John Surtees won that first race, with Bruce McLaren taking the title in 1964, driving a Cooper Climax. There’s little to mark the track’s illustrious motoring past, but later winners included Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Bruce’s countryman, Chris Amon.
Our first stop is the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, about three hours south of Auckland at Taupo, in the centre of the North Island. Formerly called Taupo Motorsport Park, the 2.2-mile track was renamed in Bruce’s honour in 2007, although he never raced here.
It’s a chance for owners to size up fellow drivers and show off their track skills. Some have brought their own set of slick tyres, but it’s now lashing down with rain, preventing a full-on assault on the lap record. The next day the route heads south-east towards the winegrowing region of Hawke’s Bay. We’re not here to sample local produce, though, but to pay a visit to one of the oddest car museums on the planet.
New Zealand roads are dominated by Asian imports, but British cars were the norm until the 1980s. The British Car Museum has a wildly quirky selection – including 36 Morris Minors, a mustard Austin Allegro and countless others that, perhaps, should be left to rust in peace. At least it has a good stock of old Autocar magazines.
McLaren P14: 650S successor to get new active chassis
There’s a note on my hotel pillow when the tour arrives in Wellington. It tells me not to worry about the cracks in the walls, or any missing tiles in the bathroom. It’s a sobering reminder of the earthquake damage that this part of the country has suffered in recent months.
Manoeuvring so many low-slung vehicles onto the inter-island ferry the next day could have expensive consequences. However, McLarens have electric height adjustment, which takes the scrape out of the loading process. Soon we are passing through the stunning Marlborough Sounds on a four-hour crossing to the South Island.
The scenery suddenly steps up a gear, too, as we detour away from the earthquake-hit Christchurch region, down the scenic west coast. More and more people have turned out to watch, applauding us through tiny villages and swarming around the cars at every stop.
We arrive at Lake Tekapo as a Chinese couple tie the knot at the shore-side Church of the Good Shepherd. Never mind the chapel as a backdrop: the pair seize the opportunity to have their wedding photographs taken beside a McLaren instead.
As each day passes, the roads become increasingly entertaining in the South Island. I’ve swapped cars from a 650S into a 570GT. It may be 35kg heavier than the ‘standard’ 570S, but it adds more creature comforts for touring.