For those prepared to venture out of the major cities, there abounds a feast of holidaying options within a stone's throw of many major metropolitan centres. For me, on this occasion, it's Gerroa on the south coast of NSW.
A short two-hour drive from Sydney sees industrial parks and housing estates slowly give way to large green fields and fresh country air. This is still largely the land of coastal dairy farms, picturesque coastlines, cliff tops, and golden beaches all surrounded by rolling hills and green countryside.
For this trip, we opted for the Mazda CX-3 Akari all-wheel-drive and matched it to the latest entry level personal watercraft from Yamaha, the EX Deluxe.
It's incredible to believe that you can buy a new car capable of towing, and a three man personal water craft for around $45,000. And Mazda's compact SUV handled the towing task with relative ease.
Other variants of this vehicle start at the low $20k mark so there could be even further savings if you don't opt for the highest-spec version of the CX-3, the Akari as tested, priced at $35,290 (plus on-road costs).
The total posted towable weight for the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol version of our CX-3 we is 640kg unbraked or 1200kg braked. On the trailer, the Yamaha EX Deluxe weighs in around 450 kilograms so we're well within the stated maximums.
With this kind of weight on the back, the best driving performance was achieved via a steady and progressive application of the throttle. This saw the car more than delivering on most urban roads all the way to freeway driving where it achieve the 100-110 km/h speed limit with ease.
But, as is often the case with Mazda, this engine is loud. In fact, when the six-speed automatic gearbox decides to drop down a gear, it screams at you and the engine can be so loud, it's a little unsettling. This was never more apparent than when heading up steep hills.
The vibration extended from the engine through the accelerator pedal. It's a minor point but it's one worth considering if you're planning on towing anything close to the maximum recommended weight.
That said, with just under 500kg hanging off the back, the CX-3 is a quite comfortable to drive. And it's a sporty looking compact SUV with all the right angles and lines covered.
The driving position is more than suitable for long drives and adjustable enough to ensure anyone can find a comfortable position. The seat is manually adjustable and the mirrors provide ample vision to the rear. The rear window is small though, but still allows reasonable vision of anything out the back, including our Yamaha EX Deluxe.
Internally, the Mazda CX-3 Akari lacks a centre console storage bin which would, if present, provide a handy armrest on the left. But the door armrest is at the perfect height to rest your arm on, so it's not all bad.
In fact, storage is an issue for this car all round. If you have a car full of passengers (two in the back and two in the front) the available boot space is limited at 264 litres with all the seats in place.
Ditch your mates in the back though, fold down the rear seats, and you have 1174 litres of room which is more than enough for riding gear, clothes and any other holiday items.
This means if you're using the CX-3 to go camping or do the type of work that sees you heading to coastal towns with some gear on board, it's best done as a single person, or in a two-person partnership, leaving the remaining space in the vehicle for gear.
Predominately a dairy farming area, new development in the suburbs close to Gerroa has started to stretch down from the closest large city, Wollongong, and its large housing developments, are on their way as farmers sell out of their expansive plots.
In comparison to Shell Harbour, just 10 to 15 minutes north, the development in Gerroa is light, but you can tell it is on its way.
The area was originally settled by red cedar cutters and once that resource was depleted, the farmers moved in. The main avenue to get produce out of the area was Boat Harbour which has a small ramp open to the sea.
It's a dicey place to launch a boat and it is important to note that you cannot launch a personal water craft here. The only place to launch those is Gerroa beach itself where there is a ramp adjacent to a tidal estuary at the northern end that leads down onto the beach. The sand here is hard packed, so the all-wheel-drive CX-3 handles it with ease.
The Yamaha EX Deluxe is a relatively light craft at just 261 kilograms, so dragging it partway across the sand in shallow water is possible, unless you want to drive your Mazda through the salt water! Not recommended.
Riding is only permitted south of Black Head, but Seven Mile Beach offers more than enough space away from the crowds as you head south from the launch area.
The Yamaha EX Deluxe is a perfect entry level craft starting at $9990. It comes with Yamaha's RiDE system which incorporates a forward and reverse option making the craft extremely manoeuvrable. It also adds a rear boarding step and side mirrors, missing on the standard model.
It's a very forgiving hull which is extremely fun to ride courtesy of the engine and hull combination. Powered by a three-cylinder, four-stroke Yamaha Marine engine it delivers more than ample power in a reduced engine size and therefore overall weight, which is important to the rideability of the craft.
It puts out 100 horsepower, although Yamaha doesn't often publish such figures, preferring to focus on other aspects such as acceleration and overall efficiency and reliability. Yamaha has, possibly, the best reliability in the game.
The whole package responds well to throttle input from the rider and is still capable of quick acceleration and a reasonable top speed approaching 80km/h which is more than enough for your entry-level rider. It’s also very quiet.
For those who have several hobbies, the surfing located in this area is also brilliant. Werri Beach is more suited to the more experienced surfer. The south end has a beautiful right-hand point that works on big swells from the south and south-east swells and southwesterly winds. The beach breaks here can also produce outstanding waves and there is a small surf club in the southern corner for families with kids looking for some peace of mind.
Seven Mile beach is more leisurely and this is where you will find most Malibu riders, particularly at the north end. The waves break predictably and courtesy of the shallow, hard-packed sand, deliver a lovely wave with a long, smooth ride on the right tides.
This also makes it ideal for a little wave jumping on the EX. Simply approach the wave and power on as you get to the top of the wave. This should see you landing tail first every time. It is best to head south from the launch area away from people for this.
Within the Gerringong/Gerroa area is a busy accommodation market. Werri Beach Caravan Park opposite the beach has cabins and a campground with full toilet facilities.
Seven Mile Beach Caravan Park also has camping and toilet facilities and even has a small animal farm for the kids, a playground and a giant inflatable pillow which kids jump on all day long. No adults allowed but it looks fun. Gerroa also has many houses you can rent for short stays, some with uninterrupted views of the ocean.
While in the area, we took the Mazda CX-3 Akari to the stunning Coolangatta Winery. It's the perfect type of vehicle for a visit like this with friends. Pull up, taste some wines and enjoy a shared meal from the wood-fired grill.
In all there are several wineries on the run down towards Nowra. If you're after something less fancy, try the cafe adjoining the Seven Mile Beach Caravan Park which makes a cracking egg and bacon roll.
While the trip south was reasonably short, the Mazda CX-3 Akari more than suited the task. It drives well, despite being a little 'rev heavy' at times and despite it not being what I would normally call a tow vehicle, made reasonable work of towing in most conditions.
It's a comfortable ride, too, that will also see you able to afford something to put on the back to really enjoy those little weekend trips away.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Glen Sullivan.