Auckland’s Santa moves to Wanaka’s transport museum to retire closer to the South Pole

Auckland’s giant Santa Claus is retiring to a new grotto at the National Transport & Toy Museum in Wanaka.

Museum owner Jason Rhodes today confirmed the big man and his reindeer friends will join the famed collection of more than 600 vehicles and 60,000 toys.

Rhodes said Santa is grappling with issues out of everyone’s control to make the 1500km journey to Central Otago.

It was possible Santa could arrive in Wanaka at the end of the week, but because the cavalcade is taking different roads than the normal route because he is not always allowed on a state highway, there is no fixed arrival time.

“The boys are handling it well and, touch wood, it is all going the way we are planning it, but there is always the unforeseen,” Rhodes told the Herald.

Asked how the museum came to acquire Santa, Rhodes said, like everyone, he was curious about what was going to happen to the giant fibreglass man and wanted to ensure he ended up in a reasonable place.

“I hate seeing things discarded in life,” he said.

Rhodes said Santa and the reindeer, which are in 13 pieces, will not go up for Christmas this year.

Once Santa arrives and Rhodes sees the “ins and outs”, the museum will assess the weary five-tonne frame and work out the what, when and how of putting him up for people to see.

Jason Rhodes is the son of Gerald Rhodes, a Christchurch car and truck wrecking businessman who spent 50 years amassing a huge collection of classic cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks, tractors and military vehicles, plus 20 military and civilian aircraft.

Santa will also be surrounded by thousands of nostalgic toys – dolls, teddy bears, pedal cars, remote-control models and money boxes.

The museum, housed in several buildings near Wanaka Airport, celebrates its 25th anniversary on Boxing Day at a time, said Rhodes, when it is dealing with the grief of tourism from the impact of Covid-19.

The Herald understands the big man and his friends left a yard at Silverdale on the North Shore under the cover of darkness last night for the journey.

Mystery has surrounded the whereabouts and future of Auckland’s giant Santa, who made his final appearance atop the Farmers building in Queen St last Christmas.

The big man who came out each festive season for the best part of 60 years.

Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck has been giving nothing away about Santa’s new home, saying only: “We have some happy news to announce very soon about his future.”

“Keep your eyes peeled and you might just spot him on the move,” she said.

Santa has played a big role in the history of the Queen City.

The five-tonne, 18m Santa was built in 1960 by Farmers for its flagship store in Hobson St. At the time he was the world’s largest fibreglass Santa.

Since then, he has changed hands for $1, lost his wink and moving finger, and crowned the world’s creepiest Christmas ornament in 2011.

Between 1991 and 1996, Santa was relocated to Manukau Shopping Centre, but after being sold for $1 to special events executive Stephen Hanford he was returned to the Whitcoulls building in Queen St in 1998 after a $40,000 make-over.

Retirement beckoned in 2014, but the central city’s business association Heart of the City came to Santa’s rescue and he took pride of place atop the Farmers Building alongside two giant reindeer until it was time to say goodbye last year.

Last year, Beck said Santa was retiring for a number of reasons. They included the need for a fresh paint of the weary Father Christmas and his five-tonne frame costing $200,000 to store, maintain and assemble.

On January 10 this year, Santa hung up for his red coat for good.

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