With only a couple of hours to go before closing time, we had a decision to make on which motoring collection to head to. As Munro had already come to mind, the answer was obvious: we would head to E. Hayes & Sons (168 Dee Street, Invercargill, +64 3 218-2059), where Munro’s two motorcycles, including the record-breaking 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle was housed. Munro set the sub-1,000 cm³ land speed record for motorcycles at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967, when he was 68 years old, and his racer was 47 years old. Of the three world records set by Munro, one still stands.
The Hayes collection has plenty of motorcycles, particularly racing ones, to keep fans happy for hours, including a more stock 1922 Indian Scout, a 1951 Vincent Rapide C, a streamlined shell replica used in The World’s Fastest Indian, and Munro’s ‘other bike’, a 1936 MSS Velocette, which he had planned to take to Bonneville, but his health prevented this. Arguably the next most unusual was a motorcycle powered by a Chevrolet Corvair six, described by Hayes as ‘ideal for towing a caravan up Mt Everest.’
However, it’s the car collection that had us transfixed for almost as long as the Munro motorcycles. If Gore had shown us an affinity for the British car, then Invercargill was home to many Americans, from a 1966 Mustang we spied on the street, to a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, a 1954 Chevrolet sedan, a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, and a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air at E. Hayes. All but the 1954 Chevy were in pristine condition; the Chevy was used as a prop in The World’s Fastest Indian, as Munro’s personal transport in the film.
A 1968 Begg racer is also part of the collection, itself a New Zealand record-breaker, and to round off the four-wheeled variety were a 1910 Buick and a 1956 Morris J van, the latter having once been a common sight here and in other British Commonwealth countries. Hayes also had a counter made from a chopped Austin Mk II—we never found out whether the donor car had been an 1100 or 1300.
If you have got as far as Invercargill, you may as well carry on to Bluff. The roads were quite good in this part of the country, and the GS again comfortably took on the role of an open-road cruiser. By now, we were used to the ride height, though admittedly we were still careful about corners, given the higher centre of gravity. The GS is a keen overtaker, the turbos giving it torque in quick measure, having no trouble when you put your foot down. That was “very MG”, a taste of what you might have expected to have found in the days of the B GT V8 as it overtook others on the motorway. The GS is certainly not a B, but it is a Q-car in that it has power that you don’t expect, surprising others when you outpace them.
In no time, we reached the famous sign at the southernmost tip of the South Island, pointing to different landmarks elsewhere on the planet (‘New York 15008 km’; ‘London 18958 km’). You can just make out Stewart Island in the distance. We sampled the start of the walking trail at Stirling Pt, but it had been a lengthy day and we needed a quick drink at the sole restaurant near the sign.
Like Mataura, Bluff was another location that once had a vibrant industry, but fell victim to the lifting of protectionism and the advent of the globalizing economy. The tourist centre was downbeat, far from being as accommodating as Cromwell’s, and there were precious few stores—Bluff seemed ripe for a real revival in tourism. Tourists arrived by bus to the sign, others drove by car, truck or campervan, and there were even cyclists who braved the elements. Bluff tourist operators wouldn’t starve with the numbers there, but shops catering for tourists were few and far between. Oysters weren’t in season at the time of our visit, so we couldn’t even sample the one delicacy the town was known for (it’s March to October). Yet the town has real potential, and the locals are friendly. Might we see some entrepreneurial activity here soon?
Once you have unpacked fully, it’s very hard to get everything back into two suitcases, and neither of us felt it was necessary, since the GS had ample room. We used the back seat for more of our belongings and food that we acquired during our stay in Gore wound up with our suitcases in the boot.
Our next stop after Gore was staying in a real rural part of New Zealand, halfway between Lumsden and Five Rivers, at Acton Downs. We called Dot, who with husband Geoff owned Duck Pond Cottage, to let her know we were en route, and she couldn’t have been friendlier. But before we embarked to our next destination for some proper R&R, we took in Winton and Heddon Bush, where Amanda’s maternal grandmother had grown up. They were places we had never planned to go to, but once again, Gore proved to be a perfect launchpad for these activities.
Winton, with a population of around 2,500, is a thriving rural town, with plenty of business from nearby farms, and, during the time of our visit, a very warm and comfortably dry climate. It wasn’t as heavily frequented by tourists though there were still a few who found their way here to a picturesque spot. Its Centennial Park is well looked after with roses and healthy trees, and gives a good view of the well maintained historical buildings in town. Heddon Bush was more hidden, but the MG’s nav took us there, and we visited the school which Amanda’s grandmother could have attended in the 1910s.
It was on these back roads that the MG GS had to travel on gravel, but we opted to keep it in drive rather than in the W (for winter) mode on the gearbox. The power went to all four wheels and it felt sure-footed, and the cladding on the car was fairly good at protecting it, though we wound up, as is typical when attacking back roads, with a thick layer of dust on the rear. The rear wiper was effective, though before long another layer would build up on the window.
