Sun Worshiper

An iconic spot deserves an iconic vehicle. Getting off the beaten track is all the better when the first rays of a new day’s sun can be reflected in the gold and white two-tone paint of a Volkswagen California camper.

I wanted to be the first.

I wanted to be the first person to see a new day in, and to capture the sunrise from the most easterly point on the map of the nation. 

It was to be an old-fashioned Kiwi pilgrimage, to a place a fair few kilometres away. And the best thing for a good old-fashioned Kiwi pilgrimage hato be an iconic form of transport. Well, a thoroughly modernised version of an iconic form of transport anyway; the new Volkswagen California, the spiritual successor to the Kombi of old. 

Taking advantage of clear roads on a Friday nightmy partner and I hopped into the bright two-tone Volkswagen California and began our journey. Encountering logging truck after logging truck, we followed the California’s navigation system through the dark, unknowingly taking us through my father’s hometown of Taumarunui. Staying the evening at a campsite in the central North Island, we popped the top on the California (its easy-to-use canopyand bid goodnight to our first few hours on the road. 

A long Saturday drive was ahead, with some scenic stops to break up the journey. After a hearty big breakfast at a local café (where we tested the establishment’s claim that they were the earliest to open in town), we hopped back into our head-turning California, and cut a track eastward. 

The thought of exploring the New Zealand landscape seems overlooked by many Kiwi youngsters; a fact reflected in the vast majority of European and American accents we came across on the road. It was great to see so many lovely tourists respecting the country on their visit and clearly having a blast.  

What a great shame though that we have such a beautiful country with so much to offer, but for so many Kiwis the goal of travelling abroad is much more enticing. Sure, visiting the Colosseum or the Pyramids are definitely on my bucket list too. But there are plenty of wonders in New Zealand that I’m yet to see. 

Continuing on our trek, we made our way down the moody Desert Road which cuts a line through the Central Plateau; it’s a stunning stretch of tarmac with a backdrop to match. We pulled over for a break and noticed the regularly posted military warning signs (the road bisects Defence Force training land) and took in the unmistakable silhouette of Mount Ruapehu.  

With cruise control set, we made our way around the picturesque southern edge of Lake Taupo in search of the perfect coffee, before hitting some amazing roads consisting of long straights and tight corner sections. While the California is different in many ways to a Volkswagen Golf GTI, for example, the luxurious camper definitely impressed on the road. Not only is it super functional, it’s so easy to drive as well. No wonder the California is such a popular option for private camper purchasers. 

Dinner in Gisborne dispensed with, we hit the road once more. With only the faint light of the moon glowing around the base of an East Cape hill, we relied on the satellite navigation once again to get us to our chosen spot for the night. Park up. Make the bed. Time for sleep. 

Woken by the dreaded iPhone alarm what seemed like mere minutes later, we came to, aware of a slowly growing glow outside.  

Boots and sweatshirt on, we locked the California and started the 700-step climb to the East Cape Lighthouse. The ocean breeze swept over the cool farmland surrounding us; the wind picking up as we got to the crest of the hill. There was a huge rain cloud drifting south over the water in front of us, picking up colours and emitting a ruby glow. It seemed like the sky was on fire. 

And as quick as you could blink, strands of sunlight peered over the horizon. We were the first people in New Zealand to see in this particular new day.  

Standing there, you could take in the landscape the whole way back down the coast in both directions. It was about now we noticed other people coming up the path to enjoy the sunrise too. We couldn’t blame them for crowding ‘our’ moment. What a spot. What an experience. 

Words by Jordan Darrow

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