With the Tanami Track and the Simpson Desert high on our ‘bucket list’ the next part of our journey will take us north as far as Cooktown before heading west.
After a bit over 7-weeks of spending valuable time with our son, daughter in-law and grandchildren on the beautiful Northern Beaches of Sydney, we were finally on the road again and heading north to a warmer climate.
Stretching 900-kilometres along the Pacific Coast, it takes in the Central Coast, Hunter, Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers, and has something for everyone around every turn… beautiful beaches, green rolling hills, beachside towns, riverside towns, wineries, historic sites and hinterland.
We once spent 4-weeks camping along this Pacific Coast as we made our way south to Sydney, but this trip will be a straight through trip to the Gold Coast for a few days before continuing north.
Just an hour north of Sydney we passed the turnoff to the Central Coast and the beautiful seaside hamlets of Terrigal, Avoca, MacMasters Beach and ‘The Entrance’ – to name a few… a beautiful part of the world we have frequented a few times on previous travels and we will certainly visit again on our way home at the end of the year.
Like many other travellers we remained on the freeway with the next turnoff, Newcastle… but still we continued on.
We have explored this region on a couple of occasions and stayed at nearby Stockton Beach Caravan park and although we had planned to catch the ferry, ride our bikes around the city, and do all the things we had missed last trip, this stop too, would have to wait for our return journey.
At Stockton Beach there are the massive Stockton sand dunes offering 4WD tours, sand boarding, and quad biking, great walking and riding paths and magnificent sunsets from the breakwater.
Just north of Newcastle was the Port Stephens turnoff. Port Stephens is a beautiful marina waterfront lined with classy restaurants and cafes, charter boats, whale watching cruises and not to be missed – a lovely walk to the headland.
We passed the turnoff to Tea Gardens, Hawks Nest and the beautiful Mungo Brush Campground in the Myall Lakes National Park. Jimmys Campground (Reflections Holiday Parks) at Hawks Nest and Mungo Brush in the National Park have always been favourites of ours so it was hard to pass without stopping in but unfortunately the National park was closed to camping this trip.
The magnificent Myall Lakes are ‘Ramsar’ listed as a wetland of international significance and divided into 4-parts covering an area triple that of Sydney Harbour. It has an incredible 280 bird species that call the lake home.
‘The Lakes Road’ along Myall Lakes is an unsealed road leading from Hawks Nest and is lined with great campsites. Continuing on it leads to a ferry that crosses the lake and exits back onto the Pacific Highway at Boolambayte… but if you’re after a few more mod cons, ‘Jimmys’ is a great place to call in. The staff are very friendly, there’s a great camp kitchen, very clean amenities, it’s set in natural bushland with large, shady sites and there’s lots of wildlife and birdlife to enjoy; goannas, kookaburras and even the occasional dingo.
Bordered by a beautiful white beach, Mount Yacaaba and the calm waters of Nelson Bay, this campground is a magical part of the world and whether you want to just relax by the water, stroll along the beach or do something a little bit more adventurous like hike up Mount Yacaaba and take in the views across small islands dotted off the coast, north along a beach, Nelson Bay and Port Stephens, you’ll certainly be glad you pulled in.
Continuing along the Pacific Highway, several large brown signs indicated ‘Scenic Routes’ – drives that branched off the highway onto country roads and led through historic towns, wineries and national parks.
Our first stop was the ‘Clybucca North East Rest Area’.
The drive along this highway can be monotonous and noticeable message boards reminded us along the way to ‘Stop, Revive and Survive’.
Most of the rest areas on this highway are clean with lovely grassed areas and situated well off the highway, and although some are basic with only covered sitting areas, toilets and travel information boards talking about the region, they are comfortable enough to boil a kettle or pull out the thermos for a nice cuppa before swapping driving… however, most have quite explicit signs stating ‘No Camping’!
It was at this location a message popped up on my iphone from ‘CamperMate’ telling us of a special offer at a Caravan Park just south of Forster, so after a quick phone call to secure a site we set Nav for our next destination and we headed off.
