Tall cars and even taller stories awaited us at an event that was advertised as ‘65 million years in the making’. It was Holden’s 65th anniversary and what a way to celebrate.
We rather fittingly boarded a ropey old plane to the Chatham Islands, 828km East of New Zealand, three hours late and what followed was a two-odd hour flight that in many respects took us decades back in time. The Chatham Islands lays claim to being the first place in the world to see the sun, however, with its seemingly endless rolling hills, uncorrupted land, miles of unsealed roads, free-roaming livestock, a population of 600-ish and complete lack of cellphone coverage, well let’s just say it’s quaintly unsophisticated. But, what it lacks in modern interference it more than makes up with in pure, unadulterated warmth and personality.
This was the first ever vehicle marque event to be held at the Chathams, and it showed. The locals jovially feasted on us out-of-towners as much as we did on the freshest of seafood, crayfish, paua, kina and bluecod the island had to offer.
Yarns were aplenty. Folklore surrounds tiny snippets of history, countless stories that, just like the islands themselves have emerged and re-emerged gaining in size and momentum with each and every telling. Separating the truth from the embellished becomes a deliciously virtual impossibility as every tale comes with a sparkle in the eye or an almost unmissable smirk.
For those that don’t know (I sure didn’t), the Chatham Islands are a group of eleven, however, only Pitt and Chatham are inhabited, with the latter being the largest by far. Moriori and Maori culture are omnipresent with Rekohu and Wharekauri being the respective names for the archipelago. The fields are lush green, the cliffs and rock formations are dramatic, the bays are expansive and the Te Whanga Lagoon, which is larger than Rarotonga (smirk) is often a glorious sapphire blue—which is the perfect segue for the reason we were there.
A sapphire is a symbol of loyalty, it can bring inner peace, the fulfilment of dreams and prosperity and more importantly, it is associated with a 65th anniversary—and now, Holden’s 65th.
To celebrate, five Holden SUVs were sent to explore all corners of the island, from the Trax (the baby of the bunch) to the newly launched Acadia and including the Tourer, the Equinox and Trailblazer—so explore we did. Using the Hotel Chatham, as a base camp (‘modern’ accommodation that was built in the 1860s and stands alongside the water’s edge by the main ‘CBD’ of Waitangi), and special thanks to our hosts the Toni and the rest of the Croons family, we spent our time on the island getting to know the history and culture and enjoying the outstanding ‘rally stage’ style unsealed roads. Luckily, the Holden SUVs enjoyed them too.
First stop for us was southwest towards Point Durham and Point Gap, a trek which for us required the Acadia. It’s a rather desolate looking place with rolling hills, small creek crossings and, as we returned, views across Petre Bay all witnessed from the comfort of our SUV’s luxuriously heated leather seats. Next up was a trip East to Manukau Farm (owned by the Solomon family) to visit the last native Moriori (smirk). Turns out, it was the statue of Tame Horomona Rehe (Tommy Solomon), standing tall and looking out towards Hanson Bay.
In Holden SUV convoy and behind the wheel of the Trax, we next climbed the hill that overlooks the mayor’s residence, drove past the ‘resting’ windfarm and then out to the south-facing clifftop that would give a vertigo sufferer like me, nightmares for years to come—thanks Holden. This was followed by a spot of lunch back at the hotel.
Beach driving on a short stretch of Long Beach commenced the afternoon’s proceedings, a place where the Trailblazer we had opted to drive, enjoyed very much, before heading north to climb up ‘horrible hill’, which wasn’t horrible in any shape or form and actually offered great views over Red Bluff.
A long drive (in Chatham terms) northwest next had us up to Cape Pattisson and Maunganui Stone cottage. It was built entirely from local stone around 1870 and has been lovingly restored since. We got to speak with Helen Bint who lives there without power, internet or, really anything at all, apart from the wonderful stories of her childhood growing up there – which in many ways, was more than enough.
Activity time followed next and for us, the Equinox. Paua diving (or wading as they are in such shallow water), followed by shark-tooth searching in the lagoon before finishing with a drive in the Tourer to Admiral Lodge and a sumptuous, ultra-fresh (we caught the paua) seafood meal.
Drinks back at Hotel Chatham’s bar that night had us sharing stories and basking in the overall experience. For such a small island, Chatham sure has crammed a lot into its 65 million years. Everything from a fatal tsunami (150 years ago) and a World War Two flying boat, to sealife and wildlife (Chatham moa anyone? Smirk). From giant volcanic peaks to long sandy beaches and let’s not forget, the endless stories handed down from generations of Moriori, Maori, missionaries, fishermen and whalers, but now there’s Holden’s 65th to add to the folklore.
As our rickety old, rivet-ridden Convair plane took off from the island another strange thought crossed my mind. When (or if) we touch back down in Auckland, the entire ‘65 million years in the making’ Holden 65th anniversary SUV experience will have taken up exactly 65 hours, coincidence, good planning or another tall story? I’ll leave that for you to decide (smirk).