What could be more Kiwi than a ute? Kurt Bayer explores one of our great national obsessions.
As ubiquitous as Sunday roasts and No 8 wire mentality, they're everywhere.
There are around half a million utes in New Zealand. The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) has 472,424 registered – that's about one for every 11 Kiwis (including all non-drivers).
Ute stands for utility vehicle. What could be more Kiwi than that?
Wanna help Hone move his chest freezer?
Grab some top-soil off Steve's garden dig?
Chuck the surfboard and pooch on the back and bomb out for a paddle?
You need a ute, mate.
Do anything, go anywhere, and look good doing it.
New Zealanders have been passionate about their utes for decades.
Ford Australia brought out its first "Coupe utility" in 1934 after getting a letter from a grumpy farmer's wife fed up with riding to church every Sunday in a dirty pickup.
"My husband and I can't afford a car and a truck but we need a car to go to church on Sunday and a truck to take the pigs to market on Monday. Can you help?" she wrote.
The love-affair predates Crumpy and Scotty's classic Hilux ads in the eighties – but shows no sign of slowing down.
The Ford Ranger is currently the best-selling new model "car" in New Zealand (the same story with fellow ute-lovers across the Tasman), closely followed by the Toyota Hilux and Mitsubishi Triton.
This is despite the controversial "ute tax" which is due to come into effect on April 1.
There's all types of utes: various brands, double-cabs, flat-decks, King-of-the-road American pick-ups, customised, modified, beaten-up, and burnished.
They're used by tradies, farmers, Sunday drivers, parents on the school run, boy-racers, and bogans.
The Herald spoke to a few Kiwi devotees about their dearly beloveds - and just why they wouldn't drive anything else.
A farmer's best friend
Beau the huntaway farm dog barks at the sky as the Holden Colorado rumbles over rutted tracks through brilliant yellow fields of rapeseed.
David Clark has been farming the picturesque area at Mt Somers in Mid Canterbury since the early nineties.
And it's always been in a ute.
"I've never actually driven a car as a personal vehicle," he says proudly.
Clark runs what he calls a "ute-based farm".
All of his staff have utes. And he has two of them.
Around the 463ha cropping and sheep farm, they're used for everything: towing trailers, hauling pallets and fencing gear, negotiating deep snow, all with trusty Beau on the back.
They also provide warm, dry shelter in wet, cold conditions and double as a mobile office.
"I'm in and out of it all day, every day," Clark says.
"They're essential to what we do – they're just so versatile.
"We limit the amount we use quad bikes, purely for utility and safety."
With a "huge crossover" between farming and home life, it's very seldom, Clark says, that he'd make a trip into town - the Mid Canterbury hub of Ashburton – without taking the opportunity to also do some farm work, picking up supplies or doing some business.
But jumping into the dirty farm 2013 4WD Colorado in his tidy "town clothes" doesn't work either.
So that's why he has two utes – his grubby Holden farm runabout, covered in dust and oil and grime – and his clean, tidy red Ford Ranger.
When he needs a trip into town, he'll climb out of his overalls and gumboots, shower, and slide into the late-model Ranger.
But he accepts that owning both a Ford and a Holden might appear a bit quirky, especially for Bathurst 1000 car racing fans.
"I'm a little bit schizo in the Ford v Holden debate. I've got a boot in both camps."
As a farmer, Clark also likes utes for how much value for money he gets out of them.
Typically, he gets more than 300,000km out of them before selling them on.
Only once in the last 30 years, has he had to change an engine.
"If we need to touch an engine within 300,000km, then it's not a brand we want to deal with," he says.
The Government's "ute tax", which is designed to encourage Kiwis towards electric and lower emission vehicles, has infuriated many farmers and tradies who have taken to the streets in loud protests over what they see as increasing interference from the government, unworkable regulations, and unjustified costs.
But for Clark, as the Government's policies currently stand, they are unworkable for people like him.
"If I could get the range and performance from an EV, I would be there in a heartbeat," he says.
"But I don't think a Nissan Leaf would last five minutes here."
Dean Tucker loves his Holden ute.
"She goes like a cut cat," he says, grinning behind the wheel.
He always wanted a V8 but never thought he'd be able to.
