Summer road trip

Coromandel campsite overlooking the Hauraki Gulf. Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers. MSS & Archives 94/4.

Coromandel campsite overlooking the Hauraki Gulf. Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers. MSS & Archives 94/4.

The iconography captured in these photographs from 1968 – packing up the car with the tent, outdoor furniture, provisions and heading to the pōhutukawa-lined coast – still resonate half a century later. This is how we should be enjoying the holiday season. Living is simple; sea and skies are blue. The pace of life slows down for a few days: it’s our “end-of-year prize for being a New Zealander”.1 Paradoxically, the nostalgic simplicity of the New Zealand camping holiday, recorded in these images, will be re-fashioned in numerous television commercials airing this summer.

The iconic summer road trip became more popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s as car ownership increased and wartime restrictions on petrol consumption ended. However, many holidaymakers drove relatively short distances by modern standards to find their slice of paradise. Orewa, for instance, now part of the Auckland conurbation, was once a popular summer camping destination for Aucklanders in the post-war years.

Camping and grazing livestock. Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers. MSS & Archives 94/4.

Camping and grazing livestock. Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers. MSS & Archives 94/4.

But on the 1968 road trip pictured here, Auckland trade union organiser Wilfred ‘Bill’ McAra and his partner and fellow activist Diane Wilsie motored a bit further afield on a camping trip along the west coast of the Coromandel peninsula between Thames and Colville. The distinctive outline of Te Hauturu-o-Toi (Little Barrier Island) in the outer Hauraki Gulf forms the backdrop in one of their holiday photos while livestock graze nearby in another.2

The run of colour transparencies in the McAra papers, available in Special Collections, provide a contrast to the radical left-wing political causes both McAra (1904-1989) and Wilsie (1914-2002) fought for during the middle decades of the 20th century. McAra had many connections to the Coromandel: he was born in Waikino, farmed in the Coromandel during the 1930s and finally retired to Whangamata in 1974 with the United States-born Wilsie.

Ian Brailsford, Special Collections


1 Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2014). Summer holidays. Retrieved from

2 Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers. MSS & Archives 94/4. Series 7, file 246/8. Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.


  • Susan Carter commented on 12/12/2018

    This is terrific, Ian. That high calibre historian eye for detail makes something unspectacular really interesting. Save your work somewhere: I’d expect a book out in about 2.8 years time.

  • Peter Jansen commented on 17/12/2018


    Are there more online photos of these summer days ?

    Peter J.

    • Libraries and Learning Services commented on 17/12/2018

      There are about a dozen more Kodachrome transparencies from this Coromandel road trip in the McAra papers but these were the best in terms of quality for digitising. You’re welcome to visit and view the rest of the set in Special Collections!

      Ian B

  • Peter Gossman commented on 18/12/2018

    Ian, great first blog, I’m with Susan, book to follow. Where will you summer road trip be to? Best Peter

  • Paul Taillon commented on 21/12/2018

    An evocative commentary, Ian. You capture the spirit of summertime camping and place it in historical context. And I love the way you have done this drawing upon the McAra papers.

Comments are closed