Volkswagen Grand California

On the road: VW Grand California

Having the time to take to the road in person is a luxury at this time of year for MCD editor Lisa Potter, so making every moment truly count mattered on a recent trip to Taranaki

I’ve always been a little bit of a sucker for organisation and extreme packing, so the interior of this Volkswagen Grand California immediately soothed my slightly-OCD soul in the most calming of ways.

There’s nothing I like more than everything having its own place, especially when heading away for a long weekend; even more so at the time of year when the weather teeters between high summer and extreme winter. This particular weekend had a semi-formal event thrown into the mix, too, so the surprise addition of a handy hanging rail tucked alongside the above-bed storage ensured a crease-free long dress.

Despite the opportunity to drive the Volkswagen Grand California 600 from Auckland to Taranaki, I admittedly wasn’t entirely sure about being able to pack everything I travel with (from clothes and outdoor wear to cameras, laptops, and picnic treats) and still have the space I needed (and like) to work and relax.

Volkswagen Grand California
Swivel seats effectively double up the entertaining/workspace area

With a trio of events to indulge in – the Centuria Taranaki Garden Festival, Taranaki Arts Trail, and Taranaki Fringe Garden Festival – it was a packed schedule, but the Grand California turned out to be the perfect travelling companion.

With just two adults on this trip, the loft bed for two children (or small adults) above the cab proved the perfect storage spot to keep the interior clutter-free.

I’m also a self-confessed over-packer, and raincoats, warm winter coats, an umbrella (or two) as well as all other (what I consider to be) essentials were all packed away with ease.

The fact there’s a separate wet room is an absolute bonus, and the well-designed kitchenette and living area make the most of every inch of the six-metre-long van. The additional height of being three-metre tall adds to that delicious feel of spaciousness (but does mean no drive-through meals on the way).

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With the driver and passenger seats swivelling to add extra entertaining seating, it also allows some flexibility around the table arrangement, which easily doubled as an effective workspace. The side and rear opening doors meant wherever we set up, my mobile office was the next best thing to actually working outside in the fresh air.


Volkswagen Grand California
Left: One of the benefits of van life is being able to park up, open the rear doors, and enjoy ocean views (along with exceptional underbed storage)
Right: The kitchenette packs plenty into a small space, including stovetop cooking, a sink, and a slide-out fridge cupboard

Seamless transition

Having collected our eye-catching red ride from central Auckland, after a quick introduction to each other, it was straight out of the city and onto the motorway for an overnighter in Cambridge before travelling on to New Plymouth the next day.

Wonderfully easy to drive, it’s just as comfortable (if not more) than any car. Backing into tight spots proved a breeze, thanks to an array of assistance systems, including parking assistance (yay) with a blind spot monitor and rear traffic alert.

Even the gnarly hills between Piopio and the Mangaotaki and Awakino River gorges, as well as extensive roadworks at Mt Messenger Bypass proved zero challenge. This plucky VW is equipped with the largest engine VW makes for these vans – a two-litre four-cylinder twin turbo with plenty of grunt for our rugged roads. If you’re a numbers person, the engine produces 130kW of power and 410Nm of torque. The addition of Volkswagen’s four-wheel drive system 4MOTION AWD allows you to go off-the-beaten track.  With this in mind, we fearlessly enjoyed
a few off-road beachside stop-offs along the way.

Volkswagen Grand California
Plenty of overhead storage (with sleek LED lighting) above the main bed

The VW Grand California has proved to be extremely popular in New Zealand, heightened by the resurgence of interest in domestic tourism, and after a brief stay of my own, it’s easy to see why. It’s surprisingly well-equipped with everything required for an enjoyable getaway (even a separate exterior shower hose), easy-to-set-up awning, complete with table and chairs that pack away IKEA-style into special storage inside the back doors.

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While the key features are obvious, it’s often the small things that make all the difference when travelling in a van, such as the fact that the entry step automatically pops out when you open the side sliding door (and puts itself away before you drive away). Most of us have learned that lesson the hard way with a manual step.

When in camping mode, if you need to exit during the night, a well-placed LED light automatically comes on, saving the potential embarrassment of falling out of the van in your night attire (again, speaking from experience).

Volkswagen Grand California
Left: Built-in storage for outdoor seats and table neatly stow away
Right: Small but functional, the separate wet room is an unexpected surprise

When driving, there’s a button on the dash (it looks like a battery), which when pushed, charges the house battery while driving. This, in turn, powers the fridge, interior lights, and USB plugs (love the ones placed beside the bed) and is an additional power source if you’ve had a few cloudy days in a row and have concerns about the solar panel, which creates 104W.
All windows have blackout shades and fly mesh, along with a customised rollout cover for the front window and magnetised blinds for the side driver windows. If you’d like to leave the door open for air circulation overnight, there’s also a full-sized fly screen.

Although modelled on the original iconic VW Kombi Van, the Grand California is the more sophisticated and grown-up version. Sleek design is evident throughout, and the touchscreen panel controls all camping mode features, along with heating and water temperature (the 110-litre water takes approximately 10 minutes to get to full heat).

The weekend was packed with surprises, from stunning landscapes all along our road trip to the breathtaking beauty of Taranaki, the splendour of the gardens and art, and to top it all off, our mode of transport more than exceeded expectations.

Volkswagen Grand California
An additional outdoor heated shower is accessible through the exterior barn doors
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