But three years ago, finally, his dream came true.
He got the green light from his wife – so long as she got a car straight off the lot that day too.
She got a wee Toyota – he got a purple (ultra violet) 2005 VZ HSV Maloo.
"It was definitely a bucket list purchase."
It has 96,000km on the clock, which is rare. They're worth around $40,000-$60,000 but always seem to be going up, and so, the exterior plasterer has a wee Nissan commercial station wagon for his day job.
"I'm too scared to get any Ks on it," Tucker says.
"It's just a weekend car really. I take it to golf on the weekends and she gets a good run."
He sometimes just opens the garage door to gaze at its beauty.
"I keep it pretty tidy eh," says the three-time club VT – VZ category winner.
"It's a thrill and a half to drive. It has more power than it needs ... something that scares people when you start it up."
He's yet to be pulled over by the police but says they give him the occasional hard stare.
"I do nana it around town," he admits.
And he hates parking at the supermarket or shopping mall.
Tucker is a member of the Holden Enthusiasts Club Christchurch and won best in class for the last few years.
He's proud of his trophy and enjoys getting it looking its best.
So, would he ever sell it? The question's a tough one.
"I say I will but ... if I ever grow up but I doubt it."
His wife and two teenage children reckon he should get himself a "proper ute", like a Ranger or Hilux.
"They're like belly buttons, everyone's got one," Tucker says.
"The family would like me to get something a bit more family-friendly.
"But if I did get a Hilux or something I'd be kicking myself in five years I reckon."
Tucker loves the practicality of utes.
"You can throw a fridge on the back. You can make a helluva mess and it's easy to clean up," he says.
"You can do anything with a ute."
"I'd be a bit buggered without it"
Frazer Mehrtens' first car was a Holden HZ Kingswood ute.
"I've never really had cars," says the Canterbury builder, backing his 2019 Toyota Hilux out of the garage.
"I'm in and out of this all day, pretty much towing trailers all the time.
"I'd be a bit buggered without it."
Most of his work is rural building and concrete placing around the district.
He used to have vans but found he could do more with a ute.
So Mehrtens picked up a Hilux – a trusted brand that his parents always favoured – and stuck a flat deck on the back.
"It gets used and abused but it handles it alright," he says.
Wheelbarrows, concrete mixers and gear all gets chucked on, a trailer hitched up and he's off.
And having a double-cab, he can put a car seat in and do family stuff too.
Mehrtens heads bush at weekends, loading the Hilux up for hunting and fishing.
He likes the reliability and longevity of the Hilux, saying, "They've always been pretty tried and true in my eyes".
"I'm all for clean, green but until they get the technology with electric, I can't see them towing trailers anytime soon," he says.
"For now, I'm happy to stick with this."
Modern living can rush by.
For Pete Paton, a stainless steel company project manager, the weeks can be busy.
But come the weekend, he can ditch his company vehicle, a Mazda BT-50 ute, and roll out the Patrol.
The rugged, and tremendously varied South Island terrain, is his playground.
"I can go weeks not driving this but when I do it just resets everything," he says.
"The stresses of life just go away."
The 30-year-old single man bought the Australian import 2009 Nissan Patrol about five years ago, swapping out his Hilux.
"I guess I could've got a wagon but utes are always just so practical."
With the personalised number plate "PATRLN", Paton had the 3-litre machine lifted, installed raised shock towers, a winch, UHF-radio, and gnarly 35-inch Mickey Thompson tyres.
He's slowly kitted it out with everything he needs, including a barbecue and gas bottle, ("It just makes life easier for a cook-up"), fridge/freezer, swag, camp chair, awning, and toolbox with recovery gear, ropes, tools, spare parts, oils, drills, and air compressor.
"I don't like the idea of getting caught short," Paton says.
"You make a mistake once and learn from it.
"It's a labour of love – you just chip away at it."
Paton loves packing up after a long week and hitting the road.
And from his place in Darfield, west of Christchurch, he has a lot of options: the braided rivers winding all over the Canterbury Plains; the "wet and wild challenging stuff" of the West Coast; or the best trip this year, a secret spot somewhere around Jacksons in Westland.
"It's freedom, isn't it?" he says.
"I love it, put simply."