I’ve never really considered myself to be an E-Class type of guy (some would say I’m a no class type of guy), but when I stumbled upon the opportunity to drive the new edition 1800km (from Auckland to Dunedin) and that the Hilton chain of Hotels were going to supply the fine accommodation along the way, of course I jumped at the chance – oh and took the rest of the family too!
The skill was all in the planning – with a little bit of poetic license thrown in to placate the family. To them, it would be a fun trip, a chance to see all the gorgeous scenery and beauty New Zealand has to offer. It was a chance to be guests of the luxurious Hilton Hotels, eat fine food and travel in the comfort of an E-Class Mercedes-Benz. The reality it would be a long weekend (Friday – Monday), 1,800k’s, Four Hotels, Seven towns, One Ferry trip, One flight (for 3 people) and 1 racetrack – something I forgot to tell the wife about.
I picked up the New Mercedes-Benz E-Class E 350 d early in the day, no point in wasting any time and the introduction from Matt at MB was briefer than normal – after all I WAS going to spend a lot of time behind the wheel. The New E-class looks sleeker and more stylish than I remembered – especially as this version had the added AMG bodykit. Dressed in black and sitting on AMG Alloy wheels it looked perfect for the 5 star accommodation it was about to tour – modern and refined. Its long sweeping bonnet and sporty face has advanced LED headlights (which I’ll explain later) but suffice to say they turn night time to day.
The interior is a sea of luxury and quality. Saddle brown leather seats, deep pore wood, chrome/piano black accents and technology as far as the eye can see (and even more that you can’t). The first thing you spot is the lack of ‘conventional’ instrumentation – around two thirds of the dashboard has been taken up with two crystal clear screens that Airforce One would be proud to have. The up front and centre screen handles the main infotainment (including the Bermester Audio, Camera’s and navigation) while the instrumentation panel behind the wheel displays ALL the data you could want and in 3 different designs – I opted for a more modern display – it seemed quite fitting.
In terms of Infomedia control, MB have given you more options to choose from. There is the now standard finger system on the centre console or you can chose to use the two new ‘thumb’ controls on the wheel – my preferred option – everything at your command without taking your hands off the wheel. Topped off with things like the AIR BODY CONTROL suspension and panoramic glass sunroof and I knew I was in the lap of luxury.
The drive from Albany to the Hilton Auckland took very little time at all. The SH1 was as quiet as it gets (which means busy but a little less frantic) and the sun was shining, which meant we had that delicious view of the City on the water as you cross over the Harbour Bridge. Downtown was still all business and as we pulled onto the wharf that houses the hotel the suits still mingled with the tourists.
Check in was a seemless affair but the view out to the water is a little distracting – what with the great view and all the activity out there, it’s hard to concentrate on things like handing over credit cards. We were assigned the King Hilton Bow suite and what a suite it is. 270 degree views of the harbour I was just distracted by and a private balcony designed in the shape of a luxury cruise liner – I managed to refrain from doing the Titanic scene! Fine Italian furnishings, HUGE bed and flat screen – I may never leave. Using the walk in shower and deep bath seemed a bit of overkill (since we hadn’t really travelled far) but as it was there…. Relaxation in the Hilton is simple, we may have been in the heart of the metropolis but the view and ambiance was from worlds away. Dinner was at Fish and for those that read my previous review of this restaurant you will know how mouthwatering the food is there. This time we went for the Lobster.
The bed was ultra inviting and the view out to the Gulf at night is stunning. Next morning it was breakfast on the deck – I was in the mood a refreshing Virgin Mary and this was delivered from Bellini without batting an eyelid.
We left early afternoon and immediately got caught up in the traffic headed south out of the city, to be honest I couldn’t have cared less – We were in the luxury of the E-Class. It gave me a good reason to play with the adaptive cruise control – why brake and accelerate when Mercedes would do it for you. As the traffic thinned out I used the lane change assist too – the E-Class will move to the next lane just by using the indicator, yes it’s a little unnecessary but it’s more the fact that it can do it that excites me, the future is upon us.
