RALLYING IN NEW ZEALAND 50TH ANNIVERSARY
In this issue, Rod Peat takes us on the South Island leg of the tour, and will conclude coverage next month with the North Island leg.
As part of the celebration of 50 years of rallying in New Zealand, an independent group of enthusiasts organized a significant event in each island, recreating our history and travelling along many of the iconic rally roads of the past. Touring in their own vehicles, participants visited many small communities that had hosted past events, with the emphasis on camaraderie and plenty of time to catch up, tell lies and recall days past, and to rekindle old and new friendships made over five decades of rallying.
The Picton RSA was the venue for the first meeting of the South Island participants. The tour had been in planning since late 2014, when I attended a meeting of Rally New Zealand at which plans for the anniversary were discussed. I was fairly underwhelmed by what was planned and thought that the occasion demanded more than just a dinner in Hamilton.
I dreamed up the notion of a tour of famous rally stages throughout both islands, primarily because that is what I wanted to do!
The dream became a reality when Stu Holmes and I met the participants in Picton on April 1. Andy Walker and John Statham, Helen and Mike Cameron, Kenny and Dean Pester, Marty Bertlesten and Dennis Lukies, Graeme Swan and Leon Cast, John Carter and Rothery and Jilly Hutson and Adam Muir were to do the entire event, and Jim and Leone Donald and Danny James were there for the first couple of days. After dinner, Jim spoke about his Masport Escort days, and amused us with previously unheard stories about the high jinks and fun they had in what always seemed to me, back in the day, a well-organized professional team.
April 2 dawned bright and clear, and Stu Holmes and I had set up a driving test in a car park, where all the participants had to complete a slalom and reverse into a garage. Chocolate fish were awarded to all, and we set off into the first stage, which was Queen Charlotte Drive just out of Picton. All the participants had been issued with a route book that not only became their bible for the week but also a mine of interesting information about rallying in the South Island and facts on all the stages covered. This book will be a collector’s item in years to come.
Tadmor-glenhope and Wairoa Gorge Road comprised stage two, while stage three was a great drive through what is very similar to the old forestry stages, also known as Braeburn Track. Stage four was the Gowan and Manley valleys, fast and flowing, and, last for the day was the Matakitaki Road to Maruia Saddle. Then it was into Reefton for our first overnight stop. The Camerons and the Pesters, who were travelling together in a Hilux double cab, told us of their motor sport history. A source of great amusement were the huge ice-cream sundaes that were dished up for dessert.
Day two saw us farewell the Donald team, who had decided that the day would take them too far from home, so it was that the six remaining cars had their start order decided by the democratic method of being drawn out of Stu’s hat. They set off at minute intervals, and the route book took us almost to Greymouth before we turned inland to
Bell Hill. This was seriously fast, and could not be run that day under modern speed-safety rules. Stage two was Mitchells and three was Lake Lyndon, which took us through picturesque countryside — at one point, right beside the lake. After this stage, we crossed Arthur’s Pass and stopped for a team photo at the lookout. After lunch, we did two stages, Snowdon Road and Malvern Hills, both would have been fantastic done at speed.
Into Christchurch for the night, and up the next morning to complete only three stages, but, with almost 200km of stages to cover and a long touring section, the day would be no walk in the park.
The first was a traverse of Summit Road, one I had never done before. The damage caused by the huge fires earlier in the year was still very visible and gave us an idea of the vast area they destroyed.
After the lengthy touring section, we arrived in a little place called ‘Cave’, where we were met by South Island rally guru Carl Rabbidge and his good lady, Elaine, who was nominated chief photographer for a team shot in the middle of the main road. Graeme Swan and Leon Cast discovered a burst radiator hose on their Subaru Legacy, so they hightailed it into Timaru to find a replacement and, consequently, missed the next couple of stages.
Stage two was the Mackenzie and Hakataramea passes, 96km of everything, including wide open flat roads to narrow tracks, which were a challenge for our rental Camry. Part of the way through, we came across a huge boulder in the middle of the road, so it was hitched to Jilly and Adam’s grunty little Rav4, but all we succeeded in doing was moving it along the road a bit further before it threatened to take the whole caboodle into the river below. We were able to drive past it, and some locals who appeared on the scene said it had been there for a while. Also in this stage, we came on a triangular rock mounted on a base that was a memorial to the outlaw James Mackenzie, after who the area is known. Three sides held the inscription, each in a different language — English, Maori, and Gaelic.
