Fiat's Ducato underpins about 75% of the European motorhome market. However, in this country, there is a strong perception that front wheel drive is not suited to many local road conditions. We asked Wilderness customers John and Barbara Maddren how their new Bürstner Aviano i727 motorhome fared on its first major road trip which included rough road travel.
Molesworth Station, North East of Hanmer Springs is an iconic high country reserve. It’s not only the spectacular scenery with craggy scree-scarred mountains, wide river valleys and tussock slopes that draws adventurers each year but also the rich history. There’s still plenty of evidence of the early settlers including the cob cottages and suspension bridges. Molesworth is New Zealand's largest farm and one that although under the care of the Department of Conservation, is still run as an operating farm with the country's biggest herd of cattle.
Access is via the Acheron Road that runs between Blenheim and Hanmer Springs. The road is only open from early October to early April and is described as a narrow, unsealed backcountry road. Seems to be a reasonable test road to us!
John and Barbara purchased a Bürstner Aviano motorhome from Wilderness earlier this year and were keen to try the motorhome out before winter set in. We will let them take up the story;
"Molesworth Station has long been on our potential destination list and we had the opportunity to go with our friends Shirley and Arthur Taylor. They are experienced motorhomers and were happy to have us tag along behind them.
Our expectations were both for some wonderful views and, together with that, challenging driving conditions for our brand new Aviano. Along the way, we have to say we experienced both, however we should point out that the Aviano exceeded our expectations.
We are aware that are there are some concerns about the front wheel drive Fiat Ducatos but we have to say front wheel drive proved to be remarkably good for the conditions we experienced. It pulled us through the wet and dry fords easily and up short, sharp inclines very effectively. Although the driver had to be aware of the rear overhang when driving across fords and other hazards, by taking things slowly and at an angle, we never got stuck.
There were some places where we stopped on a steep incline to see the view or let another vehicle pass and we had a little difficulty getting going again but some rear wheel drive vehicles also seemed to have the same problems. So we did not feel we were having more difficulties than anyone else.
We drove through to Molesworth in ideal weather conditions and because it was dry, experienced both loose and tight gravel areas. Just as a side note, we pointed out in a DOC questionnaire that some road surfaces could be improved, but that overall DOC do a great job and the challenge is part of the experience.
Although we had expected it, the great surprise for us was the stunning scenery. We suspect that the bad surprises are more likely to come with poor weather conditions and that might well be when the DOC closes the road. We would strongly advise travellers to listen to all DOC advice on road conditions. On that note, having talked to another friend of ours who travels on snow covered roads, he reckons front wheel drive motorhomes are much easier to fit chains on, with the added bonus of having traction and steering on the same wheels.
We rate the Molesworth as the best road trip we have ever done, better than the Desert Road, the Catlins, the Great Ocean Road, the Red Centre and the beautiful coastal drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was a wonderful maiden voyage in our terrific Aviano. Since we are members of the NZMCA, we are looking forward to plenty of adventures, not only on our own but with our fellow club members."