Journey Beyond the Screen

The Petrolhead Capital of the South

New Zealand's southernmost city is keeping it real.

The Petrolhead Capital of the South

By Pennie Hunt

Described in various travel guides as 'flat and featureless' and a place that inspires 'ambivalence', you might conclude that Invercargill has a serious image problem. On the contrary. This city knows exactly what it is, and it's playing that card for all it's worth.

Truth is, the place that Keith Richards described as the "arsehole of the world" has instead become a mecca for petrolheads the world over. Enthusiasts of gasoline engines, in particular motorbikes, come here to pay tribute to the God of Speed. And you'll find enough places of worship in this town - from The E. Hayes Motorworks Collection (charmingly housed in a hardware store) to Bill Richardson's Transport World and his stunningly renovated Classic Motorcycle Mecca on the main street of town.

Stefan channelling the spirit of Invercargill at the Motorcycle Mecca.

Stefan channelling the spirit of Invercargill at the Motorcycle Mecca.

Invercargill famously featured in The World's Fastest Indian, a biographical sports drama about local hero Burt Munro (1899-1978) who, despite all odds, took his 1920 Indian motorcycle to the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States and broke the world land speed record at the age of 63. Celebrating the spirit of Burt, and determined to attract people to Invercargill for more than just a sneering drive-through, a weekend event was established on the back of the film that really does reel in the tourists.

But I'm not talking about your average tourist...    

In 2010 West Coast participant Kevin Ryan dedicated his ride to the victims of New Zealand's Pike River coalmining disaster.

In 2010 West Coast participant Kevin Ryan dedicated his ride to the victims of New Zealand's Pike River coalmining disaster.

The Burt Munro Challenge has put the city back on the map as over 2,000 motorcycles roll into town to attend the six different racing events attended by crowds of up to 6,000. The undisputed highlight of the weekend is, of course, the beach races on Oreti Beach, Burt's training ground for the Bonneville Salt Flats.

You can't walk around this city without seeing evidence of Invercargill's motorcycle obsession. Strolling through the city arcade, a replica of Burt's Indian is on display and there's even a bronze statue of Munro in the genteel Queen's Gardens.

But perhaps the quirkiest momento to Invercargill's petrolhead gene is the newly erected street sign in a previously unnamed alleyway.

In December 2016 Pork Pie Lane was unveiled, named after the classic Kiwi film Goodbye Pork Pie (1980), the story of accidental outlaws who travel the length of New Zealand in a mini called 'Pork Pie' and end up - where else - but Invercargill. With the re-release of the new Pork Pie film that features exciting car chases, characters who give the finger to the cops and other crowd-pleasing antics, mayor Tim Shadbolt was not about to miss out on a prime marketing opportunity for the city. In the new Pork Pie the road to Invers (as the Southern city is more affectionately known) has never looked so good.

It's true that the smell of burning tyres and gasoline sure ain't everyone's cup of tea, but you've got to take your hat off to Invercargill. They've found their niche and they're riding it for all it's worth. 

Our thanks to Venture Southland for hosting us in Invercargill.

 

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