Like a lovingly stitched patchwork quilt, the Pacific Coast offers a plethora of travel possibilities and years’ worth of cracking yarns to tell around the campfire, dinner party or selfies if you must.
High fuelled adrenaline activities, refined cultural pursuits, sophisticated shopping and dining, or a holiday that can be as chilled, digitally detoxed and ‘a-b-c’ as:
2 Pairs of boardies: Check
1 Pair of thongs: Check
2 Singlets – 1 ‘deadly’ for uptown: Check
Crypto credit card: Check
Join Elliot Daniel as he showcases the Pacific Coast’s Top 12 – Aussie holiday memories just yearning to be created.
Bookended either side by ostentatious Gold Coast to the North and boisterous Sydney to the South, this little patch of heaven has laid back beach towns and National parks that play a game of leap frog all the way up and down the coast. Framed between the Tweed & the Hawkesbury River, with the great spine of the inland Great Dividing Range & Heritage-listed rainforest towering over rich farmlands, this bountiful land boasts an inviting climate and a diverse array of landscape that leaves you spoiled for choices.
There’s sandy beaches that stretch on for miles in Worimi National Park, world-class vineyards sprinkled across the undulating plains of the Hunter Valley and mystical mountainous areas like Barrington Tops National Park. There is: gnarly barrels to chase; ice-cold brewski’s paired with fresh-caught fish cooked on old school wood BBQ’s near the beach at Valla; sick mountain bike trails close by on the Great Dividing range as it meanders to the coast and to slow it down and slip the beach crowds, winding walks through ancient rainforests with picnics by the creek in the Never Never Picnic Area.
If you’re a water baby at heart then jump right in. Water activities abound. There’s ocean, lakes, rivers and waterfalls as far as the eye can see. The fishing is fierce &/or fun. There is snorkelling & diving, how to surf schools, dolphins to swim with & whale watching & jet boating with Port Jet Cruise Adventures at Lake Macquarie.
Alternatively, if ‘sand in all your bits’ is not your thing, there are renowned movie festivals, Screenwave International Film festival (SWIFF), quaint thrift shops to stumble across, irreverent cartoon galleries National Cartoon Gallery@The Bunker, nostalgic ‘gold coin donation’ historic museums, & if you’re thirsty for white-folks’-crack and a signal, there’s plenty of Wi-Fi with turmeric lattes to be found.
You can dress her up after dark and do salted caramel Pina-Coladas at MoneyPenny’s in Newcastle, dine at Hilltop at The Lodge in Bellingen, rock on with ‘big name’ live bands at the Kingscliff Beach Hotel aka the ‘Kingy’, and gyrate all night long in Byron Bay.
Like a good Louis Vuitton handbag (so I’m told) – the Pacific Coast has & does it all. Perhaps what’s best, is that unlike a lot of tourist destinations where you experience the place from inside a bus driving past, or behind a fence barrier after cueing for an hour, on the coast, there’s ‘coast time’ & you’ve got to get out of your EV, moor your boat, or park your skateboard and feel the wind on your face and create your adventure. Even though you may have lived and travelled here for most of your life, if you swap your lenses, stop and look a bit deeper & dig under the skin a bit more, tap your thongs three times and voila.
The best way is slowly and with no shoes on. Chillax and feel the sand between your toes. Thongs are optional for the more fashion-conscious and excellent for reducing carbon emissions.
If you need wheels, take an electric skateboard or an EV (electric vehicle), The Jaguar I-pace ‘goes sick maaaate’ and NRMA’s on the case building the EV fast-charger network further.
If you’re skint and on a budget, ‘knees up under your chin’ Greyhound air-con buses still ply the highway up and down regularly. They are raining single travellers and you might even meet the love of your life.
If you’re sick of zoom meetings and you’ve got to pick up the Kardashians, take a Majesty 62 luxury speed boat and beach hop that way – not so good for the environment but ‘damm yo look dope’ and if you get the guilts, just pay some cabbage and plant some trees right?
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Paper Daisy at Halcyon Hotel at Cabarita Beach
2 Hats AGFG 19’ & multi award winning
Chef – Jason Barratt (ex 3 Hat Attica)
Pipit at Pottsville
2020 AGFG Regional restaurant of the Year
Chef & Owners Ben Devlin’s
Husk Farm Distillery at Tumbulgum (near Murwillumbah)
Lunch + Paddock to Bottle experience. Try Ink Gin infused Salmon & a Pure Cane with Capi grapefruit.
