The Coromandel Coast is not for trucking’s fainthearted. The Te Huia family are icons of the road, and over the past four decades Scania’s Griffin has often provided the wings beneath their wheels.
On a crisp autumn morning, two Scania R620 truck and trailers are glistening in the sun, waiting for a Paddy Bull Ltd mussel barge to appear around the headland laden with the shelled bounty fresh from the commercial farms about an hours’ ‘steam’ away. To drive a truck with a fully loaded trailer out of Sugar Loaf boat ramp and mussel barge terminal in Coromandel Harbour on the North Island of New Zealand is not for the fainthearted. The journey starts with a couple of twisting, winding kilometres to State Highway 25. It’s then up and over the steep ridges that plummet into the inlets and bays from the Coromandel Peninsula’s rugged peaks, before winding the way down the coastline to the township of Thames.
It takes a special kind of driver to work trucks in this country. The sort of person who might be running behind schedule, and shrugs it off. It’s impossible to make up time in here. If not on the edge of a 200m-drop into a gully, the truck is skirting the ragged coastline with anything from two to 20 metres onto the rocks below. In terms of having an affinity with the road, few would match Sea Product drivers Carl ‘Pin’, and Stephen ‘Bomb’ Te Huia.
The journey from SH25 to the northern entrance of Thames is a mere 44km, but in that distance, the rig will alter course 427 times. That’s 9.7 times per kilometre. It is tortuous on tyres, axles, bushes, clutches, brakes, and engines. Even the intersection out onto the highway is a climbing 170-hairpin lift-off. “The trick is knowing where to look for traffic as you approach the intersection,” said Pin. “If you have to stop it can be a mission, so not stopping is the idea. A new guy up here recently in a B-train stopped for traffic, and it was a bit of an act watching him get going. I thought I was going to have to get the tractor for a moment.” Pin wheels the Scania around and into the climb. Shifts are made manually all the way through the hills until he’s down onto the coast.
“It just makes too many shifts in auto. Coming home empty, from the time I start to climb away from the coast I’ll make five gear changes getting back to the load-out terminal. If I leave it in auto, it makes 28.” Pin snaps through the changes in off-road mode initially. Once out on the coast he switches to auto power mode until the road simmers down a bit, about 18km from Thames, where he changes to economy and leaves it to do what it wants to. “It’s the best way of driving out that I’ve figured through a bit of trial and error.” Bomb, on the other hand, pretty much leaves his in manual. “Oh it’s just too busy,” he laughs. “Changing, changing, changing, I just change when I want.”
Being 8-wheelers with that pesky, yet glorious second steer, traction needs to be watched at times. The bodies and trailers have huge stainless steel catch-tanks that harness the salt water leaking from the cargo. The salt air might be a true sailor’s paradise, but trucks hate it, and significant dosh is spent keeping Neptune’s condiment out of places it has no right being. The guys drain all but the two rear tanks on the truck while unloading , the reason being traction heading home. “It just gives you that bit of comfort heading home, especially if it’s raining,” says Pin.
The whole family is committed to deliver goods
How did Pin and Bomb end up here? Their dad Wally, pioneered the Coromandel to Auckland and return freight run in the late 60s. He stayed on the run while the company changed owners. Later, taking on an owner-driver contract set the scene for a legendary status for not just Wally, but wife Shirley and their family of five truck-crazed boys. Being local, their commitment to ensuring the people of the Coromandel got the goods they needed was relentless. Unloading and loading freight was often a family affair, with the day of the week or time of the day it took place being of little consequence. The freight run days may be gone, but Te Huias on the Coromandel Coast road certainly aren’t. Pin, and Bomb, like their three brothers Royce ‘Jumbo’, Russell ‘Foxy’, and Ben, are Te Huia to the core. Sea Products 1998 Ltd co-owner Jason Bull rests assured that his fleet is in the best hands he could ask for.
The fleet has gradually been built up
Pin started at Sea Products 1998 Ltd just over eight years ago. “I was ready do something with less pressure and more enjoyment. For me, that’s always trucking. This job’s the perfect compromise. It also allowed me to come home to Coromandel, not just to live, but to work, something I’d been working toward for ages.” When Pin started, the fleet comprised a couple of smaller locally based trucks that supported the barges, in a harsh working environment. The Sea Products life is not easy on a truck. There are no good roads to ply, and lots of salt to contend with. With the old truck at life’s end, Pin started scouting the market for its replacement.
The decision was made in 2012 to go with Scania, and an R560 8×4 was bought. “It towed the old 4-axle trailer for a while before the new 5-axle one arrived. She’s done 660,000km now with routine servicing, and is the overflow truck. At some stage next year we’ll probably build a new 5-axle for Bomb and then the 560 will get the 4-axle trailer,” said Pin. With continued rapid growth in the business and demand for the company’s product, more gear was needed. “We never just go ‘yep, order another one’, we always have a look at the market, and what’s on offer.” With another round of vetting complete, it was again a V8 Scania that joined the fleet in 2017. “The performance improvement was instantly apparent when the 620 arrived,” said Pin. Then he laughs. “The 560 was in a different universe, but the 620 was a step up again from that. Pretty much a gear up on all the hills at full weight.” The arrival of the new R620 meant the need for an additional driver, and Pin knew just where to go.
At the time Bomb had been in log trucking for a long time and the unsociable hours were starting to take their toll. Bomb was in search of a better work-life balance in terms of hours of the day when he could be awake and enjoying life with the family. The opportunity was too good to pass up, so he joined to drive the R560 around the time the R620 arrived. And now, the NTG R620 has and taken its place in the top yard, with Bomb stepping out of the ‘old girl’ and into the NTG. “Nah, I’ve had a new truck, so it was right for Bomb to have this,” said Pin.
Driving the V8s with finesse up and down the hills
There’s next to no hill that allows a 700hp to blast its load to the top ASAP. For Pin and Bomb it’s all about finesse. Over-aggression will simply blow the R&M, fuel, and tyre budgets to smithereens. The best indicator of the care taken at the wheel is a 2.11kpl average consumption over the 260,000km life of Pin’s R620 to date. The natural laid-back style of the brothers means they trundle up and down the coast with the big V8s just percolating. Combine that with the load factor and the adaptive cruise, and pennies soon become pounds.
The skill level on the job is stratospheric, and the Te Huia family ethos is framing incredibly hard work with good, fun humour. That’s the only way to do it.