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Invercargill – where dreams are formed and come true… and a great road trip

Invercargill was originally dubbed the “City of Water and Light”, referring to its abundance of our most important natural resource – water and the long summer twilights, along with the frequent appearances of the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights).
 |  Jack Biddle  | 

The “water” reference, some humourists have suggested, comes from the notorious horizontal, driving rain in high winds, where the two main streets meet.

In 2017 our southernmost city looked to change its image and came up with a new slogan “Dream Big” which is far more appropriate and a better reflection on the city’s current focus and past history.

Some of that past history is still very much alive and kicking today. For example, the film, “The World’s Fastest Indian” released in 2005 and starring Anthony Hopkins as the legendary local Invercargill lad and motorbike racer Burt Munro, was an international success. It portrayed Burt Munro as a man who turned his boyhood dream of setting a world land speed record into a reality. In August of 1967 at the grand old age of 68 and after 20 years of disappointments, grit, determination and good old fashion Kiwi ingenuity, Burt turned his 1920 Indian Motorcycle into a record breaker on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah USA. Certainly an amazing achievement and it’s a movie worth watching.

The Bert Munro Challenge which is a series of different events with a motorbike theme continues to draw thousands of visitors and enthusiasts to Invercargill each year is held to honour the man’s love of speed and motorcycles. He was a man who did not know the meaning of the words, “giving up on one’s dreams”.

E Hayes and Sons, which is more than just a hardware and engineering supply shop has on display Burt Munro’s authentic, original Indian Scout and is definitely worth a visit.

Another huge attraction in Invercargill, and the main reason for my recent visit, is Bill Richardson’s Transport World. Bill Richardson was another born and bred southern man who saw his dream of bringing old broken trucks back from the brink of the crusher and turning them into showpiece condition, come true. His collection sits in a 15,000 square metre building which takes up an entire street block only five minutes from the centre of the city and is considered to be the largest private collection of its type in the world.

It’s an attraction many would automatically think to be solely a man’s world and to which a reluctant partner is dragged along, but once they pass-through the front doors, those same partners can often also be the last to leave.

There are also sections which display wearable arts and an abundance of grandma’s old household gadgets including original sewing and washing machines along with an old-world kitchen setting in the café.

Most of the vehicles on display are rare, unusual or significant and are highlighted by a 1940 Dodge RX70 Airflow truck – one of only three known to be fully restored worldwide. It was used as a water cart before being rescued from the wreckers by a tanker driver from Chicago with the intentions to restore it which he never did. Bill Richardson purchased it in January 1992 and completed its restoration in December 1996.

The other attractions on public display are just as well preserved and include many Ford V8 cars, American pre and post-war trucks, British trucks, Kombi vans, pre-Model T Fords, classic race cars, and the legendary John Britten’s bikes.

Sadly, Bill Richardson passed away suddenly in 2005 at age just 64. His life was cut short but in terms of achievement, it was remarkable. He was also a man like Burt Munro who never gave up on his dreams.

At the entrance to the museum there is a plaque with the words, “I only hope when I die somebody will be interested enough to carry it on”. He can certainly rest in peace knowing that his daughter Jocelyn and her husband Scott O’Donnell decided to open up the collection to the public in 2015.

Invercargill is certainly a long drive from Whitianga, but Bill Richardson’s Transport World  is definitely one of those museums that words alone do not do justice. For motoring enthusiasts, it’s a bucket list item. Invercargill has an awful lot of other attractions to offer visitors but the fact it was Burt Munro’s and Bill Richardson’s patch just makes it a little more special and complements the “Dream Big” slogan perfectly.