New Zealand's Mille Miglia:
Driving a Frazer Nash Mille Miglia 1,000 miles from Invecargill to Auckland
February 1-24, 2011
Before the Intermarque Concours: September 2010
Six years to the exact date of my first drive with this car - February 13, 2011 - my Frazer Nash was driven into the Intermarque Concours at the Ellerslie Racecourse, Auckland, NZ. Although we had several good trips with the car in New Zealand after it was restored in 2005, it had never been off the South Island and it seemed a good time to see the North Island and go to (probably) the biggest "classic" concours in New Zealand. If you want to skip the following long trip report, go to:
Thinking and planning started in 2010. I had read that this Concours was club oriented, so I contacted members of the Bristol Owners Club in New Zealand. Not so many members, but just a few people can work wonders! I received encouragement from all and two accepted an invitation to join me on parts of the drive from Invercargill to Auckland, almost exactly 1,000 miles (hey that's "Mille Miglia"!) In March, 2010 I also went to Auckland and "scouted" the Ellerslie concours location, though not very well.
I left Burbank on February 1, by train to Union Station and "Flyaway" bus to Los Angeles airport, then on to my Air Pacific flight through Fiji to Auckland. The flight was good and the layover in Nadi was only 2 hours. In Auckland, I was met by Bristol owner Lane Smytheman who helped me between terminals and told me stories of the Bristol Owners Club in New Zealand, members and their cars. Also about his, mostly Bristol, cars and how his son Glen acquired his very nice AC Bristol after a long search and short ownership of another. The flight to Invercargill required a transfer in Christchurch but I was there by 7 pm, met by Brendon and Trevor, the son and father-in-law of Barry Leitch (Leitch Motorsport and Restorations, Ltd), keeper of the car. Losing a day because of the IDL, it was Thursday, February 3.
To Oamaru - February 4
Early the next day, I was in the workshop, meeting up with Greg, Wayne and Petrus. I checked their latest projects - Cobra and D-Jaguar replicas - being "finalized" for customers. I also saw my 1981 Vespa in the final stages of a conversion to an electric motor (see 1977Ranchero.com). I had arranged to meet Bristol owner Brian Flegg in Wellington on Sunday and had to decide when to start the 566 mile drive to the ferry at Picton. I was also expected by Garry Moore in Christchurch on Saturday. Rather than make one long drive to Christchurch, I made an Internet reservation for a B&B in Oamaru, packed and hopped in the car about 2:30 pm, topped the petrol just a mile up the road in Lorneville (odometer 43,761) and continued through Gore, Clinton, Balclutha and Dunedin, arriving at a great B&B, "61 on Derwent" and my hosts, Marilyn and Don Kendall. Highly recommended! The drive up to there had been "top down" but rain looked probable, so I put up the top (hood) and side curtains. Breakfast the next day was fabulous and I resumed the drive shortly after 9 a.m., making a 10:45 petrol stop in Glenavy (odometer 43,993).
In Christchurch - February 5
Although I had been in Christchurch several times and "should have" known how to get to Garry and Warrington Street, I mistakenly headed to the central business district (CBD), drove around the Christchurch Cathedral and looked for quiet area to call Garry. I wound up at "Science Alive" and Garry drove down and led me to his house. I had planned to be using my GPS to avoid these problems, but my power cable did not work and I was saving the battery! Bad idea. At Garry's house, we met Warwick Stephens, who had drove up in his amazing Ford Festiva, now electric powered. I got a demo ride and will further contact Warwick for advice. Garry and Warwick talked about their plans to rebuild their two De Dion Boutons, single cylinder cars from pre-1910 era. Warwick left and Garry's son Johnny & friend arrived in a Riley sports car, a pre-'40s classic that had been converted long ago from a sedan. Great car! Johnny had bought a gas tank from a Trademe auction so we set off in both cars north to pick it up, about 6 miles each way. On the return, we split off to visit a birthday party for one of Garry's friends where we were treated to a vast collection of vintage cars and a distillery! Video to follow! Finally back to Warrington avenue and dinner. We were picked up by Peter Beck, dean of the Christchurch Cathedral, then got his wife and the Rev Lynda Patterson, the Cathedral's theologian in residence. Garry's partner/wife Pam later joined us for a casual dinner at Pepperoni.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Sunday, I continued north to Picton for the 2:20 ferry to Wellington, first making the third gas stop in Shirley, a Christchurch suburb. The hood (top) was still up and side curtains off, but I was alternately blasted by hot and cold winds at various road locations and altitudes! I arrived in Picton at noon, where it was warm/hot and stopped for a lunch bite before heading to the ferry. Although I was reserved for a 2:20 departure, I was immediately put on an earlier ferry and sailed to Wellington about 1:20 p.m.
The ferry landed about 4:30 and I was off to the Wellington Airport area, where I was scheduled to meet Brian Flegg at the Airport Motel. The GPS could not find it and I, foolishly, did not try to locate it on a map. I actually drove through the airport terminal looking for it, completely around the airport to Lyall Parade on Lyall Bay (south coast) then drove by the low-rise building because the entry driveway was obscure! It's a confusing description, but worse at the time! Once around the block and I was in the motel courtyard, greeted by Brian who had heard the distinctive Bristol engine exhaust. We headed into Wellington by taxi for dinner, but the Irish pub he had selected was closed so we went across Willeston street to the Bruhaus where we had fine beer and an improvised dinner - late Sunday in Wellington seems to offer few choices.
