Taking the Road Less Travelled

Taking the Road Less Travelled

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.

Rob Gregory Author and quad bike in NZ

Standard Christmas attire in the southern hemisphere. Rock under foot optional.

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.

Scene from the movie Quadrophenia - Rob Gregory Author

Quadrophenia. Essential viewing in my opinion, maybe just not on Christmas Day after several bottles of wine!

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.

Entrance to the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

Definitely not a small garage with a couple of exotic cars in it!

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…

Inside the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

As I said, there’s definitely more than a couple of cars here!

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.

Wheel from Bluebird at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

Wheel from Don Campbell’s ill-fated Bluebird.

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.

Limousines inside the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

Even more cars and we haven’t got beyond the first room yet!

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.

Black Cadillac at Buddha image - Rob Gregory Author

1950 Cadillac Fleetwood, originally owned by American gangster, Mickey Cohen.


Humber Super Snipe at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

A Humber Super Snipe. The original british bank manager’s car.


WW2 Mercedes Maybach at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

Mercedes Maybach limousine from the Second World War, dwarfing everything around it.


Front door of a BMW bubble car at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

Another famous german marque, albeit not quite as impressive as the Maybach.


Ariel Atom at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

An Ariel Atom donated by Mr Ron Ekman, who incidentally taught me project management!


British Layland Princess at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

British Leyland Princess with cutaway showing the engine detail. They don’t make them like that anymore… thankfully!


Non Skid tyre at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

The original ‘non-skid’ tyres? I’m not sure that I’d like to try them out!


White Bristol 401 at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

Bristol 401. Still going, they now make the Bullet, one of the most beautiful cars in the world.


Early electric town car at the Southward Motor Museum - Rob Gregory Author

Early electric town car, which sadly didn’t catch on.


Classic racing cars at the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

A fair few bob’s worth of classic racing cars.


Cars inside the Southward Car Museum - Rob Gregory Author

Yet more cars! There are thousands of them here and most in working order.


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?

Tales Of The Beast – Part 2 – The South Island

Tales Of The Beast – Part 2 – The South Island

Tales Of The Beast – Part 2 – The South Island

Tales of the Beast – Part 2

… The South Island Initiative…

Last time I left you, I had arrived in Picton with my best friend and the beast, ready to begin a ten-day road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. I’m pretty sure that it was 2003 back then but given that my mind has more holes in it these days than a Cabinet Minister’s alibi, it might have been 2004. Consequently, I would advise you to take the following account with a healthy pinch of salt and hold fire on sharpening your pitchforks, at least until you’ve given me a decent head start!

Picton harbour c.2003 - Rob Gregory Author

Picton harbour c.2003 – Could have been the capital of New Zealand.

So, Picton. It’s a bit of a jewel really. At least it was back then. Sheltered, unspoilt and basking in the glorious Pacific sun, it always makes me wonder why they decided to make Wellington the Capital instead, which tends towards the cold, wet and extremely windy. You do get the occasional nice day in ‘Welly’, I should know, I lived there for almost seven years, but it doesn’t seem to happen quite as often as it does in Picton.

Entering the South Island - Rob Gregory Author

Entering the South Island of New Zealand.

Anyway, despite its glorious climate, back in the day Picton didn’t have too much to offer two twenty-something lads in search of adventure and so after a night in a guest house and a couple of ales to recover from the ferry crossing, we set off down the East Coast towards Christchurch.

The Interislander - Rob Gregory Author

The Interislander ferry. Image copyright: J Gregory.

Along the way, we stopped at the little town of Kaikoura, which suffered a devastating earthquake a couple of years ago, but which was famous for its whale watching well before that. Built on the edge of a natural deep-water channel, Kaikoura was stunning, with ocean views on one side and mountains on the other. We stayed in a hostel that night, with the intention of doing a whale watch the following morning, but what we didn’t anticipate was another of Kaikoura’s many talking points: the sand-flies…

View of the mountains from Kaikoura - Rob Gregory Author

View of the mountains from Kaikoura.

As soon as the sun had gone down, hundreds of them emerged and we were faced with a dilemma. In a baking hot room bereft of air-conditioning, or even a decent fan for that matter, it was a question of whether to leave the window open to keep cool and let the sand flies in or banish them and roast alive in the dormitory. In the end, I think we opted for the former, hiding under the duvets to avoid the little so and so’s. Not that it made much difference. The following morning, I was covered in bites on my ankles, shins, hands and arms, and boy, did they hurt. My friend, I recall, fared rather better than me and as a result, I think that he enjoyed the whale watching more than I did. We did see a couple of Humpback whales, as well as some Hector’s dolphins (the smallest and rarest in the world) but I have to admit that I was quite relieved when we took the beast beyond the Kaikoura city limits and continued on our way to Christchurch.

