were trying also to keep their circulation going in close proximity of the open log fire. Needless to say, the rest of the journey to Stratford flew by. For those few of you with an interest in Whangamomona, it sports a historic pub and has history going back to the late 1800s when coal was found in commercial quantities.

The New Plymouth Top 10 Holiday Park was on the water’s edge overlooking Bellblock, the land-based storage of gas and condensate harvested from out to sea. The following morning, we enjoyed the sun sweeping into our unit, but it was chilly. A certain five degrees cooler than Auckland. We drove down the West Coast from Taranaki via Manaia and then onto Lower Hutt. It was a lovely day’s driving (a task we shared) through what seemed to be arable and bountiful farmland, again dry and sunny. The Hutt Top 10 is located on what was the old Hutt Park trotting track – a sport that I funded as young man by losing money almost every night meeting until I splashed out a rash bet on a three-legger called ‘Spare Parts’, which happened to come in and paid a fortune. I think that was the one and only time I went home with money in my pocket!

When we arrived at the Hutt Top 10 there was one major drawback – there was a canal between us and the entrance gate. We tried every which way to get around it or across it and other than dismantling the car and sending the parts across on a Lilo, then reassembling; so, we left by the road we came in on and re-entered the Hutt and tried again. Looking intently in every direction we eventually found a Top 10 sign on a round-about that was created for those blessed with 20/20 vision. Magoo didn’t stand a chance. But we finally arrived, as did most campervans in the Lower North Island. It was busy.

Dinners were by this time becoming a regular barbecue, a trailer conversion being towed around for the purpose. So, we each bought our own fare and proceeded to cook it and then claim the tastiest morsels leaving the charred ones for those either far too slow or generous to elbow their way in. But it was good, convivial stuff, communal eating and plenty of humour. By this time, we had worked out the larrikins and the jokesters, and those who were smart enough to get in early, cook their food and escape to the sanctity of their rooms. We started to get to know everyone.

Wellington city was swathed in sunshine the next morning as we all headed to the ferry, though by the time we had driven on board it had clouded over and the crossing was uneventful. On a brilliant day the sail through the Sounds is magnificent – but it was still cold and few ventured outside. Thankfully, it was dry.

We had two nights in Blenheim. Much of the time on the full day was spent at Omaka, the airbase where Peter Jackson keeps most of his WWI aircraft, in fact the biggest collection of airborne WWI planes anywhere in the world. Interestingly we met a retired NAC/Air NZ captain, Alan McGreavy, who chaperoned us through the collection with various stories of interest, not the least for me was that he was Jim Collins’ stand-by in the event the latter was not fit or able for the Erebus flight TE901 that never came home.
We then drove to Christchurch through the revitalised Kaikoura Road – what a monumental recovery that has been – the shifting of earth that collapsed from surrounding hills has been massive and the roadway is still littered with orange cones as Transit New Zealand seeks to bring the whole network back into use. We stopped at Kaikoura for coffee on a very blustery day buying lunch at a market – it was cheese scones and coffee, with the store holder trying to prepare our food whilst swinging on the guy ropes to hold the roof in place. And then we called in at a mate of one of our drivers for lunch, who welcomed all twenty-six of us and fed us with crayfish and whitebait. The trip was getting tougher and tougher!

The following morning, we headed West and through Arthurs Pass to Greymouth, wet going over the pass – is it ever dry? – and then across the Alps into a lovely sunny evening in accommodation overlooking the West Coast. The land of coal, Richard John Seddon and wild food. We stopped at a couple of beaches heading South down to Fox – at Bruce Bay some enterprising family had set up a caravan selling proper espresso and scones and whitebait fritters. That was an essential break from the rigours of driving, and then at the Curly Tree Café another whitebait lure. Fritters for $10 - we rolled through two of these each. Magnificent fare.
On the way through we stopped at Franz Joseph and walked to the receding glacier – avoiding the showers. Tourists abound in these regions. We stayed at Fox the night, another barbecue. Early morning, we walked the half hour to Lake Matheson nearby and witnessed the beautiful mirrored lake, sidestepping the camera enthusiasts who were snapping the dripping lichen, the sunlight streaming through the native bush and of course Matheson itself. Without a tripod I felt inadequate. I simply carried my camera over my shoulder and relied on a steady hand and shutter finger. The weather was by now sublime – warm, sunny and windless. We tripped down to Wanaka stopping off at the Blue Pools then foolishly getting in the car and driving the wrong direction for 10 minutes (me at the helm I hasten to say). Much of the water in the deep rivers and streams is glacial of a gorgeous blue/grey hue. This country of ours is spectacular. DOC perform a fantastic job looking after the tracks which are maintained in pristine condition.
We had a rest day in Wanaka and spent the day in Cromwell with the drive around Lake Dunstan – again in magnificent setting. The following day we drove to Dunedin where we were welcomed by the MS team for a further acknowledgement of our efforts. We then headed to Bluff and finally Invercargill where the vehicles were auctioned. The route from Dunedin took in the Catlins – an area which was new to me. It was everything it was cracked up to be. The piece de resistance was the oysters in Bluff – those large juicy morsels that are swallowed whole. Heaven.


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