While camping and travelling around Australia, CamperMate has always helped us find a campsite or a location over the years… and best of all it is FREE.
We mostly use offline maps, but for those travellers new to the app, make sure you download the offline maps before you leave home as it is not always possible to get phone reception in some places!
Like Wikicamps, it has enabled us to check reviews and find maps for supermarkets, fuel stations, information centres, caravan parks, free camps and roadside stops – and the list goes on. It has a huge database and has certainly been one of our ‘best mates’ when we are on the road!
Further along, and following Nav’s direction, we turned off the freeway 5-kilometres north east of Bulahdelah, continuing along ‘The Lakes Way’ following a narrow, windy country road along the scenic coastal tourist drive for 77-kilometres.
The drive takes in breath taking views of Myall, Smiths and Wallis Lakes, branches off to Seal Rocks and continues on to Forster-Tuncurry… and was a peaceful change from the highway as the track wound its way through small rolling hills, farmsteads and little communities.
Seal Rocks is another great stop. This quiet fishing village offers clear bays for water sports, great camping and amazing ocean views from the lighthouse… and Treachery Campground is a great spot to pull in for a night, we have camped there on a few occasions!
Continuing along the coastal drive we stopped at the small community of Bungwahl to take photos of ‘Smiths Lake’.
The smaller of the great lakes ‘Smiths Lake’ (with a tiny township of the same name), is located halfway between Myall and Wallis Lakes and is dotted with islands and surrounded by National Park. This lake is separated from the ocean by an impressive sandbar formation on Cellito Beach.
Further along we passed the Pacific Palms Recreation Club and tracks leading to Blueys and Boomerang Beach.
We then came to Booti Booti National Park.
Booti Booti National Park comprises an 8-kilometre peninsula between beautiful, pristine beaches and rainforest on one side, and a lakeside vista on the other.
Just 5-minutes from Forster, the Cape Hawke Lookout in Booti Booti National Park offers spectacular 360-degree views along the coast from the top of a very high 8.4-metre tower… and with exactly 420 steps to the top it is well worth pulling on the hiking boots and following the 500-metre walk through regenerating littoral rainforest to get there.
As our journey continued, we were bordered by ocean on one side and the lake on the other with many great picnic areas. We passed an incredible pelicans’ nest on a pole and told ourselves we would be back to photograph it the following day.
It was overcast and late in the day when we pulled in to ‘Secura Lifestyle Lakeside Forster Park’ just 4-kilometres on.
This beautiful park is set in a serene location overlooking Wallis Lake.
Wallis lake is apparently one of the cleanest lakes in Australia and home to a rich seafood harvest including the famous Wallis Lake oyster.
This lake is 25-kilometres long, 9-kilometres wide and fed by 4-rivers, the Wallamba, Wallingat, Coolongolook and Wang Wauk, and judging by the boats and yachts moored at the Recreation Club further back down the road, it is also a haven for water sports.
Secura Park was fantastic and I would highly recommend it. The staff were friendly, it was well maintained and clean, had an excellent camp kitchen, a great pool that would be easy to relax around on a sunny day (with an adjoining play area for kids)… and was definitely value for money at $24.00 a night for an unpowered site. Thank you CamperMate!
5-kilometres on Forster and Tuncurry were midsized towns located at the end of Koolongolook River before it merges into the ocean. This area was a fishermans paradise with plenty of businesses catering for the fishing and boating community and it is well worth a stroll along the beach to the scenic point on the breakwater that overlooks the ocean front.
The walk back to town along the Breakwall Trail took us past the Coast Guard Station, Pilot Hill Lookout and back to the beachfront.
70-kilometres north of Forster-Tuncurry we passed the turnoff onto Harrington Road that on a past trip took us through the coastal town of Harrington to the southern end of Crowdy Head National Park where we have previously camped.
