The Otago Rally hasn’t even started yet and we’re going to talk about the finish. Here’s two words you’re going to hear an awful lot from DirtFish across the weekend: Kuri Bush. That’s the final stage of the event.
Talk about saving the best until last…
Yesterday, Colin Clark and I completed our recce of the roads north of Dunedin. Today we went south. Yesterday we thought Danseys Pass up and over a mountain in the Southern Alps was the best in the world.
Today it’s Kuri Bush.
If anything, this one’s more traditionally Kiwi. There’s the odd North Island-style camber, but added in there’s more rollercoaster undulation than you’ll find in any stage anywhere. There are sweepers, some medium speed stuff, a couple of compressions after some rad downhill and there’s going to be some airtime in places.
And, if you get a nanosecond to look up, do so – the South Pacific Ocean is the backdrop to another stunning South Island vista.
I’ve been fortunate enough to drive some of the world’s best roads. I’ve done Ouninpohja, Condor, Dyfi and Col de Turini, but Kuri Bush is the first one I’ve felt immediately compelled to go back around and have another go. It was that good.
Mikko Hirvonen agreed. But, typically for a driver, he had some added insight.
“Now try to make notes for it,” smiled the driver of the world’s most famous Mk2 Escort this weekend.
“I know I don’t do the recce all the time now, but I came through there and I was thinking ‘how do I mark this? What do I say now?’ It will be tricky to be completely committed through there for the first time, but these stages are so beautiful.”
One man worth listening to for advice on making pacenotes here is Hayden Paddon. The local superstar is a former Rally Argentina winner who’s been around the world and seen the best of the best in terms of roads. For him, his backyard’s still tops anything else.
“They are the best stages in the world ,” he told DirtFish. “You talked a lot about Danseys Pass – a lot of people come over and love that stage.
“But for us Kiwis, you don’t get quite the same flow. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great stage, but I’m not a massive fan. We haven’t done it for around five years – and even then that was in the opposite direction.
“That’s the beauty of this event, they have so many roads and so many configurations. We only have complete notes for three stages. That’s great.”
Before we even made it to the stages, we’d managed to further our understanding of New Zealand wildlife with a quick boat trip out of Dunedin. Spurred on by spotting so many penguin lookalikes in Oamaru on Thursday, we sought out and found some albatross – predictably huge.
Happily, we did also spot a genuine blue penguin before it dived deep to avoid Colin’s running commentary on how many of its brothers and sisters we’d already seen.
And then there was Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street. Or is it? There’s a rival in Harlech, Wales, which reckons it’s an even bigger killer on the legs.
Steepest or second steepest, a 35-degree incline was an interesting way to work off the morning’s smashed avocados.
And still, we haven’t hit the day’s highlight. That was the ceremonial start in the center of Dunedin on Friday night. It was beyond packed with fans from up and down New Zealand, all ready to meet their heroes and wish them well before they hook up some of the finest roads around.
It hasn’t even started yet and we’re already in love with Otago Rally.
Especially the ending.