It may not be one of Australia’s most renowned regions, but Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Hinterland is certainly Mother Nature’s playground and a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy coast and city life… so if you’re up this way, treat yourself to the sanctuary of the beautiful towns intertwined with mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and forests… it truly is a beautiful place, and the fact it’s off the beaten track only adds to its allure. Read all about our previous journey here!
Meeting up with family..
Over the years we have gathered a collection of must-visit attractions worthy of a trip back to the Gold Coast but the main reason for our visits over the years has been to catch up with a very dear family friend, now in her late 90s. A lifelong friend of my mums since WWII army days!
This trip we were also lucky enough to spend 5-glorious-days with our son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren at Currumbin Sands holiday apartments!
Currumbin is a very popular suburb on the Gold Coast with lots of holiday accommodation lining its shores… and with this apartment block set in a beautiful location on the beach front with easy access to the walking/bike tracks, a safe creek estuary, a stunning beach – and no roads to cross with the kids to get to the beach or inlet it made for the ideal place to swim, play, ride, sit back and relax… and make lasting memories with our family!
With so much to see and do in this area, Currumbin is a fantastic place to explore.
Either side of Currumbin Creek there are great shared walking and riding paths which, lead alongside the estuary and beach all the way to Elephant Rock and beyond.
Another crosses the road and meanders alongside the creek, under a bridge to Beree Badalla Boardwalk then through mangroves taking in a few inland riverbank lookouts along the way.
It has one of the most visited wildlife parks on the Gold Coast with Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary offering a wide array of our Aussie native animals… and even a few from overseas.
The Viking Surf Club is set in a great location right on the beach with Elephant Rock on one side and a long stretch of beach on the other… and if you’re around in September the annual sculpture festival on Currumbin Beach and along the beachfront is Queensland’s largest outdoor sculpture exhibition.
After a lovely, relaxing few days at Currumbin it was sadly time to wave our family goodbye as they left to travel home to Sydney.
For us nomadic adventurers the luxury of a real bed was over and now time to move back into our rooftop at Kirra Beach Tourist Park.
Situated only 300-metres from the famous Kirra Beach at the southern end of the Gold Coast this friendly, spacious, caravan park is a favourite of ours, and an ideal base to catch up with family and friends.
Looking for something else to do on your Gold Coast holiday? Then look no further!
You’d be forgiven for thinking this part of the world is just one endless stretch of golden beaches and thrill-seeking theme parks! Well, it is… but there’s so much more to explore too!
Australia’s Gold Coast in the south east corner of Queensland, along with its hinterland, is a much-loved holiday playground alive with retirees, adventure seekers, theme parks, boutique shops, restaurants, cafes, cycling and walking paths, surfers, bikini clad beach goers… and, if you can bare to leave the beach behind for a day, there’s a magical hinterland world of sub-tropical rainforests, ancient volcanic landscapes and spectacular waterfalls with Tamborine Mountain National Park, Lamington National Park and Springbrook Park just begging to be explored!
From Southport to Coolangatta (named for the schooner Coolangatta, wrecked on the beach to the north of the Tweed River in 1846), there are loads of shopping centres offering serious retail therapy, restaurants, and cafes… and beaches galore – with Southport, Main Beach, Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach, Mermaid Beach, Nobby Beach, Miami and Burleigh Heads all north of Currumbin Beach… and Coolangatta, Rainbow, Kirra and Greenmount to the south.
Sitting side by side with Tweed Heads (named by John Oxley after the Tweed River which divides northern England from Scotland) on the Queensland/NSW border, Coolangatta offers resort accommodation, boutique shopping, a breezy beachfront restaurant and café scene, a shared walking/cycling path that runs through to Southport (25-kilometres each way in total, with a few detours onto the main road) … and white sandy beaches that seemingly stretch forever!
On occasion we have been blessed to sit on a balcony of the 11th floor in the Twin Towns sipping a champagne or coffee while overlooking the panoramic views of the Tweed River, the magnificent cenotaph, and the spectacular Tweed Valley that stretches way off beyond Wollumbin Mt Warning.
South of the border…
South of the Queensland border, the NSW valleys of ‘The Tweed’ are less than an hours drive from the Gold Coast making visiting the hinterland, ‘Wollumbin Mt Warning’ and the coastal villages as far as the famous Byron Bay an easy day trip and providing wanderers with endless opportunities for adventure.
The Tweed Shire is a blend of traditional old country charm from the hinterland to the coast with thriving rural communities all fed by vast winding rivers reaching from Tweed Heads to Wooyung Beach just south of Pottsville; to the Tweed Valley where the village of Tumbulgum sits on the junction of the Tweed and Rous Rivers; Murwillumbah sits on the banks of the Tweed; and the majestic ‘Wollumbin Mt Warning’ rests in the Wollumbin National Park – below the plains of the shield volcano that forms this valley.
