Destination Drive: Put simply, this is something you can do in any car. Whether you're excited about your new car and are looking for inspiration, or whether you regularly hit the road and cruise around, this series is for the love of driving and to provide ideas for those occasions when you want to enjoy your car and the places it can take you.
Life is busy. Between kids, work, cooking, cleaning and attempting to have a social life – finding time for a holiday can seem impossible at the best of times. That dream of switching off, relaxing, exploring, eating and sleeping is relegated to the ‘we’ll organise something when things calm down’ basket. Of course, that never happens.
But getting away for a few days isn’t a pipe dream and organising that precious time out doesn’t have to be complicated. Scrap the idea of jumping on a plane for a quickie holiday, you're more likely to come back more frazzled than when you left after dragging screaming children and overstuffed suitcases through airports.
The solution? A Ford Kuga and a staycation! For this getaway I worked with our friends at TheCarousel.com (a women's lifestyle website I contribute to weekly) to map out a fun-filled itinerary that included hidden gems around the Sydney region. A staycation was exactly what my daughter and I needed to get away and spend some quality time together.
Just north of Sydney is a visually spectacular strip of coastline called Caves Beach that lies to the east of Australia’s largest coastal salt water lagoon, Lake Macquarie. This was our chosen destination and as the itinerary started to fill with fun activities and great food stops, the inevitable question came. ‘Mum, can I bring a friend?’ This of course extended to two friends, so I decided to bring a friend along as well, Aaron, who also happened to be a photographer; handy given the idyllic spots we were headed for.
The Ford Kuga would certainly be put to the test; this five-seat medium SUV had to cope with transporting two adults, three teenagers and a generous amount of luggage out west and up the coast.
The Titanium variant is top-of-the-range and comes packed with safety gear, new technology and family friendly features like an automatic tailgate. If the key is in your pocket and your hands are full, a kick under the rear bumper will trigger it to open, which certainly made loading the bags a little easier in this instance. Cargo space is 406 litres, which is the same as its competitor, the Mazda CX-5, and there are levers in the boot to flip the rear seats forward if you need the extra room and aren't filling all the seats with bums.
After picking up our passengers, we headed for our first stop – breakfast at Zokoko at Emu Plains. No sooner had the car started, when the battle for control over the music started. Aaron connected his phone into the USB point in the centre console bin to charge, and it automatically connected to Ford’s Sync 2 system and started playing his eclectic mix of 90s pop, R&B and country – much to the girls entertainment. It wasn't long until his playlist became tedious for our teenage passengers so the phone was swapped out, and indie punk rock came pumping through the speakers. Awesome.
The Sync 2 infotainment system with its 8.0-inch colour touchscreen is clear and easy to use, and destinations can be entered into the satellite navigation system via voice control. Hit a button on the steering wheel, then follow the commands on screen and tell the car where you want to go – it’s that simple.
Zokoko is tucked away in what looks like an industrial estate, and it’s a café that specialises in chocolate delicacies and the chocolate is handmade on site. It was absolutely delicious, and we gorged on chocolate crackles, hot chocolate, scones with jam and cream, and chocolate cheesecake. Back on the road again I realised how big a mistake that could potentially be. Three teenage girls with delicate stomachs now filled with sugar and in a moving vehicle. Uh oh!
From Zokoko we were going to see the historic Lennox Bridge on Mitchells Pass at Lapstone Hill. It’s close to Glenbrook at the base of the Blue Mountains and is only five-kilometres from Zokoko, but the road is narrow and windy so watch out for oncoming traffic. Lennox Bridge was opened in 1833, and this gorgeous stone structure is the oldest bridge of its kind still standing on mainland Australia. There are some great walking tracks around here too, that lead to Elizabeth and Marge’s Lookouts and the Knapsack Viaduct that is certainly worth a look.
The Kuga has a punchy 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbo-petrol engine (a diesel is available) that produces 178kW/345Nm, it's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and it has sports mode for a little bit of extra punch on the move – not that it's lacking in power or torque. It handled the corners and hills with confidence and powered through overtaking manoeuvres on the motorway at higher speeds. When you look at the figures, it’s actually more powerful than some of its more popular rivals including the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.
The Kuga Titanium rides on 19-inch alloy wheels and though big wheels and lower-profile tyres can make the ride feel little firm at times, it was smooth and imperfections like rough road surfaces and jagged road joins were smoothly evened out.
