Discovering Wellington – Land Rover style

Our capital has a history that dates as far back as 950AD when Polynesian explorer Kupe first discovered it. However ‘colonisation’ began relatively recently (1840) when European settlers arrived on the ship ‘Aurora’ and started to lay down roots; opting for Petone initially, before (due to flooding) moving further south to Wellington’s current and recognised position. It became the Capital in 1865 and has since grown to the 500,000 population, built up metropolis that it is now.

A little further north along the Ohariu valley, hugging the Tasman sea as it goes, lies Boomrock. Named after sound of the ‘’waves that thunder against the cliffs and echo back out across the sea’’ Boomrock is a fully functional beef and lamb farm that boasts 8 km of rugged coastline that points directly out towards the South Island – so the perfect place to meet the new Land Rover Discovery.

Although the Land Rover company wasn’t formed until 1978, Land Rover’s themselves have been synonymous with exploration and adventure since 1948 – with the Discovery nameplate joining the family in 1989. Now, with over 1.2million SUV sales under its belt, the Discovery is moving into its 5th generation and for the New Zealand launch our hosts from wanted to ensure we knew that despite it being prettier and more luxurious, the SUV could still more than handle the rough stuff – hence the reason why we found ourselves on the hostile terrain that Boomrock farm had to offer.

The Discovery is an impressive looking SUV that will comfortably accommodate 7 full-size adults. With its stepped roof and very distinct C pillars the new model leans very much on its heritage, but with softer/smoother lines, panoramic roof, jewel-like eyes and a new light signature (front and rear) it embraces modernism. Elegant blade side vents offer an upmarket trim to the wings and the aerodynamic rear spoiler also keeps the tailgate mud and muck free. From a purely personal point of view, I’ve still yet to get used to the rear design. The lines and registration plate draw your eyes to one side, allowing room for where I’d expect to see the spare wheel – that isn’t there (this will make better sense when you see it). Now call me a conformist, but I would have preferred a more symmetrical approach. That aside, the tailgate itself is both automated and hands-free, with a ‘kick’ opening function that reveals 258 litres of space (rest assured it doesn’t stop there) and an inner bench that holds up to 300 kg’s – ideal for sitting on and watching the world go by.

Venturing inside is an adventure all by itself. The plush leather seats are heated, all three rows of them and the configuration (Intelligent seat folding system) is so simple and versatile it can even be done from your smartphone plus with all seats folded flat, it has a whopping 2,500 Litres of loadspace (1,231 behind row 2). ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’, is an aphorism that the Discovery seems to have taken to heart. There is a raft of storage places dotted throughout the cabin with some of them having been hidden in plain sight (ie behind the climate control panel and a cavern big enough for 4 iPads under the cupholders) they have even re-introduced a ‘curry’ hook.

Here’s some of the technical data for you to chew over. The new Discovery has a 900mm wading depth and although (thanks to an aluminium architecture) it’s 260 kg’s lighter; it still has a 3.5-tonne towing capacity. It has a 43-degree approach angle (30-degree departure), 283mm of ground clearance and 500mm of wheel articulation – what does all this mean? Well for us it meant that with the keys to the new Land Rover Discovery in our hands and 3000 acres of land (that looked as untouched as when Kupe first dried the sails of his canoe there) to play with, we were undoubtedly going to get into a lot of mischief.

During its development, the Land Rover team had taken the Discovery to over 20 countries. Spending over 1,000,000 miles behind the wheel and testing it in places and conditions that you or I wouldn’t care to. From – 40 Degrees C in Sweden to +50 degrees in Dubai, the nameplate has certainly been put through its paces. So although the rolling hilled, sharp inclined and perilous clifftop venue we were about to embark on would normally be a daunting prospect – our confidence in the Discovery’s ‘All surfaces, All terrains, All weather’ ability couldn’t have been higher.  

You see, sitting proudly on the centre console is an off-road fun dial that controls Land Rover’s All Terrain technology. At the mere twist of a dial, some of the most seemingly unpassable land is simply turned into an adventure playground. From general driving conditions, through Grass Gravel, Mud and Ruts, Sand and Rock Crawl – now you can basically throw a dart at a map of NZ and the Discovery can drive there – look out Ohariu, here we come…

Deep waters, rocky tracks, blind crests and steep gradients to descend down and climb up, the series of off-road exercises that had been mapped out by the driving team from Downforce (or should that be off the map), would strike fear into the hearts of even the most capable of 4×4 vehicles. What’s more, we were encouraged to stop during our mid-mountain climbs to try out the system’s various modes and basically show off. They all coped without missing a beat, the difference being the speed and revs at which it reached the summits. With ‘Low Range’ engaged the Discovery utilises the low gear ratio and locks the Diff, the result is a vehicle that was virtually unstoppable regardless of whatever terrain Boomrock dared to throw at it. We spent several hours trawling the landscape and even for an off-road novice such as myself, I felt as capable and comfortable as the SUV did. The Discovery lapped up the punishment and literally asked for more.

What’s more, via the infotainment screen and head up display, the ATPC (All-Terrain Progress Control) allows you to see what’s going on underneath and behind the scenes – It gives you a better understanding of where the power is (and isn’t) and is great for those times you don’t dare look out the window!

The Boomrock off-road experience was a true rural adventure and certainly gave us an insight of what the Discovery is capable of, however, based on how comfortably it handled all the tasks I do believe it is a vehicle with plenty more to give both off and on the tarmac. Its proficiency on the unkempt terrain was admirable and totally unflustered while inside it is divinely luxurious and very well connected (I’ll save the technology and city smarts for when I do a terra-firma review).

Throughout its history, Wellington and its surrounding area has been known by many names. From “Te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui” or “the Head of Maui’s fish”, through “Whanganui-a-Tara” or “the great harbour of Tara” to Port Nicholson and finally Wellington but one thing is for sure, if you are looking to get out there and really explore the world in style, there is one name that you need to remember, and that name is Discovery.

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