DES­TI­NA­TION AUS­TRALIA Life in the fast lane

Michelle Rowe swaps the fam­ily Magna for a mean ma­chine on a NSW drive day with a dif­fer­ence There’s some­thing about a Fer­rari that sends even nor­mal peo­ple into over­drive

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

HAVEN’T seen my hus­band this ex­cited since the day I lined him up with a case of Coop­ers and switched on the footy grand fi­nal while I went out the back and mowed the lawn. He’s at the wheel of a $400,000 su­per­star sports car, zip­ping along sun-dap­pled roads within the Royal Na­tional Park on the south coast of NSW and, rather like the waiter who fa­mously walked in on foot­baller Ge­orge Best, the Ir­ish­man’s bed awash with cash and a naked Miss World, we’re won­der­ing where it all went so wrong.

The ve­hi­cle in ques­tion is a top-of-the-range Fer­rari 430 Spi­der, and we’re trav­el­ling in a con­voy of five from Mar­rickville in Syd­ney’s in­ner west down to Ger­ringong, hav­ing signed up for a Pranc­ing Horse Fer­rari Rentals drive day, a new ven­ture giv­ing those who’ve al­ways dreamed of get­ting be­hind the wheel of an Ital­ian stal­lion the chance to do so without sell­ing the kids.

And it’s clear from the off that this is not any old road trip. There’s some­thing about a Fer­rari or, more par­tic­u­larly, five of th­ese sleek red ma­chines trav­el­ling nose to bumper, that sends even the most nor­mal of peo­ple into over­drive.

As we exit the busy streets of west­ern Syd­ney, fel­low road users point cam­era phones at us through car win­dows and dis­tracted pedes­tri­ans walk into street signs. Two kids hav­ing a punch-up on the side of the street stop and point, clenched fists still aloft and mouths agape, as if in slow mo­tion. This never hap­pens in our Magna.

Our first ten­ta­tive bunny hops in the Fer­raris are taken back in Mar­rickville, where our con­voy test drives the cars along the quiet street on which Pranc­ing Horse’s of­fice is lo­cated. We’re talked through the id­iosyn­cra­cies of each ma­chine — a 1988 328GTS, a 1998 F355 Spi­der, a 2002 360 Spi­der and, the most re­cent release, the 2006 F430 Spi­der — be­fore be­ing in­tro­duced to the golden rule of drive days: never over­take the lead car.

In our case, the lead car is be­ing driven by Wal­ter Szyszka who, with his col­leagues, race en­gi­neer Matt Thio and op­er­a­tions man­ager Robert Fe­lato, proves a font of knowl­edge on all things Fer­rari through­out the day.

Szyszka, a Fer­rari-own­ing ac­coun­tant who for years had been tak­ing his 328GTS to the Pic­cola Scud­e­ria Fer­rari sales and ser­vice cen­tre run by Ru­dolf Masi, saw a gap in the mar­ket for a Fer­rari-only rental com­pany, and the pair set up Pranc­ing Horse.

To­day, the com­pany runs reg­u­lar drive days to the NSW south coast, as well as in­di­vid­ual hire op­tions in which cus­tomers get their choice of Fer­rari for the length of time they fancy. The only stip­u­la­tion is that the cars are not to be taken more than 500km from Pranc­ing Horse’s Mar­rickville base.

We don’t have in­sur­ance for any­thing over 500km away,’’ says Szyszka, who adds that this re­stric­tion is not re­ally a prob­lem as most peo­ple gen­er­ally want to show off in Syd­ney’’.

For­tu­nately for us, we are show­ing off on a much grander scale; our Sun­day drive takes in not only west­ern Syd­ney and the su­perb back­drop of the Royal Na­tional Park but Wol­lon­gong’s cliff-hug­ging Grand Pa­cific Drive and its spec­tac­u­lar Sea Cliff Bridge.

The bridge has some­thing of a syn­ergy with the Fer­rari mar­que; it re­cently fea­tured along­side New York, Rome, Lon­don, Rio, Hong Kong and Monte Carlo in an in­ter­na­tional tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ment mark­ing 60 years of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Shell and the Ital­ian car-maker. The two-minute ad cut to a shot of a 1967 For­mula 1 Fer­rari 312 shoot­ing across Sea Cliff Bridge and, in the flick of a re­mote con­trol, Wol­lon­gong was on the map.

De­spite the in­con­gruity of this lit­tle-known south­ern coastal des­ti­na­tion rub­bing shoul­ders with the likes of New York and Monte Carlo, it soon be­comes clear why the re­gion was cho­sen for such cov­er­age. The open stretches of road, the bends and twists and the in­cred­i­ble coastal scenery, com­bined with the Fer­raris’ sleek Ital­ian

Quick off the mar­que: A con­voy of red Fer­raris crosses Wol­lon­gong’s spec­tac­u­lar Sea Cliff Bridge dur­ing a Pranc­ing Horse drive day

Ital­ian stal­lions: There’s plenty of horse­power un­der the bon­net in this line-up of Pranc­ing Horse Fer­raris en­gi­neer­ing, make for an ex­hil­a­rat­ing drive. We pass through beau­ti­ful beach­side vil­lages, the ocean shim­mer­ing to our left, as my hus­band mas­ters the art of pad­dle gears on the steer­ing wheel in our favourite car, the 430 Spi­der. We get a chance, how­ever, to try each Fer­rari as driv­ers change ve­hi­cles at des­ig­nated points, giv­ing us a taste of how the mar­que has changed through the years.

