New Zealand Adventure

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by James Dixon
The 34-member tour group at Bluff on the southern tip of the South Island.

Two things to know about New Zealand.

First, it is a long way from home.

Second, it is more than worth the trip.

Traveling from 12 states, the 32-member Farm Collector tour group came together for the first time on Jan. 18 in Auckland. It would be an exaggeration to say that the travelers fell to their knees on the tarmac, kissing terra firma after 13 hours in the air, but none tarried in departing the aircraft.

As arrivals trickled in, old friends greeted each other (half of the group had travelled on previous Farm Collector tours) and got acquainted with new friends. At midday, when we exited the terminal with our intrepid guide, James Dixon of Farm to Farm Tours, the weather — marked by warm temperatures and sunny skies — was like a gift. We set off for lunch on the wharf in Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island.

After lunch, we rolled out for a short tour of sights near Auckland — including a short hike up nearby Mt. Eden for a beautiful view of the city — before returning to the hotel for a bit of R&R and the welcome dinner.

Day 2: Auckland to Tauranga

Rebounding from the travel day, the group bade farewell to Auckland. Traveling through the Bombay Hills, which lie at the southern boundary of the Auckland region and serve as a divide between Auckland and the Waikato region, we made two collector visits.

Our first stop of the day was at the home of Robin and Margaret Hill near Kaihere, who welcomed us like old friends and didn’t seem to mind when 34 Americans commenced to sticking their noses into every shed they could get into. We viewed a collection of more than 40 tractors, as well as implements, tools and blacksmith memorabilia and enjoyed tea and refreshments.

“It looks like home,” one visitor said as he surveyed the collection. Robin allowed as how it was a zero-sum game. “I’ve got to sell a tractor before I can get another one,” he admitted.

From the Hills’, it was a short drive to Peter and Lorraine Williams’ place. There we were treated to a collection featuring many familiar favorites: Farmalls, vintage trucks, a Ford tractor and implements. Like Robin, Peter is a member of the Hauraki Vintage Club. An avowed “red” man, Peter specializes in International Harvester tractors and machinery.

A sumptuous potluck luncheon featured traditional local dishes, including sausage rolls, Pavlova, chocolate Afghan and Anzac cookies. By mid-afternoon, we departed for our hotel in Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty.

Day 3: Edgecumbe to Rotorua — and a surprise!

Stepping out bright and early, we travelled south along the coast to Edgecumbe. On the way, James surprised us with an unplanned visit to a kiwi farm. We were thrilled by the opportunity to see how the crop is grown (on horizontal trellises) and learn about its cultivation and harvest.

From there we continued on to the rural home of Jim “Barefoot” Richardson, whose sprawling collection is (mostly) housed in several rambling sheds; other pieces are simply left outside. For many on the trip, ’twas the stuff that dreams are made of.

There is no way to describe the collection, except to say that it included hundreds of pieces manufactured in the U.S. and Europe, and some are rare. There seemed to be one of everything and two of many. The tractors are jammed into sheds cheek to jowl in varying states of repair. Most had not budged for years.

Many of the men were like pigs in clover. Swarming over this piece or that, slipping between hulks of iron frozen in place, trying to get close enough to a serial number tag to read it, they attempted to drink up as much of the experience as possible.

Barefoot, named for his aversion to footwear, was a cheerful host, happy to chat and answer questions. Friends and neighbors, mostly members of vintage tractor clubs, were on hand as well and all enjoyed getting acquainted.

After lunch on the coast at Whakatane (not far from White Island, the site of the deadly volcanic eruption late last year) we went on to Rotorua for a two-night stay. The heart of an active geothermal region and the center of New Zealand’s Maori culture, Rotorua was a charming small city where we saw steaming geysers, hot springs and boiling mud pools. During a visit to the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, we saw Maori traditions kept alive by young artisans. The evening concluded with an elaborate, exotic and tasty Hangi feast.

Day 4: Rotorua

Our day started at Agrodome near Rotorua, where we viewed a light-hearted but informative presentation on the commercial sheep breeds found in New Zealand, plus sheep-shearing and a sheep dog demonstration.

Free time that afternoon gave members of the group the flexibility to further investigate Rotorua, visiting the Polynesian spa, the Rotorua Museum or a wildlife preserve.

Day 5: Queenstown and Wanaka

We pulled into the Rotorua Airport early, leaving the North Island to fly to Queenstown on the South Island. Our first stop after landing took us to Wanaka Warbirds and Wheels, a museum of rare vintage vehicles plus a range of aircraft, including fighter aircraft dating to World Wars I and II. We ended our day at a hotel on the stunningly beautiful Lake Wanaka.

Day 6: Wanaka to Invercargill (with surprise stops)

This was a day of unexpected pleasures, starting with a visit to Alan Dippie’s impressive private collection of more than 100 tractors, classic cars, commercial trucks and crawlers near Lake Wanaka. Showcasing the history of tractors in New Zealand up to 1960, the collection included many rare and handsomely restored tractors, all beautifully displayed in a large, well-lit museum with enormous museum-quality photographs of tractors and vintage equipment covering the length of one wall.

A gracious host, Alan shared the back story on his collection (built in just three years!), and fielded questions on everything from a German-made Lanz to a custom-built Imperial Super Diesel. Alan’s daughter, Charlotte, joined in, helping start a 1949 Field Marshall Series II tractor, using a smoldering cigarette and a shotgun shell.

“Field Marshall tractors were widely used in New Zealand by stock agencies,” Alan says. “New Zealand farmers had to keep using old tractors; they’d never get rid of them.” Alan hopes to build on that heritage. “It’s our aim to have the best collection in the southern hemisphere,” he says.

