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Overnight Adventurer

The Volkswagen Caddy California is a camper for the explorer in all of us, bringing the fun back into weekend getaways, says Brenda Ward.

20 June 2022

I’m sitting in a deckchair with a glass of wine in the sun, looking out over Rangitoto Island.

Behind me, past the open hatch, is my bed, my kitchen, and enough clothes for a beachy weekend for two in Takapuna.

Somehow all these things and both of us fit into this vehicle, which turns out to be the Swiss army knife of the VW family, the Caddy California camper.

It is fairly small, but when you think about it, a small camper has its uses.

You know that music festival you wanted to go to, or that friend’s wedding at the other end of the island? Or that day that you just felt like heading to Piha for a surf?

These are the days you don’t want to pay for a hotel room for the night, but you’d like to have a drink and walk back from the event, rather than get an Uber.

If this is you, I’ve found just the vehicle.

It’s not quite a car, not quite a van, not quite campervan, but a whole lot more than a tent.

Volkswagen’s newest camper is the baby of the California camper series, the one without all the bells and whistles.

The biggest in the series is a giant known as the Grand California, fully self-contained with a toilet and shower. The mid-size camper is reminiscent of the Kombi beloved by a certain generation who lived in one on their OE.

But this vehicle is an overnighter that’s a heap cheaper, at NZ$65,500 plus on road costs.

You’re not going to love living in it for weeks at a time but it’s super for couples on a weekend break, or for buddies who like to go places and don’t mind getting up close and personal.

The Caddy California is based on the longer wheelbase of VW’s popular Caddy workhorse, a van that drives like a car but has room for everything a tradie might want.

Add the optional pull-out kitchen and a well-sprung double bed and you have the Caddy California.

Okay, you can’t sit up when you’re in the bed and your knees often meet those of your partner, but it’s cosy and it’s quaint and it sure turned a lot of heads when we set it up at the Takapuna Beach Campground over lockdown.

There’s a place for everything. The soft paniers clipped to either side are amazing, with a Tardis-like ability to stow your clothes lengthwise with hardly a crease, taking even shoes and my toilet bag.

The bags unclip when you want to pack or unpack, but we found everything was readily accessible on the go.

There’s not a heap of space for pots, pans, and plates, but this camper was equipped with the clever aftermarket kitchen that unfolds from an alcove beneath the bed.

At first fold the bench emerges, then the double-burner cooktop, then out comes the flexible sink, which pops out complete with a drainer and plug.

Full disclosure: the kitchen was very cool, but we didn’t cook because we were heading out for a meal at Regatta bistro, overlooking Takapuna beach.

And that’s where the Caddy proved its worth and how most people will use it, I’d suggest.

After dinner and a couple of wines we simply strolled down to the beach and walked to the campground.

There we’d left our Caddy with the bed made up, and its window curtains all neatly magnetically clipped into place for privacy.

The cabin’s comfortable and a multifunction steering wheel gives you access to a range of menu functions. Airplay quickly connected my iPhone for music and navigation.

It’s equipped with Forward Collision Warning with pedestrian and cyclist monitoring, Lane Assist and Adaptative Cruise Control.

The only downside was the ventilation. Two lightweight vents can be clipped onto the front windows, but on a balmy summer evening, there wasn’t enough throughflow.

But when the heat became stifling, we simply tossed open one of the two sliding doors.

You might pay up to $220,000 for a full campervan with all the amenities, but I’d guess that most Kiwis mainly use their camper to pop away for a couple of days, and that makes the Caddy a real steal.

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