We left early, against Monday morning traffic, and had an easy and scenic drive to Paraparaumu where we stopped for petrol (8:00 a.m.) and a breakfast snack. Love those meat pies and long-black coffee!
To Taupo - February 7
Next stop was Hunterville for coffee, with a quirky used car lot across the street - old British, French and Italian cars. The drive had been very scenic to this point and even got better - hills, vistas and the desert road, after a short rest stop in Taihape. We left the desert and the military training grounds and had some twisty climbs and descents.
Soon, after passing through a thermal zone with steam vents and at least one power plant, we were driving along the shore of Lake Taupo - nearly 25 miles from the south end to the resort town of Taupo. First chore was to find an ASB bank to replace my defective EFT card - quickly done and this bank has always been very efficient. Then lunch and a search for lodging. We found the Sails Motel on the east end of Lake Terrace, parked the Frazer Nash and had a great view of the lake from the upper-level room. Brian was happy to find Old Speckled Hen ale at the pub and I agreed it was pretty good. We had dinner there and then it was back to the motel to prepare for another day!
To Katikati - With a Slight Delay
After an medium-early breakfast, we were driving north to Rotorua on a cloudy day, about 50 miles away. We drove on the west edge of the city and through the suburbs as the sky cleared and the day warmed up. With the hood still up, it was warm in the car but the engine temperature stayed OK, if a little on the high side. Eventually, we were out of the urban area and on the Tauranga Direct highway, which Brian said had been recently completed. Not quite. Just a about three miles up the road, we ran into roadworks, with one lane closed and traffic stopped. I idled the engine for more than 5 minutes and just 100 yards after the "go" sign, the engine lost power and died. I coasted off to the right side of the road, where the graders were working. We then pushed the car into a pasture gate entryway, clear from construction by a few feet. I tried to start the engine, but no sign of life. Brian suggested to avoid further cranking to save the battery and thought that either the fuel pump had failed or had vapour lock He cracked a fuel line fitting - it was dry and the pump would not suck petrol. He had no mobile phone reception, but one of the road workers loaned him a phone and said there was reception down the road. Brian called his son Chris in Katikati and told me Chris would be out with an Automotion/Adams Automotive flatbed truck. I had no idea how far away Chris was, but the map later showed he came 48 miles to fetch us. We loaded up, got through another construction zone and continued on the scenic road to the edge of Tauranga and then to the shop in Katikati. I would have enjoyed the drive much more in different circumstances!
Automotion is a great shop and Chris was very helpful. Brian introduced me to his wife Stephanie and then showed me around his son's engineering business just a few doors away. Brian knew I was scheduled to pick up Shannon the next day, February 9, at the Auckland airport so when I asked about getting a rental car, Brian offered their Peugeot diesel to use. Very generous; I thought the Frazer Nash was "adequate security".
Stephanie, Brian and I set off for their home about 10 miles north. After a brief tour, I noticed beer brewing and asked Brian about it. He said his ambition is to duplicate "Old Speckled Hen". When I asked what he uses for bottles, we went to the garage where I was surprised to see his gorgeous Bristol 406Z, Zagato body. I was totally surprised by the wonderful appearance and condition. Brian had told me about its restoration and finally I could appreciate the amount of work to make this car perfect. Brian's other Bristols were in another building some distance away and I was very sorry to be short of time to see them. But I was very glad for Brian's company since Sunday and their generosity in lending a car in a time of need!
Along the way, Brian had told me about good hotels near the Auckland airport, but when I tried reservations from Taupo, all his recommendations were fully booked for February 8. I finally got the last (too large and expensive) room at the Airport Manor Inn, but at least I knew where I was going. I set off for Auckland about 5 p.m. for the 90-mile drive which took a little less than 2 hours. Most of the drive was great, through small towns worth another visit and the very scenic Karangahake gorge, running near the Ohinemuri River. From State Highway 2 eventually you join State Highway 1, with four lanes, cross the Bombay Hills and have a less interesting drive. Although I plugged the GPS to the Peugeot's 12v socket, I didn't realize my cable fuse was blown and foolishly used extra battery power playing music - there barely was enough life left in the GPS for the final miles to the Inn on Kirkbride Road.
Auckland - Finally!
The Inn was OK and a decent price if you needed two rooms and four beds! From the Inn, I called the Greenlane Manor Motel in Ellerslie, Auckland and reserved a room for the next few days. I had stayed there in 2010 and expected it would be close to the Concours site. I also called Chris and found the Frazer Nash was fine - apparently the long period of idling for the roadworks had cooked off all the petrol/gas in the carburetor floats, fuel pump and gas lines. Perhaps if I cranked longer, it would have started, but who knew?
Shannon's flight was due in at 8 a.m., but I was at the airport just after 7 and found an early arrival scheduled. It was great to see Shannon again and we set off to the Airport Manor Inn where I explained the plan to go up to the Greenlane Manor, drop of all the luggage, which would not fit in the Frazer Nash, and drive back to Katikati to exchange cars. Breakfast was at the airport McDonald's - if you get a long-black from a McCafe, it is OK.