As we rolled on, we enjoyed a surprise stop at a produce stand bursting with glorious fresh fruit (and ice cream!). Farther down the road, we sampled a New Zealand specialty, the meat pie. Stopping at Jimmy’s Pies in Roxburgh, our group nearly overwhelmed a small carry-out establishment widely known for its hand-held meat pies and a huge selection of baked goods. No one left hungry!

Then, another surprise stop: the West Otago Vintage Club museum in Tapanui. This unscheduled visit was a tour highlight: A large and diverse club-owned collection filled two buildings and we had the run of it all. For anyone who’s ever visited or been involved with a small rural museum, it affirmed how people are the same the world ’round.

The items on display were neither richly restored nor breathtakingly rare. But each had been donated by local people who saw them as a key part of local history. And so, in addition to steam engines and tractors and stationary engines, we also saw household items, pieces from local businesses, newspapers, journals, ledgers and many framed photographs from bygone days.

Established in 1958, the West Otago Vintage Club is the second oldest vintage club in New Zealand. A high production district, it was one of the earliest to make the move to mechanized agriculture. Crops raised there today include wheat, oats, barley and swedes (similar to turnips, but bigger). The land is especially prized for dairy grazing.

We ended a remarkable day in New Zealand’s southernmost city of Invercargill, where we settled for three nights.

Day 7: Invercargill

We spent the morning at Bill Richardson’s Transport World, said to be the largest private automotive museum of its type in the world — and there weren’t many doubters in our group. The universal comment was, “WOW.”

Housed in a professionally designed and curated museum, the sprawling collection numbered more than 300 vehicles, including Henry Ford letter cars, 1930s V8s, a retro Kombi collection and a showstopping 1940 Dodge Airflow Texaco tanker (as well as some very fine tractors).

Established by local entrepreneur Bill Richardson, the museum reflects decades of passion spent restoring trucks. Richardson has since died, but the museum remains in family hands and their care and concern for the collection shines through.

As at Barefoot’s, some of our group members had to be dragged onto the coach by the ankles, so intent were they on seeing every last exhibit, but who could blame them?

From there, we headed south to the small town of Bluff, which is the last exit before Antarctica. Perched appropriately enough on a bluff overlooking the Southern Ocean, this little town (where we enjoyed a lunch of fish and chips) draws a lot of day visitors.

We returned to Invercargill to the Classic Motorcycle Mecca, a sister institution to the Richardson museum. This facility, every bit as world-class as the other, contains more than 300 motorcycles as well as sidecars and artwork in a collection reaching back to 1902.

If you know anything at all about motorcycle history, you will be familiar with the name of Burt Munro. For the uninitiated, Munro made land speed history on his 1920 Indian Scout in 1967, setting a record that still stands. We stopped by a local hardware store. E. Hayes & Son, to see a unique display showcasing Munro’s legacy, and “the world’s fastest Indian” — the record-setting 1920 Indian Scout.

Day 8: Edendale

Edendale, located near the southern tip of New Zealand, is a long way to go for a tractor show, but that’s what we set out to do and the big day finally arrived on Jan. 25. The 33rd annual Edendale Vintage Machinery Club’s Crank-Up was held in a small town near our hotel and we headed out under skies that looked threatening but which soon cleared.

The 2020 event featured European tractors and pre-1990 Japanese cars. If Japanese cars seem an odd feature, bear in mind that no automobiles are produced in New Zealand. Japanese imports, considered affordable and fuel-efficient, are everywhere there.

Other aspects of the show — tractor, steam and engine displays — were more familiar. The show opened Saturday with bagpipes. Parades were divided into categories: tractors, crawlers, cars (including a Japanese vehicle parade) and motorcycles — there was even a parade of steampunk enthusiasts.

What is steampunk, you ask? We had to go to New Zealand to get a clearer understanding of it. As near as we can tell, it’s a sort of stylistic blend of old and new. Imagine garments and philosophies that seem vaguely Victorian-industrial paired with a mindset that remains open to the functionality of modern technology.

Day 9: Milford Sound to Te Anau

This day was totally given over to a visit to the Milford Sound, a fiord on the west coast of the South Island. Called “the eighth wonder of the world” by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound is acclaimed as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination, and routinely appears on lists of the world’s top travel destinations.

We set off on a small boat cruise at midday and enjoyed spectacular scenery, wildlife sightings and views of countless waterfalls before heading to Te Anau for the night.

Day 10: Queenstown, another surprise and a death-defying act

En route to Queenstown — our final stop in New Zealand — we paid a visit to the lovingly preserved Kingston rail station for tea and scones. Tucked in on the shore of Lake Wakatipu between the Eyre mountains and the Remarkables, the little-visited station is a love letter to the past, when rail travel was king.

From there, we took a leap into the Kawarau Gorge — or at least one of our intrepid travelers did. Twenty-something Parker Revier stepped up to the plate and jumped from a bridge, plunging nearly 141 feet before his bungee cord yanked him back from the brink. A fun and unexpected diversion for all to take in!

Then, on to Arrowtown, a historic goldmining village near Queenstown for a bit of lunch and shopping, followed by a gondola ride up a mountain high above Queenstown, where a lavish farewell dinner was held with a stunning view of the city, the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

The next morning, many of the group began the long journey home as others set off for excursions through Australia. All took with them lovely memories of warm, sunny days in a beautiful country where we enjoyed meeting uncommonly friendly people: all in all, a tour to remember! FC

To view a 14-minute slide show of the tour, produced by tour member Galynn Ferris, visit here. Galynn also produced a six-minute slide show of our visit to the Milford Sound. View it here.

Leslie C. McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Email her

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