Holden Trailblazer: Shines on Great Barrier Island
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Trailblazer shines on Barrier
Our Anzac long weekend -- criss-crossing Great Barrier Island over five days – showed the 2017 Holden Trailblazer an excellent choice for such a driving adventure.
It was a wee bit like history repeating itself, for a couple of years — on a previous family adventure around the Central North Island — I was amazed by the driveability and poise of Trailblazer’s predecessor, the Colorado 7.
But while Colorado was good, the Trailblazer is better.
We decided to take the Trailblazer aboard Sealink’s vehicle ferry to New Zealand’s sixth largest off-shore island because, for Aucklanders anyway, the proximity and diversity of experiences there seem unparalleled.
The island lies in the outer Hauraki Gulf and Sealink’s ferry voyage there takes four-and-a-half hours, but once arrived the rural vibe feels similar to somewhere as distant as, say, Ohakune.
The environment is near pristine; the island brims with fascinating history, the food is great and socially the place just reminds me of “Kandor”. I mean that tiny world often depicted in DC’s ‘Superman Comics’.
Okay, folk on the Barrier don’t exactly live inside a bottle, but that 100 km of ocean separating them-from-us seems to make all the difference.
Their world seems friendlier, more relaxed and trusting — like a half-remembered Kiwiland of old — while in areas like the Kotuku Peninsula the wildlife is prolific.
In any case, don’t begrudge the need to cross Colville Channel, for the voyage can be a wonderful experience all in itself, detoxifying you from city stress and opening your mind to holiday mode.
Fellow passengers are a diverse and friendly bunch, willing to chat, yet — if you’re craving solitude — also sensitive enough to leave you to your thoughts. There’s good facilities and comfortable seating plus stunning camera shots of islands, seabirds, dolphins and sometimes even whales. Should the Channel cut-up-rough, just retreat to the comfortable cocoon of your own car.
You need a set of wheels to see this large island, and while it’s possible to rent a car there, splitting the vehicle ferry fare with your passengers is worth considering.
Doing so will allow you to seamlessly whisk from a mainland home, to the door of your island destination (or destinations). Then, when arriving back at Wynyard Quarter following your adventures, you simply drive off the ferry and motor home again, without missing a beat. So no parking or public transport issues, you just put your foot down and drive where you want to go from start-to-finish . . .
We drove from Tryphena in the south, several times between Claris and Whangaparapara near the centre, then up to Port Fitzroy, Mabey Beach and other destinations in the rugged and sparsely populated north. Main aim was to visit Auckland’s newest Regional Park, Glenfern Sanctuary, which overlooks Port Fitzroy. There’s a charming colonial home to rent called “Fitzroy House” and abundant native birdlife. Meanwhile, possibly Greater Auckland’s best pub meals are served at the Port Fitzroy Boat Club, which is just opposite the Glenfern Sanctuary driveway.
Some driving impressions:
Packing and backing
This seven-seater was more than roomy for our party of four adults, plus all our over-packed gear. With the third row of seats folded down there was a whopping 1830 litres of space available in the luggage compartment — all of which we used. Seats were satisfyingly comfortable and the dash display well designed.
Ergonomically speaking the star performer was the 20 cm colour backing camera, which seems a Godsend backing onto a crowded vehicle ferry where ever centimetre counts. So tight was the parking that a forkhoist made the voyage home with blades extended under the front of our SUV. In any case, the Trailblazer’s technology made this nervous backer look like a seasoned old pro.
Road holding and safety
Barrier roads are narrow and often winding, most of them with only the narrowest of shoulders.They give you limited on-coming traffic options on hundreds of blind bends and there’s many a steep drop to shun . . .
But the Trailblazer exceeded all my road-holding/handling expectations. Down-hill assist was a boon on some of those crazy steep hills; ABS and traction control worked faultlessly; two-wheel-drive was good and I’d call all-wheel-drive simply sublime.
For example, after traversing the many hairpin bends between Whangaparapara and the “Fat Puku Cafe”, at Claris, Debra-Rose announced she’d left her bag behind. This contained her wallet, camera, glasses and just about the deed to the ranch. The many bends on the way back got covered in double-quick-time and we successfully retrieved both bag and valuable contents. It showed what an exceptionally forgiving and stable vehicle the Trailblazer is, even in the hands of mere “steerer” like me (See Footnote), also that generally you’ve no need to fret in such situations.
On the Barrier your stuff stays all week right where you leave it. But had I managed to put a back wheel over the edge of a ravine on one of those many tight corners, or managed to drive head-on into a careless on-coming car which strayed across the centre-line, Trailblazer is loaded with a reassuring array of passive and active safety features. Lane-departure warning, blind spot monitor, and rear-cross traffic alert help to keep the driver informed, while there’s seven airbags covering just about everywhere, even the driver’s knees.
The Trailblazer is powered by a 2.8 litre Duramax 2 four-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. There’s a stump-pulling 500 Nm of torque from about 2000 rpm, with peak power 147 KW coming in at a modest 3600 revs.
The effortless nature of driving such a vehicle seems marvellous to somebody whose road time is split between a Skoda Yeti Crossover and a Suzuk GW 250 motorycle. It’s as if you only have to think about moving forward and the powerful engine begins to silently do so.
The mysterious process of power coming in so low in the rev-range worked beautifully on the narrow hilly roads, but equally to take us to the top of a ridgeline in the Glenfern Sanctuary. (Not every visitor gets to do this, sorry).
The clincher was a “goat track” looking to be about one-in-four, at Orama Oasis. We were staying at old whaling cottages located on a steep hill overlooking that fantastic bay. These buildings are wonderfully comfortable and well-priced, by the way. But the point is that the Trailblazer just carried us the a deeply rutted track to them, as if we were riding a smooth magic carpet. Most folks walk there.
As an every-day motorcyclist and weekend driver my experience with SUVs is highly limited. Mostly I’m either exchanging sneers with SUV drivers amidst grid-locked traffic queues, or cursing them over what I see as dubious manners in supermarket carparks.
However, for first-rate family holidays to out-of-the-way places right across this gorgeous country — There Is No Contest.
I’m first to admit that these vehicles really come into their own on such a journey. And it would be very hard to imagine one more fit for purpose than the superb handling, well designed 2017 Holden Trailblazer. But here I could be missing the point, for such is this machine’s towing ability. You could if need be share the holiday fun with your cabin-cruiser, 12-metre caravan or maybe a dozen “pet boulders”.
Credits: Paul Charman’s trip to the Barrier was supported by Sealink, Holden New Zealand, Mount St Paul’s Estate, The Glenfern Sanctuary and Orama Oasis.