armistice 100 news
To beat the Warbirds rush hour traffic, we headed down the road early at 8am.
Of course it wouldn’t be a challenge if we didn’t grind our way up and over the Crown Range Road past Cardrona.
As we neared the summit the old girls were sweating blood and the traffic was building up behind. Stopping at the summit to admire the view it was like a blast freezer or as Haigh so eloquently put it “Colder than a frog’s tit.”
Staying just long enough to get hypothermia, we headed down the other side of the hill still in second gear to avoid over speeding into oblivion.
Parked up in Arrowtown
The first destination was Arrowtown for a scout around and brunch. The convoy pulled through the narrow main street in parade formation before parking up below the town. Tony directed us on one corner then a few minutes later popped up on another corner. Is this man teleporting?
Although tempting, we did not have brunch in the Remarkable Sweet Shop.
Feeling full we mounted up and headed out of town to the Frankton Motor Camp at Queenstown. A former Top Ten, it was not as salubrious as some of our lodgings, but it was a step up from Jock’s paddock.
Briefing at Frankton Motor Camp. Photo: Harindra Pilapitiya
A plan was formulated to go on a dinner cruise to Walter Peak Station on the majestic old lady of the lake, the triple expansion steam engine powered Earnslaw. Not everyone wanted to (or could) participate and the $145 per head price tag was enough to choke on. Haigh negotiated a discount which helped.
The entire Earnslaw/Walter Peak experience was top notch and made me proud to be a New Zealander when we can offer this level of experience.
As the ship pulled into the wharf, the entire dining staff of about 15-20 people came out onto the front lawn top wave to us. It was such a grand old-school gesture.
We landed on the wharf. Duncan and Tina McGregor recently made a midnight run out here in a ready-mix concrete truck to effect urgent repairs to the wharf at 2am.
Our group were met and seated together for the gourmet meal. As a smorgasbord, it was difficult not to over-indulge.
Haigh had organised a birthday cake for Kerrie Subritzky. She said it was her best birthday ever which really is something because she had had a few of them!
The night was pitch black outside as we walked to see the farm show. The special arena was lit up and the two sheep dogs yawned and stretched as they adjusted to their sleep being interrupted.
The farm guy sheared a sheep to the delight of the crowd, giving a great commentary as he did it. Then it was time to pat the dog before re-boarding the Earnslaw for the cruise home. Up forward, there was a sing-along with a piano. So many songs from my youth and memories came flooding back. We must have sung way too much at school!
The crew stirred, had a chin wag and ambled off on foot to the Airshow. This was the major benefit of staying within walking distance as the adjacent highway closed to through traffic and cars queued to enter the Airshow.
The very first event involved a Yak which had an oops landing on the grass. There were two cherry pickers parked on the side of the runway for a later event and the Yak pilot hit one of these while landing with major damage. When on the ground he had extremely restricted visibility so random cherry pickers parked alongside the strip proved to be a hazard. This event closed the airport for about an hour which was a bit of a disrupt.
The morning so far had been overcast and cold. Mavis Moodie arrived for the NZMVC AGM scheduled for later that day and she caught up with various people as the day progressed. That is commitment right there spending the time and resources to do the job.
The show proceeded with many excellent displays. Two American aircraft put on displays – a transport and an F16. It’s cool to see a current jet fighter in our skies, even if they had upset the locals over at Franz Joseph Glacier the previous day. The American commentary was next level, as you would expect from people doing lots of shows to big crowds. The local commentary boys referred to this and seemed a bit overwhelmed when they had to follow.
Chris and Tracy Bass and Terry Marshall had left the convoy to fully participate in the large “War Horses” re-enactment community displaying at the Airshow. We saw lots of MV’s unique to the region in this display. Chris reported that he was completely satisfied with the copious amounts of free food. The Armistice100 convoy did not officially display at the Airshow because the organisers required a four day commitment which was just too long for our schedule.
