Destination Drive: Tauranga and Rotorua in a Volkswagen Passat wagon

Destination Drive: Put simply, this is something you can do in any car. Whether you're excited about your new car and are looking for inspiration, or whether you regularly hit the road and cruise around, this series is for the love of driving and to provide ideas for those times you want to enjoy your car. Let us know your favourite drive loops in the comments section below.

Auckland is barely over three-hours from Sydney by plane, and this relatively short flight means that plenty of Australians make the trip across the ditch. Though it's a little different to heading out to the mountains around your home town, if you do decide to go to New Zealand, then driving is the best way to see and experience the country.

NZ is a thrill-seekers delight. Known for its landscape that is as dazzling as it is dangerous, it’s a magnet for adrenaline junkies who can’t resist the allure of the many crazy activities on offer.

The opportunity to trek around in a Volkswagen Passat wagonwas one I couldn’t resist. A friend of mine had decided to get married in Tauranga on the North Island, so I jumped at the chance to take an extra couple of days to explore the local area. Quad biking, clay bird shooting, hot pools and waterfalls were all on the agenda.

Another friend and I flew in to Auckland from Sydney, and after collecting our wheels for the three-day adventure, we set off on the two-and-a-half-hour, 199km trip to Tauranga.

The Volkswagen Passat 140TDI Highline wagon on test was the top-of-the-line model, featuring a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine that produces 140kW and 400Nm. Our car also had VW’s sporty and optional R-Line package.

It looks very stylish in Deep Black Pearl with chrome highlights and 19-inch alloy wheels. The hours on the road are spent in comfort, with Carbon Nappa leather appointed seats complete with R-Line insignia.

Fuel consumption is a claimed 4.8-litres per 100km. We were planning to do around 700km in total on this trip and expected to do this all on one tank. To not worry about topping up meant we would be able to spend more money on the fun stuff, which is always a bonus when you're on holidays!

The 650-litre boot easily swallowed up two large suitcases, two carry-on bags and a suit bag. There are benefits to having a wagon over a sedan, particularly the boot space which can often be far more practical for larger items like suitcases.

On the road the Passat’s adaptive cruise control, fatigue detection, rear view camera, rear traffic alert, city emergency braking system, lane departure warning and lane change assist all came in handy at one point or another during the trip.

The eight-inch media display is clear, and the infotainment system is easy to use. The system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, however being in another country and not knowing the data charges, we intelligently decided against using this function. We paired a phone via Bluetooth, which allowed my friend and I to fight over the music along the way.

Out of the city, the road snakes through small towns and winds its way through beautiful valleys and rich farmland. It’s an absolutely beautiful drive with awe-inspiring views of such an amazing, ever-changing landscape.

The route we travelled took us along State Highway 1, State Highway 2, State Highway 27, State Highway 24 and State Highway 29, through Mangatawhiri, Kaihere, Tatuanui, Waharoa and Matamata before driving through the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park and arriving at Tauranga. The satellite navigation system didn’t once steer us wrong, though its attempts to pronounce New Zealand road names was hilarious.

We arrived in Tauranga late in the evening. We were quick to settle into the hotel, deciding on an early night as the wedding was the following day.

The wedding itself was beautiful, of course and the bride arrived in style in a split-screen Kombi. There was some need for a slow morning recovery on the following day, but after that was done, it was time to explore.

Mount Maunganui is spectacular. You can climb to the top and admire the view, or do as we did and relax at Mount Hot Pools at the base of the hill and look up at it. The hot pools are warm and incredibly salty, but also very therapeutic. Brilliant for sweating off a hangover, as it turns out.

It was easy to spend a couple of hours marinating in this gorgeous location, chatting to the locals who enjoy going to the pools regularly. The great thing about talking to local residents is that they know more than many tourist websites will ever reveal. When I mentioned we were looking for the most impressive waterfalls in the area we were told to head out of town to Omanawa falls.

After driving about 45-minutes out of town, we eventually found the unsigned entrance to the track. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns, the full track was closed but luckily there were more falls nearby. We spent the afternoon bushwalking and checking out McLaren Falls and the surrounding area. As you would expect in New Zealand, we did find some sheep wandering around one of the national parks just waiting to be photographed near a Volkswagen Passat wagon.

Day three was "Action Day" and involved another absolutely spectacular drive, travelling 64km to Rotorua via State Highway 2, State Highway 33 and State highway 30. Quad biking and clay bird shooting were on the itinerary and we were excited to arrive at Adventure Playground Rotorua where both activities were on offer.

High school trigonometry comes into play as you need to work out the speed and trajectory of the clay pigeon on the fly. Body braced against the kickback, I fired the first shot and smashed the bright orange target.

I managed to hit quite a few during the first round, but I could feel my arms getting tired and was actually quite relieved to finish up and move on to the next activity.

The nerves faded quickly but the adrenaline rush continued to build as we were put through a safety briefing ahead of a quad bike tour through the rainforest. This would be the climatic end to this action-packed day.

After getting a feel for how the quad bikes responded to brake and throttle inputs, we hit the track and followed a steep path down into a deep gully. We were smacked in the face with large overhanging leaves as we climbed up a hill to an amazing lookout spot. We only briefly took in the view before heading back down into the muddy trenches.

Navigating the ruts was tricky, and tackling the steep parts and sharp corners called for steady hands on the brake and throttle. Like any good off-road adventure, there were times we had to stop and assess the best path to navigate through water or around obstacles.

Of course we got bogged but unlike cars, quad bikes are light and all you need is a couple of brawny blokes on hand to lift it back on track. Our guide had a bit too much fun flicking up mud and dirt with his quad, covering us as we followed behind him. I was digging the dust out of my nose for hours.

That night we headed back to Auckland to grab a few hours sleep before an early flight. The drive back in the Passat was relaxing, the seats comfortable even as our muscles began to seize after the physically intense shooting and quad biking experiences.

The Volkswagen Passat 140TDI Highline wagon was a great car for a trip like this. The cabin is well finished and feels stylish, and the diesel engine was a good choice given we drove around 700km, achieving an overall fuel economy figure of 5.8-litres per 100km. As mentioned before, the seats were comfortable, the media system easy to use, there was ample boot space and the R-Line pack added a sporty vibe both inside and out.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tegan Lawson.


Read our full Volkswagen Passat 140TDI Highline wagon review here.

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