The roar of engines filled the air yesterday as about 600 cars turned State Highway 25 into New Zealand's version of Route 66.

The Whangamatā to Whitianga highway was bumper to tail as Beach Hop enthusiasts made the annual pilgrimage to the small township.

Heavy rain cleared in just enough time for Repco Beach Hop president Noddy Watts to wave the starting flag, and car owners obligingly took their pride and joys for a spin up the coast.

The cars handled the corners like a dream and their drivers waved to gathered onlookers at the Coroglen Pub and other remote roads en route to Whitianga, where they were greeted by thousands at the township itself.

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Among them was Harper Williamson, who - at age 15 months - must surely be the youngest hot rod owner at the hop.

She was in her "33", a replica Plymouth 33 like that of her grandad, Peter Williamson from Hamilton.

15-month old Harper Williamson in a custom made hot rod that her grandfather Peter created. Photo/ Alison Smith
15-month old Harper Williamson in a custom made hot rod that her grandfather Peter created. Photo/ Alison Smith

Harper gets pushed in the car via a handle on the back and was in her own world as behind her, the 60s music blared, dancers rock and rolled, and the engines revved on Whitianga's main street.

The whole invention was made by Peter who said it was time he did something for his granddaughter.

"We just thought she needed a hot rod of her own, and it's styled on 60s gases," said Peter.

Harper's dad Jeremy Williamson, of Te Awamutu, also owns a Plymouth.

They are among hundreds of classic car owners who have travelled from around the country to attend the festivities of the Beach Hop.

Most have spent thousands of hours labouring on their cars and say they just like to be around like-minded people.

"It's my happy place," said John Lovell, another Hamiltonian and one of 25 staff from Repco who attend.

The Beach Hop is now in its 19th year and has grown from humble beginnings to one of the largest events of its kind in the world.

It has turned Whangamatā into the home of New Zealand's biggest celebration of the 50s and 60s, drawing 110,000 visitors.

They dress in the colourful fashion of this golden era and dance, rev and parade their hot rods and motorbikes, and attend nostalgic events over the five-day festival.

According to a survey by Thames Coromandel District Council, last year's hop brought in more than $7 million to the local economy and 42 of the 938 people surveyed had purchased property as a result of attending the Hop.

Yesterday's Whitianga Beach Party will be followed today with a Thundercruise to the beach settlement of Onemana and then a full line-up of bands, parades, fairs and displays around Whangamata from tonight through until Sunday evening.

Among the many prizes up for grabs is a Beach Hop car - a 1967 Ford Galaxie that was completely overhauled and made "sexy" by the Beach Hop team volunteers, as well as a brand new Harley Davidson motorbike.

To be in the draw to win the $65,000 car, event-goers must purchase a $5 programme and fill out the form, and be present at the live draw on Sunday afternoon in Whangamata.

All proceeds raised from these programme sales go towards local emergency service organisations, whose volunteers are busy all weekend helping with the event.