Now iconic yet tiny 14 seater in Brunswick Heads. Chef-Josh Lewis.
Set on a regenerative farming property outside Byron, Chef Daniel Medcalf’s (ex Iceberg’s) new farm to table gastro delight.
Rae’s dining room at Rae’s on Wategos in Byron Bay.
Chef Jason Saxby (ex 2 hat PILU at Freshwater)
An original Rainbow region iconic & picturesque market near Lismore. Offers rustic food, fresh produce & crafts.
Yamba prawns from Clarence River Fishermen’s Co-op, Iluka. Put a crisp Semillon, tea-towel, lemon, & sale e pepe in a bag & jump on the Clarence River Ferries from Yamba to Iluka to devour fresh prawns & oysters on a picnic blanket next to the river.
Hilltop at the Lodge – Bellingen
Husband & Wife Chefs Carla & Richie’s (ex 2 hat Aria, Sydney) new eatery dazzles.
Port Macquarie’s quintessential dining experience.
Hunter Valley’s 2 hat ‘star’. Chef Troy Rhoades-Brown excels.
Another Hunter Valley shining light. Chef-Brian Duncan (ex Dorchester 3 Michelin Stars & ex Level 41)
1. "Elephants love sugar cane" | Tweed Coast | Bundjalung Country
The early 80’s days of cruising through cane country – the only thing that would grow all those years ago for the early white European settlers – and meandering along the old Tweed Coast road looking for firing surf breaks is a different drive today. Tiny little sleepy coastal towns once dotted the coastline. Now stands golf courses, developments and the smell of opportunity. There’s also a foodies scene that’s emerging like a giant elephant who loves a treat of sugar cane. For a luxurious and nostalgic summer break, fill your pockets with cheddar and stay at Halcyon House, Cabarita beach and importantly dine at Paper Daisy, where Jason Barratt is in-da-house … OMG. Stunning. In the morning, get wet and maybe bump into retired Aussie pro surfer Joel Parkinson out the front. Next town over in relaxed Potty (Pottsville), there’s Pipit. It’s lit! Ex Byron lad Ben Devlin (& ex helm of Paper Daisy) has set up his own baby (with new baby) on the tiny main drag. So, so good & so local.
No better way to remember those incredible images of burning sugar cane fields before they started cutting it green, than to head to Husk Farm Distillery & simply drink the stuff. Nestled between Wollumbin (Mt Warning) or ‘cloud catcher’ as the Bundjalung First Nations people call it and the Ocean on the other side stands a new world testament to making sipping rum, made from sugar cane grown on the estate. “Get in my belly”.
For a simply more rustic jaunt, grab as many mango & lychees as you can stuff in your arms from Tropical Fruit World and then gleefully destroy your favourite T-shirt with mango juice whilst cruising the tweed river on Tweed Eco Cruises. To grab some produce and for a beautiful drive head to Mullumbimby for the Friday morning Mullum farmers Market. For something different try a picnic on the water (cruising the river) with Blue Ginger Picnics who’ve partnered up with Mount Warning Tours who also offer a heap of other food related cruises on the river.
If you want to explore this foodie region (incl. Byron area) & not have to arrange anything then let Tasting Plate Tours, take care of your day.
2. “Look at me, look at me” | Byron Bay |Bundjalung Country
The old surfy, hippy town I remember when I did my honours thesis back in the summer of 92, sinking coldies at ‘Strops’ pub (sold for 100 rocks in 19’), has grown up a lot since then and is now a mecca for travellers. Thankfully, it’s still ‘all good’. Byron remains beautiful, as herbal locals mix with backpackers, surfers, celebs & Sydney crew.
A must for newbies is to surf the right-hander at ‘The Pass’, (go early, steer clear of salty S..T heads & take $2 to park – sucks I know). Be sure to unplug Netflix and people watch whilst sipping a short macchiato. You may bump into rapper Iggy Azalea (grew up in nearby Mullumbimby), see Aussie hunk & actor Chris Hemsworth, and maybe muso Pete Murray.
The best way to see the iconic lighthouse on the Easternmost point of Australia is out on the water, sitting in a sea kayak alongside beautiful bottle-nosed dolphins with Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay.