From Heddon Bush, and thanks to the school’s receptionist, it was quite easy to get to Mossburn, on a route that eventually became paved. Arriving on State Highway 94, we stopped at the local store, which entertained two consecutive busloads of Asian tourists, the first from Korea and the second from Japan.
Duck Pond Cottage wasn’t on the sat-nav, and neither was Acton, but Dot had advised that we should take the turn off from Mossburn on to State Highway 97, which linked Mossburn and Five Rivers. Acton was about midway, 5 km in. We did have to play with the sat-nav to set the destination, which, fortunately, it allowed us to do by touch rather than feeding in an address conventionally. After that, we always found our way ”home” with the sat-nav.
We took a sharp left on Acton Downs Road, and headed down another gravel road: by this time we were used to taking the MG on the rough stuff. Duck Pond Cottage was subtly, though still clearly, signposted, but considering there were only a handful of farms on the road, you couldn’t have missed it.
The Cottage is delightful. It’s on Dot and Geoff’s farm, but separate from their beautiful log cabin up the hill. Sheep and cattle are nearby, as is a duck pond from which it gets its name. In fact, the sheep can get very close and are harmless. The sunny cottage, with a lot of duck motifs within, is self-contained with electricity and hot water; air conditioning was missing, but then no one had expected a record summer. There were decent blinds to keep the insects out if you needed fresh air to come in. They installed a replacement dishwasher during our stay, and the appliances are fairly modern. There’s also a small television set in the lounge that had a good range of Freeview channels.
Dot greeted us at the cabin and we felt an instant warmth from her as we chatted about the area, our unexpected stay in Gore, and our home in Wellington. She said there was no wifi or ethernet, but that we would be welcome in their home if we needed to get online. But this was our holiday, and it seemed fitting that the internet wasn’t readily available, though for those who must stay wired, a 3G or 4G modem worked fine, with few drop-outs from the Cottage. Mobile reception worked fine as well.
The couple are as honest as the day is long, with Geoff working on the farm and Dot having a job in Lumsden as well as managing the bookings. We had overbooked by one night by accident and overpaid; Dot promptly refunded the difference. This was such a contrast to our Cromwell experience that we were happy to write two substantial messages in their visitors’ book. The Cottage was so handy to Queenstown, Fiordland, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, and we could see why previous visitors, from the US, China and even Kazakhstan, were so complimentary about the place in the book.
Dot and Geoff are brilliant with local knowledge, and suggested places in Lumsden where we could eat; they also advised on a local swimming hole, where one could get a decent view of the area, and where to get fuel. Over the next few days, as we interacted with Dot and Geoff and walked around their farm with their permission, we got to experience a lot of that knowledge for ourselves.
One major appeal of Duck Pond Cottage was its proximity to Te Anau, from where we could take the bus to Milford Sound. Dot advised that Doubtful Sound was less busy and had a very different landscape; we opted for the more popular. It should be noted that while the locals can get to Te Anau in 45 minutes, those of us less familiar with the roads should budget an hour, even an hour and a quarter. The roads are policed, so a strict observance of the 100 km/h limit is advised.
The best priced Milford Sound tour that we found was with Southern Discoveries, and after making it to their depot in Te Anau—and thank goodness there is free parking in the town—we boarded the bus to join a group of international tourists who were fairly impersonal, sticking to themselves. We eventually befriended some Germans, and were entertained by the driver’s commentary. He knew the roads well, having driven them for 11 years, finding that they were getting busier and more dangerous as time passed. Given the treacherous nature of the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, which included a narrow tunnel, we would advise taking a coach.
There is plenty to see on the trip, including the stunning Mirror Lakes, and one kea found our bus fascinating as it proceeded to peck at the roof. We packed our own food for the bus trip—this is a must, incidentally, as none is supplied at this stage—and rested as we were driven to the boat terminal. The bus did have USB charging ports for our phones, which helped tremendously.
The terminal was jam-packed with tourists and other operators competing for tours of Milford Sound. It should perhaps be noted here that the name is deceptive: the Sound is actually a fjord, and it is better experienced while sunny. We had found ourselves there on a rainy day, and those outnumber the sunny ones. The meal provided on board was hardly filling, served in a paper bag (at least that was environmentally sound, and preferable to plastic), but the tour itself was enjoyable, as the tour boat went very close to some waterfalls—enough for those who dared to go outside to get a heavy shower—and almost as close to two seal colonies.
