Surf, sun and sand on NSW’s North Coast

IT is no secret why 85% of Australians live about an hour from the country’s coast. Teeming with quaint towns and inviting beaches, coastal Australia has been the nation’s playground for as long as Aussies have been taking holidays. Myles Stedman discovers why northern New South Wales is so spoilt when it comes to coastal vacations, and the best spots to get your fix.

Central Coast & Hunter

The Central Coast & Hunter regions begin just 90 minutes from Sydney, and once there, it becomes clear why so many are choosing to ditch the rat race for the near north.

The Central Coast offers beautiful beaches, pristine national parks and picturesque waterways, all without the crowds found in Sydney. Avoca, Ettalong, and Terrigal Beaches are all exactly what city-dwellers crave: perfect sand and surf with charming towns to accompany them.

North Avoca Beach on the Central Coast ©Central Coast Tourism

If you’re after a more unique experience, Pearls of Australia is the state’s only pearl farm, and is home to some of the most lustrous Akoya pearls in the world. The Broken Bay Shellar Door in Mooney Mooney allows travellers to join a tour, cruise the farm and browse locally grown pearl jewellery.

Wine connoisseurs can head to Firescreek Winery and discover the innovative techniques that these winemakers are using, creating unique combinations found in few other places in the world. Enjoy a chocolate and wine pairing tasting or else join a more intimate behind-the-scenes tour with a winemaker.

If you have a bit more time, head an hour further north to Port Stephens, where rest becomes play, and water sports, seaside eateries and bottlenose dolphins are the top-billing experiences. Marvel at the town’s giant sand dunes, either with your eyes, or via or via quad bike tour, with Sand Dune Adventures, a local company owned and operated by Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Get your heart rate up with Sand Dune Adventures in Port Stephens ©Destination NSW

Murray’s Brewing Co is also located in Port Stephens and is one of Australia’s leading craft brewers. Stop in for a bite at the brewery restaurant or a tasting of their exciting and quirky beers.

Or, if you’re looking for somewhere a bit busier, Newcastle is a hot spot for artists and creatives, perfect for families and couples alike. CoastXP offers some of the best whale-watching experiences in the state, and you can stay at Kingsley, which is set to be the city’s first five-star hotel, opening in April 2021. Newcastle is also home to long sandy beaches, coastal walking tracks and ocean pools.

Mid North Coast

This region is becoming as cosmopolitan as any in New South Wales, with the charge led by Port Macquarie. Travellers have been coming for the beaches and rainforests for years, but the town is also renowned as a fabulous place to spot wildlife, with Sea Acres National Park home to over 100 bird species, as well as lizards, koalas and quolls.

If you’re not done animal-spotting — or just want to be on the other side of the fence — Billabong Zoo Koala & Wildlife Park offers the chance to spot cheetahs, snow leopards, red pandas, meerkats and snakes.

Check out cute koalas at Billabong Zoo Koala and Wildlife Park in Port Macquarie ©Destination NSW

The latest stage in Port Macquarie’s development has been as a food and drink destination, with farm-to-fork cuisine and a few local vineyards now in play. For a stylish and contemporary place for travellers to lay their heads, try Sails Port Macquarie which offers a pool, waterfront restaurant and tennis court, all just a 10-minute stroll from town.

An hour and a half further north is Coffs Harbour, perhaps most famous for its location in Solitary Islands Marine Park. Here, you can spot dolphins, turtles, tropical fish, and even migrating whales. For the more energetic types, Wajaana Yaam Adventure Tours offers standup paddleboarding led by local Gumbaynggirr guides, as well as walking tours.

Of course, no trip to Coffs Harbour is complete without a visit to The Big Banana Fun Park, which is now more than just a large fruit — it also offers waterslides, ice skating, miniature golf and laser tag.

Northern Rivers

Home to one of the world’s most famous coastal towns, marvelling in the uniqueness that is Byron Bay is a must. This town started as a surfing hotspot, and remains such today, with a number of fantastic beaches to check out. If you want to get involved yourself but haven’t the faintest idea how, Let’s Go Surfing offers surf lessons, and caters for beginner to elite.

Surfing is far from the only active option on offer in Byron Bay; if you’re after more than simply walking out to Cape Byron, the easternmost point of Australia, Go Sea Kayak provides the opportunity to paddle with dolphins and whales, as does Cape Byron Kayaks, which is so sure you’ll get to see these marine mammals that you’ll get a free return trip if you don’t spot any on your tour.

Go Sea Kayak in Byron Bay gives travellers the chance to paddle with dolphins and whales ©Destination NSW

If you’re looking to get more extreme, Go Fish Australia is an adventure fishing specialist, offering bucket list experiences such as heli-fishing, rainforest fishing and private charters.

For a more downtempo experience, Byron Bay has a number of regular markets, including a weekly farmer’s market every Thursday, a Byron Community Market on the first Sunday of each month, and the Artisan Market held on Saturday evenings in the warmer parts of the year.

Almost an hour north of Byron Bay is the Tweed Shire. Enjoy the beautiful Tweed River which winds its way through town and try the taste of succulent fresh mud crab caught straight from the Tweed River with Catch a Crab.

Haul in live crabs, pump for yabbies and fish with Catch a Crab in the Tweed ©Destination NSW

In addition to the Tweed’s uncrowded beaches and world-renowned surf breaks, the region is also famous for its top restaurants and cafes including the two-hatted Paper Daisy restaurant located in boutique hotel Halycon House in Cabarita Beach, just 20 minutes south of Tweed Heads.

Luckily, selling NSW is even easier now, with most of the experiences featured ready to work with the trade. For full details of experiences, see Destination NSW’s Trade Toolkit, which includes on-demand trade training tools and resources. Travel distributors based in Australia and overseas are invited to access this free resource via Destination NSW’s dedicated landing page for the trade. CLICK HERE to access the toolkit.

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