For four days each year, Whangamata is the place to be if you love classic cars and wearing a petticoated party dress paired with your favourite dancing shoes.

As many other events around the country where a large turnout is expected, the 20th anniversary of the Repco Beach Hop has been postponed due to Covid-19 concerns. The organising team assures us the party will be on again in November.

Founded in 2001, the Beach Hop is now the largest event of its kind in the country. Huge crowds marvel at V8 engines, open-top convertibles, hot rods, motorbikes, quirky cars, and other classic beauties. Even if you're not a hardcore classic car enthusiast, the Beach Hop is a great event to attend. It's family friendly and fun for everyone.

For Francine Miller the Beach Hop is all about that special atmosphere, but she does have a huge passion for cars as well.

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"I've grown up around cars. It was something I did with my dad. He always had me involved in the work he did on them. Sundays were car cleaning days, and he even had me painting the inside of the engine blocks," she says.

Francine Miller loves the rockabilly style and wearing vintage dresses. Photo: Patrick Neale.
Francine Miller loves the rockabilly style and wearing vintage dresses. Photo: Patrick Neale.

"I was brought up around a racetrack, my dad raced cars and now my brother does. I have worked in the industry for 12 years as a sales manager in the product and service area, now a media specialist. Cars are a big part of me."

About nine years ago, Francine started going to events such as Rodders, Rebel Round Up, Vintage Day Out, Kumeu Hot Rod Festival and the Beach Hop. Dressing up in style became an interest a little later.

"Mum introduced me to the pin-up style and encouraged me to wear the dresses. I'm glad she did, because I love it. This is something mum and I do together," she says.

Francine's first time dressing up was at the Kumeu Hot Rod Show. She explains that she loves buying car models at the events, and she's the proud owner of about 40 models. It's as close as she has come so far to owning her own classic car but one day, she'd love to get a beautiful teal blue 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.

"When I came back from the trade section with a new model in one hand and my handbag in the other, I was caught by a gush of wind which blew my skirt right up. It revealed the g-string I was wearing underneath to everyone. That's why you always wear nana knickers and petticoats," she laughs.

Since then, dressing up has become Francine's next big passion. She loves the beautiful dresses, shoes and handbags, and has even taken part in five pageants.

"At first it was totally out of my comfort zone. I was scared I'd trip up and was literally shaking. But now it is so much fun. Especially the pin-up pageants where you have free range and almost go into character," she explains.

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Francine's mum Rosalina Miller says she loves the way women of any age and size can wear the stunning 50s and 60s dresses.

"I was born in this era so remember my mum wearing the lovely pretty feminine dresses which I love wearing myself," she says.

Rosalina Miller says she loves the way women of any age and size can wear the stunning 50s and 60s dresses. Photo: Patrick Neale.
Rosalina Miller says she loves the way women of any age and size can wear the stunning 50s and 60s dresses. Photo: Patrick Neale.

Rosalina has been going to the Beach Hop for the past seven years, and she has a stall at the market selling girls' cotton and lace sundresses and men's shirts in conversational prints. She has called her little business Cotton Creations and runs it together with David, her partner of 16 years.

Like Francine, Rosalina loves the atmosphere at the Beach Hop, and she especially enjoys rock 'n roll dancing with David.

Jessica Caulfield, who works as a freelance hairstylist in Tauranga, couldn't agree more. She attended the first Beach Hop in 2005 and looks forward to it every year since.

"I just went to party on the Saturday night. The following year I stayed for the weekend and enjoyed the cars and music more. Fast forward to 2009, I went with my family who own classic cars and we rented a bach," she says.

That was the year Jessica truly fell in love with the cars, music and fashion of the 1950s and 1960s. She even learned rock 'n roll dancing so she could join in, as she loved the music so much.

Dressing up has become a big part of the fun for Jessica, who initially only dressed in vintage 1950s for Beach Hop.

"I was too self-conscious to dress up in vintage anywhere else, so that became my time to shine in the outfits I'd been searching for throughout the year," she says.

The car culture and hot-rodding scene has become a huge part of Jessica's life and with her partner Brett Forlong she attends most big events in the country. She also runs a small business called Kulture Shock selling vintage clothing and accessories and co-organises two other car culture events.

"One is a smaller monthly morning gathering called Kruize to the Park, which is open to all classic cars and special interest vehicles held over summer at the historic Pukekohe Park Raceway, and the other is called Rebel Round Up, which is much bigger and also held in Pukekohe.

