Mike Hansen - Engine man
He ran the main engine room of Queenstown for 20 years and kept the wheels turning – a born and bred local. Renowned for starting Hansen’s Auto Services and later Beaurepaires, life’s adventures were only just beginning for Mike when he opted out of the trade in 2004.
Born in 1952, Queenstown was a sleepy little village when Mike, whose grandfather and father farmed Lake Johnson and Frankton Flats, grew up on Arranmore farm, their home where Bunnings is now.
Local aviation legends Tex Smith and Popeye Lucas landed on the airstrip next door until Queenstown Airport claimed some of the Hansen farm to seal the runway, offset with airport land. The government also took land to build the new Shotover Bridge in the 1970s.
Mike biked to the school bus at the now BP corner, meeting the bus at Gray Street, a dirt track. He’d bike the billy and later the milk bottles, with tokens, to the gate and collect the milk. There was one school rugby team and if you weren’t in it, you played soccer. “We did a lot of skating on frozen ponds. Hensman Road had a great skating rink and we got one day’s skiing at year at school.” Alan Pay ran the mini-mart at Frankton Corner where his mum sold fresh eggs and raspberries. During ‘the Big Snow of 1968’ Lake Johnson froze over and the Airforce arrived to fly farmers supplies.
High school here ended in fifth form, so Mike did his UE year at Otago Boy’s in Dunedin boarding as a ‘house boy’ in Campbell House. A senior brought in ‘contraband’ alcohol stowed in the town belt for which they’d pay a handsome price to retrieve.
Farming wasn’t him so at 19 he started his Automotive Technician’s apprenticeship at GWD Russells in Invercargill, studying at night at Polytech, gaining an Advanced Trade Certificate, and eventually tutoring himself. A training trip to Wellington made him grateful to get home. “The windows blew in while we were sitting in the pub that night.”
After marrying wife of 49 years Maureen, they moved back to Queenstown in 1978 with their two preschoolers.
Mike worked at Alpine Motors, quickly learning the intricacies of Cleveland 351 jetboat engines with tourism clients like Colin Robinson and Ross Marrett. “The town was awash with counterfeit American dollars blowing around from the filming of Race for the Yankee Zephyr.”
In 1980 he launched Hansen’s Auto Services , one of just three small buildings in Industrial Place, gradually expanding into Repco Boulevard. Mike sold the automotive repairs side to his foreman in 1997 and started a Beaurepaires franchise – the infamous cardboard cutout of ‘Vince Martin’ taking pride of place in the workshop. “We worked on everything from wheelbarrows to tractors.”
While the Arrow River contributed to Mike’s retirement fund, swamping many an engine, his workshop was also hired by Honda Japan during winter. Shrouded in secrecy, they’d bring their latest prototype four-wheel drives in, hidden in refrigerator trucks, testing them on Coronet Peak at night. “We had to sweet talk the man from NZ Motorcorp to even get to see those cars. They even brought their own petrol.”
The 1987 sharemarket crash was tough. “Reputable customers went broke. We worked seven days and got out by the skin of our teeth.”
On the first ever local Branches School Camp in 1968 – a far more conservative version than today’s, Mike fell in love with the backcountry, regularly camping on the Borrell’s Branches Station at Lake Lochnagar and 100-Mile with the family. “We’d take the mail and ice creams in for Lorraine and Arthur (Borrell), enjoying Lorraine’s scones and tea in exchange.” The Aero Club would sometimes fly Mike in if Arthur’s ute got stuck in the Shotover.
The family graduated from Central Otago 4WD Club adventures to sailing, Mike making his mark in the region, as far south as Stewart Island, sailing in regattas. He clocked a second, and a crew win with his son, in the Donald Hay Yacht Race.
A Queenstown Rotarian, the Pottle Race down the Shotover River went awry one year when the make-shift boom barrier broke in floodwaters.
After a dabble in real estate and property management, Mike and Maureen travelled extensively staying everywhere from a high-altitude mud hut in South America and walking the Inca Trail, to the opulence of the Waldorf Asteria in New York.
There have been extensive sailing trips around northern NZ and backcountry campervan expeditions all over the country. These days it’s biking, boating, gardening, and fishing and family. No horse riding though. For this farm boy ‘the only horsepower is under the bonnet’.
“This is the second-best place in the world. As for the first, I haven’t found it yet.”