You could easily drive straight from Sydney to Coffs Harbour, admiring the peaks of the Great Dividing Range in the distance, without ever leaving the Pacific Highway. Yet sticking to the most efficient road means missing out on some of the region’s most photogenic (and delicious) stops. With a little planning, you can sample Australia’s best pies and oysters, canoe pristine rivers and lakes and spot kangaroos in the wild as you progress into country that’s ever more rugged, lantana-scented and lush.
Day 1: Sydney to Myall Lakes
4hr 14min | 270km
Stop 1: Eat a pie at Hawkesbury River
Even though you’ve only just hit the road for the journey north, it’s worth pulling off the M1 to meander up the old Pacific Highway to the much-loved Pie in the Sky. Take in sweeping views over the Hawkesbury River and surrounding bushland from this one-time railway canteen before deciding between 22 pie flavours such as beef burgundy, lamb honey chilli garlic, and apple and rhubarb.
Stop 2: Visit a lighthouse at Gosford
Turn off the M1 at Gosford for the most scenic route to the photogenic Norah Head Lighthouse. Built in 1903 to prevent shipwrecks along this perilous stretch of coast, the tower boasts 96 stairs and panoramic views and it definitely worth a stop. Aim to arrive between 10am and 1.30pm so you can join one of the 30-minute tours (which operates daily except ANZAC and Christmas days).
Image credit: Norah Head Lighthouse Facebook.
Stop 3: Lunch at Lake Macquarie
After crossing the entrance to Lake Macquarie, one of the scenic saltwater lakes that punctuate the NSW coast, enjoy a $15 weekday lunch with sparkling water views on the side at Crusoe’s on the Lake within Lake Macquarie Yacht Club. Stay parked and explore the nearby Fernleigh Track – a former railway line that’s now a 15km shared pathway through stunning bushland and wetlands.
Stop 4: Be at one with nature and stay at Myall Lakes
Stop and embrace nature at Myall Lakes National Park, which is on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Keep your eyes peeled for birds, such as white bellied sea eagles that glide through the park, as well as kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and long nosed bandicoots. You can swim, kayak, cast a line for bream, mullet and flathead, or simply chill out and drink in all that nature has to offer. In spring, the park is renowned for its magnificent wildflower displays.
Why not stay at the NRMA Myall Shores Holiday Park, which offers a range of accommodation including villas and safari tents. It also includes a swimming pool, playground and on-site cafe.
Day 2: Myall Lakes to Port Macquarie
3hr 13min | 214km
Stop 1: Take a dip at Myall Lakes
After a final leisurely swim at Myall Lakes, potter up the road to Great Lakes Paddocks – a laidback winery open six days a week (closed Tuesdays) and pick up a bottle of bubbles or a crisp white to go with the oysters you’ll enjoy later today.
Stop 2: Picnic at Forster Main Beach
Snap up a dozen or two plump Sydney rock oysters grown in Wallis Lake’s pristine waters at Graham Barclay Oysters. It’s a third-generation business overlooking the lake’s oyster beds, making it both scenic and delicious. Enjoy your catch on Forster Main Beach, also home to huge ocean baths that you can stroll into straight from the sand.
Stop 3: Dine and stay at Port Macquarie
Roll into Port Macquarie in time for a special dinner at The Stunned Mullet. Located opposite Town Beach, this restaurant not only serves seafood but venison, wagyu and sirloin steaks. For something more casual, head to The Beach House – a pub overlooking the Hastings River – for a chicken parmy or fisherman’s basket.
Image credit: The Beach House Facebook.
As the name suggests, NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park overlooks the breakwall near the mouth of the Hastings River. From here, it’s a short stroll to popular Town Beach and into town to eat, shop and play, making it the perfect locale to spend the night.
Day 3: Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour
2hr 55min | 213km
Stop 1: Visit the Koala Hospital at Port Macquarie
With a Koala Street in Port (as the locals call it), it should be no surprise there’s also a Koala Hospital that treats sick and injured koalas. Visitors are welcome to drop in between 8am and 4pm (free admission, open daily except Christmas Day) to see the koalas that are being nursed back to health. A guided tour and feeding takes place at 3pm.
Image credit: Koala Hospital Port Macquarie Facebook.
Stop 2: Explore Trial Bay Gaol
Meander an hour north up the Pacific Highway to South West Rocks. You’ll be able to take in sweeping ocean views and a wealth of Australian History from the Trial Bay Gaol in Arakoon National Park. Make sure to stop and have a coffee and the renowned Malt and Honey café. Dine in and enjoy the huge portions, thoughtful creations, fresh juices and perfectly crafted coffee or grab a take away snack and pick from the endless cabinet options to continue your journey.
Stop 3: Eat fish and chips at Coffs Harbour
Then it’s on to Coffs itself, about 30 minutes away. Pick up fish and chips from SeaSalt and stroll the jetty. From here, you can also head to Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve, which hosts thousands of breeding and nesting Wedge tailed shearwaters (also known as muttonbirds) from August to April each year.
There’s plenty more to do at this picturesque coastal enclave. Take the fabulously named Look at Me Now Headland walk for great ocean views, explore the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden and its Japanese Friendship Garden, and if you’ve got kids in tow, Dolphin Marine Magic – the only zoological park in NSW featuring dolphins – should be on the itinerary.
Stop 4: Stay at Arrawarra
At Arrawarra, 35km or 30 minutes’ drive north of Coffs Harbour’s banana tree clad hills, is the family-friendly NRMA Darlington Beach Holiday Resort where kangaroos hop through the grounds. Located just moments from the quiet and picturesque Darlington Beach amongst 110 acres of sub-tropical rainforest, this resort a mid north coast oasis perfect for putting your feet up and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.
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