On to Meyers Pass, which started out as a smooth, flowing road climbing up, but, through a gate at the top of the hill, the road deteriorated into a goat track that had the Camry gasping. We then headed into Oamaru for the night and to what would become one of the most memorable parts of the tour. Alan Wills had opened his museum in the old part of the town, and we were joined by members of the local car club and Wayne Rhodes and his family, who had helped organize the Oamaru evening. The display of vehicles and other memorabilia in the museum is incredible — well worth a visit for any petrolhead travelling through the town. We all dined together at the Last Post, the former Oamaru Post Office that is now a trendy restaurant.
Day four dawned bright and clear, different weather from the bomb that was hitting the North Island. Ngapara was an excellent lead-in to the infamous Danseys Pass, which was used in the 19th and 1976 Heatway rallies. Jim Richards left the road in here and went about 90m off the road but, after a mammoth effort by his service crew, rejoined the event later on to win more stages than any other competitor.
When we went through Danseys, there was a layer of mist on the hills, and a stop at the inn at the end become compulsory for a hot drink. The road is perfect for rallying and is still used now for local events. After lunch in Ranfurly, we took off to Hawkdun, Saint Bathans, on a road that was wide, well metalled, and open. At the historical village of Saint Bathans, Helen Cameron coerced a tourist into taking a group shot by the lake with our cars. The tourist’s name was also Cameron, so a quick connection was established there! The old pub was worth a visit — lots of things to see in there, and the friendly landlady made us feel welcome.
Stage five was Ida Valley / Crawford Road, which was basically a series of long straights with either a 90-degree left or right turn before another long straight.
Into Alexandra for the night, and we dined at the Speights Alehouse while John Statham, Marty Bertelsen, and Dennis Lukies told us of their rallying history.
The first stage the next day was Miller’s Flat, but the name is a misnomer as the stage consisted of a steep climb up through a narrow loose-metal road and down the other side, only then to do it all again over another steep rise.
A brief stop at Lawrence, then into Rankleburn, part of which was being used in the Otago Rally, and across State Highway 1 to Kaiwera. The ferry across the Clutha River wasn’t going, so we had to drive the long way around. After another perfect rally stage, it was then into Gore for lunch.
Off then to the Hokonui Hills stage and to Avondale Road, before heading into Invercargill. An idler bearing on the Graeme Swan / Leon Cast Subaru had been complaining bitterly; luckily, both those two are mechanics, and, with Graeme swinging on the spanners, the offending part was soon removed, and we were on our way again. Jilly and Adam found an Irish bar and restaurant for dinner, and we all dined together while listening to John Carter and Rothery tell us of their rally careers. Stu and I also recounted a bit about what we had done in rallying, and, after an enjoyable night, it was off to bed.
Day six saw a depleted field, with the Camerons and Pesters heading straight to Dunedin to get their rally car ready for the weekend’s event, while Jilly Hutson and Adam Muir took off early through the stages to get to Dunedin to make sure their Starlet was rally ready.
The rest of us headed out to the Catlins area, where we went through Curio Bay, Cannibal Bay, Nugget Point, and Owaka. The Catlins roads must rate as some of the best rally roads in New Zealand — fast stuff and slow stuff, all on an excellent base and a good spread of metal. Waikawa Valley was particularly good, and Tawanui would have been real fun at rally speed. Into Owaka for lunch, and then 20km of Cannibal Bay saw the end of the route book and the tour. But we had, with Norm Oakley’s blessing, arranged to go through Kuri Bush Road, which was to be used in the Otago Rally the next day. It was good to drive an actual stage, and we could only imagine what it would be like to do so in anger.
That evening, in Dunedin, we watched the ceremonial start in Dunedin’s Octagon, then went to a nearby restaurant for our final dinner. Joe Mcandrew, who was down for the rally, joined us and kept us amused by telling us about catching a burglar the previous evening and relating his adventures on several marathon rallies he has competed in, as well as bits and pieces about his New Zealand career. Paul Smith, part of the organizing team, made it down as well, and he and I handed out trophies to the participants to celebrate their completion of the tour.
By all accounts, everyone really enjoyed the tour: having a smaller group made it easy to organize, and we all made good friends and had experiences we will treasure for many years.
Thanks to the organizing team of Jill and Anita Greenland, Dennis Green, Murray O’donnell, Rob Scott, and Paul Smith, who all contributed in no small way to make the tour happen.
Above: Cave, South Canterbury
Top: Historic Vulcan pub in Saint Bathans, Central Otago Above: Alan Wills Auto Museum in Oamaru
The three-sided James Mackenzie memorial deep in the Mackenzie country
Above: Jilly Hutson and Adam Fisher negotiate the driving test at Picton
Below: The rock in Hakataramea Pass that we attempted to shift