The Greenlane Manor Motel is highly recommended, for reasons that are later explained. Host Peter Ranson let us check in early and I headed back to Katikati in the Peugeot. It was a great little car. Chris Flegg gave the Frazer Nash a clean bill of health, but suggested later checking the slight play in the steering wheel mounting. Then it was off again to Auckland, with a slightly sportier car this time! After a gas stop in Paeroa, it was an pleasant drive to the Greenlane Manor. The odometer was at 44,837 this was 1,076 miles since leaving Invercargill.
After looking at the maps and motel restaurant directory, we decided to walk to Ellerslie, just 1/2 mile away down the Great South Highway and Kalmia Street, then over the railway/highway bridge into the township. We immediately saw the Cock and Bull pub, where we found excellent beer and food.
The next day, Thursday, February 10, we hopped the 8:30 train from Ellerslie to the central Auckland station, the Britomart. Just 6 miles, 15 minutes and $3.60 NZ each. Much better than driving! We found a favorite breakfast spot from 2005, the Cafe Melba, on Vulcan Lane off High Street, and had a great meal. We explored Queen Street up to the Auckland Civic Center and then returned downhill to see about fixing my Pentax SLR, which had decided to not read memory cards the day before I left. Hopeful of fixing it, I packed it anyway. The Photo Warehouse said the only repairs could be done in Christchurch and would take a few weeks. So we added a small Pentax I-10 to the collection, did a little more touring to the Viaduct Harbor, checked ferry schedules and entrained back to Ellerslie. That night, it was Indian food at Raviz in Ellerslie. Very good.
Waiheke Island - February 11
It was another early train ride on Friday to the 9:00 a.m. ferry to Waiheke Island, where we had planned to visit Bristol owner Claude Lewenz and drop off some small parts for his Bristol 410 with a Chrysler 383 engine. Our ferry fares included a rental car on Waiheke for the day at a very reasonable total cost. Just a short while after landing, we were in the rental car and then in Oneroa for breakfast and a stroll up and down Oceanview Road. Very nice. We called Claude and headed to Church Bay via Church Bay Road, of course. I had visited Claude last year but his house and the views remain impressive. We had a whirlwind tour, saw the Bristol emerge from his garage under its own power and also saw the long dormant 1969 Alfa 1750 Spyder - just the same as mine in Burbank. I could happily sublet Gabriella's gallery and Claude's office just for the views and the great space!
Lunch was at the nearby Mudbrick Restaurant & Vineyard - just about as pleasant a place to spend a sunny afternoon as anyone could want. We would have stayed there much longer, but our time on Waiheke was limited and some "basic sightseeing" was necessary - and Claude had work to do. So we dropped him off and headed to Onetangi to see the beach and area. This is about in the middle of the 12 mile long island, but the (to us) unexplored eastern side has much more area than the western part. The beach was great, but we had more more call and visit to make - to Ken and Barbara Mangino. I had met them at the Ostend fair in 2010 where Ken was selling auto books from England. It turned out that not only is he quite a "car guy", but also has a very rare Vespa with a sidecar - a factory one from the '50s. When I called Ken from Onetangi, I found his house was fairly close and easy directions away - a great contrast to the roundabout route I used last year.
The Vespa was in a place of prominence in Ken's workshop, but my "rush mentality" caused me to forget taking a photo! Ken took us down to the nearby Obsidian Winery where Shannon found some great wines - I got too busy talking with Ken and other winery visitors from a cruise ship docked in Auckland. We kept track of the time, which is never enough, and took Ken home before getting back for the 5 p.m ferry. It was an easy choice to go from the train back to Ellerslie to the Cock & Bull for dinner, then a walk back to the Greenlane Manor - I had early plans for Saturday.
The Fun Run, Saturday - February 12
A walk up the Great South Highway to Green Lane confirmed that there was a self-serve car wash just behind the McDonald's and Countdown supermarket. And there I was, the only customer at 7:00 a.m., putting $2 in the coin slot to clean the Frazer Nash. I all worked fine so I zipped back to the motel to pick up Shannon and go to "fun run" assembly at the Ellerslie Racecourse, location and entry gathered from a map. After one false turn, we were on the actual racecourse infield without another car or any type in sight! What had gone wrong? Wrong day? Wrong time? I backtracked and found another entry to the racecourse grounds by Mercy Ascot hospital and followed a TR-4 into the large parking lot where car were guided into one nicely designed lanes, depending on the pre-arranged group and destination. We were in Group 5, headed to the Matua Valley winery. Just a few minutes later, Glen Smytheman arrived in his AC-Bristol with young Matthew as his passenger/navigator.
Although I had received an email from the organizers with the route of Run 5, I did not have the means to print it - bad mistake. At least I should have compared it to a map. The parking lot gradually filled up with about 200 cars - many unusual and never seen in the U.S. We had a great time socializing and taking photos. Time better spent, as it turns out, studying the map. I put the destination in my GPS and planned to drop back a few cars so I would have many to follow. Good idea, but...