View of the sea and mountains from Kaikoura - Rob Gregory Author

Another lovely view from Kaikoura.

There isn’t too much to say about Christchurch, other than we visited some of my family friends who were living there and took the obligatory wander around the city, including the cathedral and River Avon. Both my friend and I were originally from Bristol, which also has a River Avon, so I suppose we got a giggle from walking along a river of the same name, almost twelve thousand miles from its namesake. Nowadays, Christchurch is rather different, following the devastating earthquakes which shook the city to its core back in late 2010 and early 2011. Whether it will ever be the same again remains to be seen, but what happened there is a stark reminder of how fragile and precious life is and how quickly it can be changed forever.

After Christchurch, the beast took us on a quick soiree to ‘Ash Vegas’ or Ashburton to give it its proper name. I can’t remember why it’s called Ash Vegas, but the name has stuck and although it was nothing like its namesake, it was pleasant enough. It also had a fish and chip shop that served the most enormous servings of hand-cut chips, which I discovered on a subsequent trip there some years later, much to the dismay of my waistline!

River in the South Island of New Zealand - Rob Gregory Author

Just another beautiful river at the side of the road.

We certainly covered some distance in the beast, which performed magnificently, despite having no air-conditioning and a rather bothersome warning light for the catalytic converter that kept coming on when you least expected it (I had it disconnected when I got back to Wellington). So, with windows down and the tunes blasting out of the portable CD player that I had bought specially for the trip, we hurtled past lovely Timaru and off into the interior, towards Queenstown via the Lindis Pass.

Southern Alps, New Zealand, seen from the roadside - Rob Gregory Author

On the way to Queenstown.

Now, Queenstown is spectacular. A thrill-seekers paradise, it is nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and boasts huge, cliff-like hills rising dramatically from the lake itself. In the winter, it is famed for its alpine sports and in the summer, when we were there, it was just plain beautiful. Shunning the tried and tested activities, such as the high-speed ‘jet-boat’ rides and bungee jumping, we opted instead for the ‘street luge’. Think go-karts, but with much less control, racing down the side of a mountain and you’re halfway there. I’d done a similar one in Rotorua when I first arrived in New Zealand and to be honest, I thought that it was better than the Queenstown one, but we still had a good time crashing into each other and generally mucking around.

Person from the rear looking over Lake Hawea, New Zealand - Rob Gregory Author

My friend, being reflective and mysterious by the dam at Lake Hawea.

That night, we went to a little bar called ‘The Bunker’, which was hidden away in an alley off the main drag. I’d been there a few years earlier during a conference and was delighted to find the tiny place still open and complete with a roaring fire in the fireplace, despite it being the end of summer. I’m afraid that I can’t give you too many details of what happened that night, everything is a bit hazy, whether from the passing of time or the consumption of alcohol, I’m not sure, but what vague recollections I have are happy ones.

Flowers and detail of the Lake Hawea dam - Rob Gregory Author

Flowers and the base of part of the Lake Hawea dam. How blue is that water?

A couple of days later, we left Queenstown and made our way 350km north, past Lake Hawea, to the Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast. Along the way, we passed a sign saying: ‘Last petrol for 110km’, which was an indication that we really were entering the wilds and were rewarded by nothing but endless countryside and the occasional small hamlet. Even when we arrived at Franz Josef itself, it was little more than a collection of small wooden houses and local shops, surrounded on all sides by wonderful dome-shaped hills that looked like they had been drawn by a child. How isolating it must be during the winter, I could only imagine, but the locals were extremely friendly, and we quickly found ourselves booked on a glacier walk the following morning.

Rob Gregory Author on the Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand

One man and his glacier.

We spent the whole day on the glacier, wearing spiked boots and clutching ice-axes, to help us navigate the treacherous terrain. Despite it being summer, it was extremely cold in amongst all that ice and we were especially glad of our ski-jackets. We did have a bit of fun, sliding down ice-holes that had been opened up as the glacier slowly (almost glacially, one might say) made its way towards the sea. All in all, it was an amazing experience, especially seeing the ‘blue ice’, which gets its name because it has no air bubbles in it, making it extremely dense and only reflecting blue light.

