There's more than a few hidden gems to discover along the North Coast of NSW, so don't rush this spectacular journey.
It is possible to do the entire trip in about 10 hours along the Pacific Motorway/Highway, but there are plenty of side trips along the way, so it’s worth taking your time to sample a few of them and extend the journey to really experience this pretty coastline.
The Forster-Tuncurry area can feel quite busy but there are plenty of quiet oases, such as the BIG4 Great Lakes Holiday Park which has a waterfront position on Ohma Bay. The park has plenty of attractions for children but the adults don’t miss out either. There’s a lovely picnic area and a boardwalk right at the water’s edge, making fishing, boating, watching the pelicans or enjoying the sunset very easy. The park’s reception is open until 9pm, which is particularly handy for anyone making a late afternoon dash out of Sydney.
There are good barbecuing facilities and a splendid campsite kitchen on site, as well as plenty of eating establishments close by in town. I discovered a great cafe right next door to the holiday park, which served a scrumptious breakfast of bacon and eggs and a decent wake-up coffee, which helped get me on my way again.
2. South West Rocks
My next destination was South West Rocks but I decided to meander slowly past Crowdy Bay National Park and Laurieton into the Camden Haven area and onwards to historic Port Macquarie. This is another area where it’s easy to occupy yourself for a week or two, especially if you take some time to explore the national parks and state forests to the west.
South West Rocks is home to the Trial Bay Gaol, allowing you to explore an interesting bit of Australian history. It was opened in 1886 to house prisoners who were there to build a safe harbour between Sydney and Brisbane. The scheme failed, but the jail remained and later served as an internment centre for people of German descent during WWI. Below the jail is a popular beachfront national park campground and there are other caravan parks close by.
When you take the time to explore, there are always surprises nearby. This was certainly the case in Urunga, where I stopped for a rest by the Urunga Tourist Information Centre. Here, I discovered it’s possible to drive under the bridge and along the Kalang River where there are plenty of places to park by the riverbank. It’s a refreshing place for a meal and a convenient spot if anyone’s interested in a quick round of golf at the adjoining golf club. It’s also an excellent place for non-golfers to enjoy a good book while taking in the river views.
For a change of scenery, the Waterfall Way is a spectacular drive inland through Dorrigo to Armidale. Apart from the waterfalls, rainforests and the plethora of national parks, those with more than a passing interest in railways will find the Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum worth a visit.
4. Coffs Harbour
Back on the coast, the regional town of Coffs Harbour will seem a very busy place after the peace and quiet of the smaller coastal townships. Unless you’re stopping for supplies, the temptation might well be to pass straight through – after the obligatory stop at the Big Banana, of course.
However, I would recommend a small detour to the Jetty Beach area. It’s quite easy to get to from either side of town and I enjoyed a pleasant lunch on the balcony of the YKnot Bistro while watching a group of people learning to surf. As an additional bonus, the nearby park offers plenty of room for RV parking.
5. Northern Rivers
To finish off your journey along the North Coast, leave time for a side tour along the coast through Ballina, Lennox Head and Byron Bay.
The riverside town of Ballina is always a great place to rest for a while and keen surfers can do their thing at Sharpes Beach and Lennox Head, where there are also a couple of great coffee shops.
The atmosphere ramps up at Byron Bay - a trendy beachside spot filled with boutique shops, bars and health food stores. Get away from the town centre and there are quieter places, including Cape Byron where you can visit the lighthouse and also the interesting maritime museum which reveals some of the area’s heritage.