Sometime after 10 a.m. we started and very soon we were on the motorway heading north. I did not follow close enough and a few cars an one truck crept in between us and the nearest fun run car. And being new to the area, I did not anticipate exit 428 and sailed by as others headed northwest. I took the next exit and planned to rejoin the North-Western Motorway, but by the time we did, no other run cars were in sight. Shannon told me that the next turn was Exit #8 for the Great North Road, which was fine, except I turned the wrong way at the bottom of the ramp! After circling back, I realized all the fun run cars would be long gone, so we relied on the GPS to direct us on a less scenic path to the winery - the Northwestern motorway, highway 16. Run #5 director, Dennis O'Kane, was there to greet us and wondered how we could have gotten there so quickly!
We had a great time looking at the other arriving cars and chatting with the owners. We returned back almost by the same route, except I thought we could exit the motorway early and cruise sedately back to the motel on the surface streets. But I waited too long to exit and wound up in the Mount Eden area, where the Frazer Nash was tested on city hills.
The Intermarque Concours at the Ellerslie Racecourse
We left for the Concours about 8 a.m. and thought we knew the way from Saturday. At the hospital entrance, we were directed back on the motorway to a southern gate - not really necessary. On Saturday, I had been asked to drive the Frazer Nash to the grandstand area and not knowing where the Bristol club was - or if only Glen's AC-Bristol would be there - I was directed indoors with other "thoroughbred" cars. Once inside (on carpet!), it seemed like the car would not be moved again until the concours was done. The cars in this area included former "cover cars" from New Zealand Classic Car magazine and I was happy to finally meet the editor, Allan Walton.
After I found the other Bristols on display and saw a placard made for the Frazer Nash by Stuart Smith, I had thoughts of disloyalty and knew I should have joined the other Bristols (and related kin), but there's always next year! The Bristol display included Glen Smytheman's AC-Bristol ACE, Chris Brown's Bristol 411 and Steve Shilham's Bristol 409. Stuart has made informative placards with stands for all - very professional!
The clouds cleared off and the day became sunny and warm - not too warm to deter several marches through the cars on display - estimates 700 cars brought by the members of 75 New Zealand car clubs. I cannot think of anything like it in the U.S. The variety of cars and enthusiasm of their owners was tremendous. If the event had lasted a week, I would have been completely happy wandering among the cars and learning about them from all their owners and other club members.
Not far from the Frazer Nash in the Classic Cars area was a magnificent Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster. I met the owner, Garry Boyce, on the fun run with his Alfa-Romeo Sprint. Nice to hear the partial story about this car and Garry's adventures with it in the U.S.
I had great conversations with the Lancia guys and a few DKW owners, especially comparing the DKW to the 2-stroke Saab I owned long ago. No Saabs in sight! At the Armstrong Siddeley gathering, I was recognized by Frazer-Nash owner (chain-drive type) John St. Julian. Not only does John seems to have eclectic cars, but he had been driving a steam locomotive the previous day!
All too soon, it was about 4 p.m. and many cars were leaving. So we prepared to take the Frazer Nash to a post-concours party. One glitch - I had rolled both seat belts fully into their inertial reels so the interior would look "tidy". The passenger belt would not budge, a chronic repeat of an issue that had come up a few times over the years. Previously, it had come free when the car was on a different slant/angle, so we tried two locations on the way out. No success and Shannon was concerned about the legal and safety issues or driving unbelted. So party plans were scratched and we made the short drive back to Greenlane Manor.
North From Auckland - After Another Delay! - February 14
Our general plan had always been to tour in the Auckland area after the concours, whether it would be Northland, Coromandel or elsewhere determined on weather conditions, etc. Shannon still had a sore back from the long flight and general chores before leaving Burbank, so she wanted to visit a thermal spa. Glen and Stuart had mentioned Waiwera, just north of Auckland, so that decided out direction. But the Frazer Nash seat belt issue needed to be sorted. The Internet pointed me to a general repair shop, Paul Stockman Motors on Marua Road, not very far. They tried to free up the reel, but no luck, so they recommended Auto-Belts & Mechanical, on Maurice Road, just a few miles in the other direction. Francis Cordes-Paki was a true expert and in less than an hour I had the original belt on a new, easy-rolling inertial reel. So back to Greenlane!
Shannon and I had discussed leaving the Frazer Nash in Auckland and using a rental car for further touring. While I was getting the belt fixed, she had asked owner Peter Ranson about leaving the car in a corner of the lot. Peter very graciously offered a spot in his garage - very nice! The search for a rental car was not so easy. I had used Apex car rental a few times previously and appreciated their good cars and rates. But the high-summer season left us only one possible choice from Apex, a Subaru SUV at a moderately high price. A few other calls were not promising, so we reserved the Subaru until Friday and hopped the bus to Beach Road. We were at the agency by 11:00 a.m. - a busy morning!
The Subaru was nice, but larger than expected. By noon we were on the Northern Motorway, crossing the bridge north from Auckland, exiting before the toll section to Grand Drive and soon in Orewa for lunch at the Kaizen Cafe Coffeehouse - an excellent pork salad, something I've never had before with very crispy pork belly!