Crowdy Gap Campground is a beautiful open, grassy area surrounded by natural bush and only a short walk through coastal rainforest and over the dunes to a stunning beach where if you are lucky you might spot some amazing birdlife or even a koala!
This campground is on the site of an old dairy farm, hence the lovely grassy grounds, and there are push button barbecues, picnic tables, long drop toilets but only 10- campsites – a couple suitable for caravans and campers and the rest only suitable for tent-based camping.
Further up the highway was the vibrant town of Port Macquarie, sitting on the estuary of the Hastings River with a stunning coastline of rocky headlands.
The spectacular 9-kilometre coastal walk from Town Beach to Tacking Point Lighthouse takes in beaches, headlands, historic sites and rare subtropical rainforest.
On our last trip we crossed the Hastings River by ferry and headed north through ‘Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve’ along Maria River Road that comes onto the Crescent Head Road then later in the year on the return trip we camped at Point Plummer and followed the sandy Point Plummer Road – a rugged 4WD track from Point Plummer back to Port Macquarie.
Further up was the turn off to Hat Head National Park and another beautiful campground.
Hungry Gate Campground is located at the southern end of Hat Head National Park and is a spacious area protected by sand dunes, thick vegetation, fig trees and paperbacks… and is home to lots of kangaroos grazing on the lush grass and many goannas. We love camping here!
Further up and just a 20 minute detour off the Pacific Coast Drive was South West Rocks.
Surrounded by National Parks and beaches, this small town of 4,000 does not have room to grow, which gives it a lovely small-town charm and ambience.
Horseshoe Bay is South West Rocks most popular beach, which features a sandy cove with grassy headlands and beautiful views and a drive to Smokey Cape Lighthouse was well worth the trip to visit the historic ‘Trial Bay Gaol’.
Further along the route was Coffs Harbour with lots of little coastal towns in between – Grassy Head, Nambucca Heads and Sawtell all well worth a visit.
Coffs is just gorgeous and there are plenty of sights to check out.
The Butterfly House, the jetty and marina area and the walk to Mutton Bird island. Diggers and Park Beaches, a nature walk in the world heritage listed Dorrigo National Park and there is always a photo opportunity with ‘The BIG Banana’ another of our Aussie ‘Big Things’, that can’t be missed.
An easy drive from Coffs Harbour we detoured off the highway to Red Rock.
With a river on one side and a beach on the other, Red Rock is certainly a beautiful part of the world. This was our 4th stay at Red Rock Reflections Caravan Park.
Red Rock is a small holiday community of 300 and is located at the mouth of Corindi River, just south of the Yuraygir National Park.
The small river enters the sea on the north side of Red Rock, which is a 20-metre high headland composed of 300-million-year-old red jasper, a red form of quartz.
The beach and the headland were the perfect place for us to stretch our legs and there was a great board walk to ride our bikes and take in the birdlife and marine life following the crystal-clear waters of the river.
There are 2 walking tracks at Red Rock, one also doubles as a mountain bike track and takes you along the Corindi River then back through town and the other is a lovely bush walk to Little Beach then over the headland to the back beach, the latter is part of the Solitary Islands Coastal walk, and is a significant place to the local Gumbaingirr community with this headland the site of a massacre of their people in the mid-19th century.
The massacre began at Blackadders Creek when mounted police entered their camp. They started shooting and then pursued the survivors to the Corindi River where they continued shooting. Some people were then driven off the headland.
From the top of the headland we could see whales breeching in the distance.
Further on along the Pacific Highway an exit branches off to Yamba, a small town that lies at the mouth of the Clarence River.
Evans Head was just a bit over 100-kilometres north of Yamba and of course a visit to Ballina was a must do, just to see the ‘Big Prawn’ and visit Bunnings!
There were lots of other little coastal towns along the way that we bypassed this trip with Lennox Head high on our priority list when we travel home. Lennox Head is also one of our favourite places and we always camp at the ‘Reflections Holiday Parks – Lennox Head’.
