If you’ve just felt the fear on a Queenstown bungy or swing, your odds of getting reeled in again could rely on the skills of the mechanics at Stewart Motors.
Owner-manager David Lattimore says his company services or repair winches and/or generators for AJ Hackett, Nevis Bungy and Canyon Swing. He also repairs many of their four wheel drive vehicles.
“AJ Hacket would be my biggest customer but overall, about 60 percent of my business would be related to tourism in some way.” This includes fixing up many real (and imagined ailments) of the constant stream of campervans that flow through Queenstown.
Dave employs three mechanics, his wife and business partner Fiona is in charge of the office and administration.
When Canterbury-born Dave arrived in Queenstown 22 years ago he was answering the call for experienced diesel mechanics. “There were only two in town at the time.” Several years later, he bought the business with the intention of getting a slice of the campervan pie.
“I approached the rental companies, Maui, Adventure Rental and Kea to make them aware of my workshop and then spent time in their workshops to learn about their product. Things grew from there.”
These days Maui has its own repair centre in Queenstown but Dave reckons campervans still make up about 20 percent of his business.
He and his staff take care of breakdowns and electrical problems. But there are some things they can’t fix.
“We had an American come in once needing some electrical work on his rented campervan. Turns out his wife had had some sort of violent breakdown and attacked the interior and him. This guy was a former US Navy SEAL and he told us he had never been so scared in his life. His wife returned home and the guy carried on with his holiday as far as I know.”
And sometimes, he discovers hidden dangers.
“One time we had a campervan brought in for a minor engine repair. As people got out of the campervan we realised it was carrying something like six adults and five children – there are nowhere near that number of seatbelts in the van.” Dave said he let the group and the campervan company know of the risk they were taking.
Owning a business in a major tourist centre has its challenges. The cost of living is relatively high so staff can be hard to find – those who do want to live in Queenstown are often fairly transient.
“I’ve learned over the years not to hire young, overseas-trained mechanics and only take on adult apprentices. If they’re young, they party a bit too hard and often move on quite fast.”
But it has its fun side as well. Dave gets to maintain and care for a large collection of classic cars owned by a wealthy local. Then there are all the free bungy jumps you and your family can use and the scenery is stunning all year round.
It’s a long way from the early days in his working life – but that too had its high points. Dave recalls the early 1990s when he was working as a mechanic in his home town of Methven. The job included tow and salvage.
“I was called out one night after a ute crashed into a power pole. I was clearing out all the personal stuff when I heard something rattle near the handbrake. I felt around and pulled out a few gold coins. Digging around a bit, I found even more. It turned out they were Krugerrands and there were a lot – about $40-$50,000 worth. The police were still at the accident so I handed them over. The next day I went back and cut the ute free and towed it to Methven. A few days later I told my sister who was a journalist with Radio New Zealand. Things really took off from there. Once her story was broadcast we had TV cameras and newspaper reporters turn up wanting interviews. My boss was furious about all the attention. Turned out the Krugerrands had been stashed in the ute when it was sold in a farm sale. They had belonged to an American methamphetamine manufacturer who was hiding out in NZ. He was on the run from the FBI because he was supposed to be giving evidence in a big drugs trial. His wife had sold the truck without him getting time to get his gold out.”
He’s never found anything quite as interesting in a vehicle since.
Team photo: From Left Rob Genet,James Casey, Dave Lattimore, Fiona Lattimore, (front) Ilian Petrov.