The new Volkswagen Multivan Generation 6 celebrates the nostalgia Australians have for an old-fashioned road trip. Carla Grossetti heads north from Sydney to Byron Bay to find that as well as turning heads, the family-friendly Volkswagen offers the best in modern luxuries.
By Carla Grossetti
If it wasn't for Volkswagen, I might not be sitting here today. Back in the 1960s, my father was conducting bespoke tours of Europe in a 1962 split-screen Kombi. It's how he met my mother. Dad's 10-week tours wended their way from London through Belgium, Brussels, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Spain and France. After participating in the group tour, Mum left her silk scarf in Dad's Kombi. My dad dutifully returned the scarf to Mum's flat in Hounslow and from that day on they were together until his untimely death two decades ago. But my affiliation with the Volkswagen brand doesn't stop there.
After travelling the globe for a decade, my parents relocated to Cairns, Far North Queensland, where our family vehicle was a Volkswagen Kombi. My grandparents lived in outback NSW and our family of six spent many a summer holiday chugging down the highway to visit them. The old girl didn't miss a beat. It was the perfect car for a road trip, allowing my three brothers and I to sprawl in our own space without getting on top of each other. Fast forward a few decades and the opportunity to take a Volkswagen Multivan Generation Six for a spin with my own children was too good to miss.
It's love at first sight. The heritage-inspired brand-new two-toned red-and-white Volkswagen honours the original microbus and, in doing so, prompts me to recall many of my childhood memories counting kangaroos down the highway at the crack of dawn.
Given that I now have two micro grommets in tow, we steer away from the inland route and plan our road trip around chasing the swell up the NSW north coast instead. In addition to counting kangaroos, we listen to podcasts, reconfigure the seats so the children can play cards and utilise the table for lunch on the go.
What I wasn't expecting, when we packed in a quiver of surfboards, backpacks, a Frisbee, football, fishing rod, hand reels, skateboards and provisions was just how much storage space the Multivan has and just how comfortable we would be on our six-day surf trip.
The drive north is positively luxurious - the difference between first class and economy seats - and my two teenage sons Fin, 14 and Marley, 13, are content to chill, quietly frothing at the thought of ticking off a few more famed surf breaks.
After carving a sinuous path through a rugged landscape of thick grey-green forest and spindly eucalypts we pull into our first pit stop: Thou Walla Sunset Retreat at Soldier Point, in Port Stephens. A comfortable two-and-a-half hour drive from Sydney, Thou Walla (2 Ridgeway Avenue Soldier's Point) has to be one of the best-kept glamping secrets on the coast. After unpacking a bottle of chilled wine from the Volkswagen refrigerator, my husband and I sit on the deck and remark about how, after years of grubbing around the globe as backpackers, we now enjoy all the mod cons at our fingertips.
"Oh how we've changed," he laughs, while sipping from his chilled glass of pinot grigio.
Yep, just like the Volkswagen brand, we've evolved over the years.
While our two boys throw a line in down by the pier, my husband curls up in the day bed and maps out our next move.
As dawn breaks the next day we head to One Mile Beach, a beach break that is backed by soaring sand dunes and protected from the crashing Pacific by a headland. It is both beautiful and beguiling.
While my sons surf in their slick spring wetsuits, I pad barefoot along the beach and chat to fishermen who are hauling in sea mullet, happy with the day's catch. When I return to our Multivan I find my husband reclined in the leather-clad driver's seat, with a large latte cradled in the Volkswagen's cup-holder, as if he were in our lounge room. "I'm a happy man," he grins. Whenever anyone wanders past the van my Husband squares his shoulders and tries to act nonchalant: he's not used to inspiring car envy and he's milking it.
After checking out of our gorgeous glampsite at Thou Walla, we detour back to Birubi Point where we catch the ocean at its most violent. Birubi Point is the northernmost point of the 32km-long Stockton Beach and the largest moving coastal sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere. The rain is bucketing down - which rules out a camel ride or sand dune safari - so we settle for a relaxing breakfast and round of hot bevvies at the Crest Café (73 James Paterson St, Anna Bay).
Next stop is Crescent Head, where we find many more road-tripping Multivan-loving adventurers enjoying coastal getaways. My Husband is still brimming with pride at being behind the wheel of this brand-new Volkswagen, which attracts the attention of everyone from girls in bikinis to grizzled surfers and fellow Volkswagen enthusiasts.
As we pull into the Crescent Head carpark, my Husband raises one finger in an old-school Kombi salute to a group of young surfers who are gathered in a huddle admiring the Multivan. "Dad, don't do that. And please stop doing the peace sign," whispers my 13-year-old, cringing at his father's efforts to be friendly.
After fielding a bunch of questions about the Volkswagen, my Husband then demonstrates to a crew of keen local Kombi enthusiasts about the merits of the Multivan. What we both realise - after this rock star welcome in Crescent Head - is that the styling of this particular two-toned candy white and cherry red model is a magnet for Volkswagen-loving folks because it has successfully captured the spirt of the 1950s' Kombi.
"Our flat in London was smaller than the cabin," points out my Husband, as he repacks the esky-sized refrigerator.
After a few hours surfing Crescent Head - where the mid Coast surf break is as good as it gets - we strike out for Byron Bay. Byron wins the beauty pageant for pretty northern NSW beaches and the place is as busy and buzzy as I remember. After surfing in a longboard-infested line-up, my boys join us as we watch an epic beach volleyball game, listen to dreadlocked brigade play bongo drums and watch a woman in a white billowing kaftan standing with her feet in the waves, dancing in tune with the ebb and flow of the ocean.
Carla Grossetti is an accredited journalist who has been writing about food and travel for the past 25 years. Carla has been published in Good Food, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian Travel, SMH’s Traveller, The Canberra Times, Escape, Australian Traveller, BBC Travel, The Australian, SBS Food, Good Weekend, Voyeur, Feast, Luxury Travel, Out & About with Kids, Jetstar magazine and Cuisine.