A whis­tle-stop 1700-kilo­me­tre road trip around New Zealand’s beau­ti­ful South Is­land in a 997 C4S is high­way heaven

911 Porsche World - - This Month - Words: Johnny Ti­pler Pho­tog­ra­phy: Laura Drys­dale & Johnny Ti­pler

Johnny Ti­pler tours New Zealand’s beau­ti­ful South Is­land in a 997 C4S. Al­right for some, eh?

Amonth in God’s Own Coun­try: it’s early 2017 and New Zealand’s sum­mer­time cli­mate is balmy, traf­fic is light (even though it’s peak hol­i­day season), flora and fauna are amaz­ing, noth­ing bites or stings and the only snaking is the sub­lime hill roads. And to top it all, I’ve been let loose in a 997 C4S. Porsche par­adise!

My boy Al­fie has been living and work­ing in Nel­son at the top of the South Is­land for nearly two years and de­manded a visit. Af­ter the 24-hour flight from Heathrow on Christ­mas Day, Mrs T and I re­lax aboard his 28ft yacht for a few days be­fore trav­el­ling to Christchurch to ren­dezvous with 911 afi­cionado Brent Jones at the plush Ho­tel Mon­treal. Brent, who’s just fin­ished mak­ing a replica of the RSR R7 that fin­ished 4th at Le Mans in 1973, has sport­ingly of­fered us his 997 so we can go sight­see­ing around South Is­land’s beauty spots.

As well as an itin­er­ary, Brent’s brief­ing in­cludes an in­struc­tion on how to op­er­ate the radar de­tect­ing de­vices in­stalled in the 997, some­thing of a ne­ces­sity on ac­count of the teeth-clench­ing na­tional speed limit of 100kph – just 62mph in old money. Co­in­ci­den­tally, we wit­ness an armed stand­off out­side the Mon­treal as five squad cars ap­pre­hend a trio of mis­cre­ants, and their de­ploy­ment of as­sault ri­fle, dogs and pis­tols is an in­di­ca­tion that the NZ cops don't mess about. So, thus primed, we set off from Christchurch on the main A1 east coast high­way. It’s mostly two-lane north-to-south with pass­ing lanes, flanked by a sin­gle-track rail­way line and the Pa­cific beaches about 5 kilo­me­tres over to the right. Traf­fic is rel­a­tively heavy, much of it go­ing our way be­cause, fur­ther north, the road is still out of use due to last Novem­ber’s earth­quake at Kaik­oura. Seventy-five per cent of the big trucks are Amer­i­can in ori­gin: Ken­worth, Mack, Freight­liner – and right-hand drive, too.

We turn off left at Waipara and head for the Lewis Pass on State High­way 7. I’m glad of the radar de­tec­tor, be­cause the cops are vig­i­lant and sev­eral times the ap­pa­ra­tus alerts us of sur­veil­lance. Not that we’re go­ing par­tic­u­larly fast, it’s more to do with ha­bit­ual wari­ness. It bleeps, I slow to well be­low the speed limit – to the cha­grin of the tail­gat­ing boy racer – and around the cor­ner there’s the Holden pa­trol car. We’re on sweep­ing driv­ing roads through the val­ley so we press on to our first port of call, Han­mer Springs. This is a spa re­sort, set in hill-tramp­ing wood­land, But­lins-with-hot-springs, tacky and over­priced.

We hit the road early. The route heads on up to Maruia Falls, me­an­der­ing be­side the river and in­ter­spersed with a few hair­pins ap­proach­ing the sum­mit of Lewis Pass. There’s a real feel­ing of pass­ing into a dif­fer­ent weather sys­tem cross­ing from east to west, and sud­denly we’re in the clouds, driv­ing through a for­est of black beech, one of NZ’S na­tive trees.

Large yel­low ad­vi­sory speed signs pref­ace many cor­ners, and a bend in­volv­ing the slight­est dif­fi­culty will have a sign with a rec­om­mended velocity for you to ne­go­ti­ate it at, rang­ing from an 85kph sweeper to a 15kph hair­pin. Like all NZ road signs, they’ve been in kilo­me­tres since the coun­try went dec­i­mal in 1967.

So we’re in a right-hooker 997 with speedo in Kph. As for these sug­gested speeds, in a four-wheel drive 911, it’s pos­si­ble to bet­ter them by some way, un­sur­pris­ingly. So I might drop it into 5th for a “65kph” bend and hoof it round at 85, just for the hell of it, but in any case the C4S chas­sis takes ev­ery­thing in its stride.

