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Toyota's Top to Bottom off-road team, including Marc Ellis at the wheel of a special expedition FJ Cruiser, set off on its epic journey from Cape Reinga to Bluff today.
The trip is to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser, an iconic vehicle which has been part of the New Zealand way of life for nearly six decades.
Television presenter Marc Ellis received a dawn blessing and haka from tangata whenua Ngati Kuri ahead of an expected 16-day challenge to get to the southernmost tip of the South Island using back country roads, farm trails and established tracks.
"It is a highly spiritual place for Ngati Kuri, and their words will no doubt cause us to reflect on the task ahead," Marc Ellis said.
"I love challenges, and there are few things I like better than being out and about in heartland New Zealand, encountering down-to-earth Kiwis who make this country special."
If he wants to drive on tarseal at any point he has to earn credits by accepting further challenges from the public. An expected highlight will be to take the FJ Cruiser on a Goodbye Pork Pie-inspired train trip from Masterton to Wellington to avoid the city's motorway network.
Nearly 1000 people around the country have answered Marc Ellis' appeal for help, with route advice and offers of classic Kiwi hospitality. Each one has gone in the draw to win a 1970s FJ40.fully refurbished by Toyota's own 'Signature Class' plant in Thames
He will meet locals and national legends alike on his journey, including netball icon Dame Lois Muir, multi-world champion shearer David Fagan, and rugby great 'Grizz' Wylie. His first passengers this morning were two Ngati Kuri kaumatua along Ninety Mile Beach.
The new FJ Cruiser's design is unashamedly a tribute to the original FJ40. It has been specially fitted with high-tech navigation equipment, storage capacity, and even a fridge.
"Plenty of bumpy, rough driving will make the journey even more fun. The FJ Cruiser laps it up. If we need to spend the night under the stars, we can. And if we get invited to someone's place, we have some nice cold Angus steaks to put on the barbecue," says Marc Ellis.
Neeraj Lala, Toyota New Zealand Assistant General Manager of Marketing and Product, says the trip reflects the celebrated Kiwi spirit of giving things a go.
"Among the hundreds of messages received so far have been many from 4WD clubs keen to ensure the team uses established tracks, and uses them in a safe and controlled manner. We have consulted the Department of Conservation where necessary to ensure we are doing the right thing, and we will offset all emissions from the two expedition vehicles as part of Toyota's carboNZero™ programme."
Toyota expects the team to reach Bluff on March 8. The route will take in the North Island's western side as far as Taranaki, traverse the island to Hawke's Bay, and on to the South Island via Wellington. From Picton, Ellis will head through the centre of the South Island high country, and the heart of Otago.
To follow daily podcasts from the road and to offer Ellis help on his journey please visit www.toptobottom.co.nz. Listen for details on ZM stations nationwide, and watch progress on TVNZ Breakfast.
To interview Marc Ellis on the road; please contact:
09 366 2452 or 021 1741715
For more information on the FJ Cruiser, please contact:
Neeraj Lala, Toyota New Zealand Assistant General Manager Marketing and Product, on (06) 350 3521,or 029 223 7105.
Top to Bottom, Off Road itinerary
The public is invited to celebrate Marc Ellis' arrival at the journey Checkpoints and view the expedition FJ Cruiser from approximately 4pm on the days and venues listed below.
1.Auckland, 22 February (Giltrap City Toyota, Grey Lynn)
2.New Plymouth, 24 February (Tasman Toyota)
3.Hawke's Bay, 28 February (Hawke's Bay Toyota)
4.Wellington, 2 March (Rutherford & Bond Toyota)
5.Christchurch, 4 March (Miles Toyota)
6.Dunedin, 6 March (Cooke Howlison Toyota)
7.Invercargill, 8 March (GWD Toyota) following journey to Bluff.
There will also be an open day at Toyota's Palmerston North headquarters on 26 February.
Evolution of an icon
The Toyota Land Cruiser legend began with the development of the 'Jeep' BJ in 1951, which entered full production in 1953. The name Land Cruiser was coined by a Toyota technical director, Hanji Umehara in 1954.
�1951-1955: 'Jeep' BJ;1955-1960: BJ 20 and 30 series
�1960-1984: FJ40 series;1967-1980: FJ50 series
�1980-1989: FJ60 series; 1984-present (Latin America) : 70 series
�1989-1997: 80 series; 1996-present: 100 series
�2008-present: 200 series; 2006-present: FJ Cruiser