For a few magic days each February, red, white and blue drapes the region, the smell of motor oil and car polish hangs in the air, and the roads rumble with the purr of hundreds of American motors.
Americarna – John Rae’s homage to American car culture – has been hitting the tarmac since 2007 and has grown into a much-anticipated and successful event on the Taranaki calendar.
“I wanted to create an event that brought revenue to businesses and the province, an event that entrants enjoyed and couldn’t experience anywhere else, and an event the community could get behind, enjoy and feel a part of,” says John, the event founder and director.
All those goals have been achieved, and some.
Up to 1500 diehard motorheads and casual car enthusiasts flock to the region each year to showcase and view more than 600 American classic, vintage, and modern vehicles, pickups and hot rods, and Harley Davidson and Indian motorcycles.
Many come from all corners of the country and, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the globe.
“We’ve always had people come from outside New Zealand, with some returning every year,” John says. “They love it here. A lot of the people who take part in Americarna come and form long-term friendships.”
For the four days, the beautifully restored and cared for vehicles are front and centre, making road trips to all areas of the region and bringing joy to thousands who line the roads to wave American flags as the vehicles roll past honking their horns.
“The attraction is the people – the people that come out to watch in their masses,” says John.
“The event goes to all Taranaki – Waitara, Inglewood, Stratford, Hāwera, Ōpunake – and it’s free for the community. It’s truly a community event and the towns and centres around the region really get behind it.”
And the event gets behind the community. A highlight for many entrants is the “rest home run”, where about 100 cars visit aged care facilities in New Plymouth and often take residents for a cruise around the streets.
“I’ve had guys come back wiping tears from their eyes because it’s such a unique thing – the joy it brings to these people,” says John. “It has become an iconic part of the event.”
As has the Saturday park-up on New Plymouth’s main street. The central business district is closed to traffic and the streets are flooded with kids, parents, and grandparents, all checking out the wheels and enjoying the free entertainment and children’s activities.
“There’s a great vibe – I’ve dubbed it the ‘Americarna calm’,” laughs John. “You’ll struggle to find anyone rushing or running, you’ll struggle to find anyone not happy, and you’ll struggle to find any kids crying.”
John says Americarna’s longevity can be attributed to the support the event organiser, Taranaki Vehicle Events Trust, has received from the TSB Community Trust and Venture Taranaki.
“Without their support Americarna would have never ever got off the ground, and it has meant the event can continue and expand.”