Grab some green, lux it up at Rae’s at Wategos or Elements of Byron, and if you can’t get into Josh Lewis’ Fleet at Brunswick Heads for some gorgeous gastro grub, try Daniel Medcalf’s newbie, farm-to-table Frida’s Field – a little out of town – but gorgeous food meets cutting edge regenerative farming thanks to Edward & Jeanie Rawlings.
For something fabulously different join owner Wendy Bithell – whom it she’s not rescuing an animal or such – will take you to explore the bush at night with Vision Walks – Eco Tours – who match night vision technology with expert guides in the region.
Where do all the locals go? There are heaps of cheeky secret spots surrounding Byron. Ssshh.
Byron Surf Breaks:
The Pass, Belongil & Broken Head
Put the top down as it’s an easy 2 hr max drive from Brisvegas & the Goldy for a cheeky weekender. From Sydney it’s a good 7+hours road trip so plan to stay for at least a few nights , or alternatively fly into Ballina. For those on a budget, air-con Greyhound buses still blaze along the highway.
3. "A Loop Da Loop Journey" | Lismore & the Northern Rivers | Bundjalung Country
The Northern Rivers region boasts rich and fertile valleys, like The Channon and mighty rivers like the Richmond near Ballina with laid back coastal beauties like Lennox Head – where you may bump into Aussie actor Simon Baker (The Mentalist) surfing Lennox point – a wave he still rates as his favourite. This is the heartland of: the Rainbow Region – colonised by the flower-power generation; the Australian Hemp Party; the new Greens’; a whopping unemployment rate, alternative (wink wink) lifestyles and the hippie mecca Nimbin. But don’t be hoodwinked on the streets, as there’s more here than meets the eye with an abundance of adventures to be had. For rev heads, there are plenty of winding country roads to open up that throttle. Do the loop … or go loopy. Pack your bongo drums and no need to hurry.
The inland regional centre Lismore – I don’t know what it is – despite being the home once to the likes of Mr Wikileaks (Julian Assange – went to school there), and famous test cricketer Adam Gilchrist (teen years in Lismore) – it feels as though it’s seen better days (don’t say that to a local). There are plenty of RM William’s, remnants of squattocracy, bureaucrats, a university that’s losing out to its rich cousin on the ‘Goldy’ & yep, welfare. A mate of mine was posted to SCU a few years ago & after arriving rang me in tears. We owe it to the locals to visit and spend some money in town and just remember, scratch the surface & look past the obvious & there is still magic to be found … & no not ‘magic mushies’.
Try walking & learning in Lismore (Old school … I know right). Start with the gentle 3k Wilsons River Experience Walk – with interpretive sites & outdoor art which links with the Café & Culture Trail. Now in the city head to Republic of Coffee Espresso for a pick me up – they roast on site are family owned & serve ethical blends. Adequately fortified head to Lismore Historical Society and Museum which has one of the best historical collections in regional Australia. For fine arts the Lismore Regional Gallery has long been a cultural force in the town and a real centre of creative life in the region. Once the home of rock bands Grinspoon & folk stars The Mabels, a music scene lives on at public greenspace The Quad and pubs around town. For a classic ending, finish your walk of culture with a home style pie cooked on site (vegie options) from the local institution Lismore Pie Cart (check if open).
To explore Lismore, base yourself at Lennox Beach Resort – who offer self-catering apartments & in the evening go ‘Euro’ and do tapas early at Shorty’s Restaurant and Bar, and finish the evening with dinner at Shelter Lennox.
The small town of Nimbin is the alternative & hippie lifestyle capital of Australia, and cruising into town is like stepping onto a movie set from a 70’s small town. It is located in an ‘Insta-fab’ valley with art & craft shops, organic food markets, candle making shops & rainbow painted walls – a mecca for some and a complete waste of time for others. Crossing Cullen Street, you will most likely be offered weed, mushrooms & who knows what else. Do not be discouraged by the first impression of these street sellers, as the original residents who moved there during the 70’s (ironically, I interviewed most of them during my honours thesis in the early 90’s .. I wonder if Guy’s still there from the Rainbow Temple) are very different to those that ‘sell’ uptown. Many communities thrive around the town, pioneering organic farming and self-sufficiency, founded on an embryonic sub-culture of escapism & alternative living & yep you guessed it …. THC.