Down from the higher slopes the cli­mate changes and we’re see­ing enor­mous ferns again. We’ve got the road pretty much to our­selves as it’s wind­ing through the for­est, mostly beech, birch and fir, while the sun’s burn­ing through the cloud. Now and again, be­side the river we’re see­ing aban­doned coal min­ing set­tle­ments. At Reefton there’s a down-to-earth at­mos­phere, com­plete with a living

Radar de­tec­tor a ne­ces­sity on ac­count of 100kph speed limit

fac­sim­ile of a min­ers’ en­camp­ment, where they’re try­ing to pro­mote a town that was on its knees af­ter min­ing fin­ished in 1951 – and that’s not just coal min­ing but gold min­ing as well. There’s a re­ally good iron­mon­gers, too, which is al­ways the test; in Reefton I can buy a proper knife for those im­promptu pic­nic sit­u­a­tions.

It’s 415kms from Christchurch to Nel­son on this par­tic­u­lar route. The Buller Gorge heads north via Murchi­son on the 69 and then the 6 to Nel­son – a town so laid-back it just wants to hug you and buy you a glass of lo­cal Pinot Gris. There’s a plethora of amaz­ing birds and plants – and pos­sums, which are a pest, ap­par­ently, along with stoats, which they trap to pro­tect the in­dige­nous crea­tures, like the sonorous Bell­birds whose dawn cho­rus is a cam­pa­nol­o­gist’s par­adise. Amel­low breeze coun­ters the glo­ri­ous sum­mer heat and, re­united with Al­fie, we swel­ter on the dance­floor at Deville’s dur­ing the Bat­tleska Galac­tica gig. Fur­ther up the coast on the 60 there’s a dis­tinctly hip­pie vibe at Motueka and Takaka, and we catch the Richter City Rebels’ eight-piece brass en­sem­ble at the Mus­sel Inn, then crash at a cosy back­pack­ers’ at Colling­wood on Golden Bay. Glo­ri­ous beaches, tide­lines hig­gledy-pig­gledy with washed up drift­wood, the ocean’s ev­er­chang­ing sculp­ture park. It’s all too beau­ti­ful.

Leav­ing Al­fie and the sun­shine be­hind, we ap­proach West­port on State High­way 6 on the Tas­man Sea coast, and the veg­e­ta­tion has be­come way lusher with masses of tree ferns, and a lime­stone es­carp­ment be­side the Buller river with huge cliffs and over­hangs to our left and sin­gle-file cut­tings to ne­go­ti­ate. Date and ba­nana palms and up­side-down Mon­key Puzzles tower in a ri­otous jun­gle, flanked by flaxes and tree ferns, while the road twists and turns end­lessly along the craggy coast­line with glimpses of black sand to our right, cliffs all cov­ered in bush.

We climb the light­house at Cape Foul­wind – not­ing the treach­er­ous rocks loom­ing off­shore from the murky sea – and a lit­tle fur­ther on we pause among the tourists to view the amaz­ing Pu­nakaiki Pan­cake Rocks, in­cred­i­ble lay­ered lime­stone for­ma­tions jut­ting out into the sea where they’ve been sliced and un­der­cut over mil­lions of years. You would not want to get caught in the ti­dal surges, cur­rents and blow­holes here! The main road’s pretty straight now down to Grey­mouth, where we’re bil­leted in the bush in an Airbnb car­a­van. It’s snug as we scoff our take­away, but gust­ing winds and the rain pelt­ing on the tin roof make it im­pos­si­ble to hear the telly! So much for the pri­va­tions of

We swel­ter on the dance­floor dur­ing the Bat­tleska Gal­lac­tica gig


Aptly named, Grey­mouth was a port serv­ing a min­ing com­mu­nity at the mouth of the river Grey, flow­ing into the Tas­man Sea, and a to­tal con­trast with the vi­brancy of Nel­son. But now it’s bright­ened up, we’ve got blue sky and the road has flat­tened out, with a bank of ex­otic trees on one side and sea on the other. Broad rivers are in full spate, churn­ing milky-wa­ter chan­nels and grey peb­ble ey­ots, mostly spanned by sin­gle-track bridges; the rail­way line shares one so the tyres squirm on the in­set metal rails.

