With international travel off the holiday list right now, many Kiwis have opted to explore their own backyard and discover all the beauties that New Zealand has to offer. As luck would have it, Volkswagen NZ has recently launched their greatest ever camper the Grand California and in a kind of ‘all ducks in a row’ moment, I ‘geniously’ managed to merge a review and holiday all into one, and took the family off to explore the Kauri Coast for the weekend – sometimes I amaze even myself.
As the brochure says ‘The Kauri Coast is a dramatic stretch of Kauri forest and picturesque beaches on the northern west coast of the North Island’ and it’s not wrong. It features mighty Tane Mahuta ‘Lord of the Forest’ and the stunning Kai Iwi lakes and includes some tree-mendous (did you see what I did there?) roads that would be sure to put the large VW Kombi through its paces.
Just quietly, normally when I’m picking up a review vehicle I tend to only half listen to what the PR people have to say, I actually prefer to discover things along the way, however, when it came to the Grand California I was all ears. Simply put, there is soooooo much going on with this vehicle that we could have spent the weekend at home just crawling through its outstanding use of space.
There are cubby holes and storage areas EVERYWHERE. I had the 4 berth 600 version which is slightly shorter (6m) than the 680 and more in tune with the needs of a small family (2 adults and 2 children) – certainly in terms of sleeping but both versions come with a shower and toilet too (although we were on strict instructions NOT to use the toilet). Externally, my big Kombi came in two tone blue and white which was very much in keeping with the smaller California camper and does well in breaking up the vehicle’s large footprint – it’s 3m tall!
Sliding side door and retractable step gains you access to the main quarters and although it’s neat, three people can live in it. It has a 70L fridge and freezer that’s big enough for a weekend away, a two burner stove, a sink, a four seater table, a double bed at the rear and a bunk bed above the two front seats – typical camper I hear you say but it’s how clever and efficient (space wise) that really grabbed my attention. And for those knowledgeable campers out there, it comes with a 110L fresh water tank and 90L that is not so fresh.
Solar panels on the roof help with power should you want to go off grid. It has three sky vents so limits or removes condensation particularly in the shower. All the cabin windows and doors have blinds and mozzie screens. All the draws are soft close. There are power points and USBs everywhere. The ladder for the top bunk has a place. The pots and pans have a place. The front seats swing around to join the main cabin and are now unhindered by the handbrake (as it’s now Porsche-like in a lie-flat fashion). The sink in the shower is a pop-up/down. The faucet becomes a shower head. The outdoor table and chairs are located in the rear double doors… Seriously I could go on and on.
But what’s more important is the fact that everything is so simple to use and navigate around. The digital touchpad control panel on the outside of the shower wall gives you access to virtually all your settings, from controlling the water temperature to all the lights (including a soft ambient) and entertainment, but again, it is simple to use – I guess you can tell I’m a fan.
Anyway, fully loaded (and I mean fully loaded) we set off North and our Kauri Coast adventure. I had us booked into the Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park, the wife does camping but only to a point. It’s a family friendly place around 20 minutes north of Dargaville and comes with plenty of stuff to amuse my 10-year old son. A zip line, a river to inner tube on, eels to feed and let nibble your feet, glow worms, tractors to climb on and clean, extensive facilities to shower and cook in – although we did cook in the Grand Cali and my son showered in the Kombi too.
Thanks to Friday night traffic and a crash detour, the drive to the holiday park took around three hours, three remarkably easy hours at that. With its new Crafter chassis, 4Motion AWD system and a drivetrain that includes a 2L turbo diesel (130kW/410Nm) paired to an 8-speed gearbox meant that it simply lapped up both the long straights and winding corners alike. Armrests down and adaptive cruise control on, I felt relaxed and in control while behind the scenes, Vdubs driver and safety aids (blind spot, lane keep, cross wind assist…) ensured that both my family and I arrived in one piece.
As I mentioned before, the holiday park offered plenty for the family to see and do and while they made themselves busy, I plugged us in (which meant that the AC power outlets were live), opened up the gas valves and made us some yummy Spag Bol.
One cosy night’s sleep later, we headed out to see Tane and the lakes. Both are located within about half an hour’s drive of the camp site and both offer unique NZ experiences. Tane is more mystical and spiritual that were both a little lost in translation for my 10-year old, however, a nice moment for quiet reflection for me, while the beautiful and white sand lakes were a more ‘traditional’ holiday hotspot. We spent hours at the lakes using the GC as a HQ switching between swimming, basking in the sun and returning to snack and relax on the chairs and table under the Grand camper’s awning. My son even grabbed a shower before we headed back to the site – most excellent.
More of the same back at the holiday park for the night, however, we did venture out to see the glow worms, we played card games and I may have indulged in a well-deserved beer or two.
Campervan life is a fun experience and a break from the norm. Yes it takes a little bit of compromise and structure (putting things back in their spaces when used is a must) but the freedom and versatility is outstanding. The Volkswagen NZ Grand California takes things to another level, so much so that we had other campervan users drop by and ooh and ahh at what this luxury Kombi has to offer. Its use of space is smart and well thought out and aside from a stool for the rear bed it basically wants for nothing. We chose not to go off-grid this time, but this self-contained camper is more than capable to venture well into unknown NZ territories – maybe I’ll see if I can grab the keys off them again….