Waiwera Resort and Thermal Spa was only four miles north, but the entire area was tranquil, rural and seemed much more distant from Auckland then it actually was. We toured the spa pools and Shannon wanted to jump in! We made a quick visit to their beach studio cabins and decided it was fine for a two-day stay. As long as we could stock it with wine and cheese, what more was needed? We were in the various hot pools by mid-afternoon and Shannon booked a spa massage and treatment for the next day, Tuesday. So we were committed until Wednesday morning.
We had wood-fired pizza at the Spa that next and drove back to Orewa on Tuesday morning to explore the town. Though not large, Orewa had a good collection of shops for most everyday needs. We were especially curious about the only high-rise building in town; it was the Nautilus, a 12-floor apartment-hotel/timeshare and seemed nice. As we left the main part of town on the Hibiscus Coast highway, we stopped to admire the "longest and safest beach in New Zealand" from the public park just off the highway. Very nice, perhaps a mile long and nice sand. We drove south over the Orewa River to Red Beach and found a much smaller beach with red sand indeed. We also noted the entire residential area was much like the the more modest houses of the Kahala area of Honolulu - palm trees and similar house styles. Something to keep in mind.
We were soon back at Waiwera to use the pools and the high water slides - no kids around today! Shannon had her late afternoon spa session and I briefly ventured into Hauraki Gulf at the beach, a well-sheltered part of the Pacific. Dinner was at Woody's Bar & Grill across the road from the Spa and we planned an early departure on Wednesday.
Whagarei and Tutukaka - February 16
We started north early along the Hibiscus Coast Highway and soon joined State Highway 1 for about 15 miles to Warkworth, where we had breakfast and walked along the scenic Mahurangi river and spotted a large 2-masted schooner. We split from Highway 1, following Matakana road to stay near the coast, but had to turn back when a sign warned the Matakana Valley road was closed because of a slip. After backtracking, we were on the way to Wellsford, Te Arai and the coast near Langs Beach on Cove Road. Great scenery!
It was only about 95 miles from Waiwera to Whangerei, but our coastal detours, breakfast and touring stops stretched out the drive and we got to the I-Site shortly after noon. They recommended the Aaron Court motel as very quiet, so off we went. Not too many false turns later, we were in their courtyard and found a nice room, free wi-fi and a swimming pool - which we didn't use. It was about a mile walk, through a nice park and garden, to central Whangerei and after a little exploring, we settled in at Dickens Inn and Olivers Cafe for a beer and lunch. All very good. More exploring, which included a great bookstore with locally published area history books. Back to the motel for a rest. Then back to central Whangerei, but by car this time, for a nice Italian dinner at Amici - almost too much pasta!
The first "tour" stop on Thursday morning was a hike through the kauri tree canopy at A.H. Reed Memorial Park to Whangerei Falls on the McKinnon Track. Not very long, but a little steep just before the falls. We later learned there was another, much larger Whangerei Falls. We drove back to the aquatic center in Whangerei - not very far and very nice - and considered a swim, but continued a drive north.
We went up through town and on Ngunguru Road through estate farms, a few wineries and great scenic hills and valleys to the beach at Ngunguru then on the Matapoui road to a scenic overlook of Tutukaka harbor and finally to the resort town of Tutukaka. We had a recommendation to visit the Pacific Rendezvous motel, but time was limited to lunch at the Schnappa Rock restaurant with many of the "yacht persons" from the harbor. Very pleasant. This was "only" 125 miles from the Greenlane Manor motel in Auckland, but all drives in New Zealand happen at a leisurely pace.
South to Rothesay Bay and Auckland - February 17
Finally turning south, by 1 p.m. we were at the larger Whangerei Falls, no hiking required from the car park! We continued south, until we made an ice cream and shopping stop at Sheepworld, past Waiwera and off Highway 1 on the East Coast to search for Rothesay Bay. It would be easy by GPS, but I was saving its internal battery. My old navigator instincts served us well and we "happened upon" the town and used the GPS to find the road where Lane and Carol Smytheman lived. We parked in the beach lot and called Lane - his house was just 100 feet up the road. I got to see his Bristol 406, spares of all sorts and Glen's AC - all very nice. After some visiting and light bites prepared by Carol, we were off to the Thai Corner where we had a great meal with great company. Lane was apologetic that an emergency design project could possibly keep him from joining me for part of the drive south to Wellington, but this was not a cause for worry. Because Shannon was due to fly home the next day, we could not stay too late. They took us back to the Subaru and we followed them to the motorway entry ramp and were back at Greenlane Manor before the night was fully dark. We really enjoyed our visit with Lane and Carol and Shannon learned a little about North Shore life from Carol.
Shannon Flies Home
Much to do on Friday - the rental SUV was due back at Apex and Shannon had a 7 p.m. flight on Air New Zealand. That still left time for some enjoyment in Auckland central. We dropped off the "car" and had breakfast at Westfield Downtown mall/plaza - very good pancakes. We browsed the City Family Barrow for cheese and other NZ products to take home, an antique shop in another plaza and finally made a visit to the Occidental Belgian Beer Cafe on Vulcan Lane which we first visited in 2005 but had passed by several times this time. The beer was excellent, as expected. Just a short walk down Queen Street to the airport express bus - I got the senior rate, $14 NZ. Although it was 4 p.m. Friday, with expected heavy traffic, the bus drove on the city streets to make other stops and it was a calm, 45-minute journey. We split a sandwich at the airport and Shannon went through security about 5:30 p.m. to browse the duty-free shops. She later told me she found a great bargain on a 6-pack of tinned New Zealand butter, most which would become gifts.
