It’s one of Australia’s most celebrated areas, and it demands the hype.
North Coast NSW has stretches of coastline so glittering they’d outshine a fairy convention; backed by spectacular lakes and rivers and the endless water activity it all encourages.
It’s a patch filled with beauty: rainforest-clad pockets, towering waterfalls, epic sand dunes, first-rate attractions, and much else.
Keen to learn more? Keep scrolling. This cheat sheet will ensure you’re a region expert in the twinkle of an eye.
Where to start. For context, the sub-region of Port Stephens alone has a hefty 20-plus beaches, so sand and surf abound. These are some with strong appeal:
Black Head Beach, Hallidays Point: Award-winning, highly regarded for swimming and fishing, beautiful backdrop featuring Norfolk Island pines.
One Mile Beach, Forster-Tuncurry: Appeals to surfers and swimmers. Huge sandhill for sand sliding and boarding. Easy access to Bennett's Head lookout for panoramic views.
Nelson Bay, Port Stephens: The area’s main town, so amenities galore. Boasts a handful of beaches that suit all manner of aquatic activity.
Fingal Bay Beach, Port Stephens: Golden sanded, C-shaped beach that’s a magnet for swimming, surfing, and fishing.
Shoal Bay Beach, Port Stephens: Idyllic stretch with tourist brochure-worthy views.
Birubi Beach, Port Stephens: Great for families, particularly as it has rock pools to explore.
One Mile Beach, Port Stephens: Beautiful and long with excellent swimming opportunities.
Horseshoe Bay, South West Rocks: The town’s most popular beach; suited to swimming and surfing. Features a sandy cove with grassy headlands, and sparkling views.
Main Beach, Nambucca Heads: Surfing, swimming, and wind surfing are among abundant leisure options. Pleasant backdrop increases the appeal.
Park Beach, Coffs Harbour: Renowned surf spot; swimming and fishing also on the menu.
Jetty Beach, Coffs Harbour: Super central. Popular strip of sand with plenty of nearby amenities.
Shelly Beach, Port Macquarie: Beautiful white sand beach that’s popular for weddings. Flanked by rainforest.
Wooli Beach: Finger-shaped, so creates a feeling of being on an island. Fishing, surfing, and swimming all popular here.
Spot on. Between June and November, humpback whales can be glimpsed frolicking in these waters as part of their annual northern migration. Key locations to watch these awe-inspiring creatures include Port Stephens, Forster-Tuncurry, and South West Rocks. For front-row access, join a whale-watching cruise.
If there is an aquatic activity, it’s bound to be enjoyed in North Coast NSW. Boating, sailing, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, jet-skiing, and much more are achieved with ease from many locations, and with options aplenty for equipment hire.
If you’re into diving or snorkelling, Port Stephens–Great Lakes Marine Park and Solitary Islands Marine Park, north of Coffs Harbour, are rich with sea creatures, coral, and more.
South West Rocks serves up outstanding diving conditions, too: Fish Rock Cave is highly regarded.
In Port Stephens, thrilling dolphin swims operate within the marine park, and provide an unforgettable experience.
Or stay dry on a relaxing boat cruise. Options include gliding along Nambucca River, Hastings River in Port Macquarie, Wallis Lake at Forster-Tuncurry, Camden Haven near Laurieton, and the Manning River, which is central to several locations that include Harrington and Forster-Tuncurry.
North Coast NSW hoards an enviable collection of treasure-rich parks, some home to those brilliant beaches. These are all worthy of your footprints:
• New England National Park, between Nambucca Heads and Coffs Harbour: Part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area with vast pockets of stunning scenery.
• Dorrigo National Park, accessed from Coffs Harbour: Another Gondwana Rainforests member. Highlights include the magnificent Skywalk lookout and the imposing Crystal Shower Falls.
• Bongil Bongil National Park, near Coffs Harbour: Has one of NSW’s largest koala populations, so chances are you’ll spot a tree hugger.
• Hat Head National Park, near South West Rocks: Occupying a long, thin coastal stretch of turf, meaning the vistas are postcard-worthy.
• Arakoon National Park, South West Rocks: Tour the ruins of Trail Bay Gaol, and soak up sublime views.
• Guy Fawkes River National Park, near Dorrigo: Highlighted by the jaw-dropping Ebor Falls.
• Tomaree National Park, Port Stephens: Take the summit walk to be rewarded with sparkling views of this popular sub-region.
• Myall Lakes National Park, Port Stephens: Home to a vast coastal lake system and beaches galore, so water adventures abound.
• Crowdy Bay National Park, near Harrington: Astounding scenery is on show, contrasting waves with mountains.
• Sea Acres National Park, Port Macquarie: Follow the popular coastal walk that ends at Tacking Point lighthouse.
A visit to Stockton Sand Dunes in Port Stephens is a must. Also known as Worimi Conservation Lands, this is the largest sand dune system in the country, and photo ops abound.
While in the area, stop by Nelson Head Heritage Lighthouse and Reserve for glorious panoramas.
North Coast Regional Botanic Garden in Coffs Harbour is easy on the eyes. The Japanese Garden, complete with lake and teahouse, is a prime spot to snap.
Your kids can’t possibly whinge that there isn’t enough to do in North Coast NSW. Try these attractions on for size…
Starting in Port Stephens, the Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters allows visitors to get up-close with ample marine life, and more absorbing animal interactions are enjoyed at Oakvale Farm & Fauna World. Or check out all things aviation at the brilliant Fighter World museum.
In Coffs Harbour, the famous Big Banana is about more than a cheesy pic. The façade gives way to a fun park with huge water slides, a toboggan track, and much more. Elsewhere, Coffs Harbour Butterfly House, Dolphin Marine Magic, and nearby Solitary Islands Aquarium are all completely captivating.
Family-friendly attractions flourish in Port Macquarie, too. Billabong Zoo: Koala and Wildlife Park and the Koala Hospital both allow for encounters with these cuddly creatures. Jumbos Playland has plenty to keep young ones occupied.
In Nambucca Heads, wander along the V-Wall; an ever-growing ‘art gallery’ of graffiti-covered rocks.
Delve into the past with a visit to a local history museum. The Great Lakes Museum at Tuncurry has a huge photographic collection among its treasure, as does Coffs Harbour Regional Museum. Nambucca Heads Historical Museum is bursting with items from a time gone by.
Port Macquarie Museum is found within a striking convict-built structure, and the neighbouring Mid North Coast Maritime Museum retraces an extensive and colourful history.
Remaining in Port Macquarie, the funky Glasshouse building is the cultural precinct with a regional gallery and theatre.
North Coast NSW is home to one of the most beautiful golf courses on the planet. Bonville Golf Resort, south of Coffs Harbour, has picked up more awards than the regular golfer has grabbed birdies and is like playing a round in a national park. The lush fairways are surrounded by towering trees, home to myriad wildlife, and best of all the course is easily accessible to the social golfer.
You’re in luck. The Hastings River wine region is small but boasts quality with cellar doors sprinkled near Port Macquarie and Wauchope. Try Cassegrain Wines – its Verdelho deserves special mention – or head to Bago Vineyards and pair tastings with its mighty maze challenge.
Or stop by Wonganella Estate Winery in Port Stephens – its hilltop location is sensational for sipping wine while peering at the coastline.
Remaining in Port Stephens, Murray's Craft Brewing Co. is a gem. Its tap range has an almost absurd variety.
Elsewhere, Black Duck Brewery in Port Macquarie is a craft-beer set up as it should be: emphasis is on a great tap selection minus the frills.