When the going gets tough, the tough get going – that’s exactly what happened when we were given the opportunity to test out the new Jeep Gladiator in the adventure capital of the world; Queenstown, New Zealand.
The plane bounced around through the heavy rain clouds leading into Queenstown. Being a bit of a nervous flyer, I was holding on tight, looking out the window for any signs of land. We broke through the clouds and immediately my anxiety turned into awe. The white peaks of the enormous mountain ranges spilled down into grassy hills with exposed rivers winding down the slopes. It was a truly beautiful scene and it made me wonder what the next few days would have in store.
I had flown in from Australia to Queenstown, New Zealand, for the launch of Jeep’s one-of-a-kind open-air ute – the Gladiator. Leading up to the event there had been weeks of torrential rain, so the schedule had been changed over and over… I didn’t know what to expect and what the conditions would be like; I was going in with big unknowns.
Bright and early the next morning it appeared that the weather gods had smiled upon us – the birds were chirping and the snow-capped mountains gleamed brightly in the sunlight. Sandbags still lined the banks of the town and the imminent threat of flooding was still present, but it seemed like things had turned a corner.
A bus transfer took us to a building on top of a hill overlooking a magnificent view of Queenstown and we were welcomed to the event launch with a powerful traditional Haka. It was our first chance to get acquainted with the visionary team behind the making of the Gladiator and after seeing it for the first time, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel and test it out.
We zoomed off down the highway in a convoy of Gladiators, turning heads through the main streets of Queenstown, heading to an unknown location in the mountains. The left-hand drive vehicle took a bit of getting used to, especially while distracted by the breathtaking mountain ranges lining Lake Wakatipu. Finally, we hit the dirt – well, I should say ‘soft sloppy mud’ after the weeks of rain. It was the moment I had been waiting for, I got to engage four-wheel drive and put the Gladiator to the test.
Getting Off Road (and taking off the roof!)
Through creek crossings and up steep inclines it showed no signs of struggle. After an hour on the trail we stopped, unsure of what lay ahead. The convoy of Gladiators was brought to a stand still. We took the opportunity to take off the roof (which took all of 20 seconds) and it tucked nicely in the tray. Once the lineup started moving again I immediately regretted my decision to go topless.
We’d reached the hairiest part of the track: a fast-flowing glacial river crossing, complete with large boulders and steep embankment. We went down to 4LOW and crawled through with no troubles at all. I must say, I felt a little naked doing a creek crossing with windows down and no roof, but being immersed in the environment core to the Jeep Gladiator. At times with the wind on my face and the sun warming my skin it felt like were gliding through the environment, and not in a car at all.
Down the track the valley opened up and we could see our lunch set up in a field surrounded by seemingly infinite mountains. Waterfalls surrounded us as the snow caps melted in the sun. With the cool air ripping through our hair and lunch awaiting I hit the final creek crossing and water launched up and over the bonnet into the cab. Thankfully the Gladiator’s interior is waterproof, my clothes were not…
South of Queenstown
A generous serving of venison and coffee over lunch warmed my chilled soul and we were ready to hit the road again. This time we were headed for another unknown location south of Queenstown. With roofs off and music pumping the convoy of Jeeps were turning heads yet again going through town, this time a little dirtier than before. The ‘secret location’ had the crew in wonder as we crossed flooded roads closed off to the public and wound through misty hills dotted with sheep and reindeer farms.
Finally we pulled into a yard and gathered together for the big reveal – we were taking a helicopter to the base of Avalanche Glacier! We’d gone as far into the wilderness as any vehicle could take us so the helis were a necessity. Flying over the flooded fields was quite the scene, but nothing compared to when we arrived.
Dozens of glamping tents, as well as huge communal tents with kitchen and dining areas, were set up. As the night rolled on the presence of Avalanche Glacier gleamed brighter as we drank, told stories and sang songs late into the night. The night finally simmered down and I couldn’t help but think how the night reflected the character of the Gladiator – an immersive, fun and practical 4WD that allows you to get to those wild places you dream of going.
We were choppered out the next morning and made our way back to Queenstown in one last final journey in the Gladiator. I had the afternoon to explore around Queenstown so I took the opportunity to go for a hike up to Ben Lomond and have a think about what I really liked about the Jeep Gladiator.
It was the little things that really won me over. Things like interchangeable tube design doors, unlocking hardtop roof and even things like snow-boot latch inspired hood locks make this car a true adventurer’s vehicle. The tray is enormous and will fit just about anything; bikes, motorbikes, surfboards, paddleboards…you name it! It’s a fun car that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the environment unlike anything else I’ve driven. 4WDing with the wind blowing through my hair, listening to the tyres roll through the mud and the birds whistling in the trees around me – that’s pretty special in my books.
Flying out of Queenstown, looking out over those green rolling hills and monumental mountain ranges, I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t going to have as much fun driving a car like that for a very long time.