A short dis­tance south is the ar­ti­san town of Hok­i­tika. We watch crafts­men and women cre­ate hoards of jade jew­ellery, while next door glass-blow­ers fash­ion pen­guins and ki­wis in sim­i­lar pro­duc­tion line vol­umes. So many sim­i­lar green­stone shapes to choose from, and ap­par­ently they all mean some­thing in Maori folk­lore. There’s a drift­wood sculp­ture con­test on the beach, but ac­tu­ally the waves themselves make just as an artis­tic job of it.

At mod­est main road speeds the 997 is prov­ing eco­nom­i­cal but, mind­ful of a po­ten­tial ab­sence of fill­ing sta­tions the fur­ther south we go, we re­fuel at Ross – 96 oc­tane is as good as it gets, any­where. It be­comes hil­lier, and the road winds through densely packed for­est. We’re in a des­ig­nated eco­log­i­cal area, get­ting into the South­ern Alps, back­bone of South Is­land, and the tall trees are cov­ered in par­a­sitic plants, from mosses to lichens to yuc­cas.

We as­cend a ser­pen­tine road up Mount Her­cules, mostly 4th gear, a bit of 3rd, 80kph, just the kind of road this car is made for. And for nat­u­ral as­ton­ish­ment, Route 6 must be one of the world’s great driv­ing roads – it’s 417km from West­port to Haast where the 6 tracks in­land to­wards Wanaka. Mean­while, our next geo­phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­non is the Franz Joseph Glacier. We turn off and join the ice war­riors on the glacial trail. Tinged pale blue, it’s a wall of ice, a mile or so from the view­ing embankment, fill­ing an en­tire 12km val­ley and 300m deep. We learn that it’s re­ceded that mile in the last 100 years, due to ‘global warm­ing’, leav­ing be­hind a sprawl­ing, icy river.

The 20 kilo­me­tres be­tween the Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier is unadul­ter­ated ec­stasy, a suc­ces­sion of hair­pins go­ing up one side of the moun­tain and down the other, tra­versed as quickly as pos­si­ble at 3000, 4000rpm, 3rd gear, 4th gear, sheer dy­namic bliss as the C4 kisses the apexes and hugs the white lines out. There are far fewer tourist traps at Fox Glacier, and de­spite the short dis­tance be­tween them there’s very dif­fer­ent fo­liage and taller trees here, all cov­ered in the most in­cred­i­ble mosses and ferns, though the bush is less dense.

Mo­tor­ing south on the coast road again, there’s a suc­ces­sion of broad river val­leys with fast flow­ing cur­rents and sin­gle-track bridges over them. We’re head­ing into sub­trop­i­cal for­est again. The plant life is just crazy, so ef­fu­sive, lus­trous and shiny, with so many dif­fer­ent tex­tures of leaves and fronds, en­com­pass­ing ev­ery shade of green. De­spite min­i­mal traf­fic there are oc­ca­sional road-kills – pos­sums mostly, and a few pheas­ant-sized wekas. Now, where’s that penknife? Just short of Bruce Bay we turn onto an un­made road. Our Airbnb ac­com­mo­da­tion is a cabin set just be­hind the beach levee in a wooded wa­ter meadow. The beach is strewn with huge pieces of drift­wood; whole trees and root sys­tems have been washed down the rivers and out to sea and then flung back again. The quan­tity of drift­wood on the high tide line de­posited dur­ing pre­vi­ous storms forms a wooden pal­isade, stretch­ing as far as the eye can see around the bay. This coastal strip has a back­drop look­ing east at Mt Cook and Mt Tas­man – NZ’S two high­est moun­tains (Mt Cook is 3724m) – glimpsed when­ever the cloud and the mist clears, re­veal­ing a lit­tle snow right on the tops, with the ridges en­fold­ing and su­per­im­posed on each other into the dis­tance. There’s a whole weather sys­tem evolv­ing just in this one bay, where it’s rain­ing at the cape to the south, yet bril­liant sun­shine where we’re stand­ing, while the air is full of spray from the crash­ing waves.