More highlights :
The historic railway village of Eltham & a must stop at Eltham Valley Pantry, Dunoon macadamia nuts & picnics at Rocky Creek Dam and the Channon craft Markets (every 2nd Sunday). Stay at Havans Ecotourist Retreat, or Eternity Springs Art Farm B & B to chillax & engage in some art tuition.
4. "Who’s Clarence anyways?" | Clarence Coast | Gumbaynggirr Country
Us surfers talk about being at one with nature, the rhythms of the ocean and feeling centred when we come back from a paddle. Rhythm this. Wake, walk dog & surf. Return for coffee and B & E roll. Read book & snooze. Take dog to creek for swim with picnic of cold cuts and cheese. Return to book & snooze. Walk to arvo surf/swim. Return & crack a brewski. Start BBQ. Repeat. So, so simple. That’s who Clarence is!
Don’t get me wrong, there’s heaps of killer breaks up and down the Pacific Coast but there’s something about old mate Clarence – besides the fact that if I could afford it, I’d buy a beach house here in Yamba & the States only protected ‘surf reserve’ is at Angourie. From humble beginnings in the early 60’s, & despite a big fat ‘nada’ of support from the Council, a group of local surfers & some volunteers made their own access/road to ‘The Point’, culminating in 2007 when Angourie Surfing Reserve was born to protect the land & the waves and recognise a site of cultural & historical significance in Australian surf culture, (since has been Crescent & Lennox).
For an affordable upmarket stay head to Angourie Resort, you can ‘totes’ Homer-it, as you don’t have to leave the place if you don’t want to (except to surf down the road), it’s quiet and surrounded by rainforest – a very special spot, my 8 year old daughter loves the place! If you do get cabin fever & are sick of fish & chips, in Yamba for an authentic, upmarket Italian experience head to dinner at The Italian on the Hill, ‘e buon appetite!’
Yamba’s a stunner. Remaining famous for its prawns, now its regularly voted ‘best this & best that’ town. She can get busy in peak season but she handles it in her stride. Breakfast at Beachwood Café, and grab some fresh produce from the Yamba Farmers Market (Wednesdays). For some laps, there’s an ocean pool at main beach and for a sundowner with an amazing view, have dinner at The Pacific Hotel.
The longest running bakery on the Clarence is in Grafton – Hanks Kitchen – opened in 1979 – and now with three shops – stock up on a country bakehouse feed on the way to Nymboida to white water raft the mighty Upper Nymboida (best white water option on the Coast) with Exodus Adventures (Grade 3 to 5’s) and for a more chilled experience stay at Nymboida Canoe Centre – which has low cost accommodation and camping options with canoe & kayak tours.
Angourie Surf Reserve:
On the way to Yamba, hang a righty at Angourie Rd roundabout & continue on for another 5clicks.
Wheelchair access to Lookout only. No Water & Food. Toilets,
Yamba breaks: try Turners & Main beach, or Pippi’s
5. | Cultural Coffs Coast | Gumbaynggirr Country
After a must visit at the iconic The Big Banana fun park, slip into some culture and catch a few films at the must attend screen cultural event on the Coast SWIFF – Screenwave International Film Festival. The largest regional event of its kind, is held over 16 days in April across multiple venues with 100+ diverse feature films being shown, from all parts of the globe. Brought to you by dynamo couple David Horsley & Kate Howat, you can travel the world in 90 mins from the comfort of your armchair. I particularly love the films that have a live band play accompanying the movie.
For a similarly special cultural experience to do in between films & galleries, head outdoors for a 2.5hour paddle board and enjoy an authentic Gumbaynggirr cultural experience with Wajaana Yaam – learning about aboriginal culture from direct descendants of the world’s first stand up paddlers, whilst collecting & tasting some authentic bush tucker. Everyone can have a go & no experience on the boards is required.
To bridge the coast to mountain divide, let the team at Waves to Wilderness Experiences take care of you and arrange everything for a day tour. They’ll uncover the secrets of the region and you get to sit back & yep, enjoy. Base yourself at the affordable & beautifully kept The Observatory Holiday Apartments – self contained with multiple options (studio & 1, 2 or 3 rooms Townhouse) and are perfectly positioned in the Jetty area, but secluded enough. Sawtell’s a happening little village with good food options – in particular The Hilltop Store and when ‘Southies’ is working, it fires. Finish with a picnic on the headland at sunset – so so local & so good.
