New Zealand's number one nostalgia festival, celebrating the best of the 50s and 60s, is back.

The Repco Beach Hop is held annually in Whangamata, attracting more than 100,000 people who travel from all over New Zealand and around the world for a five-day celebration of music, dance, hot rods, and dress-ups. Classic car and retro fashion enthusiasts count down to it like Christmas.

We talk to Noddy Watts, one of the festival organisers, and Andi Whitley, who runs the NZ Petrolhead Retro-O-Rama during the festival, a curated market of all things retro and vintage. Plus, we introduce you to a few local ladies who just love the Beach Hop vibe.

Glenna Christensen, whose gorgeous Ford 33 Coupe features on our cover, says it's the best car ever.

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"I love the power and sound of the V8, especially when on a cruise in the country with the windows down, the sun shining, and to smell that country air," she says.

Going to the Repco Beach Hop is a highlight, as she loves the atmosphere with so many people and cars, and especially the sights and sounds in the evenings.

"This is Beach Hop number 19, and I'm one of two people on the committee who've been involved since day one. The quality of cars on show is world class, and we sell out all 1000 passes in just 12 hours now," says festival organiser Noddy Watts.

Locals get behind the festival in a big way. Shop windows are decorated in the 50s and 60s theme, and opening hours and products change to suit. From the start, the festival has raised funds for local emergency services and charities, with more than $500,000 donated to the Whangamata Surf Life Saving Club, Volunteer Coast Guard, St John, Land Search & Rescue, Westpac Helicopter, and Fire Service.

"We're hoping for sunshine on the weekend. More than 1000 cars have entered, plus 70 retro caravans. Three cars are being shipped from Australia for the festival, and many cars will be making their debut. We also have EVIE, the yellow electric 1957 Ford from the Mercury TV advert," Watts says.

Ready for the Repco Beach Hop. Photo / George Novak
Ready for the Repco Beach Hop. Photo / George Novak

"We have awesome prizes up for grabs in our $5 Festival Programme sales promotion, a 1967 Ford Galaxie, 2019 Harley-Davidson, 1966 Retro Caravan, and $10,000 cash! Just buy a programme, complete the entry form, and be present at the draws and you could be lucky enough to take one of them home."

Something you may not expect to be part of the festival is the Rock 'n' Roll church service at the Baptist Church on Sunday morning.

"We want to show that Hot Rodders are part of the community, and not a bunch of hoons. Many have spiritual beliefs, and it's a great way to involve this in the event. It's a fun way to get an important message across," Watts says.

Another drawcard of the Repco Beach Hop is the Retro-O-Rama retro and vintage market, organised by Andi Whitley from Mount Maunganui. She also owns a retail store at the Mount called Retro America.

"My Dad's a hot rodder, so I grew up around cars and the lifestyle. It's what I know and love. I'm so lucky to be able to be immersed in the hot rod, rockabilly and pinup scene every day and to be able to help share the lifestyle with others," she says.

"We've been going to the Beach Hop pretty much since it started. My parents lived in Whangamata and they were involved as volunteers for the event in the early days. For several years we took our drag car, or helped with friends drag cars on display, and we've been running the Retro-O-Rama retro and vintage markets since 2012."

She says it is an awesome event, and living in Tauranga makes it close enough to do a day trip.

"The cars are my favourite part of the event, and the people, the music. Heck, I love it all.

There's always such a positive vibe, and so much to do. The variety of cars is amazing, the selection of music is phenomenal, and I love seeing so many people getting into the spirit of the event and dressing up."

Paula Jamieson

Paula Jamieson and her car. Photo / Supplied
Paula Jamieson and her car. Photo / Supplied

Driving a classic car feels like stepping back in time, according to Paula Jamieson from Mount Maunganui. She is the proud owner of a muscle car, a convertible Chevrolet Camaro Bumblebee. Her husband drives a hot rod, a 1955 Packard, which Paula bought for him.

"In New Zealand, classic car owners get out and drive them. That doesn't happen anywhere else," she says. "The Packard is a work of art, with her shine and lines. The Camaro is fast and fun. When I put the top down and cruise down the coast, I feel like I don't have a care in the world."

The Packard is the first hot rod the Jamiesons owned. They bought their retro caravan first, and the car came after.

"Hubby and I had different views on what car to buy, and we kept looking for about 20 years but then three years ago, on a sunny Mount Maunganui Sunday afternoon, I walked out of the sushi shop and there she was. As luck would have it, it had a for sale sign in the window."

With their beautiful set of wheels, they have received a raft of prizes and awards, including the Repco Beach Hop's best car and caravan combo in 2016.

"We've only ever missed one Beach Hop since it began, and we love it! Noddy Watts and his team do an unbelievable job, and the event just gets better and better. You don't have to be a car buff to enjoy the Beach Hop. It is a true Rock 'n' Rolls Festival. There's nothing like it in the world."

