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  • Keith Newman

Colin Trevelyan - Cameras, cars and a hovercraft

Former Te Awanga resident Colin Trevelyan, a collector of old cars and cameras, once owned the Living Image Vintage Camera Museum and a commercial hovercraft that took visitors out to see the gannets.

Colin Trevelyan - Portrait

Trevelyan has a photographic memory, reciting histories, model numbers and quirky collector’s tales about his colossal camera collection that quickly merge into adventure stories of his exploits on the oilfields or his acquisition of rare classic cars.

At the dawn of the 1960s he had a paper round, was part time Waipukurau exchange operator and taking photographs at weddings and social events for Bob Partridge at Wendy Studios.

He left school early to work as a linesman for the local Power Board then signed on as a deckhand on a ship heading for South Africa; got drunk, missed the return boat and ended up building power pylons to the gold fields. After bumming his way around Europe, he bluffed his way into a job on the oil rigs in Norway, eventually rising through the ranks and acquiring highly paid skills.

In the 1970s and 1980s when he was working month on, month off, in highly paid roles on the oil fields in the Middle East and other parts of the world he would return to New Zealand and purchase property. “I had 15 houses around Te Awanga at one stage…because they were going cheaply. I think I paid $20,000 for 216 Clifton Rd in 1977 which we kept as a holiday house.”

By 1990 he was with Schlumberger “in charge of 200 guys working two semi-submersible rigs off Iran and through Iraq then off Malaysia.” He claims to have been around the world over 100 times with the oil industry and even after his retirement in November 1999, was still consulting.

He and his late wife Anne lived in 316 Clifton Rd, “then we lived in 314, and 320, and then 322”. He recalls around 1990 how the Hastings District Council wanted to put footpaths in the village but some of the locals protested.

“They wanted to keep their lawns and drains, so the council had all this money to spend and used it around my shop putting in culverts, making car parks in front of the museum which was good for me. But then new people moved into the area and wanted footpaths but the money had already been spent.”

Irrepressible entrepreneur

The irrepressible entrepreneur was always on the lookout for something to keep him inspired and occupied. Having invested so much in the Cape Coast he began to think of how he could contribute to the tourism experience by attracting more people to the area.

He had seen hovercraft operating between land and sea to service difficult areas where he worked in the oilfield and began considering the possibilities back in Hawke’s Bay.

He looked around and after doing some market research contacted a company in Queensland Australia and invested in a purpose built $540,000 carbon fibre, 18 foot (5.4m) wide, 50 foot (15m) long hovercraft with business class seats capable of travelling between 30-50 knots.

Colin Trevelyan standing on his hovercraft skirt at Cape Kidnappers

He created Beach Crest Tours in 1993, based around the 20-person capacity of the 4.5 tonne Ladyhawke, based in a large shed in Hardinge Rd, close to the ocean. He says there used to be a colony of little blue penguins who often wandered into the shed when he was there.

The Ladyhawke was powered by a 300hp turbo charged Cummins diesel engine with two hydraulically driven counter-rotating fans on the front and two thruster propellers driven directly from the motor. It could do a leisurely round trip to the gannets in 90 minutes for around $60 per person.

While not wanting to encroach on existing tour operators, he believed the hovercraft would differentiate the gannet tours experience. This was confirmed in discussions with the Napier City Council tourism arm before gaining all the various permits and consents including landing rights.

The Department of Conservation also signed off permission to land at Black Reef near the gannet colony.

Trevelyan claims, his was the only commercial hovercraft in New Zealand at the time. His initial goal was to take tourists to enjoy local restaurants or head out Black Reef at Cape Kidnappers to get an oceanside view of one of the largest inland gannet colonies in the world.

Beach Crest Tours

The Beach Crest Tours hovercraft business was something of a hobby as he was still away every five weeks working on oil rigs in the Middle East. He had a couple of operators for the hovercraft, one was efficient, the other he later discovered was offering free rides to too many ‘friends’.

After two successful seasons he found the bills weren’t being paid and began to examine his options.

In conjunction with a couple of other business partners Trevelyan was surprised he had been able to borrow $800,000 from the bank. He now put to his bank manager the challenge that the bank’s investment was now at risk and he needed to consider other uses for his hovercraft to clear the loan.

Trevelyan was aware of concerns at Auckland Airport about getting out across the mudflats if there was a crash or a plane missed the approach to the runway, particularly ahead of the 1999 APEC summit with world leaders flying in to the Queen city.

The bank manager made the appropriate calls; government officials came to see the hovercraft and Auckland Airport took out a two year lease which meant the bank got its money back.

Trevelyan says his part in the deal was overseeing the training of 24 operators who could drive the 18-seat closed hovercraft.

After the lease period he got the hovercraft back and stored it for a time in the Ahuriri shed not giving much thought to what he might do with it until he got a call from a Canadian entrepreneur who owned a shipping line and tourist outlets.

Trevelyan had to rapidly take it out of mothballs, prove it was seaworthy, and up to scratch, and take it 30 miles offshore with the entrepreneur, bank manager and lawyers prepared to sign off a deal in international waters to avoid accruing GST.

He arranged for a large crane to pick up the hovercraft, deposit it in the Clive river at 7am on the designated day then pick it up and deliver it to the cargo hold of the Canadian’s ship if the deal was successful.

The craft performed well, the money changed hands, and the hovercraft was aboard ship before a call came from the Hasting City Council asking about an un-permitted hovercraft launch in the Clive river. As it was no longer his property, he denied any knowledge and heard no more.

Photographic memory

Trevelyan’s passion for collecting cameras is one of his better known exploits. It outgrew his home, spilled out into his museum at Te Awanga to considerably larger premises on the other side of the Black Bridge, and to the old National Bank building in Waipukurau for a time.

He opened the Millennium Museum of cameras and photography in time for the township’s 150th anniversary in October 2017 by three years later it seemed there weren't enough people interested in viewing one of the world’s largest collections of camera’s so that closed down.

Colin Trevelyan sitting in a vintage car at his Millennium Museum, Te Awanga

Currently the 70-year old’s meticulously displayed and documented accumulation of photographic memorabilia fill all seven rooms an old homestead with the dining room, lounge and passageways filled with everything from 1800s era full-plate tripod box cameras to ‘affordable’ Box Brownies, Instamatics, Polaroid’s and hybrid cameras that can capture digital and film.

The block he owned in Te Awanga where his stored his cars then ran his photographic museum was on-sold in 2016. It’s now an outlet for imported furniture from Europe and the neighbouring former post office building, once used for rental accommodation but full of asbestos, has since been demolished.

The hovercraft? Well the former Cape Coast tourist attraction after being used to show tourists the sights on a Canadian Lake was the last he heard, still fully functional and being used for crew changes on Alaskan oil rigs.

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