Tractor trekking all in a good cause

A group of Chamberlain 9G tractor enthusiasts prepare to leave Christchurch on a tractor trek around the South Island. Photo supplied.
A group of Chamberlain 9G tractor enthusiasts prepare to leave Christchurch on a tractor trek around the South Island. Photo supplied.
Ron Bywaters loves Chamberlain tractors.

The Australian man also enjoys having a good time and raising money for a good cause and when you put the three together, you get tractor trekking Chamberlain-style.

Ten tractors have been shipped from Australia to trek around the South Island, raising money for the Child Cancer Foundation, and they have been joined by some New Zealand Chamberlain 9G owners.

The trip has been organised by Mr Bywaters who was impressed by New Zealand on previous visits and reckoned it would be an ideal location for a tractor trek.

The Western Australia Chamberlain 9G Tractor Club was formed in 1999 and the following year it held its first tractor trek, from the furthermost western point of Western Australia to Byron Bay in New South Wales, in time for the Olympic Games in Sydney.

''We weren't entered in the Olympic Games, we just went over for it,'' Mr Bywaters quipped.

Every year since, the club has either done a major trek, which could take a couple of months, or a minor trek, which could be several weeks away.

In 2009, he organised a trip taking five tractors to the United States and driving them from Los Angeles to Maryland, which took three months.

The New Zealand trip, which has taken 14 months to organise, loops around the South Island. It started last Wednesday in Christchurch, heading up the east coast to Havelock before heading down the west coast.

It will reach Otago next month and is scheduled to finish at Methven - 25 days and 2500km later - on March 15. For those taking part, it was ''compulsory'' to have a good time, Mr Bywaters said.

The club has been raising money for charitable organisations since its inception and it has raised about $192,000, with beneficiaries including the Royal Flying Doctor Service and children's hospitals.

Trek participants paid their own expenses and any money that was given by the public - ''whether its 1c or $100'' - went to charity.

Mr Bywaters had no idea how much this year's trip would net for the Child Cancer Foundation but he believed New Zealanders were generous.

The convoy of tractors was going to be ''a great spectacle'' and something a little different, he said.

The tractors were comfortable to travel in and some had air-conditioning, although mostly that consisted of ''wind the window up and down''.

The 9G, named because of its nine-speed gear box, made a name for itself in 1957 when it took part in an International car rally around Australia and earned the nickname Tail End Charlie.

Capable of speeds of up to 100kmh, it assisted broken down and stranded competitors into check points throughout the rally. Mr Bywaters, who worked for Chamberlain, was part of that rescue crew and was on the road ''24-7''. He described Chamberlains as ''iconic'' tractors.

The Western Australia Chamberlain 9G Tractor Club has about 70 members in Western Australia and a similar number in the eastern states. Membership was ''cosmopolitan''.

Organising treks was a huge task but something he enjoyed doing and something that he could contribute to the club, he said.

Asked what the attraction of tractor trekking was, Mr Bywaters said: ''I guess we do it because we're able to.

''If you don't do it today, you mightn't be around tomorrow to do it,'' he said. 

Mr Bywaters, who turned 79 on the day the trek started, said it was doing such things that ''keeps you going''.