Overall the Airshow was a fantastic experience enjoyed by all.
In the evening the NZMVC AGM was held in the Volunteers tent, organised by locals Duncan and Tina McGregor. About 30 people attended and the hard edge of organising and running the Club was done in a positive way. In the last few years these meetings have been very productive and thankfully left behind the politics of years gone by. We are focussed on working together to get great outcomes.
Another great day, this time with jet aircraft!
Anthems at 7.45am. Formed up and rolling out at 8am for another short hop.
The trucks were winding up the Haast River Valley through more overwhelmingly spectacular scenery yet again. The night before we had been studying photos of the road under construction, so today we had fun spotting the location of the photos as we drove along.
After a comfort stop at a lovely DOC reserve, we were on the road again and heading up into the hills. The Pass is steep and a really special experience. The coffee stop was again courtesy of Haigh and gratefully received.
The country view changes entirely as you transit the Pass. Now in the alpine environment, we trundled along the side of Lake Wanaka. Crossing the saddle, the convoy pulled aside to meet the other Yates (Peter’s brother).
After that it was a fairly early arrival at Windermere Farm to camp next to the Wings over Wanaka. Jock welcomed us to his abode. We camped next to a bunch of lawyers but avoided getting sued.
Mid-afternoon the team went down to the Wanaka waterfront for the free airshow. The Frankie girls provided some ambiance with the music show. Various aircraft put in an appearance but the absolute highlight was the Catalina coming over low and slow and landing on the lake. The Navy’s Seasprite helicopter landing on the beach to deliver Jim Hickey was less of a highlight, as everyone within 100m got showered with sand, gravel and lake water. There is always a shower to look forward to after that experience.
We scouted for a location for the night movie, needing to be within power cord reach of the mains supply. Although Jock told us that his house was our house, we thought 30 people in his lounge could be over the top. He cheerfully agreed to us setting up in his back yard. We hoisted the screen on a stick of 4x2, propped up against an oil tank. The projector was on top of a 44 gallon drum. Haigh had lost the power cord for our speakers so Jock’s missus brought out a portable speaker for us. Unfortunately during pack-down John S returned Haigh’s sound bar along with the borrowed speaker. This gave Haigh another opportunity to chat to Jock the next day as he recovered the missing sound bar.
We went to bed anticipating an exciting day tomorrow at the airshow, after seeing the practice runs today.
It is a short hop on this leg so word got passed around camp the night before that First Gear was 9am. As in any war, information is hard to come by.
Engines burst enthusiastically into life and we rolled through the metropolis of Fox dead on time. After the township, civilisation is spread pretty thin until you get to Haast and even then…
The Salmon Café is the only discoverable commercial establishment offering coffee between Fox and Haast so of course we blew right past that one!
Being short of options we enlisted the help of convoy experts to cook pancakes and provide scones at the waterfront of Lake Paringa. Thanks to Linda Skelton, Judi Eldridge and Sabre Seaborg!
The Jeeps posed coyly for a “Jeep Only” group photo even though the sun was not co-operating by being in the wrong position.
After a few more miles a comfort stop was organised in Bruce Bay. The Advance Party asked a local if the Community Hall could be unlocked to allow access to the conveniences. Help yourself he said. “The key is hanging above the door!” It looks like the Hall gets used for church services and community events as well as holding lots of historical information. A surprise was getting cell coverage here which must be a recent addition to break up the 244km cell blackspot.
More stunning scenery ensued. How many days of stunning scenery can one take?
Advance hauled us over to indulge in Whitebait toasties at the Curly Tree Whitebait Company. $10 a shot, cash only thanks!
From there it was a short skip to Haast, across possibly the longest one lane bridge at 750m that we had encountered.
The crew was put up at the Holiday Park. The Camp seemed a bit overenthusiastic and double booked some people which led to the impression that they had no vacancies which led to John and Kerrie staying in the nearby hotel. They soon learnt that Chinese tourists tend to speak to each other quite fast and very loudly inside and outside the building. It was like a cultural exchange.