The price included the Milford Sound Underwater Experience, which proved to be the most disappointing part of the tour. This was housed at a centre built on the Sound, which included an underwater observatory. The underwater life was fascinating, but we had the distinct impression we were being rushed through, just another group of tourists who were getting a script. Our guide even made one error that those untrained in New Zealand law would not have picked up. By this point, we had had a very long day, and it was a relief—after a snooze on the last leg between the Experience and the terminal—to be back on terra firma, with a bus ride back to Te Anau.
Te Anau was very touristy, far more than it was when Lucire visited in 2005, yet we couldn’t locate any restaurants that appealed to us. We stopped at the Dairy, which appears in some of TV One’s bumpers, but the woman serving us had no idea what we were referring to when we brought this up; and dined at Kepler Restaurant (23 Town Square, Te Anau, +64 3 249-7909), which was reasonably priced given the portions, but the Chilean-inspired food didn’t agree with our palate. Our highlight was Te Anau’s Fiordland Gallery of Fine Arts (120 Town Square, Te Anau, +64 27 310 0697), which featured the work of co-founder Kirk Munro, and we had a good chat to its very friendly and knowledgeable manager Jill Larrivee. We loved an impressionist painting of Arrowtown by Jan Powell, one of many artists represented at the Gallery, which also sells glass art, photographic prints, and felted wool gifts.
Lumsden, despite its size (population at just over 400), had plenty of appeal, including two craft shops (Dot recommended Five Finger Crafts, 23 Diana Street by the Old Railway Station, Lumsden, +64 3 248-7178) and eateries (Geoff recommended Route 6 [22 Diana Street, Lumsden, +64 3 248-7135], an American diner that was once the local Bank of New Zealand, infamous for a 1983 robbery where thieves made off with NZ$100,000, the country’s biggest bank heist). Route 6’s décor was another sign of the reverence locals have of the American car: its centrepiece was a 1955 Dodge Kingsway, which had been a wreck, since lovingly repainted and accessorized to serve as a prop and to separate the service area from the customers. The tables featured old American car advertisements laminated on to the tops. Copies of the local paper, The Ensign, proved that despite the remoteness, there was a great deal of talent: the newspaper had the right use of text and display ’faces, something lost on some city designers working at larger firms.
Glenure Hill was the best lookout point in the area, and the MG’s two-litre turbo got us up there without fuss. We didn’t quite get to nearby Dipton, the childhood home of former prime minister Bill English, though we had plans to head there; our schedule saw us head back to Acton Downs that day. Most nights, we chose to eat in, as the dining area at the Cottage was comfortable and the cooking facilities more than suited us as we relaxed into a simple way of life. The local Four Square in Lumsden wasn’t the most well stocked—you’d have to plan on a trip to Invercargill for anything unusual—but it served its purpose for the days we were there.
It was almost a shame to leave Acton Downs after having established such a good friendship with Dot and Geoff, whom we hope we’ll see again. But the return journey was upon us after five days at Acton Downs, where we got to unwind and enjoy the area.
Rather than drive back the way we came, we plotted a route through Gore to Clinton, then to Dunedin, but it took quite a bit longer than Here Maps said once you factored in food stops. Dunedin had changed a little since our last visit, and Madam Woo, with its Sinofied décor, had opened, but the noodles we had for dinner seemed dry and its promise of authentic street food fell somewhat short. However, we had nothing but praise for its excellent staff, particularly the maître d’, whose politeness and desire to keep the customer happy made us want to return just for the service.
We spent our final night in Oamaru (with the motel proprietor also admiring the car), aiming to go to Timaru as our final stop on the last day before flying out of Christchurch. Here, too, was a connection for Amanda, whose great-great-grandfather Thomas Satterthwaite served as mayor from 1931 to 1936. While we didn’t find anything specifically referring to Thomas, the museum receptionist was very helpful. Unfortunately, the library was closed when we visited—we were told there would have been some relevant information there—but the museum itself had an exhibit on the lives of the early white settlers and the injustices against local Māori. Māori, in fact, made up little of the population in many of the southern towns we visited, and the exhibit noted how education was denied to some. It was a rightly honest look at colonial life.
The Timaru District Council building where Thomas would have worked made for an impressive backdrop for the MG, which admittedly had a stately and distinguished look to it in this setting, helped by its alloy wheels and the brightwork of its roof rails and side step. The GS had served us well, an ideal vehicle for a couple getting away from it all, coping with everything southern roads threw at it. The technology—including the sat-nav—helped us navigate unfamiliar territory well. Gravel was no obstacle, nor was overtaking on tricky country roads. It enjoyed a spirited drive, looking the part regardless of a rural or urban environment. For the price, it’s an incredibly appealing proposition; when you consider the power on tap for that price, even more so. It’s the perfect lifestyle vehicle for a holiday away, exactly the sort of workhorse that blended practicality with style. MG deserves to do well and seeks nonconformists to break free of the same-again world of the RAV4 and Qashqai. •
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