Jessica Caulfield attended her first Beach Hop in 2005 and looks forward to it every year since. Photo: Patrick Neale.
Jessica Caulfield attended her first Beach Hop in 2005 and looks forward to it every year since. Photo: Patrick Neale.

"Like Beach Hop but much smaller, we celebrate cars, music and fashion from the 50s and 60s. People that have entered their cars on show get to cruise at low speed around Pukekohe's historic racetrack, there are live bands, retro caravans, two pin-up vintage pageants, a garden bar and cocktail lounge, vintage markets and trade sites, plus two cars shows for pre 1980s vehicles."

Jessica's granddad was a vintage car restorer and had many beautiful cars in his collection.

"He has passed away, and he left each of his grandchildren a vintage car which he had restored. I'm lucky to have been given a 1934 Chrysler Plymouth, which he and my grandma enjoyed and travel all around New Zealand taking part in vintage car rallies."
She says she also loves other eras from the past, not just the 50s and 60s.

"We've attended the Art Deco festival in Napier this year and took our 1937 Chrysler to the event. We had a fantastic time there and are looking forward to attending again next year."

As a hairdresser Jessica is an allrounder, but she specialises in vintage hairstyles. That came in handy for Francine last year when hair appointment got moved from early morning to late afternoon at the Beach Hop.

Francine was upset, as it's her hair she "battles with the most".

"I bumped into Jessica in the bathroom. She saw that I was close to tears, so she did my hair and saved the day," Francine says.

Jessica and Rosalina had met earlier, as they were both vendors at the markets.
"It wasn't until last year that I found out that Rosalina was Francine's mum. Such a small world," Jessica says.

Jessica and Francine say it can take up to two hours to get ready, depending on what they are doing with their hair and the outfit they've chosen. Makeup consists of winged liquid eyeliner, mascara or false lashes, foundation, blusher and red lips. For a more dramatic evening look, you can add eyeshadow in neutral colours.

Dresses usually have a swing skirt from the waist with a petticoat underneath for full poof effect, or you can opt for a bit riskier and wear a wiggle dress that hugs a women's figure and shows off her curves.

Heels for at night, flats for day, bangles, necklace and earrings all in matching colours to the outfit, hair flower or hair scarf to finish the look, and a handbag or purse in a matching colour for the final touch.

Repco Beach Hop 2020

An announcement was made on Monday by Beach Hop organiser Graeme "Noddy" Watts that the event scheduled to start on March 25 has been postponed until November 25-29.

"We have taken our time to evaluate the options and considered what is best for our community to make the right decision. Each major event has a different dynamic and people must try to understand what goes on behind the scenes when making critical decisions in very stressful circumstances. You simply cannot compare one event to another," he said.

"We hope that the virus pandemic will be more controlled over the next eight months so we can celebrate our 20th year of this wonderful event. More details for entrants about how this will work will follow in due course, so please don't throw away your entry packs in the meantime. We plan to roll everything over to these new dates including the prize vehicles, Ford Kiwi Rock'n'Roll Legends concert and more."

Classic cars and hot rods line the streets for the Beach Hop. 1 April 2019 Bay of Plenty Times. Photo:Francine Miller.
Classic cars and hot rods line the streets for the Beach Hop. 1 April 2019 Bay of Plenty Times. Photo:Francine Miller.

Around 100,000 people attend the festival each year, and the Beach Hop is hugely important for local businesses and accommodation providers. It raises much needed funds for Whangamata's emergency services and charities, with more than $750,000 donated since 2001.

Noddy recognised the local community in his statement, and said the team appreciates the damaging effect on the economy both national and local.

"We feel for the businesses that rely on the festival to survive."

Lots of people are expected to still come to Whangamata next week regardless of the postponement. Noddy says they can't stop people from coming, but he asks people to stay home if they have symptoms of Covid-19, or recently arrived in New Zealand from overseas.

If you are unwell then please call Healthline's dedicated Covid-19 number 0800 358 5453 or contact your GP, phoning ahead of your visit.

Noddy signed off by saying thank you to "the fabulous people" who have supported them in making this important decision including sponsors, Thames-Coromandel District Council, Ministry of Health, Waikato District Health Board and volunteers.

"Your response has been incredible which many people would never be aware of. You all rock!"