Sliding down an ice tube on Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand - Rob Gregory Author

Sliding down an ice tube. Great fun but very cold!

Exhausted from all the exertions of the day, we slept well that night and early the next morning, began the trek up to Nelson, right at the top of the South Island. Hugging the coast road through Hokitika and Greymouth, with only the occasional camper van getting in our way, the scenery was truly breath-taking. It felt like we were in paradise, with the azure blue of the Tasman Sea on one side and vast tracts of wilderness on the other.

River creek in the South Island of New Zealand - Rob Gregory Author

Can’t remeber where this was, but I think it is just stunning.

It was here that we did have one close call. We’d been driving for quite a few hours and despite having the windows wound down and ‘Rob Zombie’ playing at full volume, the air in the car had become quite stuffy, with the result that we nearly drifted into the back of a flat-bed lorry, as a warm fug of weariness overtook us. Luckily, we avoided a collision and after a short break to get some much-needed rest and a shot or two of caffeine inside us, we were back on the road, driving with a lot more care and counting down the miles to Nelson.

Park and lake somewhere on the outskirts of Nelson, New Zealand - Rob Gregory Author

Park and lake on the outskirts of Nelson, I think. Great place for a rest after a close call with a truck!

Nelson was a bit of a pit-stop for us and looking back, I wish that we’d spent more time there. But to be honest, I think by that time, my friend and I were starting to show the signs of having had enough. After all, we’d pretty much raced around the entire South Island, covering almost 2000 km in ten days and had hopped from one hostel to another, boozing and revelling like Withnail and I along the way. So, the following day, we made the short hop back to our starting point, Picton and took the Interislander ferry to windy Wellington where, for me at least, lay the comfort of my own bed!

Seagull flying above the top of the South Island of New Zealand - Rob Gregory Author

On the way back to Wellington from Picton.

Looking back on it, the whole road trip was a great experience and I’d love to do it again someday, although I would probably spread it out over two or three weeks so that I could really take in the sights and appreciate my surroundings. I’d also like to get off the beaten track and visit some of the more remote places on the map that we didn’t get to see the first time around. Unfortunately, it won’t be in the beast, as she’s no longer with us, but I’ll always remember how well she served us on that particular trip, which turned out to be the first of many long-hauls she did with me.

Wood and rope ladder on the Interisland ferry, New Zealand - Rob Gregory Author

On the way backto Wellington. I just can’t get over how blue the water is!

Stay tuned for more ‘Tales of the Beast’ in future and in the meantime, why not share this blog or the first installment with your friends?

Tales Of The Beast – Part 1

Tales Of The Beast – Part 1

Tales Of The Beast – Part 1

… or ‘Car-rie, I love you’…

Cars. Here in My Car. Silver Machine. The Road to Hell. I don’t know what it is about me, but I love cars. Big ones in particular. The bigger the better, in fact. Gas guzzling, earth destroying monsters. I’ve adored them ever since I was a child. I don’t know exactly why, but I do. It’s as simple as that. I know that it’s not a very politically correct thing to admit to in this day and age, but let’s face it, it’s a heck of a lot better than some people’s peccadillos, such as hanging around the woods with bags of sweets for the kiddies, breeding Japanese fighting dogs or stamp collecting. And I’m by no means in Jeremy Clarkson’s league of fuel injected petrol-headedness. I couldn’t afford it for one thing! Which brings me on to the beast.

I first mentioned the beast in passing, in one of my very first blogs and at the time promised to write more about it in the future. Well, the future has an annoying habit of catching up with you, so here it is, the first instalment (and quite possibly the last) in… Tales of the Beast.

The beast - Head on view. Rob Gregory Author

The beast from the front… now, that’s a lot of car, if I do say so myself!

I first met the beast (a 1991 Mazda MS-9) at a car auction in Wellington, New Zealand and it was love at first sight. Well, love at first sight motivated by the fact that I absolutely had to have a car for a forthcoming road trip, having written off my previous motor some weeks earlier and time was rapidly running out. That kind of love at first sight. Anyway, having been outbid on several other vehicles, the auction was rapidly drawing to a close and I was still car-less. Then it (she) appeared. Grimy, dishevelled and obviously deeply unloved, the beast was paraded in front of the disinterested crowd like an old cow that has given her best and is now looking the pet food butcher squarely in the eye. I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it was the smooth flowing lines of the vehicle, barely visible underneath all the dirt, maybe it was the three litre, V6 engine lurking under the bonnet, maybe it was the sheer size of the damned thing, but I suddenly found myself bidding on it, absolutely resolute that this was the car that I would be going home in that night. And I won! Admittedly there wasn’t that much competition for it and I picked the beast up for just under two thousand New Zealand dollars, including commission, which was a bargain, but at least it was mine.

