RAL­LY­ING IN NEW ZEALAND 50TH AN­NIVER­SARY

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS - Words and pho­tos: Rod Peat

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

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