A family adventure to Stockton Beach in the new Ford Everest

The new Ford Everest is the 2023 Wheels Car of the Year, so we knew it'd be more than capable for a family trip away. Here's how it went!

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“Big blue car!”

My two-year-old daughter dinosaur-stomps towards the Ford Everest in our driveway, no doubt wondering which benevolent fairy delivers award-winning 4WDs while she naps.

It’s certainly a visual feast, all shimmering cobalt and cooler-than-thou black detailing conveying nothing but confidence. Nice, I think to myself, as I spot the bloke across the road rubbernecking while hosing his caravan. You wish, mate.

A few hours later, it’s loaded with camping gear and we’re cruising up the M1, the work week behind us and the dunes of Stockton Beach somewhere out in front.

The kid is bopping merrily to Taylor Swift, her big brother and sister sitting alongside with space enough for limbs and devices despite the bulk of her car seat. We munch Shapes and talk about the things we might see on this micro-adventure to an iconic destination. “Wait, what? The beach is the road!?” Oh, they’re in for a treat.

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On the road

The Everest is a dream on the open highway; quiet, comfortable and responsive in a way that belies its utilitarian roots.

Driver assist features help to mitigate the chaos of a family road trip and it’s not lost on me that this car is doing its best to keep us safe.

Radar cruise control and lane keep assist stay on duty as we navigate the undulating motorway bends north of Sydney with a gazillion other Friday afternoon escapees.

When the toddler reaches the end of her tether and starts screaming, I silently thank whatever genius invented air con vents in the seat.

I’m almost keeping my cool as I bark “Wiggles” at the wireless Apple CarPlay, bringing out the big guns to get us through the final leg.

Those skivvy-clad dinguses pop up on the huge 12-inch control screen and she is appeased – for now, at least.

Of course, for anyone over the age of three, the drive to Stockton from Sydney is entirely palatable. A snackable 2.5 hours, in fact. You can be sending your last email at four and sipping a sundowner with the sand between your toes by seven. And with a car like the Everest in your garage, that transition from the daily grind to weekend adventure is seamless.

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Arriving at Stockton Beach

Stockton Beach is a 32km sandscape stretching from Newcastle to Port Stephens and is a wonderland for off-road enthusiasts.

At its widest it’s a kilometre across and is considered the largest expanse of shifting sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere.

There are 19km of beachfront open to 4WDs, with three access points. From south to north, these are: Fern Bay (closest to the camping area); Lavis Lane, Williamtown; and Gan Gan, Anna Bay. We opt for Lavis Lane so we can head north and explore a little before doubling back to make camp.

But first, we pull into the servo on the corner of Lavis Lane to buy our beach driving permit, which is mandatory for all vehicles on Stockton Beach. It’s good for three days at $33, with a yearly permit option for $88. For a full list of local outlets selling permits, click here [↗].

A tip on beach driving!

Generally, we recommend steering clear of saltwater when you’re driving along the sand, as it’s not great for your 4x4. However, if you do happen to get it wet, be sure to give it a thorough wash when back in town – particularly the underside of the vehicle.

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In the Stockton Beach car park we meet up with my brother, AKA Good Old Uncle Mikey, as he was once anointed by a precocious child.

We drop the tyres down to 15psi, flick the Everest’s 4WD system into ‘Sand’ mode (dummy-proof, much appreciated) and bounce along the track onto the beach.

The kids giggle with glee as the Everest ploughs over the sand, bouncing and sliding happily towards the sea like a Labrador liberated from a leash. I’d been a little nervous about hitting the soft stuff, but the Big Blue Car reassures me with its steady footing and confidence on the sand. Fun? Yes. Capable? Absolutely.

I’d asked Uncle Mikey to throw in his MaxTrax and recovery kit, but we never came close to needing them.

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Exploring Stockton Beach

Having found our footing surprisingly easily, we’re cruising confidently up the beach in no time.

An immense expanse of sand dunes unfolds to our left, sprinkled in low lying shrubs and dune grasses punctuated by sweet little flowers.

There’s an area of the dunes open to vehicles in the south (more on that in a moment), but for the most part you cannot drive on the dunes – although you can park and explore on foot.

It’s part of the Worimi Conservation Lands and is managed by the local Worimi Traditional Owners, together with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

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Stockton Beach has been home to the Worimi people for thousands of years. With the ocean, estuaries, and coastal bushland to sustain life, it’s not hard to see the appeal of this diverse environment. And clues of this ancient inhabitation remain.

The sand dunes move up to 4m each year, both uncovering and concealing cultural artifacts and shell middens as they go. These sites are protected by law, so visitors should be sure not to touch or move objects.