Although the conventional route back would be the same express bus, I wanted to try the "regular" bus and train back to the motel. After a wait, there was a Manukau bus to the Papatoetoe train station and just a short wait for the train to Green Lane. That's where the large Countdown supermarket is, to stock up on food and drink for the evening and Saturday's drive.
Auckland to Hunterville, February 19
Great news when I checked my phone messages and email - Lane's design project had been postponed and he could join me in the Frazer Nash for "points south"! Carol would bring him to the motel about 9 a.m. the next day, Saturday, February 19. Looking ahead, my original plan for a slower drive back with stops of "a few days" in Christchurch and Dunedin seemed improbable - I was due to fly from Auckland on February 24, which meant I had five days to drive 1,000 miles to Invercargill and get back the same distance to Auckland. Because the solo drive north had caused some aches and was a little slower than expected, I mentioned this to Barry and he talked to the managers of the WOW/Classic Cars museum in Nelson and they said I could leave it there for a while. I kept this in mind.
Lane and Carol showed up on schedule and we set off before 10 a.m. heading south, top down. The drive was great fun as Lane was driving, I was making video and he filled me in with much history and comments on the places we passed. About 11:30 a.m., the odometer passed 45,000 miles and very soon we stopped for gas in Cambridge, out 90 miles from the start.
We continued on and joined Highway 1 from 1B, down to Huka Falls, just a few miles north of Taupo. Time for a break and sightseeing! The falls were spectacular, all of Lake Taupo is drained through a very narrow channel to the Waikato River and the flow is 58,000 gallons per second with both rapids and a waterfall. A great stop and a nice place to cool off and stretch.
I took over the wheel into Taupo where we had a lunch break - same cafe where I had breakfast about 12 days previously. It was then about 120 miles through valleys and hills into Hunterville, where Lane directed me a short distance off Highway 1 down Bruce Street to the Rothesay Bed and Breakfast, in the wonderfully restored Post Office built in 1903! We were greeted by Robyn and Duncan McNie, who directed the Frazer Nash into the carport adjacent to the B&B. I soon learned that Robin is Lane's cousin ("much younger") and they had restored the Post Office to its new status through several years of hard work. It was a terrific building, with the original public space now an office and near museum display area. The guest rooms upstairs had been tastefully period-furnished with modern conveniences and there is a large common room for gathering and meals. It is currently for sale; the real estate site has many photos.
Midnight, the resident cat, joined us for an elegant candlelight dinner in the garden gazebo. Dinner included great conversation about the area, old Auckland and the history of the Post Office/B&B.
Hunterville to Levin to Blenheim
Somewhere along the route, I had made a Sunday ferry reservation for a 2 p.m. sailing, we we were up for a complete and terrific breakfast just after 8 a.m., then photos framed by the old Post Office and on the road before 10 a.m., with Lane at the wheel for his final Frazer Nash drive. Robin and Duncan set off for Palmerston North, to meet us down the road. It was again a picturesque drive and my last chance to take video and photos. We stopped briefly in Bull and then Foxton to see the windmill and finally Levin where we made farewells about 11:30 and I continued south.
Once again I passed the highly-recommended Southward Car Museum with no time to see it! Just after 1 p.m. I was in the auto line for the ferry in Wellington. By chance, the couple ahead of me we heading home to Golden Bay and our chat showed we had mutual acquaintances - small world indeed!
I signed up for wi-fi on the Interisland ferry and used their business area, with AC power, to catch up on email and make a motel reservation in Blenheim. We landed about 5:30 and using the newly-charged GPS, I found my way to the Admirals Motor Lodge just about an hour later. It was quite nice - the manager told me the MG club was expected the next day. I put the Frazer Nash in a secluded corner of the rear parking lot, still "top down" with only the tonneau cover on it.
More Frazer Nash "on the Road" Video!
Not enough video of the Frazer Nash driving? This is a segment which ends up in Huka Falls; the next video starts in the garden gazebo of the Rothesay B&B and includes the "photo session" in front of the B&B; and a final video with Lane driving goes from Hunterville to Levin.
The Blenheim Decision and the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre - February 21
Where to go on Monday? Drive south to Invercargill? Only go to Christchurch and leave the Frazer Nash with Garry Moore? Take the car to the Nelson museum and then bus to Christchurch to visit friends there? To stay flexible, I had not made any travel reservations, but after checking flight and bus schedules and costs, I found very little available at a reasonable price. Most flights from Invercargill were completely filled. Further, how much did I want to stress myself and the car with the 500+ mile drive to Invercargill? After checking Air New Zealand flights from Nelson to Auckland, I made a reservation for an early February 24 flight to Auckland, so "the die was cast", but then noticed the flight was 8 p.m., not 8 a.m.! I immediately called and cancelled and decided I would only make face-to-face reservations in the future! At that point, I had three and a half days to drop off the car and get to Auckland, so made the easier choice and head to Nelson.