The crew assembled together for dinner at the hotel bar which was the place to be in Haast.
Another great day in paradise!
The dawn promised a far kinder sort of day but despite this encouragement the Austin Champ’s Rolls Royce engine point blank refused to get out of bed and demanded to be tow started. We know how that feels – pass the coffee please!
We formed up in some semblance of order outside the front gate with breakers crashing on the beach behind us. The convoy created our own bit of gridlock as other unlucky campers tried to break through our lines and escape into the wild.
No-one with any information felt compelled to give a briefing about how the day would unfold so we lurched off on an unknown mission to the dulcet tones of Kenny the Trail Officer.
The convoy rocketed down the highway for possibly 10 seconds before a comfort stop in Hokitika. This got extended to something like an hour while we indulged in coffees, sightseeing and visiting the local museum in the Carnegie Building.
Grinding gears took us out of town to the freedom of the highway with sun on our face and wind in our hair. Roadworks demanded that we drive across a railway bridge. You gotta do what you gotta do.
10 seconds later we were at the Mainland cheese advert pub at Mahiniapua. Despite being morning tea time, we piled into the bar for well-earned beers. The pub has successfully morphed into a backpacker establishment and the Kiwi Experience bus vacuumed up all the nubile young things to transport them to their next destination. Posters around the pub advertised “work” for young tourists which would become a theme as we travelled. There must be a lot of businesses running on cheap labour.
The convoy started engines and shot straight across the State Highway into a reserve bordering Lake Mahiniapua. This section was possibly two seconds long. We stopped at this beautiful lake for a group photo while photographing cheeky wekas in the carpark.
We joined State Highway 6 again for a further 12 seconds and found ourselves in Ross. Being lunchtime by now, the convoy crowd hit the pie shop which took the workers off guard. We negotiated among ourselves over the remaining pies and everyone got lunch.
The convoy pulled out of town and did a flash past the local school so that the kids could see the convoy. That bit was a trifle underwhelming, but we rolled on to a secret surprise location on the outskirts of Ross, where a couple of tanks lay in wait. The first tank arrived as a surprise 50th birthday present for Edwin Birchfield from his wife. Wives like that are quite rare. Edwin fired up the tank and the boys were mesmerised with the sound as the exhaust fumes from the huge exhausts filled the shed.
The convoy blew through to Franz Joseph where it felt it would be rude not to stop at such an attraction. After winding down the narrow track lined with tourists’ cars and numerous over-done riverstone speed bumps, many convoyers set off for the intrepid 1.5 hour return walk to the glacier with an hour to do it in. However, some of the vehicles could smell home and peeled off in favour of chillaxing at camp, a mere 27 kms and some humungous hills and steep winding roads away. Won’t be doubling back anytime soon unless it’s a national emergency.
We wearily trundled into Fox and our magic Top 10 camp. A Spa Pool with a view! Most enjoyed a lovely dinner in town before another convoy movie and bedtime.
The Subritzkys were wide awake at 3am as the wind rose and showers of acorns hit the tin roof of the cabin from the oak tree beside it.
Anthems were played and we rolled out to the wonderful drawl of Kenny the Trail Officer as he gave us courteous instructions over the radio.
The convoy lumbered gently over the 135-year-old swing bridge high above the Waiau River. Hanging a hard right at the intersection we headed west towards the Lewis Pass.
Traffic filtered past us as we rose and fell through the hills following the river. An articulated truck had ploughed into a bank and its load was being transferred to another unit.
We started climbing into beech forest in the Lewis Reserve and it was a beautiful, mystical scene with mist in the forest.
Cresting the summit, we went down through some tight turns and narrow bridges to eventually make it to the rest stop at Springs Junction. Peter Haigh shouted us all coffees before we headed off towards Reefton. Pretty much the entire stretch to Reefton was through primordial beech rainforest. Mile after mile of Peter Jackson movie set landscapes.
