What to expect from New Zealand’s southern return

Southland is revered in rallying circles in the land of the Long White Cloud and the Southern Lights


After a 20-year hiatus, the New Zealand Rally Championship will once again feature the stunning aurora australis (southern lights) as its backdrop.

This weekend, the championship heads to Invercargill at the southernmost tip of New Zealand for the Southern Lights Rally, a resurrection of the famous Rally of Southland.

Rally Race Group is the team behind the event and, having already brought back the iconic Daybreaker Rally in 2023, a return to the south was their next target.

Rally organizer Paul Fallon explains: “When we announced our plans for the Daybreaker there was a pretty direct conversation and intention that we make the same happen for Southland and deliver another favored event to the calendar.”

Running the rally in June should create a memorable experience for crews and fans alike with the challenging winter conditions, and this was a major consideration as the organizing team worked with the local community to reestablish the event.


Photo: Jacinda Harris

“Our team are all known for their experience as being competitors and organizers and is a blend we continue to appreciate as we look at how to make it a memorable challenge for everyone involved,” co-organizer Tony McConachy said, “The support and assistance by locals on the ground in the community mean this idea can become a reality.”

Hayden Paddon, fresh from a frustrating third place at Royal Rally of Scandinavia, leads the entry and is widely considered favorite. The 2023 European rally champion will be looking to make up ground having missed the season-opening Otago Rally, leaving him fifth in the standings.

Ben Hunt starts behind Paddon in a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo, and the two-time national champion also sits second in the championship behind Robbie Stokes. Fiesta AP4 pilot Stokes starts third on the road having finished second at Otago and Rally South Canterbury

Jack Hawkeswood is seeded fourth in a Toyota Yaris AP4 and travels to the south with an interesting family connection to the rally: his father Andrew was the winner the last time Southern Lights was part of the championship two decades ago.


Hawkeswood junior won the opening round of the championship, but retired on the second, so will be looking to get his title bid back on track this weekend. Fourth in the championship Emma Gilmour starts fifth on the road in a Citroën C3.

Defending two-wheel drive champion Dylan Thomson starts 15th in a Ford Fiesta Rally4 and will be fighting off a trio of Ford-driving challengers in the shape of Bryn Jones, Jack Stokes and Tim Mackersy.

The action kicks off on Friday June 21 with the 7.1-mile Pebbly Hills test before a full-on Saturday that covers 90.6 miles over nine stages. Not one of these is repeated, so there will be no chance for the crews to take advantage of knowledge gained through first passes.

Saturday’s first stage is the sternest test of all, with the 28.5 miles of Penmore starting just after 7am sure to provide a rude awakening. Following a 30-minute service, crews will then tackle the trio of Forest Hill (4.9 miles), Jewitt (9.5 miles) and Hokonui School (8.1 miles) before another service halt.

Wood Law and Happy Valley make up the next batch of stages at 12.4 and 7.7 miles, followed by McInerney (6.5 miles) and Pourakino Valley (11.2 miles). The action concludes with the 1.9-mile Teretonga super special stage in Invercargill itself on Saturday afternoon.