Tumbulgum, established around 1840, is one of the first European settlements in northern NSW with its name meaning ‘meeting of the waters’. One of the most iconic reminders of this towns past is the historic Tumbulgum Tavern that was established in 1887, the regions first unlicensed pub otherwise known as the ‘grog shanty’!
Murwillumbah is the heart of the Tweed, a typical country town peppered with art deco shopfronts and historic federation buildings.
Named by Captain Cook, ‘Woolumbin Mt Warning’ in the World-Heritage-listed Wollumbin Mt Warning National Park is one of our favourite spots to visit.
Wollumbin which, dramatically rises to a height of 1,157-metres above sea level, is a remnant central vent of an ancient volcano.
It’s a spectacular peak that can be viewed from almost everywhere in this region from as far as Cape Byron Lighthouse to Tweed Heads… and offers a strenuous but great walk to a summit where, when we adventurous souls accomplished it a few years back, afforded us incredible views over the Gold Coast and beyond!
For most of the year this trek is a much sort after early morning traipse for those who wish to experience the first sunrise on Australian soil… but be warned it is long, steep, difficult and dangerous in places. Signs warn it shouldn’t be attempted in poor weather or when high winds or thunderstorms are forecast as many people, either camping at the top or walking, have lost their lives on this peak during inclement weather!
It also pays to be mindful that Wollumbin Mt Warning is a place of cultural significance to the indigenous people of the Bundjalung Nation and under Bundjalung law only certain people can climb Wollumbin. Therefore, they now ask people to reconsider conquering this summit.
There’s always time for a new adventure… on the coast of NSW!
The warm days of a seemingly endless summer, the sparkling ocean and white sands are what the Gold Coast is renowned for and over the next few days we strolled the boardwalk and beaches, swam in the famous waves this part of the world is known for, rode our bikes from Coolangatta to Southport along the long expanse of flat terrain beside one of the most picturesque coastlines on this planet, drank coffee and ate donuts with Aunty Audrey, and caught up with friends at the caravan park…
… then after 9 glorious days of wonderful company and soaking up the sites we waved the Gold Coast goodbye, crossed the border into Tweed Heads and started the next part of our journey down the NSW North Coast, aka the Northern Rivers region.
A road trip to us isn’t about the destination but about discovering hidden gems and making memories along the way and over the next few days, we’ll take you to some of our favourite stops as we drift through peaceful seaside towns full of charisma, authentic Australian culture and soothing waterways bordered by kilometres of cane fields.
From the hinterland to the beach with everything in between, these stops between the Gold Coast and Diamond Head are not to be missed… and hopefully will help to make your next northern NSW coastal road trip as unforgettable as ours!
Having experienced the cool mountain rainforests and the charming villages of the hinterland on previous trips, and the legendary Gold Coast to Sydney drive (or vice versa) along the Pacific Motorway many times, the coastal route we are about to take is the perfect trip for those curious travellers wanting to explore what lies on this coast.
Fingal Head is the first township on the southern side of the mouth of the Tweed River and is located on a peninsula which, starts at Chinderah.
Fingal Head is a unique area renowned for its spectacular crescent shaped hexagonal rock column formed when the lava flow from the nearby ancient Tweed volcano Wollumbin Mt Warning cooled rapidly in the ocean currents.
The Fingal area is regarded as a special place to the local Aboriginal population, especially the Ngaraikbal Githabal/Minjungbal people who know it as ‘Mynjung Booning’- ‘Mynjung’ meaning ‘place of’ and ‘Booning’ which means Echidna – Place of the Echidna obviously referring to the shape of the basalt outcrop that forms Fingal Head.
This outcrop sits just below Fingal Lighthouse which, built in the 1870s, is the oldest public building in the Tweed Shire… and although not high, standing at only 7-metres tall, and built on a low headland it is still effective as it sits on one of the most easterly points of Australia.
According to the local Aboriginal people, the area around Fingal is protected by their ancestral spirits and one such spirit is ‘Ineroogun’, or the Black Dog of Fingal. The story goes, there used to be a large cave at Fingal which was destroyed by early white settlers.
For the Ngarakbal Githabal people this cave site was the ‘dreaming home’ of a protective spirit called Galiwus, a hairy man that used to live in the cave with his large black dog. When the cave was destroyed, he and his dog were then homeless, and so began to roam the area. Thus, the Black Dog Spirit of Fingal was created.
Further down the coast the popular holiday destination of Kingscliff is the main town on the Tweed Coast.
In the early 1900’s Kingscliff was known as Cudgen before being renamed Kingscliff hence, Kingscliff Main Surf Club is named Cudgen Headland SLSC and the main creek is named Cudgen Creek.
This little town is unique on this coast as it has no high rise, with a 3-storey limit on all buildings, far different to that of the Gold Coast just 30-kilometres away… but it does boast over 20 sidewalk cafes and restaurants and a popular right hand surf break both on its south beach and off the mouth of Cudgen Creek Estuary.