In more recent years, Stockton Beach’s proximity to RAAF Base Williamtown has seen it serve as a bombing and shooting range during World War II, as well as a dumping area for unused bombs by aircraft returning from training. It was fortified against potential attack by Japanese amphibious craft, with ‘tank traps’ comprised of barbed wire entanglements and concrete pyramid-shaped blocks positioned along the beach. Yikes!

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Thankfully these have been relocated out of harm’s way, but it’s thought some remain submerged beneath the low tide line. Surfers beware! Thankfully the Everest encounters neither a bomb nor a tank trap on the half-hour drive north to Tin City.

And what the devil is Tin City, you ask? Just a little post-apocalyptic flavour to your coastal wilderness experience. Y’see, this stretch of coast was so perilous and prone to shipwrecks that, in the 19th Century, a pair of tin shacks were built to accommodate castaways.

Then, when the Great Depression hit, squatters took up residence and added a few ramshackle buildings of their own. They’ve been passed down to said squatters’ family members ever since, with people still residing in them today. Presumably people who spend a lot of time shoveling sand, fishing for dinner and squinting in the sun.

Hard to believe we’re so close to Sydney in this strange and beautiful place.
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We pull up the Everest and explore a little on foot, being sure to keep a respectful distance from what looks like a film set but is in fact people’s homes. As the wee one splodges happily in a giant puddle, I take a moment to reflect on the incredible diversity of this place.

Turn your back on the ocean and you could be forgiven for thinking you were deep in the Sahara, or lost on the desert planet, Dune. Gazing out at Tin City, I can imagine a buggy full of steampunk babes careening around the corner, or a giant sand worm bursting from below to make a meal of us.

And this cinematic quality isn’t in my head; scenes from the original Mad Max film were shot here in the 1970s. Hard to believe we’re so close to Sydney in this strange and beautiful place.

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Camping on Stockton Beach

After a car-side snack, we spin the Everest around and continue back down the beach towards the Ganyamalbaa Beach Camping Area.

Prior to 2012, camping on Stockton was largely unrestricted with devastating impact on the environment and cultural sites. Camping was banned in 2012, before being reintroduced in 2019 in the form of the Ganyamalbaa Beach Camping Trial.

There are now 26 campsites, spaced well apart in clusters of 2-4. The sites must be pre-booked and are pleasantly sprawling at 20x20m each. They’re good for two vehicles and up to eight people and come complete with a firepit. But it’s BYO absolutely everything else, including firewood, fresh water and a camp toilet – the latter a requirement to camp here.

With all those boxes ticked, we pull up and assess the lay of the land. Unfortunately for us the wind has picked up considerably, and our brand new “instant up” tent takes over an hour to assemble. Much laughter and some bad language ensued as we used body weight and relentless optimism to tame the flapping canvas into submission.

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I won’t lie, there was a moment when I wondered if the comfort of the Everest extended to an overnight stay for a family of five. Thankfully it didn’t come to that!

But let this be a cautionary tale: sand pegs are expensive but don’t skimp and only buy a few thinking that’ll be adequate. It won’t. Stockton Beach will render your standard pegs useless and laugh in your face.

Of course, you might have trouble getting the few chunky sand pegs you do have through the narrow eyelets in your tent. In this instance I don’t know what to tell you other than the bleeding obvious, which is that you should have checked before you left home.

You’re in a pickle, aren’t you? My best advice is to crack a beer, watch it billow and hope the wind dies down with the impending sunset. It worked for us.

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Under the Milky Way tonight

With the sky ablaze in pink and orange, we head off to play in the Everest. There are 350 hectares of dunes to explore by 4WD in the Recreational Vehicle Area surrounding the campsites, so we’ve no shortage of terrain to test the Everest over.

Steep dunes with hair-raising crests and rollercoaster descents? Check. Freshwater pools to splash into, to the hilarity of the offspring? Check. The whole thing feels like a transgression, and we’re drunk on it. Even the bambina, who cackles madly with every bump and slide through the sand, truly her mother’s daughter.

By now we’re hungry, so it’s back to camp to make a fire and get our pre-slow-cooked brisket warming in the camp oven. A few fresh white rolls and some coleslaw and we’re feasting under a glittering sky, not another camper in sight. In no time the big kids are loading marshmallows onto sticks and we’re passing around a block of chocolate.

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Her belly full, my baby snuggles against me and looks up at the Milky Way, dazzling in all its glory above us. She has delighted in the novelty of the whole experience, from driving on the beach to setting up her “adventure bed”, and I reckon this is what family camping is all about.

There’s nothing like sharing unique experiences together in beautiful, hard-to-reach places like this. And that’s why you buy a car that can get you there. Not because it looks badass and is fun as hell to drive (it does, and it is), but because you’ll make lifelong memories with the people who matter most.

Emma Ryan
Ellen Dewar


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