When Deb Dickson-Smith packed her teenage girls and their inflatable unicorn for a biggie of a road trip, they discovered the joy of the NSW North Coast. And each other.
The family road trip is an Aussie tradition, car packed (literally) to the rafters with camping gear, as families make the annual journey up or down the coast to their favourite camp site or holiday park.
When our kids were younger, we booked the same campsite every year at Hat Head on the New South Wales mid north coast, where the kids could go feral for two weeks, returning to the tent only for meals and bedtime.
The kids are now teens, and they still enjoy a good road trip, but these days we opt for a cabin over a tent. We still get that lazy summer holiday park atmosphere, and I don’t have to worry about setting up a tent, inflating air mattresses and moaning teens unwilling to help. Plus, teenagers take up a LOT of room.
This year we’re heading north to explore the NSW mid-north coast, and even though we’ve chosen to dispense with the camping gear, somehow our spacious Nissan Pathfinder still seems to be packed to the rafters with teenage paraphernalia, dive gear and Christmas presents. The girls have even insisted on bringing a giant inflatable unicorn.
The Pathfinder is a good choice for a road trip with teens. The seven-seater has plenty of room for leggy teens to spread out without arguing about personal space, enough charging points for multiple mobile devices, cup holders for every seat – there’s even seat-back entertainment.
Video displays behind the two front seats can be played individually; no need for everyone to watch the same thing, with movies accessed via USB, HDMI or a DVD player on the dashboard. The car’s sound system can sync to numerous mobile devices, with access to apps including iTunes and Spotify. In fact, I think this car was designed with teenagers in mind.
Our first stop is Forster Tuncurry, staying at BIG4 Great Lakes at Forster-Tuncurry, located on the shores of a tidal lagoon on the Tuncurry side of town. The park has a lap pool, water park and obligatory giant bouncing pillow as well as a café that serves pretty good coffee. While we’ve chosen a cabin, the park has recently introduced luxurious glamping-style tents, which would have been a better choice for long-legged teens.
In the mornings, while it’s still relatively cool, we find hiking trails and cool off at the beach after lunch. During school holidays there is often live entertainment at the café, a great place to wind down as the sun goes down.
Here’s our pick of things to do in and around Forster:
1. Hiking. Hike up to Bennett’s Headland, which offers spectacular views up and down the coast. It’s an easy climb (even on a hot summer’s day) with a gradual slope leading to the top of the headland, so gradual in fact, that we don’t notice how high we’ve climbed until we reach the headland itself and peer over the side of the dramatic-looking cliff face.
2. Swimming. Head over to One Mile Beach for a swim. On the other side of Bennett’s Headland, the sand dunes of One Mile Beach come halfway up the headland. The beach is quieter than the main town beach, with decent surf for those inclined.
3. Snorkelling. Along the trail to Bennett’s Headland is a popular snorkelling spot called ‘The Tanks’, a snorkelling spot protected from the crashing waves by a straight wall of sedimentary rock. The water in this natural swimming pool is crystal clear, and it’s a lot of fun to lean against the sloping wall of rocks as the waves crash over the top of you.
4. Kayaking. Hire a kayak or stand up paddle board at one of the boatsheds along the Forster lagoon waterfront. It’s an easy paddle along the waterfront to a sand spit near the bridge that spans the lagoon joining Forster to Tuncurry.
5. Diving. Go diving with grey nurse sharks. Nearby dive sites, such as the Pinnacle and Big Seal Rocks, have some of the largest aggregations of grey nurse sharks in NSW, and some are shallow and sheltered enough even for beginner divers.
BIG4 Saltwater @ Yamba Holiday Park has a completely different feel to it than the lively Great Lakes. Located a few kilometres from town, this peaceful holiday park is like a little riverside retreat. Set on 130 acres of peaceful bushland next to the Clarence River, this Yamba caravan park is hugely popular for fishing and kayaking. The shady park has an adventure playground, large water park and an outdoor cinema
During school holidays the park invites local food trucks to set up shop, including Flour & Water wood fired pizza, Pocket Curries and Ed’s Little Boy Brisket. So, with gourmet food, free movies and a waterpark, there’s really no reason to leave the place. In fact, not many people do. The park used to offer a shuttle service to and from Yamba, but it was discontinued because nobody used it.
1. Kayaking. With the river right next to BIG4 Saltwater, and a labyrinth of mangrove forests to explore, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are obvious choices. The park has free kayaks available for use; you just need to book a time.
2. Hiking. Nearby Iluka Nature Reserve contains the largest remaining patch of coastal littoral rainforest in NSW, home to over 140 species of birds. There are various walking trails, ranging in length and grade.
3. Blue Pool. Angourie Blue Pool started life as a rock quarry until a freshwater spring was disturbed, turning the quarry into a deep freshwater pool. The pool is only metres from the ocean, and it’s great fun to jump in from the high rock platforms that surround it.
4. Surfing. Angourie was the first gazetted National Surfing Reserve in NSW, famous for its superb breaks. According to four times World Surfing Champion Mark Richards; “Angourie is the best right-hand point break in Australia…one of the best in the world.”
5. Beaches. The coastline in and around Yamba is dotted with beautiful beaches. While patrolled beaches such as Main Beach and Turners Beach are great choices for younger kids, our teens preferred to hang out at Spooky Beach, with great surfing at one end, and snorkelling at the other.