Saturday morning, 10.30, saw 14 spark-
ling Land Rovers driving in convoy down Highway 16 towards Woodhill forest in West Auckland’s Kumeu region.
The cavalcade was impressive – almost one million dollars worth of machinery in close to mint condition.
As the owner of small, noisy, Japanese car, with the belief that its purpose was merely to get me from to B and sceptical view of transport – I leapt (in rather ungainly fashion, due to the height of these trucks) for the first time into Land Rover. So plush, so luxurious!
Part of The Land Rover Experience, this weekend was chance to show Land Rover owners the capabilities of their vehicles, teaching them how to drive off-road in safe and very social conditions. These courses have been running in different formats worldwide for about two years and the first New Zealand one took place in March under the aegis of Tim Brown, at Rover City.
Previous courses were chance to go bush and rough it for weekend, but this ?Forests and Vines’ weekend was initiated by customers who liked the notion of driving off-road but wanted something little more comfortable and lot closer to Auckland.
Brown came up with package that included dress dinner at the Hunting Lodge, accommodation in the region’s most luxurious cottages, and lunch and wine tasting at Matua Estate Winery. At just under $800 couple, it wasn’t cheap – but then if you’re going to invest in Land Rover, cut price bargains are probably not your chief concern.
In the middle of all this would be the driving – on the rough logging tracks of Woodhill forest and the black sands of Muriwai beach.
The weekend began with breakfast at Carriages CafŽ in Kumeu and chance to meet the participants, number of whom were families with young children. For some this was the first course they had been on, for others, the third.
Then off to the practice area at Woodhill forest.
Here Maurice Rotherham, of Land Rover NZ, demonstrated while Dave Patterson explained the theory of driving off-road. Everyone had turn at driving up the hill (although hill is probably insufficient to describe the angle of the incline).
The trick, says Patterson, is to accept when you’re not going to make it to the top. Thinking quickly, half way up, you take both feet off the pedals and trust the vehicle to find its own way down again. most unnatural thing to do when you’re looking down at vertiginous drop through the rear window.
Fired up by the hitherto unsuspected depths of these vehicles and fortified by the Teddy Bear picnic lunch, we set off in long line of increasingly mud-splattered Land Rovers to do the real thing.
It was slow going as guides cut back any branches that might scratch the paint work (the ?machete’ listed on the ?what to bring list’ wasn’t joke after all) and we came to an abrupt halt. The obstacle was mini-ravine and some road repair was in order.
The men picked up their spades and pickaxes and attempted to even up the road surface slightly (although it looked like good many years since some of them had seen spade).
The women watched. They discussed the subjugation of females in the 1900 House and our comparable emancipation and equality today. From inside the vehicles, radios kept us up to date with the rugby.
Again the emphasis was on safety and the contrast was drawn by the constant reappearance of two men in battered Ute, who could have come straight out of Speights commercial. These hardy NZ blokes looked on in derision and obvious amusement at our attempts to negotiate the tracks without damaging any of the vehicles. They were waiting to take part in the four wheel drive club that was gathering as we left the forest in the evening -300 4WDs that bore each additional dent with pride.
As we drove in convey past this m’lŽe of beaten cars to our accommodation, to relax before dining at the Hunting Lodge, the juxtaposition between the two clubs could hardly have been more marked.
The exhilaration of the day (and it was exhilarating – ploughing through mud and up and down logging tracks) was completed by very social four course meal where the conversation consisted largely of driving anecdotes and the atmosphere was one of satisfied surfeit. This was the general bonhomie of shared experience, liberal quantities of wine and anticipation of the morrow. The prospect of Sunday’s programme of driving on the beach followed by lunch and wine tasting where all were to receive certificates and some, prizes, increased the enjoyment of weekend away where the organisation was seamless and thoughtful.
The final touch was back in Auckland, where all the vehicles were given steam clean, returning them to their sparkling city state, leaving no hint of the rugged capabilities lurking beneath the painted exterior.
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