The beast - Honda Accord grazes a Toyota Ute at 50kmh. Rob Gregory Author

Honda Accord vs. Toyota Pickup truck… I never liked driving it anyway!

And then, sitting in the driver’s seat for the very first time, I turned the ignition and saw the ‘engine warning’ light come on and stay on. I remember the feeling as all of my initial elation evaporated faster than the head off a pint of Thai lager, to be replaced by a feeling of sickening dread as I realised that I had bought a ‘lemon’ as New Zealander’s say: a faulty car that no one else wanted. On the way home, which was done at a crawl, in case the beast should suddenly expire without warning, I remember trying to look on the bright side. It hadn’t cost me much and only had to last a couple of weeks while I was taking my best friend on holiday around the South Island and then I could ditch the beast and look for a more reliable replacement.

That weekend, I took the beast to my local garage for a general service and to get the engine problem diagnosed. Having convinced myself that it was going to be something fatal, such as a cracked engine block or warped manwurzle joints, I was surprised and extremely relieved to discover that there wasn’t all that much wrong with the car. What the mechanics had thought was an oil leak in the engine gallery (which sounded pretty bad to me) turned out to be a melted oxygen sensor. It still cost me another thousand dollars to get it fixed because the engine had to be taken out twice to check that the new sensor was working properly, but once it was fixed, it was goodbye forever to the despised engine warning light.

The beast - rear view. Rob Gregory Author

The beast from the rear.

With the car now declared mechanically sound, with the exception of the air-conditioning and a faulty catalytic converter sensor, which we just disconnected, it was onto my speciality: spit and polish. Armed with more buckets, bottles, tins and cloths than an Ajax salesman, I set to the beast with a vengeance, determined to restore it to as close to its former glory as I could. I think I spent two weekends cleaning the thing, washing, buffing, polishing and in some cases scraping muck out of the cracks and crevices with toothpicks and cotton buds. I don’t know who the previous owners of the beast were, but from the look of it, they had used the interior of the car as a playpen for toddlers and the boot as a handy compost bin. However, with but a few days before my friend was due to arrive from the UK, the task was finished and in true Cinderella style, to my eyes at least, the beast had been transformed from a dumpy, unloved old baggage, into a sleek and powerful Siren of the road.

The beast - Restord to its former glory

Spit, polish, one restored car and one very happy owner!

I picked my friend up from Wellington airport in the beast and I’m not sure who was more surprised, him because of the enormous gleaming car that he was invited to step into or me because of the fact that I actually had a working motor with which to take him on holiday. As for what happened on our road trip, you’ll have to wait and see, but as for the beast, far from being a temporary mode of transport, I ended up keeping it for almost nine years.

The beast - Picton Harbour, SI, New Zealand c.2003. Rob Gregory Author

Picton harbour c.2003. First stop on the beast’s legendary trip around the South Island.

Stay tuned for more ‘Tales of the Beast’ in a future blog and while you’re waiting, why not have a look around the rest of the site? You might find something else that you like. You never know…


Note: The beast has also been known by several other names, including ‘the bruise’ and ‘the big purple love machine’, although thankfully that one never caught on!

Tommo the cat

Tommo the cat

Tommo the cat

… taking your life in your hands with an ancient, but loveable feline…

Some years ago, during my time in Wellington, I had the great pleasure to lodge with a good friend of mine, way up in the Brooklyn hills overlooking the capital of New Zealand, not far from the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. His house, which stood perched on the very edge of the hill, afforded spectacular views of the harbour and surrounding countryside. It also came complete with a menagerie of elderly animals, including two cats and Daisy the dog (more about her in a future post, no doubt).

The two cats were called Basil and Tommo. Basil was the epitome of refinement, spending his days sitting quietly in the living room, grooming himself just in case anyone important should visit and want to take his picture. Tommo, on the other hand, was the street’s tough guy. In his prime, no other cat could beat him and he ruled the tarmac from one end of the road to the other without mercy. Unfortunately for Tommo, by the time I met him, his mighty reign was over and he had been forced to retire to the safety of the house, where he proudly prowled the hallways or slept in the sunshine dreaming of long past victories.

