Just a week after their mum’s death, Rotorua siblings Zoe and Ben Spence were making the throngs of admirers at Repco Beach Hop feel welcome as they stepped inside their late mum’s newly finished pride and joy.
“Mum passed away a week ago and she had really wanted to come to Beach Hop for the first time this year to show off her caravan,” explains Zoe, the daughter of the late Jane Spence.
“It was mum’s passion project, and orange was her favourite colour.”
Jane worked as a disability services manager in Rotorua and had collected many retro 70s items during her “retro seventies phase” according to Zoe.
Ever the practical woman - she needed somewhere to showcase them and began work on a caravan.
Zoe, Ben and their dad Sid towed the beautifully restored caravan complete with Jane’s retro homewares collection to Whangamatā Area School for the weekend’s Caravanz and Classics Retro Caravan Show, a quiet highlight of the five-day festival of rock ‘n’ roll, classic cars and motorbikes, centred in Whangamata.
The caravan was immaculately finished with the help of Mike Wells and Zoe says her mum got a few trips away in it to the couple’s favourite holiday spot at Ōhope Beach Top 10 and to Mount Maunganui with Zoe.
“Mum was also a quilter, so we’ve got some of her quilts on display too,” said Zoe, giving a tour.
Lovingly restored caravans and cars come with many sentimental attachments and tributes, like for Lisa Lewis of Tauranga whose caravan featured her nanna’s doilies and a photo of four generations on display inside.
Repco Beach Hop is always full of tales of long labours of love and a nostalgia for the beauty of the machines, feminine fashion and rock n roll dance of the fifties and sixties.
But it has also become a tribute to the many volunteers who’ve kept the festival going for more than two decades - as organiser Noddy Watts explained at Saturday’s giveaway of a restored 1968 F100 Ford Pickup Truck, won by stunned first-time Beach Hopper Graham Rhodes of Auckland.
Paying homage to the many volunteers who have died since last year’s event, Watts thanked them posthumously, noting just how many had died since last year’s Hop.
Bruce Styles, Bob ‘Pipey’ Pipe, Wayne ‘Monty’ Montgomery, Ian ‘Blackie’ Martinsen, Terry Emerson and Jimmy Bell all gave their time to see the event succeed. Many were well-known around towns, such as Jimmy Bell who was the groundsman for Whangamatā Area School for 25 years and “Pipey” who was the workshop teacher at the school and introduced automotive workshop classes to the school curriculum.
“In 2002 we built our first ever prize car, a 1927 T Roadster, as a class project,” explained Watts. In 2003 it was a 1952 Plymouth and the following year a custom 1964 Ford Falcon with Pipey’s expertise.
Watts said the festival was as strong as ever with a “next level standard” of cars. Vehicle entry opened On October 1 last year and places sold out in just two hours. The event was postponed from March after the Government’s traffic light system made it impossible to restrict entry to a public area for unvaccinated people.
It means the next Beach Hop - Beach Hop ‘23 will be just four months away, in March.