Taking the Road Less Travelled
… or, an unexpected surprise at the Southward Car Museum…
Here’s a nice little yuletide story for you… For those readers not resident in the southern hemisphere, it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn that Christmas south of the equator falls, not during mid-winter as it does in the north, but slap bang at the height of summer. Consequently, snow tends to be a bit thin on the ground and the temperatures lend themselves more towards shorts and T-shirts than long trousers and woolly hats, but on the other hand, there is usually plenty of grass for Santa’s reindeer to munch on.
Anyway, I digress… It was during the Christmas holidays, way back in the dim and distant past, when one of my cousins from the UK decided to spend some time travelling around New Zealand and naturally, I offered to put her up while she was visiting the Capital. Well, we had a grand old time of it on Christmas Day itself, wandering around the deserted city trying to find a bar that was open, before settling down to a traditional roast dinner, festive movie… Quadrophenia, I think it was that year and the obligatory half-dozen bottles of sparkling vino.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I have guests, I like to make sure that they have a good time and don’t get bored. So, in anticipation of her stay, I had all sorts of activities planned. However, what I had not bargained on was the fact that we exhausted my ‘fun things to do’ list far more quickly than I had anticipated and consequently, we faced the prospect of either sitting for hours on end in one of Wellington’s many fine hostelries, which wouldn’t actually have been that bad, or skulking around the windy suburbs, waiting for excitement to pounce, which would have been a bit tedious, to say the least.
In desperation, I decided that I would fall back on an old Kiwi favourite; a trip to the beach. So, after a bit of cajoling, it was an overcast day at the time, I drove my cousin up the Kapiti coast towards one of my favourite beaches at Otaki. We’d probably been driving for about forty minutes and were just cresting a small rise when I saw a small brown and white sign advertising the Southward Car Museum, which was apparently tucked away a short distance down a side road. Now, I’d probably seen this unassuming little sign more than a dozen times on my various journeys along the coast and to be honest, I’d formed the impression that the museum was probably little more than a small garage, with a couple of exotic cars in it, owned by an overly enthusiastic man, who loved to talk about his motors.
Normally, I would have driven straight past it and continued on to the beach. But this time, things were different. I wasn’t alone. I had a guest with me and nothing to lose, so I took the plunge and headed down the small side road, with the idea that at the very least it would kill twenty minutes and possibly give us something to laugh about afterwards.
So you can imagine my surprise when, after a couple of minutes, we saw another sign on the opposite side of the road to an enormous walled compound, which looked as if it was filled with decorative aircraft hangers. This was no back-yard operation, but a fully-fledged enterprise, so we wasted no time in parking the beast and paying the ridiculously small entry fee to see what was inside. And boy, were we in for a shock…
The place was jam-packed with relics of motoring history. From the 1950’s Cadillac Fleetwood, with two-inch thick bullet-proof glass, to the imposing Mercedes Maybach from the second world war, it was a car lover’s heaven. They had a very early electric town car, a whole mezzanine floor dedicated to motorbikes and scooters, and even a DeLorean (the car from Back to the Future) on display. Add to that a multitude of classic cars from the 1950’s and 60’s, as well as a plethora of memorabilia, including a wheel from Donald Campbell’s ill-fated Bluebird, the car which attempted the world land speed record in 1960 and crashed, nearly killing its occupant and we were set for almost three hours of intense motoring reconnaissance.
It turned out that Sir Len Southward, the founder of the museum, was a leading light in the New Zealand motor industry and even held the Australasian water speed record for a short time. An avid collector of cars, he amassed one of the largest private collections of vintage cars in the southern hemisphere, over a period of some fifty years. Had I been aware of that fact, then I would have visited the Southward Car Museum long before. As it was, I’m pretty sure that my cousin enjoyed the experience and I am pleased to say that since then, I have spent many more happy hours, both on my own and with friends, exploring the many delights of that fantastic automobile collection.
And it just goes to show… you never know what’s going to be at the end of one of those plain little signs you see on the side of the highway, so why not take a chance? Maybe you’ll stumble on a hidden gem like the Southward Car Museum.
Below is a small gallery of images taken from my various visits to the museum. You can find out more by clicking here.
If you liked this post, then please feel free to share it and why not have a read about my own love affair with cars below?