Now, I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that Tommo certainly wouldn’t have won any prizes for ‘best in show’, but there was something loveable about his worn and scarred appearance that completely won me over. At the time, I wasn’t really a ‘cat person’, but in Tommo’s case, I made an exception. I had to because for some reason he’d taken a liking to me and had decided that my bed was also his bed. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to gently shoo him off the bed and out of the bedroom many, many times, but without success. For one thing, he was still a pretty big cat and I was a big softie (and still am). And he wasn’t averse to using his claws when he got upset. So, in the end, after having been scratched and mauled beyond all recognition, I decided to just put up and shut up, and get on with it.

From then on, whenever I retired for the night, I would be greeted by a happily purring Tommo, as he jumped up onto the bed and settled himself on the duvet by my side. No problem there, you might say and you’d be right. The real problem started when I turned out the lights. I’m not sure whether Tommo was scared of the dark (probably not) or just a bit odd, but as soon as darkness descended on the room, he would get up from the duvet, trot casually over to the pillow and lie down right next to my head. It didn’t matter which way I turned, Tommo would turn with me so that I got the full force of his cat breath and purring in my face for most of the night. I say most of the night because, during the winter months in particular, when the temperature dropped sharply, Tommo would clamber underneath the duvet in the middle of the night for more warmth.

It was on one such occasion, a Sunday night (I remember the incident that vividly) that Tommo made his way beneath the covers and stretched out beside me to take advantage of the nice, snug space that I’d been warming up. I didn’t realise it at the time, but elderly cats can apparently have trouble retracting their claws, especially their rear claws and Tommo, being reasonably ancient, was thus afflicted.

My scream at having the side of my body raked by his claws, while he was dreaming about some previous conquest or other, woke the entire household and caused me to rise about three feet off the bed from a lying position. I don’t think that I have ever felt pain quite like that before and hope I never will again. I remember looking down at my exposed side and seeing two little rows of red lines opening up where Tommo had innocently clawed me in his sleep. Of Tommo there was no sight, the wily cat having fled at the utterly inhuman noise I had made. All I could do was reassure my friend and his family that I had not been the victim of an attempted murder and try to stop the bleeding with a strategically placed handkerchief (a clean one, of course) around my abused and tattered midriff.

Fortunately, Tommo and I quickly forgave each other and within a couple of days, normal service was resumed; a state of affairs which happily continued until I moved into a flat of my own a couple of months later. Sadly, however, Tommo passed away a little while ago, old age finally catching up with him. But every time I rub my side or get a stitch from trying to do too much, I am reminded of Tommo and smile at the thought that inadvertently and completely by accident, I was probably his last ever victim.

Rest in Peace, Tommo. You will not be forgotten.

Enjoyed this blog? Then, why not read more about my time in New Zealand, here:


What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

The sad story of a man washed overboard

… a humorous anecdote about New Zealand place names…

Now, I love New Zealand. Really, I do. It’s like the Creator (insert your preferred deity here) spent four days working on it, only to be told that the world was, in fact, a rush job and that the rest of it had to be done in time to meet the weekend post.

Despite my unbridled passion for the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, there is one thing that I can’t get my head around and that is the names that were given to places when the country was first colonised. Now, I’m not talking about indigenous Maori place names here, which, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, have a deep cultural and spiritual relevance, but rather the European names that have been assigned to the place over the years. And I’m sure that others have written about this many times in the past, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you, just to finally get it off my chest as much as anything else.

First of all, consider where most of the people who colonised New Zealand (or invaded it depending on your point of view) came from. Yes, that’s right, the UK. The place that has given us such a wide variety of strange, unusual and downright rude place names that I couldn’t possibly include them all here, without blocking up the entire Internet. But by way of example, consider the following: Chipping Sodbury (South Gloucestershire), Upper Slaughter (Cotswolds), Swell (Cornwall), Scratchy Bottom (Dorset), Bishops Itchington (Staffordshire) and of course, Sandy Balls (Hampshire).

And then there’s the Australians. They live just next door to the Kiwis and boy; did they really go to town when it came to naming places! We’ve got Boing Boing (NT), Burpengary (QLD), Dismal Swamp (TAS), Humpty Doo (NT), Mount Buggery (VIC), Pimpinbudgie (QLD) and my all-time favourite, Tittybong (VIC). And they didn’t stop there. They named an entire state Tasmania. I mean Tas-mania? Is there no stopping these wonderfully creative people?

