MAIN TEST – Gary ‘Gadget‘ Ngatai

In Tests6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 20, 2018

Gary ‘Gadget‘ Ngatai

“That‘s what some call me,” laughs Gary Ngatai. “I love it, they all make the job safer and technology‘s there to be used isn‘t it?”

Up from the auxiliary power output in the DAF is a wire to a splitter that allows Gary to run his mini Cape Kennedy control centre. There‘s nothing that moves, talks, or monitors this truck that Gary doesn‘t know about. But all that‘s just a sideline, spend an few hours in the truck with this happy 52-year-old and you learn his life mottos – family, professionalism and adventure. You‘ll also learn how much you can squeeze into the grand adventure if you have a ‘Give-it -go, we‘re here to have fun‘ approach.


Photo: If you wanted a photo that summed Gary Ngatai up, this would be it. Life‘s an adventure to be savoured.

Gary was a whängai child (Maori customary fostering and adoption) and although born in Eltham in Taranaki he was raised in the Wairarapa by hardworking folk, initially on a farm station near Herbertville and later in Masterton.

“Growing up on the farm was just one adventure after another. We had an RL Bedford which I learned to drive which was great, especially when I joined the army later on.”


Photo: Entrenched army discipline and a love of truck driving. If there‘s nothing doing a bit of spit and polish keeps things where they should be.

Gary served in both the army territorial and regular force, including a spell overseas. While in the service he not only drove, but also completed his builder‘s apprenticeship, needing only a couple of minor units for things in the civilian world once he was out. He worked on Te Papa as a builder shift boss, and eventually owned his own building company, with all going well until the Mainzeal collapse. Nothing more needs to be said there. But like so many of us, driving has been there all the way through, helping out cashflow, mates, relieving when needed, as well as working full time at different points throughout life. “I love driving, always have. This is a great job and Will‘s a top bloke to work for. I‘ve been here two and half years. There‘s no pressure or expectation to do anything silly. It‘s great. “As you get older it gets harder you know? People look at you differently, they wonder if you can do it any more. “Driving‘s a hugely responsible job and one you have to take a professional view toward. So many now don‘t; there‘s a real lack of driver education out there.” Gary‘s driven the length and breadth of the country in his career, most of it on controlled temperature work. He‘s also done three stints in Australia, the last one ending in 2012, and he‘s loved every minute of his time there. “OnmylasttripIwenttoafirmin Adelaide, KJM Contractors, for what I thought was an interview and by that afternoon I was heading out of town in a Cat powered T908 Kenworth,” he laughed. “I didn‘t get back for two and half weeks.

“They take a much more serious approach to safety over there. It‘s done properly, not half-pie. You go into those terminals in Sydney and you‘re not allowed out of the truck. They do everything. Tell you which dock to back into, and when to leave. The rules are crystal clear and you don‘t buck them. “Australia was great. It got us into the house we‘re in now. You just couldn‘t earn here what you can there.” But Gary‘s first priority is family and his whole ethos around professional driving is geared around him making it home after every run. Wife of twenty years Kelly-Anne works as an administration manager at Te Wananga o Raukawa Otaki, and children Taranaki, 10, Oriwia, 13, and Arahia, 17, are all thriving, getting everything out of life they can. “Driving‘s tough on you, but it‘s a bloody sight tougher on those at home. My son Taranaki and nephew Jordan love the trucks and they come with me when they can. It‘s important to pass on the knowledge. I tell all my kids to get out and have a go, that you have to be having fun following your dreams.” With advice like that, no one‘s going to go far wrong.

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