Salt, sand and snapper

There’s no machine better than a trusty Landy on an 88-kilometre-long road made entirely of sand. Just ask the legends of the Snapper Classic.

Arno Gasteiger

Back in 1994, Warren Judd and Arno Gasteiger stood alongside about 1000 fishermen who “flung themselves into the surf of New Zealand’s longest beach—Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē/90 Mile Beach—in the hope of landing the grandaddy snapper and taking away a $50,000 prize”.

“The beach is an official road (at low tide, anyway), and undoubtedly the country’s smoothest, widest and longest straight run. Police periodically patrol it to ensure traffic rules are observed,” Judd wrote. It’s also a popular surfcasting beach and contests like the Snapper Classic have been held there since 1957, according to the Far North Regional Museum.

Most of the vehicles used in 1994 were true workhorses and “every one of them was fuller than Noah’s Ark. Chilly bins, rugs, rods, boxes of food and crates of beer, wetsuits and parkas, chairs, barbecues, picnic tables—yes, picnic tables—and lots of people”.

On day two of the competition, it was a good hour’s drive north to the 20-kilometre section of the beach where the fishing took place.

“Most vehicles started out in the pre-dawn gloom at around 6am, though the really keen left as early as 2am to secure their favourite spot. The rules allowed competitors to get in position any time, but no fishing line was able to hit the water before 8am.”

In one of Gasteiger’s photos, a “mechanical porcupine” was shown being prepared to reel in a few monsters of the deep, its many quills attached to the front of a Land Rover in “a versatile basket made from Hurricane fencing wire”.

This year’s winning fish came from Area 2. Even 20 kilometres of beach is plenty for Mike McCormick (below), organiser of the contest patrols, to monitor. From his comprehensively equipped 1962 Landrover, he keeps in constant CB contact with his fellow patrols and the fishing base, passing messages, tagging fish, organising supplies and summoning rescue boats when needed.

Judd hitched a ride in Mike McCormick’s 1962 Land Rover, “a classic even by Northland’s standards”. The ‘overseer of patrols’ kept in constant CB contact with his fellow patrollers and the competitors, occasionally even summoning rescue boats when the contestants ventured out too far into the surf.

“In the front, a range of spare parts jostled for space with ammunition, bits of fishing paraphernalia, cigarettes, assorted nuts and bolts and contest stuff. Way beyond the mobile office, this was more the travelling general store.”

And in a harsh and remote place like Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē—as elsewhere in this rugged archipelago—a well-appointed Landy is exactly what you need.

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