Other Highlights: Head inland. Jump in the car and wind your way along picturesque Waterfall Way Scenic Drive to Armidale (& yes, there’s stunning waterfalls to stop at) with a must stop in ‘Bello’ for dinner at ‘Hilltop at The Lodge’ (part of Bellingen Valley lodge) & a visit to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre for walks, information, & guided tours.
Mickey Mouse look out, as Coffs boasts a brand spanking new gallery unlike anything you’ve likely ever seen. It’s quirky, humorous, provoking and importantly it’ll make you smile. Drum roll … it’s the spiritual home of cartooning in Australia. The National Cartoon Gallery @The Bunker is for all ages and a must visit.
6. "From one head to another & put a hat on it" | Macleay Valley Coast | Dainggatti Country
Like neighbour Coffs Harbour to the North, geographically we’re roughly halfway between Brisbane and Sydney – give or take a few miles. Stretching from Crescent Head in the South – aka ‘Creso’ (also a Surfing reserve with a famous mal point break at Killick) to Grassy Head in the North and blanketed by National Parks, lush valleys and with welcoming open arms, this part of the coast should surely be in a hit song somewhere. Macleay Valley Coast has a family feel framed by a surfing, fishing, camping and bushwalking vibe. Its lack of unbridled development means she’s like the chilled cousin to your Yamba & Angourie’s up North, sprinkled with a mix of laidback coastal villages, farming, and Aussie bush. It’s a slice of heaven where the servo’s still sell bait & tackle with ‘non-touristy’ surfing & beach essentials. This is pure regional Aussie and hopefully she never gets too big for her boots.
For us surfers, pack an assortment of boards as we are spoiled for choice. From cruisy, long mal waves at famous ‘Creso’, there are a heap of rocky points that jut out into the ocean bookended by sheltered bays, presenting options for all types of wind & wave conditions.
No surf? Golf or chase a big ol’ bass. Do 6 at the seriously picturesque Crescent Head Country Club, you may even see whales. For coffee, Blackfish café is the go. With kids head to sheltered Killick Creek (at the mouth of Killick Beach) to while away a day – there’s a lit long mal wave close by if you can sneak away – & famished hit iconic local Barnetts Bakery for a pie and vanilla slice. If you want to get out of dodge for a bit, grab a kayak and go Bass fishing up the Macleay – try Turners flat & a stump jumper in the quest for a Unicorn. For a stunning off the track experience for groups of families or larger, then try an old world fishing experience. Go & stay at Dave’s place at Bass lodge.
Inland, you can pick up a classic Iconic Akubra hat from its home in Kempsey – the regions rural centre set on the banks of the Macleay river – and visit another classic – The Slim Dusty Centre – home of Aussie country music legend & well worth it – they’ve spent millions on it! A meander following the Belmore or Macleay rivers tells of the region’s strong agricultural history – originally red cedar and especially cattle – there’s also bass in the rivers. Emerging from the soil is an organic farming vibe which big name chefs are jumping in on the action. Kylie Kwong & Jamie Oliver place orders from Burrawong Gaian Farm, for free range premium ducks, eggs & chickens .
To grab some try Milly Hill Meats or head to the Kempsey Riverside Markets (1st Saturday of every month), to forage some regional produce.
To assist your recovery after a long day surfing, a must visit for supplies is at family owned Bucket Brewery in Kempsey – where everything is created on site and on a hot summers day – I love an ice cold ‘Bucket Lager’.
Where to base yourself? In this case, I’m going to leave that up to you. As ‘creso’ will appeal to some & not others, whereas ‘grassy’ – more chilled & rustic – may appeal. Talking to visitors over the years,DO
Longboard at The Point & Point Plomer at creso, Racecourse beach, Big hill, Hungry gate (near Hat Head), Grassy head off the point & beachies up further – follow sand bars
They have been returning to the same Caravan Park – for in some cases – 3 to 4 generations & like the monopoly game board certain ‘spots/land holdings’ are tightly kept & booked – as in visitors are ‘checking out’ from their 3 week summer stay they book for the following year – and if camp site 42B – aka Park Lane – is for some mysterious reason unbooked by the “Matthews”, it’s veraciously and gleefully snapped up like… well you get the picture. It’s a fabulous environment for parents with kids as like packs of noisy… hmm… put it this way, many have grown up together on Summer hols – they can ‘go & play’ and safely amuse themselves & importantly the parents can concentrate on more important things… like… whatever they want. To help with your selection, go to Hat Head Holiday Park – its set on 12km of beach, has a creek & is dog friendly.