The drive to the Hilton Taupo was effortless, the Navigation system taking us via Highway 2. I have stayed at this resort a few times now and each time it becomes more and more familiar, a home away from home so to speak, and this time they recognized me too – it’s a good feeling. They had organized the 1 bedroom and 1 bedroom apartment combo for us and even laid on cookies, chocolates and some gingerbread men (or do I call them people now?) all with a welcome note – I felt very special. We had chance to check out the facilities again, namely the hot pool, before heading off for dinner at Bistro Lago. Opting for Bruschetta and Cumin salt cured Ora King Salmon starters and mains being Fish and Chips (with Tempura prawns) and Slow Cooked Harmony Pork Belly – Yumm.
Sleep in the massive King Sized bed came very easily and then up early for a belt stretching buffet breakfast before hitting the road to Wellington – and the ferry. Hugging lake Taupo is a gorgeous sight in the morning and when you follow this with the Desert Road and Ruapehu in the distance the k’s just melt away – that coupled with the handling of the E-Class. We arrived ahead of time and in great spirits.
The Interislander across the Cook Straight is so worth doing. With the car safely stowed below you get the chance to relax for a few hours as you cruise across the water. Lunch, coffee and amazing views as you head past the mainland and down the channel towards Picton, it’s delightful – we had a very calm crossing which made it all the more pleasurable.
Arriving at around 6pm there was still a lot of driving to be done to get to Christchurch and as luck would have it, daylight was vanishing – let me explain.
Deep inside each of the headlights of the new E-class are 84 individual LED’s that run automatically. From a drivers point of view you simply put the indicator stalk to high beam and relax while the electronic wizardry does all the work. The LED’s sense the car you are tailing and shrouds it in darkness (same goes with oncoming cars), while keeping the rest of world virtually floodlit. It’s quite an odd sight to watch the cloak of darkness follow the car in front like a blacked out box. It only got caught out a couple of times (mainly big rigs that flash you) but the system is amazing and great for your night vision.
The West coast drive I’m sure would have been an amazing sight but at night you are just hugging the pitch black waterline (so nothing really to report here) but you do get to drive through a tunnel cut into the Cliffside though.
The drive thus far hadn’t been sluggish by any standards and the 3l V6 Diesel had been faultless. It’s a powerful (and quiet) motor that produces 190kW’s and 620Nm of Torque. Strapped to the 9G tronic Auto transmission it boasts 5.6L/100k’s economy, (even at the rate and style I was driving it was reporting 6.2-6.7L/100k’s) However, the navigation system and the ‘distance to empty’ numbers were identical – hitting reserve I started to slow the pace down in search of a (what turned out to be my only) top up.
We arrived at the new Hilton Christchurch – Chateau on the Park (formally Doubletree) around 10.30pm and if I’m honest we weren’t in the most energetic of moods. However the warm freshly baked cookies they gave us lightened our spirits. It was a little too late to think of food, so although I’m sure they would have made us something – we hit the hay dreaming of breakfast.
Again up early we decided to explore the hotel – it’s incredibly quirky. Built to look like a Chateau/castle and as such is full of turrets and towers. It’s a vast property (5 acres) with a moat, vineyard and rose garden. There is a Ye’Olde Great hall, theme rooms with giant cauldrons and an outdoor pool. My son loved the explore and ‘WOW Dad look at this’ even rang out from the arch doorways of the restrooms! The Hilton systems have yet to take full effect but it’s a great place for your family of princes and princesses.
The six+ hour drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is a visual feast. Most of the time you are headed towards the snow capped mountains and the ride is a mixture of long arrow straight roads and ribbon winding turns. The variety is outstanding and the view is often breathtaking. So many times we were saying ‘look at that’ and photo opps are a plenty. Lake Tekapo is stunning. By the way the eye spy answer to ‘M’ is Mountain.