But cross the Tasman Sea and what do you get? First of all, there are two main islands. The one to the north is called the North Island. The one to the south? Well, that’s the South Island. At the very top of the North Island is the region called Northland, while the very bottom of the South is Southland. To the east of the North Island, we have the East Cape, while the West side of the South Island is called the West Coast. In the middle of the North Island lies the Central Plateau. Are you starting to get the idea yet?

Then there are the names of the towns. Quite a few were so good that just like the song ‘New York, New York’ they named them twice. Thus, we have the likes of Kerikeri, Kawakawa and Matamata. Have the same town in two places? Easy, just name the northernmost one ‘North’ as in Palmerston North and Havelock North. Problem solved! Want to follow the Americans? Well, just call the place ‘New’ as is New Plymouth or New Brighton (very nice beach by the way). I mean, even the whole country is named after the Dutch province, Zeeland, so what possible hope could the settlements, towns and regions within it ever have?

What I find hard to believe is that those who were on the first ships to arrive didn’t try harder. Okay, so they could have been really tired from the long voyage, or maybe someone wasn’t talking to someone else and the whole chain of command broke down. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But I’ve been doing some digging and here’s what I think really happened…

Back in those days, no exploratory vessel was allowed to leave the British Isles without a naturalist (think Darwin and ‘The Beagle’), a small symphony orchestra (to compose the new national anthem) and a nomenclaturist on board. The role of the nomenclaturist was to name the new places on any islands that were discovered and it was such a revered role that the person chosen for the job had the run of the ship. Now, it’s quite a long way from the UK to New Zealand and the weather isn’t always that good. So, what if the nomenclaturist fell overboard one night while out for his evening constitutional? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility and you can imagine the discussion the following morning:

CAPTAIN: Has anyone seen Higgins lately?

FIRST MATE: I’ve asked around and a couple of the deckhands saw him wandering up near the prow last night, Cap’n. They say he seemed a bit unsteady on his feet.

CAPTAIN: Unsteady, you say? You don’t think he’s been at the rum again, do you?

FIRST MATE: It looks that way, Cap’n. Come to think about it, I do recall hearing a splash in the early hours of this morning. Put it down to dolphins running alongside us at the time, but it could have been…

(Both exchange horrified glances)

CAPTAIN: First mate! Search the boat immediately! If we’ve lost him then we’re done for. We might as well just turn around and go home now.

FIRST MATE: Aye, aye, Cap’n.

(Sometime later)

DECKHAND: Land ahoy!

CAPTAIN: Well, this is it. We’re nearly there, but with no Higgins on board. What the hell are we going to do?

FIRST MATE: At least we’ve still got the orchestra, Cap’n.

CAPTAIN: Be thankful for small mercies, eh? I suppose that you’re right, but what about the naming of the damned place? Who’s going to do that?

FIRST MATE (nervously): Well, you are the Captain, Sir.

CAPTAIN (shrugs): I suppose you’re right. Okay, line up the crew. Let’s see if we can’t drag something useful out of them?

FIRST MATE: Aye, aye, Cap’n!

(Some more time later)

CAPTAIN: So, that’s the best we can do, is it? Jones came from Hastings, Stanley from Stratford and Ponsonby from Cambridge. We’re going to have to double up at this rate. And what was that about your Uncle Arthur? Well, let’s pass on that for now, but I’m sure we’ll find a use for it once we get into the interior. Oh, and your wife’s name is Geraldine, isn’t it? Write it down man! You never know, we might just need it! Honestly, I bet Nelson never had these problems. Wait a minute! Write that down too! Oh, I’m never going to live this one down, am I?


As I said at the start of this piece, I really do love New Zealand and am happy to report that since those early days of naming chaos, the country has, in fact, come up with a plethora of unique and interesting place names of which it should be justly proud. So, with a smile on my face, because I’ll always know my place in New Zealand, I’ll leave you with:

  • Bluff
  • Bulls
  • Gore
  • Paraparaumu, and
  • Piha

For more information about crazy place names in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, see:

UK: https://www.anglotopia.net/ultimate-list-of-funny-british-place-names/

Aus: http://www.list-directory.info/lists/place-names.html

NZ: https://www.backpackerguide.nz/10-funny-place-names-in-new-zealand/

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