MIKE SAUNDERS: WINE LOVER, FRESH AIR ENTHUSIAST, SPORTS FAN, WORKS FOR VILLA MARIA IN HAWKES BAY
Tell us about your Hilux ...
It’s a 2004 Toyota Hilux. Manual, 4WD, champagne colour (naturally). At 280,000km she’s just getting run in. It is reliable, functional and capable. It is equally at home on the vineyard collecting grape samples, on the open road travelling between vineyards or nipping into town to do the banking and grab a latte. It is also useful during long weekends for getting into the hills with tramping gear on the back.
Why a ute?
Because that’s what a good Kiwi man should drive. Whether it’s picking up some concrete mix, compost, transporting wine cases, sporting gear, dogs, or the odd runaway vineyard sheep, a ute is the most practical solution for anyone working in the rural sector.
Who’s allowed to drive it?
Being a work vehicle, any one of our staff is allowed to drive my ute when required.
A Subaru Omega sedan. I must have been about 17. It was reliable, solid and wedge-shaped. It wasn’t particularly aerodynamic, but did sit well on the road and purred like a contented lion, with an intermittent cough caused by the odd gazelle bone tickling the throat. I appreciated its solidness and the gradual acceleration, especially when I drove 5km with my wallet on the back bumper and it was still there when I arrived at the supermarket.
Land Rover Defender 90. Absolutely.
Who taught you to drive?
Dad. Growing up on and around farms with tractors and trucks I had a fair idea of what I was doing before I started officially learning. He still needed to be incredibly patient. I think the phrase “walk before you run” was used frequently. My folks insisted on a defensive driving course and proper lessons once I had the basics.
Manual or automatic?
Manual. I enjoy the process of driving, including changing gears. Keeps the romance of driving alive, much like pulling a cork from a wine bottle rather than opening a screwcap.
Most memorable road trip?
Ten days around Ireland in 2007 with a good mate, my brother and his partner in a gun-metal grey Ford Focus. Amazing scenery, warm and welcoming people, passionate music and spectacular pubs.
Driver or passenger?
I’m a driver. I’d rather be in control of my own safety rather than leave it in someone else’s hands. Dad drove us everywhere and I thought it was a great sense of responsibility. Years later I found out he gets car sick unless he’s driving.
What do you listen to?
I have eclectic tastes from Pavarotti to Fat Freddy’s Drop. However, the slightly annoying but informative and hilarious nasal tones of Radio Sport’s Martin Devlin have taken over the Hilux speakers.
Great day trip?
Drive into the Kaweka Mountains. There’s a beautiful walk into Te Puia Lodge and short jaunt up to the natural Mangatainoka Hot Springs.
If you could go to any winegrowing country with any celebrity in any car?
Italy with Jamie Oliver in a Land Rover Defender 90. Wine, good food, great banter, amazing truck. Magic.
What do you always have in your ute?
A head torch, box of muesli bars, water and spare clothes because you never know when you’ll get hungry or thirsty or end up working late at night and need some illumination and/or warmth. Viticulturally, secateurs for pruning, refractometer for testing grape sugar levels and a first aid kit in case you have an accident with the secateurs. Mechanically, some jumper leads, tool kit and windscreen bug cleaner.
How often do you clean your ute?
Once a week, although I miss the odd week. A re-usable takeaway coffee cup has drastically reduced my cleaning time.
Do you judge people by what they drive?
Not really, but I will wave at anyone in a Hilux.
What irritates you most about other drivers?
Speeding up in passing lanes and not merging or rushing to gain one extra position in a queue of traffic. Conversely, I love the driver who leaves a good gap in front of them when driving or merging.