Home' Open Road North Shore : OR0517 Contents The MX-5 after a well-
earned sponge bath.
The Mazda MX-5 gives drivers the royal treatment
and cuts a fine figure outside Larnach Castle
Chariot fit for a king
A recent drought means there’s barely a trickle flowing beneath
the broad bridges that span the Selwyn and Rakaia rivers, and
the farms around Ashburton look parched. The port city of
Timaru is considerably bigger but still seems quiet, allowing
me to dawdle in second gear along streets of Oamaru-stone
(local limestone) buildings. I stumble upon the beautiful Botanic
Gardens with its flower patches of creeping colour and mature
trees breaking into pea-green leaf, and then coast down to the
expansive port. Parked up at Caroline Bay, I scan the rolling
waves and plan the following day’s driving.
Heading inland from Timaru, the next landmark to tick off
is another body of water: Lake Tekapo. It gets its turquoise
colour from fine particles of powdered rock suspended in
glacial-melt waters. Tourists mill around one of its focal points –
the rustic Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1935, and they
take selfies from the rocks leading down to the water’s edge.
I’m on a roll and drive a further 50km to the dramatically
coloured Lake Pukaki for a sandwich stop. By the time I’m
ready to depart, the water has taken on a greyish tinge under
thickening cloud cover. That’s my cue to raise the canvas.
Lake Ohau marks the boundary between the Canterbury and
Otago regions and rain is adding to the lake’s volume by the
time it enters my view. I press on through vast tussock-covered
basins and up gently graded hills that reach for a murky white
horizon. By this point I’m scanning ahead for any road signs
advising that the Lindis Pass might not be passable in the rear-
wheel-drive roadster. But there are no such indications as the
snow blizzard kicks in – bar an abandoned hatchback on the
roadside that’s been upturned neatly on its roof.
The MX-5 remains unflustered, however, and we’re both soon
rewarded with the odd glimpse of sun that lights up the white
terrain and demands more photo stops en route to Wanaka.
At this point, there’s a choice between driving to Queenstown
beside the Clutha and Kawarau rivers, admiring the budding
stone fruit trees around Cromwell, or risking heavy snow and
tackling the Crown Range beyond Cardrona. I get all sensible
and head through Cromwell and Clyde, but before reaching
Arrowtown I’m drawn to the Crown Range turn-off. Happily,
the MX-5 succeeds in reaching the highest point as the wipers
gently clear snowflakes from the windscreen.
Queenstown is cold and bustling with activity in the evening.
There’s more snow to delight the tourists and an ice scraper
is needed to clear the MX-5’s glass the next morning. The cold
engine idles smoothly beside Lake Wakatipu, limbering up for
the long drive ahead through Otago’s historic goldfield district
and all the way back to the east coast. The day culminates in a
scamper along the region’s golden-yellow peninsula, but first
there are two ports of call scheduled in Dunedin: a café and leg
stretch along St Clair beach followed by a prowl around the Toitu
Otago Settlers Museum, the country’s oldest history museum
that underwent major renovations a few years ago.
But my ultimate destination is historic Larnach Castle and
after a roofless drive along the coast road and a hill climb to the
majestic castle grounds, I ring the reception bell at Larnach
Lodge later than planned (hence the urgent request for a bucket
and sponge!). A few sweeps have the Mazda’s Soul Red surface
looking its best and I have just enough light left for my camera to
do the scene justice. All that remains is to hunt down a glass of
Otago pinot noir and join a feast in the castle’s dining room.
The Mazda MX-5 was not only voted 2016 World Car of
the Year but also won the World Car Design award. This
2.0 -litre Limited model is arguably the definitive version
of Mazda’s million-selling roadster.
Factor in the low weight, low centre of gravity and
50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution and you have a
sensational platform from which to exploit the ample
torque of the engine, positive short-throw gearshift, and
incisive steering. Engagement is the key to the MX-5
experience, as the car always seems in tune with a driver’s
mood. It never feels more alive than on the third-gear
sweeps of those flowing peninsula roads or when carving
up chilly alpine climbs.
Like politician and financier William Larnach with his
neo-gothic castle, Mazda agonised over the design of this
roadster and driving one in this part of the world underlines
the depth of its achievement and deserving accolades.
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