Our cabin Airbnb land­lady’s sons are

petrol­heads of the 4x4 per­sua­sion and want to know all about the 997 C4. I can’t tell them how many were built, though by now we’ve had time to take stock of Porsche vol­umes in NZ, and al­though I’m told there are more Porsches per head of pop­u­la­tion than any­where else world­wide, the num­ber we ac­tu­ally spot on the road is not large: maybe a dozen Cayennes, half-a-dozen Boxsters and a 996 GT3. Af­ter break­fast we hit the road again. Ap­proach­ing Haast, we turn in­land on the 6, where there’s an ex­tremely long sin­gle­file bridge over the Haast River. Haast proves to be not so much a town as a col­lec­tion of raft­ing and river boat­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, an ac­tiv­ity cen­tre with a hand­ful of cafés ad­ver­tis­ing white­bait pat­ties. Spurn­ing these del­i­ca­cies, we press on along the river val­ley, where the Tar­mac steams as the sun dries it. Ac­cord­ing to our road map, the moun­tains on ei­ther side are all per­son­i­fied – the Snob, the Joker, the Pivot, the Deuce, and so on, forested all the way up with some of the tops in cloud. They’re also very steep, and at the limit of the tree line there’s the tun­dra line, then above that there’s the snow line. At Makarora we’re sud­denly in a broad val­ley with ser­rated pin­na­cles ahead, herald­ing the vast, turquoise wa­ters of Lake Wanaka ly­ing in their midst. We pause for lunch at a road­house, and al­though there’s no high oc­tane at the pumps I reckon we can still make it to our next overnighter at Queen­stown, 100kms away, on the gas we’ve got. The wind­ing lake­side road switches from one bank to an­other at ‘The Neck’ to run along­side an­other in­land sea, Lake Hawea. Glo­ri­ous vis­tas in ev­ery di­rec­tion.

There’s quite a lot of new build­ing as we come down to Wanaka; vir­tu­ally all houses in New Zealand are con­structed of wood, and all the more charm­ing for that. Wanaka is a pop­u­lar re­sort town at the south­ern end of the epony­mous lake, with all sorts of out­door ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able, but Queen­stown’s the tar­get, so we mo­tor on. There’s a broad plain be­tween khaki hills, and I sup­pose win­ter snow sup­presses plant growth up there, but now there’s a vivid pro­fu­sion of wild lupins. We’re en­ter­ing an­other pass into the Crown Range be­tween Wanaka and Queen­stown, a win­ter sports road with suc­ces­sive signs in­di­cat­ing places where you should fit your snow chains. Head­ing down from the pass to­wards Queen­stown the land­scape is a lot mel­lower with mown mead­ows and sheep graz­ing, and big pros­per­ous prop­er­ties.

Queen­stown is a blast. So lively, with open- air gigs, buskers, fire-eaters, jug­glers, af­fa­ble crowds milling around the har­bour on Lake Wakatipu. The last coal-fired steamer sails across the lake twice daily to Wal­ter Peak, and we re­lax deck­side on a launch-bar, sip­ping the Gris and ab­sorb­ing the hol­i­day vibe. We’ve checked into the won­der­ful Hul­bert House ho­tel, a late Vic­to­rian lodge, with fan­tas­tic views of the lake and down­town Queen­stown. It’s quite pos­si­bly the best hotelB’N’B we’ve ever stayed in, but the restaurant’s not open in the evening so we eat scrummy Ja­panese down­town at Tanoshi Tep­pan.

It’s 265km on the SH6 and 85 from Queen­stown across the Otago plains to Palmer­ston on the Pa­cific seaboard. We make for Cromwell, pass­ing High­lands Mo­tor­sport Park and nu­mer­ous vine­yards, and pull into Misha’s win­ery to buy some Pinot for Brent. Af­ter Dun­stan Lake and its big dam there’s more ter­rac­ing around Clyde, and there are ap­ple and cherry or­chards, plus a gold­min­ers’ mon­u­ment. At Alexan­dra we aban­don the 6 in favour of the 8 and the 85 to­wards Ran­furly, as there’s even less traf­fic go­ing this way. Fast, two-lane black­top with some nice cam­bered curves in an un­du­lat­ing land­scape, tourist hot spots now far be­hind us. Agri­cul­ture is the ma­jor facet of the rolling Otago re­gion – live­stock on rough pas­ture cladding a strange moor­land moon­scape, cor­ru­gated hill­sides with jagged peaks be­yond. A big farm­stead nes­tles in trees: no os­ten­ta­tion, grey house, grey barns. We pause for lunch at Ran­furly, and a farmer and his wife sit down next to us in the crowded café, and we dis­cuss our pro­posed route. ‘You have to eat at Fleur’s Place at Mo­er­aki,’ they say. Be­ing a fish­ing vil­lage, there’s no mis­tak­ing Fleur’s spe­cial­ity. Mean­while it’s an­other two or three hours still to Palmer­ston and the Pa­cific, 100km of bliss­fully de­serted roads. Palmer­ston’s Vic­to­rian church spire

