There’s a moment in a recent Moving Houses episode when presenter Clarke Gayford admits he was scared – when the brakes on a truck carrying a house across the Lindis Pass started to fade.
A passenger in the truck, Gayford says senses are heightened on the road: “The smell of burning brakes filled the cab. The load on that one was over 70 tonnes, and the stress and stain it puts on everything is huge. It gave me quite a fright.”
It’s just as well he couldn’t see what was happening from the outside – smoke was pouring out from the wheels, but the decision was made to keep on trucking in an effort to cool the brakes.
That wasn’t the only stressful moment for Gayford in the cab. He tells Stuff, the overnight trip to South Head was another close call. “A car coming towards us ignored two pilots cars and came straight at us. David (the driver) just swerved, and the axles swerved off the road (with a lot of smoke and noise). That also gave me a bit of a fright.
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“But I think this is why this TV show works. The points of drama are not forced – they all happened.”
Gayford says he is surprised by the broad cross-section of people watching the show. “There will be guys on building sites coming up to me to talk to me about it, and well-to-do ladies at a café wanting to have a chat.”
‘Jacinda has to keep up with each episode’
And it seems, even his partner, PM Jacinda Ardern, gets involved: “Jacinda has to keep up with each week’s episode, because people want to talk about it (Gayford says she tries to see each episode as it goes out live).
“At her office Christmas party last week, the team that handles her mail and messages said to me, ‘We get letters about Moving Houses every day’. People want to write in, and that’s where they send their letters.”
And it’s the show’s potent mix of people stories and heavy machinery that keeps them hooked.
Another talked-about incident that occurred while the movers traversed the Devil’s Staircase beside Lake Wakatipu. A van ignored two pilot vehicles with flashing purple lights and handheld signs that said “pull over”. The van stopped at the last minute, but had to reverse 500m around the winding gorge road.
“People driving late at night are clearly in a world of their own,” Gayford says. “I wonder if there’s a real disconnect with what’s going on – maybe their brain just doesn’t register a truck with a huge house coming towards them.”
The presenter got to spend a lot of time with the truckies on the overnight trips, and says at least 50 per cent of them have had something go wrong. “Either the road has given way or a car has crashed into them.”
He also mentions the case, in last week’s episode, when a woman drove up and parked her car right in the way of the trucks removing a house from a street in Remuera.
“Two massive 500hp trucks were pulling out this house with all the noise, and this woman just pulled up in the middle of us, parked her car and walked off.”
‘I made a terrible mistake’
But how did Gayford cope with the overnighters? “I made a terrible mistake at the start. The crew gave me a goodie bag filled with cans of V and sugary treats (which he drank and ate), and I had this enormous crash at two in the morning. I thought my face was going to fall off.”
Gayford has the utmost respect for the drivers, who are doing a job fraught with danger and huge amounts of overtime.
“When you’re under a house, all of your senses are going. The house is creaking and groaning. There’s no rule book – each house has to be approached in its own unique way. But yes, I do get a health and safety briefing before we get going, and there are some ‘no-go areas’.
“There was not a single company where it was not a family business. It’s a lifestyle, with crazy houses, and they all work so closely. I was amazed by every one of the movers, how skilled they are, and professional. They have this broad range of skills – they can finely balance the load and manoeuvre these huge trucks with just 15cm (clearance) on each side, and then finely position the houses back together again on arrival.”
Gayford says timing was not always easy for the show’s producers, with delays for any number of reasons. “One old seasoned mover said ‘the house moves when the house is ready to move’.
“If we asked if would go on a particular day, they were very reluctant to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. One move we did, a crane had been double-booked, which had a ripple effect and put everything back three or four days.”
The ‘people stories’
But it’s the people stories that really capture Gayford – he says he loved meeting the homeowners, all with different plans, “from people working with a small budget to those with bigger dreams”. He especially enjoyed following the move for Christchurch farmers Ray Minehan and Nicky Robb, who relocated a house to the top of the Port Hills.
“They had done it pretty tough, living in a shed with no windows for eight years, waiting for permission to build. That one was pretty special.”
Gayford wasn’t able to go to the reveal of expat Marli Robertson’s house on Waiheke Island, which was bought sight unseen. The Covid lockdown hit before they could film.
“I was going to pick her up from MIQ and take her across in my litte boat. I was really disappointed, as she hadn’t seen the house, and it would have been her first look.
“About 90 per cent of the show had already been filmed (before lockdown) and because I am based in Wellington, we were able to travel around and do some of the reveals, but with a different crew.”
Another episode the presenter singles out was the story of Rob Doyle and Jeff Hirawani who moved a villa onto a site in Ōtaki. “They did so much work – they really transformed that house.”
‘It’s a New Zealand phenomenon
Housemoving trucks are now a regular phenomenon on our roads, keeping the trucking companies busy.
“They’re flat out,” Gayford says. “One of the companies pulls houses five times a week. There’s a mass exodus of houses (from the cities) with all the developing of subdividable land in suburbs like Remuera. And it’s great these old houses are finding new resting places out in the country. By volume weight, this is the third-largest recycling industry in the country.
“The concept of moving houses is a real New Zealand phenomenon. We hate the idea of waste. No-one told us we couldn’t do it, so we did. And that’s an untold story – New Zealanders designed the technology to do this, and two companies in Hamilton are exporting it around the world.”
Gayford talks about Grant Willis of Kings House Removals who pulled the house that went to Tuatapere. “Grant moved his whole business from Invercargill to Christchurch after the earthquakes. He leased land near the airport and was buying houses as fast as he could.”
He says Willis was battling the insurance assessors who were writing off houses that didn’t need it. The land had been rezoned, but often the houses had very minor damage.
”He bought 200 houses. But no-one could get permission to put them on land in Christchurch, because everything had ground to a halt, so the houses went to Invercargill, Cromwell – everywhere but Christchurch.”
Relocation of an old church is next up
The final episode in this series of Moving Houses (and yes, there will be another series) screens Tuesday, December 14, and it’s the relocation of an old church. Gayford says “they do a really nice restoration on this one”.
This relocation also involves a trek across the Devil’s Staircase, and hopefully it goes a little smoother than the last one.
Moving Houses screens on TVNZ 1 Tuesday, 7.30pm and TVNZ OnDemand