Paula says she will dress up for the occasion, and has a different look for each day. "I go all out. I never wear red in real life, but that's a different story in my Rockabilly life. It's all red white, and black with frills, fur, and feeling like Marilyn Monroe."

Francine Miller

Francine Miller, styled by Buff Hair and Beauty, Tauranga. Photo / George Novak
Francine Miller, styled by Buff Hair and Beauty, Tauranga. Photo / George Novak

Not a person who does things by half, Francine Miller has a double wardrobe filled with all sorts of pretty dresses and incredible Rockabilly outfits. Almost every day is dress up day for Francine, as she thinks it would be a shame to leave all those gorgeous frocks just hanging in the closet, but when it's time for the Repco Beach Hop, she goes all out.

Francine attends the Repco Beach Hop every year, even if she has to drive up and down from Tauranga each day when all the accommodation options are gone. She loves seeing the ladies all dressed up, and everyone looking so pretty.

"It doesn't matter what age or size you are, every woman looks and feels amazing in rockabilly clothes," she says. "I love the community feel of the Beach Hop. Everyone knows everyone. People get together and have a great time cruising, dancing, and dressing up. It feels a bit like you've stepped back in time."

Francine says she loves all the amazing classic vehicles and hot rods on the weekend, and especially the atmosphere in the evenings when people dance the night away.

"Finding accommodation can be hard. Some years I've stayed at the campground, but if I have to I just drive in and out each day. It's absolutely worth it," she says.

Francine's mum and stepdad, Rosalina and David, have a stall at the NZ Petrolhead Vintage Market, and she helps them sell their Cotton Creations originals on the weekend.

"They make awesome men's shirts with colourful prints, and gorgeous dresses with lots of detail for little girls. I really enjoy going along and support them," she says.

Francine used to work in the automotive industry and goes to all the car shows. She loves classic cars, but she doesn't own one just yet. The closest thing to it is her treasured collection of car models.

Her dream car is a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.

Ally Ross

Ally Ross and her car. Photo / Supplied
Ally Ross and her car. Photo / Supplied

Alison (Ally) Ross, who lives on an avocado orchard in Paengaroa, drives a 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible. She loves cruising with the hood down, to enjoy the wind and all the different smells. She also loves people's reactions and getting a smile or thumbs up.

"My car is not a trailer queen, she is almost a daily driver. I use her in my job as a Colliers
BOP Rural Agent. I don't think classic cars have to be perfect. A lot are still in original condition," she says.

Ally loves the thrill of driving the Firebird, and says left hand drive is not hard, especially after doing Route 66 in 2012 with Noddy Watts. Her husband purchased his first Chevelle 1972 in 2011, which they have since sold, and they've completely restored both his 1970 Chevelle and her Firebird.

"We go to Beach Hop, and to Americarna in New Plymouth. This year for the first time, a few of us cruised down to Cruise Martinborough. We also go to the World's First Classics show held on New Year's Day at the Whangamata Club where in 2015, my wee girl won Best Street Machine. We also do the Tauranga Toy Run in December, and another few runs put on by local clubs."

Ally loves cars, but she's not mechanically-minded. "You would think that after being a driver in the navy for six years I would have picked up something other than how to change a tyre, but no."

The best thing about Repco Beach Hop for Ally and her husband is the 2012 Route 66 Reunion, seeing friends, and dressing up in retro dresses with guys in matching shirts.

"Most nights after cruising, we go to friends who have a corner section on Port Rd. We just chill and watch the cars go by. On the Friday of Beach Hop, a group of us park up on a section on the way to Onemana. We get the BBQs and deck chairs out, and enjoy the spectacle."

Events calendar

Wednesday, March 27

Go Waihi Warm Up Party

Rock 'n' Roll Circus Burlesque Show (R18)

Live music at the Whangamata Club

Thursday, March 28
Repco Whitianga Beach Party
NZ Petrolhead Vintage Market
Nostalgia Quiz Night Classic Comedy Show (R18)
Live music at the RSA

Friday, March 29
Castrol Edge Thunder Cruise to Onemana
Rock'n'Roll Dancing Lessons
NZ Petrolhead Vintage Market
Hop Idol Heats at Whanga Bar
Bands play all over town

Saturday, March 30
Rock'n'Roll Club March
Grand Parade
Cool Classic Car & Boat Show
Meguiars Main St Car Show
Whanga BooksTot Rod Show
Repco Pre 1949 Hot Rod Show
Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Show
Max Loans Classic Car Fair and Auction
Retro Caravan Show
NZ Petrolhead Vintage Market
Retro Pin Up Show
Hop Idol Final
Prizegiving and Prize Draw
Live music everywhere

Sunday, March 31
Classic Cover Insurance Nostalgia Fair & Auto Swap meet
Rock 'n' Roll service at the Baptist Church
Nostalgia Surf Fest Top 10 Shoot Out
Final Prize Giving
Live music in clubs, bars and town centre

What: Repco Beach Hop 2019
Where: Whangamata
When: March 27-31