Magnificient in the mountains

In May 2023, Events4 MinutesBy Dave McCoidJune 14, 2023

Some events appear to have all the right secret herbs and spices to give them that ‘thing’, drawing people as if they are on some form of pilgrimage. In its third time around, Wheels at Wanaka is proving just such an event – and 2023 was so good we’ve decided to devote our lead story to it, something not done for a public show since the days of the Hautapu Expo.

“How do you nominate someone for a knighthood,” said one passer-by at the New Zealand Trucking Media tent. They were talking about Allan Dippee, of course, the brains behind what has become New Zealand’s go-to event if you’re into anything with wheels. A discussion then ensued on what Wanaka has that’s sending it ever more stratospheric every two years. Obviously, the variety of entries – everything from an off-roader to a Land Rover, to classic cars, machines, trucks, earthmoving equipment… it’s endless. Then there’s the venue. Who doesn’t want to go to Wanaka? Of course, the interaction of like minds across generations is huge, but there’s the other key element: this is not merely a show. Wanaka is play time!

The parade ring is shared by everything and, of course, what many would argue is the true saffron in the Dippee recipe, the earthmoving play-pit – officially known as the Terra Cat Earthmoving Extravaganza.

It’s one thing to restore an old earthmover, but unlike trucks, unless you have 20 spare hectares in need of regular uprooting, earthmovers are harder to enjoy in an operating sense. It’s even harder to do with your restoration brethren. Big machines are hard to move.

Wanaka solves that on a grand scale, and the extravaganza’s magnetism is unquestionable as old hands and up-and- comers alike let machines from the ages loose to ‘do their thang!’ in the dirt. In 2023, the celebrated machine was the motor scraper.

The active nature of Wanaka also means ‘they’re’ all there; Knowles, McCarthy, Collinson, Francis and Solly; Ross, Porter, Draper, Richardson and Goodman… it barely scratches the surface of who was mingling and happy to yarn about their fleets, machines, restorations and career escapades.

In 2019, Wheels at Wanaka drew 12,000; in 2021, 24,000, and this year 40,000 headed to the 25-hectare Three Parks site. As Maarten Durent, CEO of Southpac Trucks, said at Saturday evening’s official function, “This event is of an international standard.” As a founding sponsor, he also affirmed his company’s support of future events.

What Allan Dippee, Colleen Nisbet, Annabel Roy and the Wheels committee and volunteers have really created, however, is a mood. They bring all the above together in an apprehension- free yet responsible manner. There’s no obvious legion of high-vis-wearing zealots claiming that anything closer than 10m from a machine is recklessly dangerous, and orange cones are as few and far between as they can make them. The Wheels at Wanaka committee manages to effect a cross-industry, cross-community coming together – bringing our greatest mechanical marvels into contact with the people who own and operate them, and more importantly, everyday folk. It’s up close and personal, the way it should be.

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