7. "A Sophisticated Little Stunner" | Port Macquarie | Biripi Country
Situated at the mouth of the Hastings River, 3 hours drive from Newcastle, Port’s become a rather sophisticated little beauty since its embryonic start as a penal colony and has been making quite the name for herself. Upmarket food & accommodation offerings are plentiful, there’s community art trails & it’s got a ripper of a centralised arts precinct – Glasshouse – a theatre & performing arts venue/gallery/conferences, cafes & restaurants – you name it – just don’t ask the locals how much it costs… they get a bit upset.
Park your EV next to a Maserati & stay at Sails Port Macquarie By Rydges, do lunch at Bandwagon Cafe, a brisk uplifting 15 minute helicopter flight with Affinity Helicopters to scope out the lay of the land and when back on terra firma, try an assortment of antipasto & drinks at Bar Florian – so fabulously retro – say ‘Buongiorno’ to Gino and for dinner, dine at The Stunned Mullet. Wait for it… Stunning!
St. Thomas’ Anglican Church houses an ornate ‘Walker’ pipe organ built by convicts between 1824 & 1828 that still pumps out dulcet tones.
Known for: home grown talent the likes of country music siren Aleyce Simmonds, Olympic swimmer James Magnussen; its beaches & waterways; throw in an iconic lighthouse and a recent influx of retirees – it’s ok, you won’t get knocked over by a Zimmer frame; Port’s also known for one of our country’s national icons and an international tourist magnet – the Koala – a population which is under threat and sadly suffered a hit during the recent bushfires. Boasting the world’s only dedicated Koala Hospital (tours daily at 3pm) whom have been working tirelessly on operations, treatments & rehabilitations since the fires – please donate.
You can get up close & personal to Koala’s and a whole host of animals at Billabong Zoo: Wildlife & Koala Park – I love the cheetahs (you can book personal encounters). Also good for families is the skate park & playground at Town Beach Park and the Break wall area’s fantastic. For larger families there’s excellent 3BDR self-contained apartments at Macquarie Waters Boutique Apartment Hotel – get in that hot tub on the roof with water views.
To get the adrenaline racing, jump on the ‘Wave Rider’ with Port Jet Cruise Adventures who offer jet boating at over 100 clicks/hour to see dolphins & whales, and a rare find …. a do it yourself jet ski hire option.
8. "Get Lost & Get into Gondwana on the BIG Barrington Coast" | Biripi Country
This is a BIG, BIG region & you could spend all your life exploring around here. It’s uber ‘spec’… Local first nations people refer to the area as a place where ‘the leaves touch the waters from the mountains to the sea’.
Highlights? Whoaahh. Where do I start? Let’s take it from the top. Get into Gondwana anyway you wish at Barrington Tops – a Rainforest paradise with a multitude of protected precincts on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – there’s even snow in Winter. With a base camp in Gloucester stay at Barrington Hideaway-River Cottages and a thirst for adventure head straight to Barrington Outdoor Adventures who offer guided tours for… yep pretty much everything – kayak & canoeing, mountain biking, abseiling. For 4WD Driving, 4WD tag along & passenger tours (based near Port Stephens).
To get the inside scoop on Myall Lakes quickly, jump on the ‘joy bus’ for a day trip with local family tour company, Myall Coast Tours, who cater for all ages and groups – even odd Aunty Ethel can come along. Ha ha.
In Forster, if the holidays are becoming just too hard to handle, supplies should be immediately picked up from family owned microbrewery – The Coastal Brewing Company – head straight to the tap room to sample & then fill your ‘growlers & ‘squealers’ for take way. To stock up on some local delicacies head to Graham Barclay Oysters for scrumptious ‘Wallis Lake’ grown Sydney Rock Oysters – they are the 3rd generation & the largest producer of these world famous Aussie ‘slimy suckers’.Also based here are Manning Valley Adventures who offer a whole heap of tours around the region (maybe even a spot of fishing). If you want to get up close with some marine life head to Dive Forster At Fisherman’s Wharf who do epic shark dives. For dinner & sunset head to Spice Monkey for Asian Fusion share plates.
