by Mark Sigirist
“It don’t get no better than this,” American convoyer Paul Neil declared during the 2018 New Zealand Armistice 100 Easter Convoy. Indeed, this was an often-repeated sentiment by the 70 participants of the 3,300-kilometer convoy. Conducted by the New Zealand Military Vehicle Club (NZMVC) in March and April 2018, the journey crossed the length and breadth of both islands of the beautiful country.
The NZMVC convoy commemorated the sacrifices of New Zealand’s military and citizens during the First World War. A contingent of 12 Americans — all veterans of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s US convoys — participated to show our continued mutual friendship and support to our Kiwi brothers and sisters. A side benefit to the Americans was the opportunity to see and experience what even the most detailed tourist activities usually miss out on.
Of course, there was a short period of “acclimation” for the Yank participants. Predominate was learning to safely navigate in kilometers and driving on the left side of the road. Co-drivers became active participants and were frequently heard to gasp “Left side, left side!” Round-a-bout (traffic circle) intersections and one-lane bridges, even on major roadways, are more common than not. Regular gasoline is 91 octane and contains no ethanol. Gas was $2.00 to $2.50 per liter New Zealand ($5.70 to $7.10 US per gallon (exchange rate of 75 cents NZ to $1.00 US).
We also needed a short course on Kiwi terms and translations, including: Float: horse trailer; Caravan: travel trailer camper; Ute: pickup truck; Long drop: campground toilet; Scrub: patches of bushes, shrubs, short trees; Flash: multiple uses, but generally meaning something great or in excellent condition; Tea: midmorning or mid-afternoon break with food and coffee, tea or beer; Jug: pitcher of beer; Chooks: hen chickens; and Chips meaning “french fries.”
The Armistice 100 Easter convoy contained 30 historic military vehicles (HMVs) and 9 civilian support vehicles. Most vehicles were WWII and Korean War vintage. Makes included Dodge, Jeep, Bedford, Unimog, Land Rover, Austin, and Chevy as well as Indian and BMW motorcycles.
Pete Yates and Peter Haigh planned the convoy route around historic sites, scheduled events of interest, collections of HMVs and scenic vistas. we traveled 100 to 240 kilometers each daily, included numerous pit stops and took frequent rest days to visit local attractions.
Midway through the convoy, on April 1, we changed clocks. We “fell back” an hour for daylight time — backwards for the Americans, due to being “upside down.” We soon had our first taste of New Zealand fall weather: -2 degrees Centigrade with ice on the ground.
On our second week’s rest day, we took the opportunity to visit a large truck museum with many unique vehicles and visit a private collector of historic military vehicles (HMV).
Our Kiwi hosts noted that agriculture related enterprises are rapidly expanding, much of it driven by export demands. One significant area is in vineyards/wine making. Several of the Yanks took advantage of tasting tours and assured us that the products are of the highest quality. Another is the huge number of deer farms, pasture raised behind tall fences.
Numerous evenings were spent for meals and in fellowship with folks at the local RAS (Retired and Active Service Club), the New Zealand version of the VFW. There were always veterans willing to share a jug and stories, with quite a number having been in Vietnam.
One overnight stop was hosted by Mike Edridge at his home and business. A three-time MVPA convoy veteran driving his 1944 Bedford MW, Mike and his sons’ construction company predominately build roads related to New Zealand’s extensive timber industry however, have recently been very busy working the ongoing recovery from the devastating Christchurch earthquakes. Heavy iron and military vehicles, a great combination!
Convoy participants seem to develop ongoing satires and one of these was that: Convoy organizer Peter Haigh is the production manager for Mr. Chips — the largest french fry producer in New Zealand. At each meal we would ask the staff the brand name of their chips. If not Mr. Chips, we would refuse to order them and then go off on a diatribe on the virtues of switching their supplier to Mr. Chips. We are awaiting word as to if the company has seen a spike in sales… And on the subject of food, each village has their very strong opinions on which shop makes the best meat pies. In addition, there is no middle ground in the argument on which species of fish must be used to make the best fish and chips.
Convoy Commander Peter Yates was able to get us a rare behind the scenes tour of the extensive artillery and vehicle collection under preservation and restoration prior to display in the museum at the Waiouru Camp military base. As with many museums, the blight of a funding shortages have restricted the number of pieces brought to public viewing, many of them rare or unusual.
The motor ferry crossing back to the North Island was much smoother than the earlier southern crossing. Our crossing was made on the 50th anniversary of the disastrous ferry sinking that claimed 58 lives. We were lucky in that shortly thereafter, a fall storm passed that caused power outages and even tornado-like winds and some related damage. Prior to the trip, convoy organizers Pete Yates and Peter Haigh often told us to prepare for wet and cold on the South Island, well that didn’t happen as we had good weather nearly every day – bonus time! We would make up for it back on the North Island. The two hardiest Kiwis, father and son Bob and Gary Moore with their 1942 Jeep MB and 1943 Jeep GPW drove the entire convoy – rain, shine, wind, snow, with their tops and windshields latched down. And slept in a small tent, one night of which during high winds tried to roll away. These guys seemed to thrive on adversity! An interesting facet of the Armistice 100 Convoy was the appointment of a Sheriff to catalogue participants miscues or perceived issues. At several all-hands dinners, the Sheriff would deliver a report and collect fines from the miscreants. Recovery driver Dan was fined for the need to recover the recovery trailer (it seems that approaching a one way bridge, the abutment seems to have leaped out and smashed a trailer wheel, axle hub and spring shackle) . Trail Officer Ken was fined for allowing NZMVC club secretary Sue to talk on the Convoy radio net when she rode with us (to avoid riding an open vehicle in inclement weather). Recovery Officer Paul was fined for allowing his co-driver Wilson to drive their 1942 MB while he took a nap. These and similar fines in a humorous setting collected a nice amount of cash that was donated to several worthy charities we discovered along the trail.
Wellington was another rest day – scheduled to take advantage of several historic sites. These included the WWII coastal gun emplacements overlooking Wellington and the bay approaches, the historic wooden cathedral built in the 1860s and frequently visited by US Marines during WWII, the Te Papa museum with WWI and indigenous peoples exhibits, the National War Museum with Gallipoli exhibits by Sir Peter Jackson, and a stop at his WETA workshop with memorabilia from the “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” movies.
There were relatively few mechanical issues for the HMVs. Most were points adjustments, coil replacements, lug nut tightening, head lamp replacement, carburetor adjustments for elevation changes, and several flat tires.
Two unresolved issues resulted in vehicles not being able to complete the convoy. One was loss of a gear in the transmission on a Jeep MB (determined to be a pre-existing condition aggravated by stress of mountain driving) and overheating of the Dodge WC-21 that had been repowered with a Toyota diesel engine with a radiator too small to cool it. Ken Field and I drove Peter Haigh’s 1953 M37A1 a total of 2,190 miles.
The last day of the Armistice 100 Convoy included traveling through 4 inches of fresh snow, passing by several houses in National Park, damaged by tornados, and visiting the famous spiral railway line. That evening at the Taumarunui RAS we had our end of convoy banquet. Good food, raucous conversations and more than a few jugs resulted in farewell to good friends made, and promises to do something like it again in a few years!
And to Paul and any of you potential convoy participants, “It don’t get no better than this!”