A large black American car stopped to pick him up. It was the car belonging to the Commissioner of the New Zealand Police, and although the Commissioner wasn't on board, its driver, a police sergeant, offered Tony a ride.
They got talking and by the time they reached Taupō, the sergeant told Tony he was going to recommend him to join the police.
Prior to that, Tony had never given policing a moment's thought. He had been born, raised and educated in Taupō. With the exception of a short stint at university, he had worked putting in sewerage lines around town and on the tar gang in the quarry, joking that crushing rocks suited his personality.
But in June 1981 he found himself part of the first police recruit intake at the New Zealand Police's new purpose-built college in Porirua for a training they largely missed out on.
The police desperately needed more hands to help deal with large-scale protests that occurred alongside the controversial Springbok tour and Tony and his fellow recruits were pulled out of police college and flown around the country to provide reinforcement at ugly scenes where protesters fought running battles in the streets against police equipped with shields, batons and riot gear.
"Our first job was in Molesworth St the night that all the protesters tried to march on Parliament and our recruit wing was the line of police that the protesters met."
It was a brutal introduction, but the variety and the thrill of not knowing what was coming next had Tony hooked.
"That's part of the excitement of joining the organisation, and people still join today because they like the idea that no two days are ever the same."
Tony's first posting was to Auckland Central where he was based for five years and received a solid grounding in police work, doing everything from team policing to enquiries and investigations.
One of his jobs was receiving bodies at the Auckland morgue. One day, the corpse of a young woman arrived, completely wrapped in plastic but otherwise unlabelled. It was dealt with in the usual way, but the next day Tony and his colleague were summoned to the office of a medical professor at Auckland Hospital and told their lives were in danger.
"He said that this woman had had some highly contagious disease. 'Take these pills and if your urine turns orange it's all good, otherwise if not, thank you for your service'."
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The dark past of a highly educated, loving family man
He was posted to Taupō in June 1986 to take up a role as Youth Aid officer then was promoted to Sergeant in prosecutions in Tokoroa, a role he says he wasn't suited to at all.
"I was the worst bloody prosecutor New Zealand Police has ever had. They got rid of me after 12 months and sent me back to Taupō where I worked on the street from Taupō Police Station as a Sergeant."
Tony was promoted to Senior Sergeant in charge of Kawerau Police Station in February 2001 commuting each week from Taupō for more than two years until he returned permanently in July 2003. He became Senior Sergeant in charge of the Taupō Police Station taking over from the retiring Senior Sergeant Andy Warne along with more than 30 staff and massive changes.
NZ Police were bringing in a new crime-prevention focus and at the same time Tony inherited the huge job of managing the Taupō station rebuild.
After the project was completed he received a District Commander's Commendation for displaying "outstanding leadership. communication, consultation and conflict resolution skills" on the project while also doing his day job of leading the Taupō station.
On his office wall he has another District Commander's Commendation, this one for the work he did to make Taupō a safer place through his chairmanship of the Taupō Safe District Committee.
He also has a personal letter from the Police Commissioner of the time, Richard Macdonald, praising him for his part in a life-threatening situation in 1994.
Tony and two other police officers were aboard a helicopter searching for cannabis plots in the Western Bays area when the helicopter, flying along a gully, flew into a set of high-voltage power cables and became hopelessly entangled.
It fortunately did not crash but all the pilot could do was keep the machine hovering while the team aboard tried to work out a plan, a situation made more stressful by the fact it was low on fuel.
With patience and without panicking, the officers, hanging half out of the helicopter eventually managed to untangle it.
"It was quite a surreal environment, just quite calm and talking to one another and working out our plan," Tony says. "It took nearly the full 20 minutes of fuel we had left. We did it with 90 seconds to spare. [After refuelling] we flew back to Taupō and got a dressing-down from the brass for [immediately] flying again."
It was a close call, but Tony's had a few. He's been shot at and assaulted and says his most serious injury was being stabbed in the buttock with a screwdriver. It sounds funny, but "it was pretty debilitating at the time".
"There's been times over the years that I've been in sticky situations and the majority of them have been my own fault."
However things have changed out there, he says. He thinks people talking to each other more rather than mouthing off on social media would be a good thing.
"When I started it wasn't unusual to have physical confrontation but it wasn't necessarily malicious. What's changed now is the prevalence of drugs and the social change that's gone on. There's no doubt that the environment has changed. There's less tolerance generally. People go to war on Facebook and Twitter."
In 2012, Police restructured again and Tony moved into his current role as crime prevention manager for the Taupō police area, which stretches from Putaruru to Tūrangi.
The role crosses over several different aspects of policing, including youth aid, family harm, schools and alcohol and he is responsible for 18 to 20 staff members. Tony has worked to form prevention partnerships with a range of people, community groups, and iwi, and says he is fortunate to have been involved in some positive changes to the community.
"Some of the projects around theft [from] cars and some of the worst [crime] spots. The change in the environment around Christmas/New Year and the establishment of the community patrols and neighbourhood support and the CCTV stuff, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design stuff, that's really been my focus since the mid-1980s."
He says of all the jobs he's done in the police, it's the crime prevention job he's doing at the moment he's enjoyed most and his Youth Aid role was a good grounding for that, along with working alongside a couple of excellent community constables, Brian Yeoman and Grant Tulloch.
"It's given me the opportunity to be able to work across a whole range of people and organisations and achieve some things. It takes time but relationships have been critical so that's really been positive.
"It's about reducing the incidence of things like arresting people for drunk and disorderly behaviour, working on initiatives and partnerships that make change incrementally over the years over time and I've been fortunate that I've been allowed to do that."
But Tony's had his share of bleak times - search and rescues that didn't turn out well, horrific road accidents, spending three weeks overseeing the draining of a swamp at Mōkai to search for a body that wasn't there.
"There's been great days, there's been days when there's been a lot of fun and a lot of laughs and there's been days when it's not been quite that way as well but that's no different from any other occupation."
Tony's last day with Police is this Friday. He plans to take a lengthy break and then look for some part-time work.
"I'll see what happens". His wife Sue also works in Taupō and one of their three grown children still lives in the town.
He says while he has no regrets and it's time for somebody else to have a go, there are aspects he will miss, especially his workmates.
"The people that join the Police are really good people who try to do their best every day."
However he is excited about the next phase.
"I'm looking forward to time off, recharging and seeing what happens...I might even grow a mullet and get an earring."