The beautiful coastal drive between Ballina and Byron Bay passes through this beautiful, laid back surfing town where Lennox Point is well noted as being one of the top 10-surfing breaks in Australia and for that reason is a mecca for surfers.
Byron Bay was just a bit up the coast and is one of the more popular Australian destinations.
It is famous for its alternate lifestyle, is a ‘surfers’ paradise, has beautiful, sheltered beaches including ‘Wategoes Beach’ and as we found, is a great place for people watching!
Cape Byron Lighthouse is the furthest easterly point of Australia and can be reached by a beautiful coastal cliff walk… but definitely if you are in the area, the short drive to nearby hippy territory, the little town of ‘Nimbin’, nestled at the foothills of an extinct volcano, will not disappoint!
Murwillumbah is only 52- kilometres north west of Byron Bay and on a previous trip we climbed Wollumbin (Mount Warning), which is located 12-kilometres south-west of Murwillumbah, in the Wollumbin National Park.
This challenging track was an 8.8-kilometre return walk that took around 3 hours and was long and steep with a very strenuous 100-metre vertical rock scramble via a chain to reach the summit where we were privy to Wollumbin in all its glory with amazing views.
Woolumbin means ‘cloud catcher’ to the local Bundjalung Aboriginal nation and is a traditional place of cultural law, initiation and spiritual education for their people.
Only a short distance north of Byron Bay was Brunswick Heads. With a beautiful river and gorgeous beaches this village is a popular fishing destination then Kingscliff was our last stop before the border to stock up on groceries.
Only a 15-minute drive to the Queensland border this lovely beachside town has only one main street so it wasn’t hard to find our way around.
Back on the main highway we finally crossed the border from New South Wales into Queensland and hit the famous holiday capital of Australia – ‘the Gold Coast’ with its endless beaches and a vibrant outdoor lifestyle.
This region sits on a 70-kilometre stretch of fine, sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean and has everything for the young and old – shops, cafés, restaurants, theme parks and lots of entertainment… it is just one big playground.
This is the land where winter never comes, or so they tell us… in saying that it wasn’t quite true for us as for the first couple of days it rained heavily and was very cold – hence we were back in our winter woollies!
There are just a few things about the Gold Coast that attract us and draw us back to ‘Kirra Beach Caravan Park’ and over our stay we loved catching up with family (welcome to our blog Bob and Brett) and friends, rode our bikes through Coolangatta, Currumbin, Burleigh Heads, Broadbeach, Surfers Paradise and South Port, surfed in the waves, walked the beautiful beaches… and the path between Kirra Beach and Snapper Rocks or the Burleigh Headland was a favourite walk or ride most days when the sun eventually shone.
The Esplanade was packed with walkers, runners, cyclists, people on roller-blades, roller-skates and scooters and it just beckoned us to embrace the fit and healthy lifestyle!
There was also something magical about standing on the boardwalk and watching the surfers and their silhouettes against an orange glowing sky and it was so easy to understand why so many people have the urge to want to grab a board and catch a wave too… unfortunately, this urge didn’t really match the fact that I have no idea how to surf. Body surfing with a handplane is the best I can manage!
These beaches are home to many world surfing champions with Mick Fanning one and Kelly Slater (although American) who has a home at Palm Beach. We were yet to see either of them, but we did enjoy reading about them and other famous Aussie surfers at the ‘Surf World Museum’ at Currumbin.
Kirra Beach Tourist Park is situated only 300 metres from the famous Kirra Beach (and the esplanade), at the southern end of the Gold Coast and is a spacious, friendly park that always suits our needs including a great camp kitchen, a recreation room (that was great in the inclement weather), a heated pool, barbecues and a playground and jumping pillow for the kids.
This area was certainly a little slice of heaven but after 4 wonderful days it was time to pack up and head north.
The east coast is full of cities and towns and many more beautiful beaches so with plenty more coastline just begging to be explored strap yourself in and come travel with us as we head for the Sunshine Coast.