Located in Kawarau village; the Hilton Queenstown Resort and Spa hugs the side of the great lake Wakatipu and looks back across at Queenstown’s heart. The resort seems to go on forever, with multiple levels and treats at every corner. We took a lift/corridor combo to the room and were rewarded handsomely for our travels. We had been given a beautiful room that had the expansive and jaw dropping lake view with mountain backdrop (as if it needed it). There was a full cheese platter and a bottle of Chardonnay awaiting our arrival the moment we opened the door and we lapped up the hospitality. Donning robes we headed up to the outstanding pool and spa and sauna area and just relaxed in the warm water until our skin turned wrinkly (so about 10 minutes in my case). If I’m honest I could have stayed in the spa area for the rest of the trip but as it was our first family visit to Queenstown we jumped back in the car and headed to town – the sun was starting to drop and the scent of barbequed steak filled the air. An impressive amount of pictures were taken as we strolled around the waterfront and the alpine feel atmosphere was absorbing. The festive holiday feel of winter wear clad tourists mingling with the welcoming locals is intoxicating.
With hunger getting the better of us, it was back to the sanctuary of the Hilton room for a spruce up and change. The shower had a monsoon head and bathroom was modern and spacious. Two pure white basins and a deep bath completed the room while thick European towels and robes were there to dry and comfort us – did we really need to go out? Dinner was at ‘Stacks’ nearby – I had the lamb Pizza in case you were interested.
Breakfast at Wakatipu Grill was quite a lavish affair, what with the view and the vast selection and Hilton Queenstown offered something that other hotels could adopt, two free Barista coffees with your meal – being a bit of a coffee snob filter doesn’t quite cut it in the morning. One of the waitresses was studying to for hotel management and she was very engaging and interactive – great to see such enthusiasm (even at that time in the morning). Hilton Queenstown is a stunning resort but in no way pompous. It’s luxurious and modern but even dressed in jeans and a T we felt welcomed and wanted.
We headed off towards Dunedin at 8am and after a couple of photo opps (Bungy bridge and Roaring Meg) we stopped at a Southern hemisphere fun park namely Highlands Motorsport Park. Unscheduled from a family point of view but high on my list! We were invited to view the plethora of vehicle eye candy in the museum and allowed to take the E-Class on the track (although being as it is a members only track, I wasn’t allowed to drive – much to my dismay) Note to self – find out how much membership is. We didn’t drive that quickly around the track (Alloy rims don’t like ripple strips) but what did spring to mind were the additional safety features of the E-Class. If you get hit from the side, the bolsters inside the seats will automatically push you a few inches out of harm’s way plus a ‘pink’ noise will sound milliseconds after impact, this unnoticeable sound will protect your ears from the damage resulting from high impact crashes – this Mercedes is so protective of me. We were however, allowed to tandem drive the gokarts and my son was beside himself – well beside me in fact. It was his first chance ever to drive and I think the smile is still on his face – he even got a certificate!
The last leg of the trip to Dunedin is again a blinder. You start on a fast carriageway that hugs the Kawarau River before heading south west on roads that are just a delight to drive on – the Mercedes was in its element. Roof open, heated seats and stereo on and mountains in the rear view mirror – the 3L turbo purred like a pussycat as it lapped up the k’s – it doesn’t get too much better than that.
And finally Dunedin – the navigation system directed us to the dealership’s doorstep and another warm welcome. As reluctant as I was, I handed over the keys. There were so many things that could have stopped this trip from happening, the weather, road closures, ferry delays or cancellations, breakdowns the list goes on and yet the trip and special delivery of this very special Mercedes had gone seamlessly. Most of us take NZ for granted, opting to travel overseas for holidays but there are so many outstanding sights here on both islands. The trip, the accommodation and the vehicle had been amazing, the 5 star and E-Class combined with the amazing backdrop of the stunning New Zealand countryside was a journey that you all should take and one that I would happily do again – I have to say that I was more than half tempted to cancel the flight, grab the keys and drive back.
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