The Internet also told me Blenheim had an aquatic center, so Monday's early plan was to find a ASB cash machine and swim some laps. The GPS easily found the bank, but could not locate the aquatic center, otherwise "right before my nose". The swim was great and I was back at the motel and off to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, just a few miles/minutes away. Before entering the display area, I joined a narrated tour of the Bristol 170 freighter parked outside. Much fun and very informative, sorry to have missed the engine running just a week prior.
I had no expectations and was completely amazed by the restored and re-created WWI aircraft, their displays and history. By far, this museum had the best, most professional presentation of any I've visited. Highly recommended.
Parked next to the museum was an early '60s red Alfa-Romeo Sprint Giuletta which I had seen driving near the motel on Sunday. I asked about the car and its owner and was introduced to Graham Orphan, a museum trustee and an organizer for the Classic Fighters festival. I learned he is an accomplished aviator, has restored several planes and has a P-40 Warhawk "under restoration" and publishes Classic Wings magazine! A great conversation - we even talked about Alfas!
I left the museum just after noon through the numerous Blenheim vineyards and then north on State Highway 6 through valleys that always remind me of Switzerland. The road turns at Havelock, the last view of the sea, then many climbs, descents and turns for nearly another hour + before Tasman Bay and Nelson come into view.
Nelson and the World of WearableArt™ and Classic Cars Museum - February 21-22
The GPS had some juice left, but I could put the World of WearableArt™ and Classic Cars Museum (WOW) into the GPS and instead headed for the airport. Even then I had some minor false turns getting there! Although I had the museum address on Quarantine Road and Cadillac Way, I had to ask directions from a cyclist in an airport parking lot.
I parked, went to the lobby and then met Garry Orton in the parking lot and got directed back to Victory Automotive, Ltd, his business that maintains the museum car collection and also restores and improves classic cars. The classic car collection, both on display in the Museum and in reserve adjacent to their shop, was tremendous. I enjoyed the cars more, as Garry seemed to have a comprehensive knowledge of each car and I could have likely spent hours learning of each.
But too soon it was time to "take care of business" - find a place to stay in Nelson and a route to Auckland. Garry drove me to the Nelson I-Site and Jeff had excellent recommendations for all. My motel would be the Waimarie on Riverside, just over a block down Halifax Street. I'd catch a bus Wednesday morning to Picton, be on the Bluebridge ferry about 1 p.m., catch the overnight bus to Auckland and arrive about 7 a.m. on Thursday, with plenty of time for my 1 p.m. flight. A good plan? More after the experience!
The motel was great and I was greeted by Alison and Daisy (a pooch). When I mentioned a previous visit to Nelson and the Founder's Brewery, Alison told me I should try the Free House Pub just a short distance up Collingwood St., recently picked as the best in Nelson. The beer, though not brewed there, was excellent and whatever I ate, possibly a meat pie, suited it just fine. I took a short stroll down the Maitai River from the motel, perhaps not 200 yards, and there was the Riverside Swimming Pool. I had stopped there on a prior trip, but did not swim. The guard told me the pool was not normally crowded by 9 a.m., so that is when I went on Tuesday for only the second set of laps in a few weeks. Nice facility, with an odd 30 meter length.
Next up, back to WOW. A bus in that direction was not frequent, but I did catch one of the SBL buses that took me close enough. On my last visit, there was a double-decker sightseeing bus that made the rounds of the museum, Founder's Park, etc. The bus driver's walking directions more of less agreed with the GPS, but I missed a turn and had a unmarked highway to cross.
A primary reason for this trip was to clean the Frazer Nash. Garry let me use their wash/prep area, bucket, hose etc. and I had good Meguiar's products from a few years ago. It got a light polish/waxing and looked decent when done. I joined Garry & Guy in their break room for coffee/lunch and just about 1:30, we heard a loud noise as if a heavy object had fallen. Garry gave me a ride back to the motel where I told Alison and Robin that I'd be leaving early Wednesday. They asked if I was headed south and told me Christchurch had just been hit with (another), larger earthquake and it looked very bad.
The Christchurch Earthquake and the Long Way Home - February 22-24
I went down to my room, checked the TV and was shocked by the scenes of destruction, even with the limited repetition being shown on TV. My decision to leave the car in Nelson and head north seemed lucky, but I also felt I was abandoning the people I had hoped to visit in Christchurch. I went to the Lambretta Cafe and found it closing at 5 p.m., then around the corner to the Vic Mac's Brewbar for a beer and food. Everyone was glued to the TV.
Early Wednesday I was at the I-site bus stop and enjoyed the scenic drive to Picton, as a passenger taking photos and video.
Just after 11:00 a.m. we were in Blenheim and an hour later in Picton. But wrong ferry terminal for me, as I was booked on the Bluebridge. Rather than wait for the 1 p.m shuttle, I walked the 3/4 mile path to the other terminal on Lagoon Road for the 1:30 sailing. Nice feature - baggage can be checked. Missing feature - no wi-fi on the ferry. Just after 5:00 p.m. we were docking in Wellington and just across the street was the Wellington Railway Station, an impressive old building. The InterCity "Starlighter" did not leave until 7:50, so I had a beer and a bite at Trax Cafe & Bar (same name as the restaurant in Los Angeles Union Station) and plugged in my netbook for the last access in the day +.