Despite having stomachs full of chocolate, none of the girls suddenly yelled for the car to be pulled over which was a relief. However there was a bit of a dramatic moment when we realised we couldn’t find the car key… none of the girls could remember where they put it (they’d borrowed it at the cafe to go and get something out of the car). It was nowhere to be found, but the car started, so it had to be in there somewhere.
The decision was made to press on to our next destination, Golden Ridge Animal Farm. It’s out near Dural, and as we got closer I wondered whether the Kuga’s all-wheel drive would come in handy if we ended up on dirt roads.
The farm had a charming barnyard full of cute baby animals to pat and feed, and it gets busy on a weekend. It was also birthing season for the goats and there were several baby goats that were only hours old. The girls even got to witness the messy miracle of birth – the mother goat reminded me of the superwoman that appeared in a viral video recently who looked relaxed and seemed to effortlessly pop the baby out in record time.
Among the highlights was feeding the cows. They have ridiculously long tongues and drool more than Beethoven the St Bernard, and it’s sticky! The girls were half grossed out and half intrigued by most of what they saw at the farm.
Caves Beachside Hotel looks like a collection of upper-class beach shacks, and that was where we’d chosen to stay. The accommodation was surprisingly luxurious and the two-story apartment we stayed in was really well appointed. It had a fully functional kitchen, two bathrooms, two living areas with large comfortable lounges and two big balconies facing the water. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a great size for a family of five with older kids. The girls had free-reign downstairs and the adults could relax and enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese platter at sunset. Perfection.
Caves Beach is only accessible at low tide, so if you plan to visit this location, be sure to check so you can time it right. It is worth the effort. Stretching along the coastline there is a stunning network of caves and rock formations to explore. The kids can crawl through naturally formed tunnels; climb stairways up the sides of the cliffs carved by Mother Nature’s hand, and play in the water. Needless to say the girls were exhausted after their time at the beach, so dinners were a quiet affair followed by heated games of Monopoly.
After a beautiful and relaxing couple of days, there were still a couple of stops we wanted to make on the way home. Around half an hour south of Caves Beach is Norah Head Lighthouse. It was built in 1903 and was the last staffed lighthouse to be built in NSW. Originally, the beacon ran on kerosene, it was then electrified in 1961 and was manned until the light was automated in 1994. It’s well maintained and worth a look if you have time to detour off the highway.
On the run back to Sydney, the girls were strangely quiet for the first part of the trip. Even with the three of them in the leather-clad, reclinable, second-row, there were no complaints about being cramped or squished. The Kuga also has fold-down picnic tables on the back of the driver and passenger seats (which are also leather but heated too) and they were used for iPads, snacks and drinks. A word of warning, yell ‘corner’ to alert the rear passengers or you could end up with food on the floor.
Other features that we loved included the panoramic sunroof, auto parking, rear-view camera and parking sensors, front and rear fog lights, power side mirrors, push button start, rain sensing wipers, bi-xenon auto headlights and cruise control. There are three 12V and two USB outlets scattered around the cabin, making it easy to connect and charge devices.
The Kuga is impressively kitted out and has a five-star ANCAP safety rating. If you want extra safety technology, Ford offers a $1600 optional pack that adds adaptive cruise control, low-speed autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring, lane assist and auto high-beam – though it would be nice if this were standard on the top-spec Titanium.
Sure enough the girls perked up around an hour into the trip home, and were soon playing a game I can only call ‘screech-a-long’ rather than ‘sing-a-long’, something that would usually be supremely irritating and result in a snappy ‘keep it down’. But we must have been relaxed because instead, we laughed and joined in the fun. We decided to make one final stop at Bare Island at La Perouse, before we wrapped up our staycation and rejoined the real world.
The claimed combined fuel consumption for the Kuga is 8.8-litres per 100 kilometres, and Ford’s EcoBoost engines are designed to be economic. That being said, usually real-world fuel figures can be quite different to the claimed. I was pleased to discover we’d managed to hit 9.6-litres per 100km throughout our 480km journey, which is a good result.
The Ford Kuga Titanium was a fantastic road trip companion. Even filled with five people and luggage, it was fun to drive and never felt like it lacked in the performance stakes. The interior is well laid out, functional and features like the use of voice control to set satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, rear-view camera, cruise control and hands-free tailgate were genuinely appreciated and useful.
Going on a staycation is the perfect way to take a break, without the hassle. Clearing the schedule for a weekend is possible, so why not go on a family adventure? Pack an overnight bag, get in the car and see where you end up.
Photos by Sam Venn and Aaron Averay (insta: @aza000).