A family's holiday plans came to a fiery end when their car turned into an inferno on State Highway 10 near Kerikeri today.
The incident caused major disruption to already busy summer traffic with cars backed up in both directions along the highway and down Kerikeri Rd almost to the town centre.
Fortunately, no one was hurt and the family was able to save their boat before the car was completely engulfed.
The fire started around 12.20pm but it was 1.45pm before traffic was moving again, one direction at a time.
John Schoen, of Auckland, was heading to Tauranga Bay for a family camping holiday when he noticed his Mercedes diesel SUV was smoking as he drove up Bulls Gorge.
''I thought it was because I was having to give it a bit of throttle, but when I got to the top of the hill it was still smoking. When I smelt it I knew exactly what was going to happen — I'd been there before — so that gave me the presence of mind to pull over, jump out and haul all our gear out. It just went up so fast,'' he said.
Schoen had been driving with his daughter, 11, and towing a boat while his wife and two sons followed behind in a campervan.
With the help of other motorists he managed to unhook the boat trailer and push it to safety.
Within minutes smoke seeping from the engine bay turned into roaring flames, a series of explosions and a column of black smoke. Fire extinguishers had no effect.
As the flames spread into roadside grass the family had to keep moving their belongings and the boat further away.
The fire was put out by Kerikeri volunteer firefighters who responded with one appliance and one tanker.
Station officer Andy Hamberger said in another minute or two the fire would have spread into a hedgerow and from there into a stand of bamboo, which would have been difficult to control in the current dry conditions.
Schoen, who had owned the car for 16 years, said the family would carry on with their holiday.
They would head to Tauranga Bay in the campervan while a friend already at the campground would come back to collect their boat.
''I'll just need to organise some other wheels,'' he said.
Exactly the same thing had happened to a friend in the same model vehicle a year earlier, he said.