Advance directed us into a carpark in Reefton adjacent to an old steam engine which the local kids had decorated with graffiti, boasting about their enhancements. This despite the loco being housed in a fenced off cage.
It was time for lunch and pies seemed like the perfect choice. However, the bakery was not prepared for the volume of people who descended on them, so after the first few convoy teams converged on it they sold out, so most had to find lunch elsewhere. We dispersed around the town to take in the sights. The Bearded Miners are the main attraction and do a great job of bringing the hut on the corner alive.
We pushed on towards Greymouth through the darkening clouds. The meandering back roads took us past the entry to the Pike River Mine. The clouds exploded into heavy downpours to further test the mettle of the Jeep drivers and passengers. Gary continued the windscreen-down-no-top policy supported by Lyn Eades in the passenger seat. They are fully experiencing the NZ environment in a tactile way.
The convoy turned off the highway and ground up the hill to Blackball in the deluge. The “Formerly the Blackball Hilton” beckoned to us through the rain so we headed over to have a pint.
Inside is a huge display of historical documents and photos as well as a painting of a naked lady over the bar. The articles are all about strikes and people getting killed in mining catastrophes, interspersed with people getting killed in a couple of world wars. The patrons probably needed to focus on the naked lady after all that depressing news. Blackball is the birthplace of the Labour Party. It’s easy to see why Labour started there and is still popular when mine bosses a hundred years ago objected to a 30-minute paid lunch break down in the mine.
The Austin Champ inexplicably needed a tow start around the streets of Blackball before we headed down the hill in the rain and near gale force winds towards Greymouth – the Met Service rain radar showed a bright blue rain cloud precisely targeted at our location while the rest of NZ basked in sunshine – you can thank us later.
The Greymouth Top 10 offered a range of accommodation options to suit everyone including Jeep garaging for a lucky few. We gratefully went into our warm, dry lodgings for respite. It had been a big day.
We formed up opposite the local school so they could inspect the vehicles. Haigh did a superb job giving the kids a tour and answering the tough questions. The motorbikes seemed to be a favourite. The young kids shamed the convoy crowd by actually knowing the words and singing the national anthem – especially those pesky Maori bits!
We backtracked to the Rainbow ski field access road and entered the station. This track has been tar sealed for kilometres by the good ratepayers of Marlborough in an attempt to boost tourism. Like many South Island back country tracks, the road was pushed through to provide access to install power pylons, so the landscape comes complete with these monsters.
Turning off the sealed ski field highway the track instantly got a lot rougher. A highlight was several river fords which made for excellent photos. One ford claimed a motorcycle as a victim and it got loaded onto the recovery trailer.
We stopped at the cobb cottage where the $40/vehicle toll was extracted from us. The nice lady gave us a rundown of local history and showed us the historic cottage she lives in part-time. We did notice some modern gizmos like a flush loo in the back shed and a gas heated outdoor shower with a view.
We chugged on into the mountains with simply spectacular scenery. Paul Baptist said it was the best $40 he had ever spent. It was a real highlight!
Richard Taylor started to experience overheating problems with his half ton Dodge. The Toyota diesel powerplant was sweating and the water recovery bottle’s lid wasn’t working. A couple of hills later clouds of steam erupted, and Richard pulled aside to let it cool so water could be added. The recovery crew worked with him and made sure he was able to continue.
Going through the gate from Rainbow to Molesworth saw an immediate improvement in roading standards, courtesy of the taxpayer.
We stopped at Lake Tennyson which, true to form, was cold with a wind blowing down the lake. It was a beautiful drive down the valley to the old St James homestead. The house burnt down decades ago but we enjoyed looking around the outbuilding and their amazing artefacts. Tom Grace explained the workings of the stationary conventional hay baler. Men would fork hay in the top and then wire was passed through the machine and tied off around the haybale. Tom said that even with gloves it was very hard on hands.