I just missed the best bus seat - first one forward on the top deck - but had the next one back, with a little less legroom. The bus and ride was "as expected" - quiet, scenic, too long! We made two 1/2 hour stops for food and stretching and few others to pick up or let off passengers. There was a 45-minute delay at the second stop as we waited for a called mobile mechanic to OK the continued trip - never found out why. We pulled into the SkyTower, Auckland, very close to scheduled arrival at 7:30 a.m. - close to 12 hours on the bus!
I walked to the Downtown Westfield area, then looked for a Robert Harris cafe where I supposedly had wi-fi access based on a service bought in Wellington. I couldn't find it and neither could the GPS! So off to the Ferry Building area for breakfast and some cheese shopping - same place as before, the Family Barrow.
When the hour was decent - 8:30 a.m.? - I called Carol and Lane Smytheman to let them know I was in Auckland and off to the airport before noon. They surprisingly offered to meet me downtown and by 9:30 we were on a final whirlwind tour of Auckland's eastern shore, stopping for coffee and muffins at the Stonehouse Cafe on Tamaki Drive. The up to One Tree Hill for some scenic views and photos; we were at the airport by 11:00, again making farewells. The generous hospitality and thoughtfulness of Lane and Carol were helpful and greatly appreciated!
A change of clothes and I was on Air Pacific to Nadi, Fiji on my first flight leg home. A pushy American couple took my window seat and I had the aisle. There was a surprise announcement that Air Pacific's CEO/MD, David Pflieger was on the flight and after he greeted us, he sat across the aisle from me. We chatted a bit and I found out he was a Naval Academy grad who flew B-52s for the Air Force and had been in his executive position for 10 months. I asked about Air Pacific's help for the Christchurch earthquake victims. He said they were assisting New Zealanders and Fijians, but were limited with aircraft resources available in New Zealand. And soon he was back working on his laptop.
We arrived to the Nadi terminal on schedule about 5 p.m. and got expedited through customs for the nearly 5-hour wait for the final leg at 10 p.m. When I made the reservations I knew about this layover and had thought this would be a great opportunity for short visit/tour outside the terminal and as time dragged on, that seemed like it would have been a good plan. Next time!
The flight from Fiji to Los Angeles was fine and on schedule, landing just after noon. I had an amazingly quick transit through customs, caught the Flyaway bus to Union Station then Metro #96 to just a block from home. It was all over!
"Equipment" was a problem. The used Acer netbook I bought before the trip worked very well, but I had inconsistent Internet access - even when there was access, AT&Ts webmail frequently was balky. Gmail always came through. My 5-year old Pentax digital SLR (also bought used) showed a "memory card error" the day before I left. I was unable to get this cured or fixed and bought a Pentax "point and shoot" in Auckland. Its photos were OK, but there was not much time to learn the best settings. I carried many computer conversion cables that I never used. My older Nokia mobile phone had a dodgy keypad - "7" didn't always register - and I didn't make or return as many calls or texts as I should have. The 12v car cable for my Garmin GPS did not work so I was limited to internal battery power, just a little over 3 hours. When back home, I found an easily-replaced fuse was the cause. My Sony video camera worked great, especially after buying an after-market high capacity battery. There are 17 19-minute mini-DVDs of the trip. More videos could be added to this report, but enough for now!
The drive schedule was a little too aggressive - less deadlines and more breaks would have saved me a few aches! The weather was great - only saw about 20 drops of rain the whole time, even though it was frequently very cloudy. Driving (or riding in) the Frazer Nash is always an adventure - the only glitches were caused by owner brain fade - we learn from our mistakes!
All the "car people" were great - the NZ Bristol Owners Club members - especially Brian, Stephanie and Chris Flegg, Lane, Carol and Glen Smytheman, Stuart Smith, Chris Brown and and Steve Shilham, Greg, Petrus, Wayne and Barry at Leitch Motorsport, Allan Walton and other staff from NZ Classic Car Magazine, the Concours and Fun Run organizers and all the car owners and drivers at the Concours with stories that need to be told!
The roads, scenery and drives were terrific - there never seems to be a dull road in New Zealand! Other drivers are notches above any experience in the U.S. - I see more dumb driving in a day in Los Angeles than I did in three weeks in New Zealand.
There are many "what ifs" caused by the Christchurch earthquake. If I had driven south, where would I be when the earthquake hit? Likely south of that city, but how would I then get back to Auckland? The earthquake disrupted air and bus travel for several days, and both travel routes passed through Christchurch.
It is hard to decide whether all the people I met, the beer I drank or the great food was the "best feature" of the trip. It all added up to make a great adventure!
More? Send me corrections or additions!
Bob Schmitt - Burbank, California (AND still crazy after all these years...)
The Frazer Nash and its primary driver, at Three-Mile Hill, Dunedin, 2005
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The Frazer Nash-USA Table of Contents
April 5, 2011 (rev 5/3)