Toyota New Zealand knows a thing or two about putting on a memorable press launches – and the 2018 Hilux/ Prado reveal proved to be another primo two-day test. The first – Hilux – day saw a mixed bag of key company staffers ( including company CEO Alistair Davis) and motoring writers/ editors drive from Christchurch to Tekapo in a fleet of new Hilux models. On the second day the focus switched to Prado and a memorable trip through the Oteake Conservation Park from Omarama to St Bathans. Toyota being Toyota there were a number of diversions, not to mention the odd – semiscripted – surprise. The first ( semi-scriptedsurprise) came soon after we left Christchurch. Parked at the side of the road was a pair of old-school Toyotos, an original SWB FJ-model SWB Land Crusier and an immaculate early ‘ 80s Hilux cab/chassis farm truck.
Full of hot air!
Soon after we were turning into the farm property of Hot Air Balloon aficionado Michael Oakley. Michael and his family combine running the family farm, Brookdale, near Hororata, with Canterbury’s premier Hot Air Ballooning operation, Ballooning Canterbury, and our stop was initially intended to be a short meet’n greet and chance to check out the FJ and ( what turned out to be a pair of) 80’s era Hiluxes. One thing led to another of course and a quick demo of ‘ how a hot air balloon works’ ended up as a quick hop up into the air for six of us above the lucerne paddock we were parked in! One of the Hiluxes was still very much in ‘ working condition’ and belonged to the
Oakley family ( the green one in the photos) while the other had recently been restored by Toyota as part of a nationwide promo campaign. Thorougly enjoying the chance both to drive it, and meet the gathered Toyota execs and motoring writers was its ‘custodian,’ Rubecca SoperHazlett, from Christchurch. Rubecca’s Dad was the original owner and Rubecca learned to drive in it on the family’s farm near Te Anau in Western Southland. What earned it a ground-up rebuild as part of Toyota NZ’s ‘Give Your Lux some Luv’ competition was what happened next, however. Having being sold after her father’s death it went through a number of hands before being parked up in a paddock. On hearing word of its fate Rubecca’s husband stepped in, bought it back and spent four years on and off returning it to a road-worthy state as a wedding anniversary gift for Rubecca ( see full story NZ4WD March 2017).
After spending most of the morning enjoying the impromptu lesson in hot air ballooning on the Oakley family farm, it was time to ‘saddle up’ and head south- west from Hororata, and the evocatively-named Windwhistle and past the turnoff to Mount Hutt for a lunch stop at the Red Cottages accommodation and Woolshed Event Venue near Stavely ( which you really should check out at www. redcottagenz.com) After lunch it was then a straight run through to Geraldine – for a quick comfort stop – then a circuitious route via fantastically-flowing, limestone-based gravel roads via the historic Pioneer Lime Kiln at Kakahu and on down to Totara before a quick run on more stunning albeit dusty roads up Middle Valley ( no wonder Geraldine lad Hayden Paddon is such a good rally driver, I say) to Fairlie for a quick afternoon tea break ( and one of the best flat whites I swear I have ever enjoyed) at the Fairlie Bakehouse Café!
In the footsteps of Mackenzie
By this stage we had been driving for at least four hours on seal ( in 4x2 Hi) and gravel ( 4x4 Hi). Our chance to engage 4x4 Lo came soon after, as we headed south west from Fairlie to Crinklewood, then to the place where it all a started, the Mackenzie Pass and the simple windswept cairn ( see picture) which marks the spot the infamous sheep rustler was finally apprehended. While a more recent bronze statue of Mackenzie and dog Friday now draws much of the attention to the travelling public to Fairlie’s main street the original memorial is definitely worth the detour, particularly if, like we were, you are in a 4WD. The initial drop down into Mackenzie Pass Rd off either Rollesby Valley or Waratah Rds ( depending on which direction you come from) requires concentration and is best done in lo-range 4WD). Once in the ‘ pass itself the road straightens itself out until it flattens out before meeting the Hakataramea Pass Rd and the need to stop and engage 2WD Hi again for the final run up to the left onto the Burke’s Pass-Tekapo Rd and our overnight accommodation at the Peppers Bluewater Resort overlooking the lake. Bright and early the next morning we were up and on the road – this time in Prados – for the second leg of the launch, from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown via the Oteake Conservation Park – which we will cover in the March 18 issue!
Rubecca Soper-Hazlett and her restored 1983 Toyota Hilux.
Photo op at the James Mackenzie Memorial on the western side of the Mackenzie Pass.
Balloon man Michael Oakley’s own 1982 Hilux farm truck – still going strong!
Lunch spot Day 1 was at the beautiful Red Cottages at Stavely.