After the short drive to Hanmer going very slowly down the steep descent from Jack’s Pass we left the smell of burning brake pads behind and formed up in a tight parade formation to make a big splash in a little town.
We woke with joy in our hearts as the skies were clear and sunny. The convoy formed up on SH1. In a carpark that Haigh had found there was a covered, elevated deck that was a great stage to use for the anthems. It was a powerful moment.
We headed off through town into the sunny Wairau Valley. Vineyards for Africa. If its not in grapes it soon will be!
The convoy hummed along the flat valley floor for ages. Then we pulled into a Dept. of Conservation (DOC) reserve carpark for a coffee-less pit stop. Still the sun shone. Our new Austin Champ team had earlier done a pit stop of their own at a lone coffee cart.
As we continued up into the hills, the sun lost its early enthusiasm and bugged out. We pushed on without it and entered the sleepy metropolis of St Arnaud’s. The convoy pulled up lakefront. It really was stunning. The short jetty attracted people, ducks and about 100 eels. Lunch right there if you like eel, but fishing is illegal.
The team gathered in a DOC shelter where foreign tourists were trying to have a quiet meal. Then the rain descended around us. The overnight stop was a basic DOC campground but in the face of dirty weather there was a mass exodus to the Alpine Lodge which became the new HQ.
Many visited the boating museum before settling down for the evening. We gathered at the excellent community hall for a catered dinner sponsored by Mike and Judy Edridge. It was good socialising and the local ladies had catered the dinner to raise funds for Hospice. Tom Grace passed the hat around and raised another $400+
We retreated to the lodge and many came to watch outdoors our movie for the night, “Patton”. We rigged the screen on the side of Bedford. Unfortunately, as the temperature dropped so did the enthusiasm. We would have to reconvene another night for the end of the movie. In the meantime, a Herc flying low in the night was pretty cool.
We woke up at the camp under the SH1 bridge like a bunch of trolls. It had rained overnight and water ponded on the road. We formed up and convoyed out to the Omaka Aviation History Museum. The Packards had caught us up and both groups lined up in the carpark. There are separate entry charges for the WWI section and the WWII section, or a combined ticket. Lively discussion ensued as to which was best and how to do a group booking.
The museum is truly world class with some fantastic displays and artefacts. You can see the hand of Weta Workshops in the dioramas. Even the lighting is brilliant in its subtlety. A highlight is a German cross on fabric cut from the Red Baron’s crashed aircraft. The Australians souvenired anything they could get including the Baron’s boots!
In the WWII side we saw a twin-engine Anton and a Yak 3 that would be at Warbirds over Wanaka a week later. There were about 12 people tagging in and out at Blenheim. The Gisborne military motorcycle squad arrived. Harry who did the first section flew back to work until Easter.
We caught up with maintenance and resupplies before dinner and an outdoor movie.
Early start and departure at 6am to avoid Wellington traffic. There were a few dusty people from the night before.
We had an awesome and extremely well designed and executed drive through cold blustery wind and rain to the ferry terminal.
Unfortunately we had an incident involving a trailer, a loose wheel and a Dodge M37. Luckily the wheel was found in time to board the Ferry. Terry Marshall was also in need of a tow to start his Jeep and load it on board. We were parked among a group of vintage Packard (and other) Cars.
The crossing was good despite the wind and the team had time for breakfast and a few more drinks. They even had time to write these reports on official sick bags. One sick report!
After horsing around refuelling, we had a smooth run in dense Ferry traffic from Picton to Blenheim. It was still raining but we had some welcome respite and an opportunity to get things dry (Especially welcomed by the Jeep drivers).
We organised a couple of movies in the outdoor BBQ area which brought us all together. Dinner was enjoyed in the pub across the road.
This is the first time to the South Island for many of our vehicles.