OE in a Kombi

Stratford couple's 1960s adventure

TARA SHASKEY
Last updated 10:38 23/08/2014
wingates
Glenn Jeffrey

In the late 1960s Taranaki couple Barbara and Keith Wingate set off on an overseas experience and found themselves exploring the world in a 1966 Volkswagon Kombi.

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Whether it's a classic working holiday across Europe, volunteer work in Africa, or an intrepid journey through the rich vibrant cultures of Asia, the overseas experience has long been a traditional coming of age for young Kiwis.

For decades, New Zealanders equipped with no more than a backpack filled with hope and adventure have been tripping abroad in search of personal growth and experiences that aren't available in our own backyard.

For travelling Kiwis the depth of cultural immersion and global education experienced while journeying around on their big OE is not only influenced by their trip's duration or purpose, but by how they choose to explore the world.

Some travellers are happy to tour within the safe confines of a multi- country coach tour, others prefer to go it alone and use public transport systems, and as an inexpensive but less advisable option some choose to hitchhike.

And, then there are the more adventurous spirits, who, in a bid to discover the world's most untouched locations, will travel off the beaten path with their backpacks in tow.

Or, perhaps behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Kombi bus.

That's exactly what Taranaki couple Barbara and Keith Wingate did and it couldn't have worked out better for them.

It was 1969 and the newlyweds, both in their early 20s, shared a keen sense of adventure and a healthy dose of curiosity.

The wide-eyed couple, who were both raised in Stratford, were ready to embark on their big OE and left New Zealand aboard a Europe-bound ship.

The Wingates settled in Southern Germany where they invested in their first Volkswagen - a 1958 Beetle fitted with a fabric folding sunroof. "We had many wonderful adventures around Central Europe in that car," recalls Keith.

On one of their many beetle-bug excursions the couple took a weekend trip to Baden-Wrttemberg's Black Forest, and it was there at the wooded mountain range that the couple came across an inspiring 1966 Volkswagen Kombi for sale outside a village garage.

It was slightly tired looking, but Keith says it had potential, and so they quickly purchased the eight-seat, grey and white VW bus.

"It was a bargain. We knew the engine had had it but we still drove around in it."

In the following months the Wingates set to work to transform the rundown Kombi in to what would become their new, virtual home.

"This was done in the evening after work and on weekends in the street outside our flat, much to the amusement of our German neighbours," laughs Keith.

Out went the rear seats, in went a new factory reconditioned engine, and using the plywood and fittings salvaged from two large oak wardrobes sourced from a second-hand furniture shop, Keith constructed a camper.

"I'm very proud of how it turned out," he says.

"And, I made the curtains by hand," Barbara quickly reminds him.

The Wingates hit the road and for the next three years the geared-up couple would refer to the travel icon as "home".

"All we did in preparation was to obtain a 'Carnet de Passage' from the ADAC (German AA), some maps, a spare fan belt, four spark plugs, a puncture repair kit and away we went," says Keith.

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They spent the summer and autumn of 1971 travelling Europe, Turkey and Morocco, before returning to Germany in the early spring of 1972, from there their journey continued across Asia and then on to India.

Keith says they spent several months discovering India before loading the Kombi aboard a ship in Mumbai and setting off across the Indian Ocean, to Mombasa, Kenya.

"And from here we meandered around East and Southern Africa," he recalls.

The raw travellers absorbed the culture and befriended the locals, they camped under the big African sky and went on to visit many of the national parks where they came face to face with Africa's wondrous wildlife.

Continuing on, they arrived in Zimbabwe where the pair would reside for over a year, and at this point Keith gave the Kombi a fresh lick of paint and had it re-registered.

He says the newly blue camper stayed with them until their return to New Zealand in 1974. "Sadly, we left the Kombi behind in the care of friends."

The couple deplore their decision to part ways with their trusty split-screen Transporter, however they agree the priceless memories will remain with them forever.

For decades, adventure- seeking travellers around the world have resided in the "hippy-vans", with nothing at the forefront except for road and good times, and nowadays the mere sighting of a VW bus rouses a wealth of memories for many people.

The Kombi, officially known as the Volkswagen Type 2, first rolled out of a German factory 64 years ago and although the original model has ceased production, over the years the design has evolved. In its fifth generation the Transporter T5 range has introduced models such as the Multivan and the California.

This year Volkswagen celebrates its 60th year in New Zealand. In 1954 Jowett Motors, a company established by Arthur Turner, and his stepsons Noel and Harry Turner and Roy Sheeran, became the first VW importer franchise in New Zealand.

Volkswagen New Zealand general manager Tom Ruddenklau says the anniversary is a fantastic milestone and that it's a good reminder of how long Volkswagen has been a part of the New Zealand landscape.

"What it's shown is a history of New Zealand, which Volkswagen is a part of," he says, "When people say Volkswagen around the barbecue it conjures up so many Kombi and OE memories."

VW New Zealand have recently released a television commercial, The People's Film, which showcases images and stories provided by Kiwis of their beloved Volkswagens from the past 60 years.

Rejoicing in the anniversary the Wingates have shared images of their 1966 Kombi for the Kiwi-made project.

Their travels are now etched in the history of Volkswagen New Zealand akin to the framed memories on the walls of their New Plymouth home.

The pair clocked up about 90,000km on their travels and say the VW Kombi was the perfect vehicle for the job.

"It took us to many fascinating places and diverse countries, it was definitely the trip of a lifetime," says Barbara.

- Taranaki Daily News

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