Whilst at Seal Rocks, there’s a great 1 hour walk (park near the post office) up to Sugar Loaf Point Lighthouse for a bit of colonial history & architecture & stunning views. Afterwards then head to Seal Rocks beach to get ‘caffeined up’ and have a snorkel.
9. "Surf the slick sandy dunes all year round!" | Port Stephens | Worimi Nation
For a blast, sandboard the slopes at the Stockton Bight sand dunes – aka the fun sand pit – which stretch for 32km along the coast line and are the largest in the southern hemisphere. Try Sand Dune Safaris – some are as high as 30m with 60 degree slopes and they stand guard over Worimi Conservation lands.
If carving’s not your thing, you can do a 4wd tag along, ride quad bikes with Sand dune Adventures – Quad Bike Tours, ride camels with Oakfieldranch Camel Rides or gallop horses with Sahara Trails Horse Riding Port Stephens and if your timings right, you’ll see migrating whales. See if you can track down the little known Tin City – featured in the original Mad Max film.
For a relatively small region Port Stephens packs some serious holiday punch. Besides the dunes, it has a beautiful bay and boasts 26 beaches. There are opportunities to swim with the many dolphins – for families head to Shoal Bay, One mile Beach, Fingal bay, and Birubi beach, stay at Seaside Holiday Resort and surfers check out Zenith, Samurai, Box & Wreck beaches.
If the surf’s not working & to get the lay of the land with a panoramic view of ‘the Port’, tackle the invigorating 2.2km Mt Tomaree Summit walk – takes a steady 2 hours and there are some steep sections.
Stay at The Anchorage Port Stephens Hotel & Spa for a spot of waterfront accommodation. For some casual dining and a day drink (heaven’s above), try hip Shoal Bay Country Club Hotel and for a seafood feed head to Little Beach Boathouse Restaurant & Bar at Nelson Bay.
For a little bit of a ‘Greek islands’ on the Pacific Coast, camp overnight at Broughton Island (only 5 campsites) – if it’s booked try Moonshadow Cruises Day tours. Take care as all around here are some serious shark breeding grounds & remember, there’s no need to freak out as they are mostly passive grey nurses and shark attacks are still rare. The other option is to get up close & personal to them with Let’s go Adventures based in Nelson Bay.
10. "The Crown goes uptown in Newcastle & the Hunter Valley" | Arabakal Country
Darling, one can do a Pilates class and morning macchiato in Sydney’s Bondi & then lunch at Margan Restaurant in ‘The Hunter’… how fabulous and only a 2hour hop skip and a jump in the Tesla. Post lunch, an afternoon horse ride with Hunter Valley Horse riding and Adventures is on the cards (or alternatively, a book & nanna nap), then dinner at Muse Restaurant & fall into a stupor.
The next morning wake for a sunrise balloon ride at Beyond Ballooning, then head to the Pacific Coast’s big smoke – Newcastle – to shop & or ‘get wet’ & where born & bred ex-world champ surfer & board shaper Mark Richards says he still loves the Merewether to Bar Beach strip for a wave. In the harbour city, stay at the rather groovy Terminus Apartment Hotel. This city has really come of age & you can wine, craft beer, cocktail (plenty of hidden laneway bars to stumble across) & dine your way around town for days. People watch and dine at The Beach Hotel and head to Antojitos for a modern Mexican vibe. To get out on the water without a board go with local crew from Nova Cruises who offer a diverse range of tours from ocean trips to see whales to lunch cruises on the Harbour.
To us oenophiles, ‘The Hunter’, is like an episode from Netflix’s The Crown – steeped in history (Australia’s oldest wine region), mystery and distinguished. The King is undoubtedly – Brokenwood’s Graveyard vineyard Shiraz – one of Australia’s very top wines and made exclusively from grapes on land that was originally earmarked for the cemetery in Pokolbin – visit the 5 star winery Brokenwood Wines. The Queen – aka – the Grand Dame of Hunter Semillons’, Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon – her sister Margaret, Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay, and the Royal Children variously: Lakes Folly Cabernet Blend, Mount Pleasant’s Lovedale Semillon & Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz at Mount Pleasant Wines.
Savvy foodies are spoiled for options in the Hunter. Breakfast. Try Restaurant Cuvee for a glass of house bubbles with eggs benne at Peterson House. For lunch go to The Church & try the wines of Usher Tinkler one of Australia’s new young guns with cheese & salumi at his vineyard’s namesake Usher Tinkler Wines. For dinner, if you’ve enough cabbage, book ahead and try chef/owner Troy Rhoades-Brown food at two-hatted Muse Restaurant for a real ‘mind blowing Hunter treat at Hungerford Hill Winery.
