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Motel California – VW California Ocean

VW California Ocean review New Zealand

A few months ago Volkswagen teased me with a picture of their new California Ocean Campervan, it was resplendent in nostalgic red and white it harked back to the glory days of the iconic VW Kombi – anyway; they said that it would be mine to test out soon – last weekend was finally that time.

I picked the VW up on Friday night but (due to previous commitments) we couldn’t get on the road until Saturday afternoon, not really a problem as I had chosen Sandspit (1 hour north) as our weekend destination – after all it wasn’t about the drive, it was about the experience. The California was an instant hit with my 6 year old son, who immediately jumped around the inside moving from seat to seat lifting worktops, checking out the fridge and opening up the plethora of cubby holes and storage spaces (I hadn’t even shown him the roof yet). To give you an understanding of how cool this vehicle is he gave up a kids birthday party (with games, cake and gifts) to come away to a campsite with mum and dad!

We packed up the van with enough gear to last us a week (seriously) but this modern day Kombi took it all in its stride and then some – we could have packed more. Like I said, the drive up north wasn’t supposed to be eventful and aside from the admiring glances from other drivers it wasn’t. The van’s 2L TDI 4 Motion engine had plenty of torque (400Nm) and power (132kW) for the hills – it even overtook some of the slow pokes – and it handled the tight turns to the campsite without turning any of the family green, bonus.

Sandspit campsite is a quaint old place with a western feel about it plus it has an eclectic mix of knick-knacks like rusted typewriters and oil lamps but it also has a modern theme about it too – WiFi if needed and full/all inclusive amenities – the whole adventure seemed to fit in perfectly with the Vdub.

We hooked up to the power (a simple cable attachment to the van and the wall) and from then on it was game on. First up was to raise the roof – you can do this without hooking up to the power of course – a simple button push in a control panel just above the rear view mirror, my son (and me if I’m honest) was ecstatic and he claimed dibs on the room for the night, damn! He immediately jumped up in there through the hole above the two front seats and spent the next hour or so up there – periodically sticking his head or feet back down to say hello.


Time was ticking on and our tummies started to rumble, I now got to see what the California was like to cook in. On with the gas (hidden in the rear) and out with the pasta. The two burners under the hood top lit automatically and the water was up to boil quickly, dinner was underway. The dinner table slid from beside the rear seat and the two front seats turned inwards for us to have a sit around family meal – spagbol with a Merlot (no wine for my son obviously). The Kombi has a small sink but I chose to use the site facilities. Back up to the control panel and on with the Auxiliary heater – toasty – then out with the boardgames, Ludo (we specifically chose not to take any screens or devices).

It was cold and dark outside but it couldn’t have been warmer on the inside. Our bellies were full, the heater was on and we were having some good old fashioned family fun. It was like turning back the hands of time and (to me) the feeling was delicious.

Bedtime came earlier than normal and again it somehow felt right. I dropped the rear seat down and virtually the whole of the lower floor space became a comfortable Queen sized bed. Blinds were pulled down on all the windows and before long we were cocooned in our own little world. The weather outside turned nastier still and the heavens opened up, the sound of the hard rain outside just made it all the more snuggly inside.

We all had a great nights rest but were up early, we were campers and campers are up to see the sun rise (and have a cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs to get the day started). We used the sites facilities for showering (our wagen didn’t have the shower option) then we had another family feed. All washed up we went for a wander around the waterfront and took mandatory holiday snaps, more family time.

We packed up and left before lunch, heading to Hatfields and Whangaparoa, we were in no hurry to get home. Parking next to the beach for some glamour shots I did some more Kombi exploring. The awning on the side opens via a manual winding handle and behind the sliding and rear doors are a table and chairs, it was a little too nippy to use these but they are easy enough to get at. The coffee cup holder is in a secret drawer beneath the VW touch screen (with sat nav and reversing camera) and in fact there are secret spaces everywhere, the use of space in this vehicle is amazing, it’s really well thought out and so effective – think Swiss Army knife.

We returned home late afternoon and while I spent some time unpacking (and trying not to miss things) I actually felt slightly sad, knowing that I had to give it back on Monday. You can call me old fashioned but having now spent the night with the California I had fallen somewhat in love. It had brought my family closer together without the need for complex devices (not a playstation in sight) and it had given us what felt like a holiday away (even though it was only around 24hours). We had laughed and played, walked along the beach and talked over simple meals – seriously, what more do you need?

The VW California is an intimate hotel on four wheels that you can literally take anywhere. It pays homage to a time gone by but has all the luxury and convenience that you’d look for in a modern day vehicle. It’s easy to drive and easy to use, it has room for everything and even has a kitchen sink!

Welcome to the Motel California, it’s a lovely place.

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