We spot a dozen Cayennes, half-a-dozen Boxsters and a 996 GT3

and a bea­con on top of a con­i­cal hill greet us. We’ve crossed from coast to coast and ar­rived at Shag Point, and then it’s north on State High­way 1, which will take you from Dunedin in the south all the way to Pic­ton and the Welling­ton ferry, 700km to the north. Or it will, once the road’s re­paired at Kaik­oura. Fol­low­ing our farmer friend’s ad­vice, we head for Mo­er­aki, a ham­let best known for its beach boul­ders, as well as Fleur’s Place, where our se­lec­tion of fresh fish is one of the trip’s gas­tro­nomic high­lights. Ap­par­ently Rick Stein thought so, too.

Down­town Oa­maru is a big sur­prise with its im­mense, ma­jes­tic lime­stone build­ings, a legacy of Vic­to­rian as­pi­ra­tion match­ing San Francisco and LA. Fab­u­lous neo-clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture, civic and com­mer­cial, built when they en­vis­aged a ma­jor port, many now given over to in­door mar­kets and art gal­leries like the Steam­punk Mu­seum and Clas­sic Car col­lec­tion. We overnight at the Pen-y-bryn, B’N’B plus haut cui­sine gourmet din­ner in a charm­ingly re­stored Vic­to­rian lodge.

It’s 250km from Oa­maru to Christchurch on the A1, head­ing north to­wards Ti­maru, and at Geral­dine we veer left off the main drag onto the 72, the sign­posted ‘scenic route’ to Christchurch via Mount Hutt. Long, long straights travers­ing the flat coastal plain. It’s warm and sunny and – un­usu­ally – the 997’s sun­roof is open. So, in­evitably, it’s where I get nicked for speed­ing. The rush­ing wind noise from the open top ob­scures the Bel­tron­ics’ warn­ing bleeps, and there he is, lurk­ing in a farm track. He’s in so much of a hurry to nail us that he gets his Holden in a mud­dle on the verge as he spins it around. No mercy of course, de­spite play­ing the dim Pom card: ‘I’d like to send you on your way with just a warn­ing, but you’re in the sys­tem now,’ he gloats. So, pulled for do­ing 129kph on an ar­row-straight road. The fine is 230 bucks, ‘same as our din­ner last night,’ re­marks Mrs T wryly. I count my­self lucky: 140kph is a ban.

Back in Christchurch we off­load our stuff at the sump­tu­ous Ge­orge Ho­tel and I take the 997 around Ha­gley Park for a splash-’n’-dash be­fore re­turn­ing it to Brent. It’s an awk­ward de­noue­ment. Car abluted, I try to move off from the car­wash, but it won’t budge. I phone Brent. The as­sump­tion is that the clutch has gone, and he’s philo­soph­i­cal: ‘I’ve done a few track days with it, and it’s 10 years old, just one of those things,’ he says. ‘Lucky it’s hap­pened here and not in the mid­dle of nowhere.’ Trail­ered ig­no­min­iously to Christchurch spe­cial­ists Archibald’s, they dis­cover that the dual-mass fly­wheel has split in two. ‘The riv­ets that hold it to­gether had all sheared off,’ Brent re­ports; ‘they haven’t seen that hap­pen be­fore.’ Brent is re­mark­ably san­guine, and we spend the last few days of our trip at his hol­i­day home at Akaroa on the spec­tac­u­lar Banks Penin­su­lar. There’s also an op­por­tu­nity to have a go in his newly-built 911 RSR replica on Rua­puna cir­cuit; it’s a faith­ful copy of the Mar­tini RSR with the ‘Mary Stu­art col­lar’ rear spoiler that came 4th at Le Mans in 1973, the replica built in Christchurch last year by Ja­son Burke at Burke’s Me­tal­works and as­sem­bled and fet­tled by Wayne Graves’ in­de­pen­dent Porsche spe­cial­ists Au­tothor­ity, us­ing NOS parts sourced from Twinspark Rac­ing in Hol­land. It’s a real plea­sure to drive on track, and Brent has since raced it suc­cess­fully in NZ his­torics. Our 997 road trip has cov­ered 1757km – 1091 miles – on the most fab­u­lous roads and through the most gor­geous scenery, a to­tal plea­sure, and I can’t wait to go back. PW

Far left: Twi­light at Bruce Bay, Tas­man Sea. Left: Ti­pler drives Brent Jones’ other Porsche: a brand-new ’73 Mar­tini 911 RSR replica

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.