11. "A H2O holiday at Lake Macquarie" | Awabakal Nation
Stretch those shoulders because it is time to paddle. Grab a kayak, a boat, a tinnie, if you’re on a budget a log that will float, or strategically, if you want to look ‘deadly’ up town this holiday, an inflatable rooster from Aldi (my wife got our daughter one for Christmas) and explore the vast blue centrepiece… aka ‘da lake’ – is ‘calm waters’ and an aquatic playground. “This is not just any lake” the locals will tell you, “it’s the biggest permanent salt water lake in the Southern Hemisphere” & just as your about to interject on the conversation, they’ll continue “and it’s TWICE (said with gusto) the size of Sydney Harbour” (just saying Sydney) less the Sharks (I think). Ironically, it’s technically a lagoon, as it’s connected by a channel to the Sea – but Shhh… don’t mention that to the locals… ha ha.
Theoretically, this LGA (local government area) in the Hunter region, ‘da Lake’, which only became a city as recently as 1984, is approximately 150 clicks north of Sydney (a couple of roadies), surrounds a lake (obviously) and is so spoiled it has coast on the right & a highway, mountains and valleys on the left, unless you’re upside down Miss Jane & if so, reverse previous instructions.
A must visit, is to the postcard ‘daaaarling’ Caves Beach for your Insta fix and to view the network of sea caves at the southern end of the beach – yet you don’t have to be an armchair traveller & can earn it by renting a bike from Warners Bay & ride the 9km track. Nearby Speers Point Lake and Park is also a special spot for a picnic and if you time it right (every 2nd Saturday), the Lake Macquarie City farmers Market’s are excellent.
Swansea presents an excellent base on the Lake and for a small group or family stay in a 3bdr deluxe villa at Swansea Lakeside Holiday Park, from here you can village hop as off the lake there’s approximately 90 villages to be explored. Lake Macquarie Sailing Tours can tailor a small group tour and is an excellent way to have an introduction to the Lake and to see why there is such a sailing scene here. Finish at the Lake Macquarie Yacht club with dinner at Crusoe’s on the Lake at Belmont. To get the adrenaline racing, head to JetBuzz Watersports – who offer: boat hire, SUP’s & Kayaks, but the best rush is the ocean blast on the jet boat – the only one of its type between Sydney & the Goldy.
12. "Storm boy meets the Crocodile Hunter on the Central Coast" | Kuring-gai Country
A hop skip and a jump from Sydney, slide from your EV into your Pacific Coast holiday with a gulp of Mooney Mooney. Blow off the office and with the wind in your hair, take a boat ride out to oyster heaven, learn about the evolution of farming during the process and finally gulp down fresh Sydney Rock & Pacific Oysters, with family owned Mooney Mooney Oyster Farm Tours. Back in the car we’re off to tick the Australian animal bucket list – especially Elvis the bone crusher crocodile. First stop is Australian Reptile Park with plenty to do & attractions to keep everyone in the car happy. Next head to Terrigal. Along the way (for the adults) a quick stop to grab a bottle of gin from master distiller and Herbalist Philip Moore’s Distillery Botanica aka The Fragrant Garden – who makes spirits & liqueurs made from botanicals grown on site in a traditional European method in copper pots. Stay at Crowne Plaza Terrigal Pacific and do dinner at Bombini, in nearby up and coming Avoca. Sunrise at Wamberal beach (any where around there) is special & a chilled beach day, or more energetic stop at Aquafun Avoca Lake (SUP’s, pedal boats etc), should end all ‘storm boy’ at The Entrance for Pelican Feeding at 3.30pm (check if it’s open).
For ‘free stuff’, there’s plenty of options. Get on the pushy & do the Bouddi Ridge Explorer – a 10km mountain bike trails loop in Bouddi National Park. (Park at Maitland Bay Info Centre). Alternatively, a wee 3 to 4 hour hike might be what the holiday needs, try – Bouddi Coastal Walk – 8kms one-way for birdlife & beaches. You can break it up into smaller chunks and you’ll be glad you took a picnic. Finish how we started out on the water, with the wind in your hair at Lake Macquarie Sailing Tours for a Sunset Cruise. Magnificent.