Go-karts and Supercars at the Highlands Motorsport Park

On our last day in Central Otago we realise how the region full of small communities often well off the beaten track is actually full of sporting surprises! Only yesterday, we learned how many of the towns popped up in the region because of the gold rush. Since the gold dwindled, it’s like the towns have been trying to find themselves through horticulture, viticulture or using their heritage for tourism. Yet, somehow, we’ve found the Southern Hemisphere’s only dedicated curling rink in the tiny town of Naseby of all places! We’ve played golf for the first time surrounded by stunning mountain scenery in Cromwell. And today, Cromwell has one other awesome sporting complex up its sleeve, Highlands Motorsport Park.

We feel ashamed to be parking our 30-year-old, rugged-looking campervan in a carpark full of Subaru rally cars, Porsches and such like. Parked right outside the entrance is the McLaren 650S pimped out with orange stripes and the Highlands logo. This, friends, is only going to be the finale of a fast-paced day at Highlands.

The Return of Speedy Robin and Last Lap Laura

Before we get onto the big boys’ race track, we are creating our racer profile for a morning’s go-karting race. Yes, that’s right, Speedy Robin and Last Lap Laura are coming back for round two! You may have seen their stellar performance back in Queenstown on the Game Over go-kart track, but now they are back for more.

Race helmets on, necessary safety video viewed, and 650m of track ahead of us, we are now in the pits letting our engines warm up as well as our eagerness to win. The Highlands team let us out of the gate and we’re off!

Our Spider-Beetle welcoming to the Highlands Motorsport Park Our Spider-Beetle welcoming to the Highlands Motorsport Park
Getting ready to go-kart Getting ready to go-kart
Flying around the many twists and turns Flying around the many twists and turns
Robin hailing the Highlands Taxi Robin hailing the Highlands Taxi

Racing the go-karts

Laura has the obvious advantage of simply being the first kart out of the pit, but by the third corner, three people have over-taken her, including Robin. Robin is in an intense battle with a man aptly dressed in a blue shirt – just to show how confident he is. So it’s clear we are not going to win the entire race, but we are more interested in beating each other.

The turn after sharp turn gives us plenty of opportunity to sneak past each other, only to be undercut later down the line. Just when we build up speed on the straights, there are more corners to keep your wits about you. After the first lap, we build the confidence to skid around the final corner, just because we can!

Watching other racers from the viewing area, you wouldn’t think the go-karts are going that fast, but man, once you are inside, close to the ground, and flinging yourself around a corner, you struggle to keep your back straight!

Now watch as we quickly brush over stating our lap times…

After about five laps, we return into the pit. One of the staff print out our lap times and position in the race… However, we’d rather remember the speedy thrills of go-karting rather than our position in the race…

An intense race on the Highlands go-kart track

A garden of car CHARACTERS

From the go-kart track we walk through an unusual garden of car sculptures: a car filled with rocks, a couple of Beetles making car babies, a car with a garden growing in it. We find ourselves back at the reception for our next petrolhead activity of the day, the famous Highlands Taxi.

The Highlands Taxi

We meet our taxi driver, Andrew, who takes us on a taxi ride like never before. We drive down in the Porshe Cayenne Turbo down to an international-standard race track – the sort of thing we have only been to through video games… (But for some reason, we don’t think that counts).

On our first lap around the track, Andrew gives us a bit of history of why the hell there is such an awesome race track in Cromwell, while visiting a few rich-people’s houses who happen to have this race track as their front garden! We pull over a couple of times to let a member speed past in their recently bought Porsche shipped from the U.S. If you have a fast car in New Zealand, then apparently Highlands is the place to put it to the test!

Long corners, tight turns, over the bridge, and under the bridge, Andrew explains every aspect of this 4.1km circuit – the effects of which we find out in our second lap. Andrew puts power to the pedal and we are seeing that this bulky Porsche Cayenne is more than just a family car! We are slipping and sliding on the leather seats as we fly around corners. Yep, this is far better than a video game!

Robin doesn't make the sexiest of car models Robin doesn't make the sexiest of car models
The McLaren shooting off into the distance The McLaren shooting off into the distance
Emerging from the scissor door Emerging from the scissor door

Robin, meet the McLaren 650s

The Porsche Cayenne was just a taster of taking this track on at speed. Now, Robin gets the opportunity to experience the power of the supercar. Finally, it’s time for the McLaren 650S.

It’s clear how badass this ride is when Robin is given a helmet to wear. Not only does the McLaren look sleek and sexy with its scissor doors, but this vehicle holds a 641hp, 3.8L Twin-Turbo V8 engine. This means that it can go 100km/h in less than 3 seconds. Hard-freakin’-core!

Supercar sprint

Strapped in around the shoulders and over the waist and as low to the ground as you can go without sitting on it, Robin takes the ride of his life. If we thought there was a bit of force in the go-karts, that’s nothing compared to the 2.5g’s Robin is currently feeling as he is snuggly wedged in the racing seat. With this car, he can feel every movement on the track as it feels like the car is suction cupped to the asphalt. In a way, it was a curse to do the Highlands Taxi first and seeing what the features of the circuit are. He waits (only for a split second) in anticipation for the next corner – the highlight of which is the long corner that feels like it is never going to end! In that moment, it feels like the centrifugal force is destroying him! In conclusion, it… was… FAST!

A slow drive to Twizel

Do you know what is not fast? Our campervan climbing the hills of Lindis Pass. At least we get to enjoy the mountain and lake views for longer as we leave Cromwell with perceptions totally changed of the “Fruit Capital of New Zealand”. Now, we delve into the McKenzie region where we are spending our first night in Twizel in the High Country Lodge and Backpackers.

Join us tomorrow, where we are going exploring the film locations of The Lord of the Rings!

Laura and Robin

The McLaren lapping up the Highlands circuit
The McLaren lapping up the Highlands circuit Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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