Smiling far and wide

Smiling far and wide

This has been a busy and varied motoring year for Drivesouth editor DavidThomson. He signs off for 2019 by looking back at five of the highs and the one low.

African road trip
Over a year in the planning and three weeks and some 4000km in the execution, a self-driving holiday with motoring-minded friends through the southwest African nation of Namibia and into Botswana provided a treasure trove of cherished memories.

From sand tracks traversed in low ratio four-wheel drive with the tyres partly deflated to maximise traction, to wide corrugated metal roads, narrow super-smooth salt roads and arrow-straight sealed highways, there was no shortage of driving variety. The landscapes were stunning, the locals wonderfully friendly and the variety and abundance of wildlife quite stunning.

Finding a single magic motoring moment is all but impossible, so I’ll go with three: driving into the extraordinary Namib Desert as the sun came up, bathing some of the largest sand dunes on earth in a vivid orange glow; turning inland from the salt roads of the fog-blown Skeleton Coast to rocky, desert-dry Damaraland; and elephants by the dozen slowing progress as we
drove towards a remote tree-top lodge in Namibia’s northeastern tip.

A bouquet for this memory goes to our trusty Toyota Fortuner. Supplied by Namibian-based Africa Tours and Safari, with whom we organised our trip, it was the perfect vehicle for the mix of terrain we covered. Most importantly, in the best traditions of Toyota, it never missed a beat.

Chatham Island exploration
A long-held ambition to visit this country’s easternmost outpost was fulfilled mid-year by Holden, with the company also helpfully supplying a range of vehicles once there.

Actually, the vehicles were the pretext for the trip: Holden’s crazy plan to mark the company’s 65 years by visiting islands that have been in existence for 65 million years; cue to ship examples of the company’s Trailblazer, Equinox, Trax, Acadia and Commodore Tourer models 750km across the sea and head out for a drive.

Of the models on offer, I’ll reserve a soft spot for the Commodore because this capable V6 4WD wagon was the most fun to drive, and because this year ends with Holden announcing it is retiring the Commodore from its range.

Over the course of a long weekend trip, I saw a fair bit of what Chatham’s main island — Chatham Island — has to offer, traversing the bulk of its 180km road network in the process, and venturing as far east by road as possible. To be fair, the roads were unremarkable other than being almost entirely gravel, and far better maintained than one might have expected. But driving them was still a heap of fun, and the sights of Chatham Island were a varying delight.

Sometimes it is as much about the destination as the journey. Right?

Local EV adventures
And then there are times when the journey, not the destination, is the whole point.

In this instance, two return trips from Dunedin to Ranfurly, to test the real-world range of a pair of premium electric vehicles, one from Audi and the other from Jaguar.

Why Ranfurly? Well Dunedin-Ranfurly-Dunedin is roughly the equivalent distance-wise to Dunedin-Queenstown or Dunedin-Wanaka one way, and that’s always been my acid test benchmark for EV range in this part of the world.

Furthermore, aside from being an attractive town in the wonderful Maniototo with a decent cafe or two, Ranfurly boasts a ChargeNet rapid charge point. So, if there’s a lack of confidence in the ability of the test vehicle to make it home without a recharge, a half-hour connected to the national grid while having a cuppa will do the trick.

There was slight disappointment in that both the Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace required a precautionary top-up to give me confidence in their ability to make it home, but heck, each was a delight to drive nonetheless.

The Audi excels in being a beautifully built premium SUV that just happens to rely on battery power alone. For the Jaguar, EV power combines with sporting style and demeanour to provide a great all-round experience

That Haydon Paddon book
When it comes to a sheer feel-good day connected to motoring, nothing for me matched attending the launch of Driven, the story of Hayden Paddon’s life and career to date.

That this was the autobiography of an exceptionally talented and admired member of our motorsport fraternity was part of the appeal. Add in the central role of Drivesouth colleague Catherine Pattison in bringing Paddon’s story to life as ‘‘ghost’ writer’’— and the compellingly free-and-frank account that emerged — and the end result was certainly something to celebrate.

Paddon launched the book at his Cromwell office and workshops, and then in typically low-key fashion announced his exciting Hyundai EV rally car project.

Like the book, the EV project has deservedly garnered international interest.

Further, with Paddon’s attempts to revive a factory WRC programme for 2020 thwarted by nothing less than bad luck, his EV rally car is likely the next major chapter in his career.

I will watch that EV project unfold over the next few years. In the meantime, if you haven’t already obtained a copy, Driven is still available with Christmas just four days away.

Over Danseys Pass
Although privileged to have enjoyed great motoring in many parts of the world, I’ve never lost sight of the fact that some of the greatest driving experiences on our planet are provided in this part of the world. An early winter weekend jaunt from Dunedin to Oamaru, inland to Duntroon, across Danseys Pass, and then home via Middlemarch was one such journey that reinforced  that point for me in 2019.

Conducted in the company of friends, and including a memorable overnight stay at the Danseys Pass Coach Inn, it was undertaken behind the wheel of one of the least engaging cars I have driven this year, the Kia Cerato GT-Line. Not to be confused with its much more entertaining sibling, the straight Cerato GT, the GT-Line pretty much defines competence bereft of flair.

But when the weather is perfect, the road interesting, and the scenery stunning at every turn, the ability of the car one is travelling in to delight can become a secondary concern. So it was on this occasion, and never more so than on the leg that carried us over the pass from the Waitaki Valley, across the Kakanui Mountains, and into the upper reaches of the Maniototo.

Looking for a fun summer drive that involves plenty of gravel and a decent mountain pass, yet is achievable in a regular car? Danseys Pass awaits you.


The shortest test drive of my life.

Five highs, and now one low.

The sense of anticipation as I arrived at the local dealer to collect an uber-performance German wagon for a five day test was high. The menacing burble from its quad exhaust as I ambled carefully along one of Dunedin’s major streets seemed to confirm the joy that lay ahead.

Stop number one was at a traffic light, and life was great as I sat at the head of the right hand filter lane waiting for the green arrow to signal my turn.
Then, without warning, a sharp bang changed joy to alarm. Swinging wide to turn left, a truck had clipped the wing mirror of the test car, smashing it to smithereens. Worse still, the truck driver was unaware of what he had done and was continuing on his way.

I followed, with remnants of the mirror dangling lifelessly, and managed to persuade the driver to stop. Details exchanged, he carried on, while I returned to the dealer and handed back the now stricken car.

The time elapsed from picking up the car to its return was less than 15 minutes, with most of that time spent stopped. Total distance covered, two kilometres at best. Plans for a weekend test drive, abandoned, and into the garden instead.