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North Coast NSW region cheat sheet

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.

It's not all about the coast. Location: Guy Fawkes River National Park. Credit: Don Fuchs/Destination NSW.

Best North Coast NSW beaches

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:

  • 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.

Stunning: One Mile Beach, Forster. Credit: Destination NSW.

  • Horseshoe Bay, South West Rocks: The town’s most popular beach; suited to swimming and surfing. Features a sandy cove with grassy headlands.
  • 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.
  • Black Head Beach, Hallidays Point: Pretty stretch lined with Norfolk pines and suited to swimming. Addition of an ocean pool adds appeal.

Dive in: Black Head Beach, Hallidays Point.

Whale watching in North Coast NSW

Between June and November, humpback whales can be reliably 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.

Spot humpback whales in season. 

Water activities in North Coast NSW

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 ample locations, and with options aplenty for equipment hire. Additionally, the region delivers these highlights:

Diving/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.

Wallis Lake is ripe for aquatic activity. Credit: Destination NSW.

Dolphin swims

This thrilling activity operates within the marine park in Port Stephens and provides an unforgettable experience. If you want to avoid getting wet, join a dolphin-watching cruise.

Boat cruises

Options for a gentle glide include:

  • Hastings River, Port Macquarie
  • Wallis Lake, Forster-Tuncurry
  • Camden Haven, near Laurieton

Spot dolphins from near and afar in Port Stephens. Credit: Destination NSW.

North Coast NSW national parks

The region 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 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 leaf muncher.
  • 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.

Dorrigo National Park is bursting with gems. Credit: Destination NSW.

  • Guy Fawkes River National Park, near Dorrigo: Highlighted by 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.

That view: Tomaree National Park. Credit: Destination NSW.

Family activities in North Coast NSW

Kids can’t possibly complain that there isn’t enough to do in North Coast NSW. Here are some of many highlights:

Port Stephens

Coffs Harbour

More vibrant vistas: Forest Sky Pier, Coffs Harbour. Credit: Destination NSW.

Port Macquarie

Nambucca Heads

Billabong Zoo is among several wildlife-centric attractions in these parts. Credit: Destination NSW.

North Coast NSW cultural attractions

From museums to galleries, this region has plenty to entertain. Visit these absorbing attractions:

Fascinating: Trial Bay Gaol. Credit: Destination NSW.

Insta essentials

Along with myriad photo ops at beaches, national parks, and other attractions listed above, we’re pulling out a few other beauties.

Ellenborough Falls are mesmerising. Credit: Destination Barrington Coast.

An ace golf course

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 club wielder has grabbed birdies, and its layout delivers an experience likened to playing a round in a national park. The lush fairways are surrounded by towering trees and home to myriad wildlife. Best of all, the course is easily accessible to the social golfer.

A round at Bonville is like playing golf in a national park. Image courtesy: Bonville Golf Resort.

North Coast NSW wineries

All this exploring deserves a hearty wine, and 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 Maze and Winery and pair tastings with its mighty labyrinth challenge.

Or stop by Sunset+Vine in Port Stephens – its hilltop location is sensational for sipping wine while peering at the coastline.

Additionally, the region teems with craft breweries and distilleries.

Bago features an awesome maze as well as tasty wines. Credit: Destination NSW.

North Coast NSW accommodation

We have loads of quality holiday parks dotted across the region. Click on a graphic below or see all parks in North Coast NSW here.

Want more? Check out this insightful guide to Northern NSW.

Related Parks

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