Our sec­ond car, the 328 GTS, proves a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from the 430. Nearly 20 years older, the 328 seems much lower to the ground and is man­ual only. (The oth­ers can be driven as a man­ual or an au­to­matic, and the 430 has ex­cit­ing ad­di­tions such as sports mode’’, my hus­band is be­side him­self to dis­cover.) In the road-hug­ging 328, I feel as though we could in­ad­ver­tently shoot un­der­neath the lead ve­hi­cle, rather than over­take it, in a sud­den brak­ing sit­u­a­tion. The cabin feels al­most claus­tro­pho­bic and I am re­lieved when we move on to the F355, which proves an ex­cel­lent com­pro­mise be­tween the pre­vi­ous two cars.

As well as driver changes, there are re­fu­elling pit stops, for us and the cars, along the way. One of the first is the beach­front Scar­bor­ough Ho­tel at Clifton, where break­fast or lunch can be taken in a stun­ning clifftop set­ting over­look­ing the beach. Then it’s on to the Illawarra Fly Tree­top Walk and the small but per­fectly formed Bel­lachara Bou­tique Ho­tel in Ger­ringong. Here, we leave the Fer­raris safely tucked up in the carpark (sur­rounded by the ubiq­ui­tous ad­mir­ing crowd, cam­eras click­ing), as we make our way, un­der the guid­ance of a des­ig­nated Hum­mer driver, to Coolan­gatta Es­tate win­ery for a tast­ing ses­sion.

Tourism Wol­lon­gong gen­eral man­ager Greg Bin­skin likens the Grand Pa­cific Drive to Vic­to­ria’s fa­mous Great Ocean Road and says that since it opened three years ago, vis­i­tor num­bers to the re­gion have risen by 10 per cent, no mean feat in times of spi­ralling do­mes­tic tourism num­bers.

It starts with a day trip. Then peo­ple go: I didn’t know this ex­isted. It’s so easy to get to and so un­crowded’ and they’re hooked,’’ says Bin­skin. There are nine vil­lages along the strip and the in­flux of peo­ple is cre­at­ing new prod­uct. New restau­rants are open­ing, small busi­ness is grow­ing. Four ho­tels were built re­cently and there’s an­other one on the draw­ing board. We do sky­div­ing down here and that’s go­ing re­ally well, too.’’

In­deed, it’s a car lover’s — and bikie’s — par­adise. As our con­voy jour­neys south, we see an end­less pro­ces­sion of clas­sic cars, hot lit­tle sporty num­bers and lov­ingly looked-af­ter fam­ily favourites ply­ing the route. Sleek and glis­ten­ing Har­ley-David­sons share the road with beau­ti­fully re­stored old Dodge trucks. Any­body who’s any­body in the world of cars and bikes, it seems, has cot­toned on to Grand Pa­cific Drive as the per­fect place to show­case their No. 1 love, even if the wider pub­lic is still buck­ling up its seat­belt.

As we re­luc­tantly be­gin our drive back to Syd­ney, the harsh re­al­ity dawns. We’ll soon be swap­ping the Fer­rari for the Magna; our brief stint as king and queen of the road con­signed to just a fan­tas­tic mem­ory. Then I re­mem­ber Szyszka’s com­ment about a new ad­di­tion to the Fer­rari sta­ble: the 2009 Cal­i­for­nia.

You’ve got to have the lat­est and great­est, or peo­ple lose in­ter­est,’’ says Szyszka, who aims to add the Cal­i­for­nia to the hire car pool and phase out the 328 later this year. With that, I’m lung­ing for the book­ing forms. As the inim­itable Mr Best once said: I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squan­dered.’’ Michelle Rowe was a guest of Pranc­ing Horse and Tourism Wol­lon­gong.

Check­list

Grand Pa­cific Drive day tours are $880 a per­son, in­clud­ing break­fast and lunch. There’s a 10 per cent dis­count on book­ings made by 5pm (AEDT) March 28 (quote ‘‘ Enzo’’ when call­ing Pranc­ing Horse Car Rentals for book­ings). An overnight drive pack­age along Grand Pa­cific Drive is avail­able for $1375 a per­son ($2750 a cou­ple), in­clud­ing all meals and ac­com­mo­da­tion at Bel­lachara Bou­tique Ho­tel. More: 1300 307 050; www.pranc­inghorse.com.au. www.vis­it­wol­lon­gong.com www.grand­paci­fic­drive. com.au www.illawar­rafly.com www.bel­lachara.com.au www.coolan­gat­taes­tate.com.au

Pic­tures: Dee Kramer

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