Just down the road the newer, popular communities of Salt Village and Casuarina are a collection of specialty shops, restaurants, beachside housing, and estate resorts – each only a few minutes from each other.
Further along, another favourite stop on this coastal track is always Cabarita Beach (known as ‘Caba’ to the locals).
Originally called Bogangar, an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of many pippies’ which, originated from the ancient ceremonial shell middens in the area, this stunning beach was awarded the title of ‘Best Beach in Australia 2019’ – so this stop should be on everyone’s bucket list…
… and while your here don’t miss a walk to the headland! Encircled almost completely by a nature reserve, Norries Headland is a striking place for a walk with views of beaches either side, wildlife and whale watching between July and October.
Next along the coast road was Hastings Point.
Surrounded by water with Cudgera Creek winding its way round to meet up with the Pacific Ocean, this is a popular location with the locals offering a safe estuary ideal for young families.
There is also another great walk here that leads to Hastings Point Headland where we sat and watched a pod of humpback whales rafting on the ocean swell, some launching into the air before slamming back into the sea… then disappearing to the south.
40- kilometres on, Pottsville is just another typical seaside village with caravans and tents lining the banks of Mooball Creek.
From here the Tweed Coast Road winds its way onto the Pacific Motorway and some 28-kilometres further on Brunswick Heads is a short detour off the highway – a beautiful town of wooden hand painted shop signs… and a much quieter community than its popular sister town, Byron Bay just down the road!
Brunswick Heads is where the beautiful Brunswick River meets the sea with the town itself sitting right on a bend of the river, separated from the beach by a wooden footbridge.
Crossing the wooden bridge over the estuary, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a dip in the cool clear waters of the river which, was a pleasant change from the salty waters of Kirra Beach.
This popular tourist destination also has a great walking track with ‘North Head Walking Track’ winding its way from the mouth of the river through the coastal rainforest of Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve.
It’s a short, easy stroll from the carpark through a lovely section of endangered littoral rainforest and changing scenery to the headland.
This nature reserve provides a haven for both north and south migrating birds, lots of wildlife including goannas and harmless carpet pythons… and apparently pesky ‘and dangerous’ ticks, according to the local signage on the headland walk.
From here we were continuing south, but if you head inland from Brunswick Head you will come to ‘Rainbow Land’ where, on one of the world’s best-preserved volcanic rims are some of the country’s most picturesque villages – the small towns of The Channon, Dunoon, Rosebank and Eltham… all overshadowed by the alternate communities of Mullumbimby and Nimbin.
Why Rainbow you may ask? Well, this title originated at nearby Nimbin in 1973 after the life changing Aquarius Festival which, brought with it an alternate lifestyle and a tie-died pot-smoking culture which, still exists today!
In these parts farmers and hippies seem to co-exist in a harmonious lifestyle. You can buy fruit, veggies and cow poo from the side of the road as easily as you can buy Nimbin candles, banjos, bongo drums, alternate clothing or tarot cards… or you can go searching for your deeper and purer self while you wait for your wheels to be aligned.
Just a 10-minute drive Inland from Brunswick, magical Mullumbimby (known as Mullum to the locals), is the self-proclaimed ‘Biggest Little Town in Australia’ and certainly ‘a little town with a big spirit’… and plenty of hippie vibe with its colourful, alternative feel.
Located at the foot of Mount Chincogan, inside an ancient Caldera, and beside the Brunswick River, Mullumbimby is filled with crystals, surrounded by subtropical forest… and along with Byron Bay and Nimbin, also celebrates its alternate lifestyle with a community searching for that deeper and purer existence!
Visit the Crystal Castle, the Shambhala Gardens, the enchanted cave and walk along the reflexology path and buddha walk here – and don’t miss the world’s biggest crystals!
A bit off the beaten path, Nimbin is definitely worth experiencing while on this Byron Bay road trip… just to see what all the hype is about!
Known as Australia’s most famous hippie destination this ‘alternate life capital’ is famous for its laid-back, alternate culture… with many of its characters almost as colourful as the shop facades and exciting markets that line its streets!
To complete the picture of this ‘flower power’ community – the smell of jasmine mixes with the unmistakable waft of other aromas as you wander the streets, mandolins and banjos serinade with blues songs from the sidewalks, and a few dogs wander the streets!
Tearing ourselves away from scenic ocean views at Brunswick Heads we headed just 20-kilometres down the road from Brunswick Heads to the famous Byron Bay.
Famous for its lighthouse trademark, pristine beaches, and great surf breaks this village attracts an eclectic and alternate lifestyle too, and for us it was without a doubt, up there with Nimbin as the ‘hippie epicentre’ of Australia.
Once known as Cavvanbah, a local Aboriginal name meaning ‘The Meeting Place’, Byron is today, a meeting place of a different kind with quaint brightly coloured shops, seaside houses and trendy bars and cafes – all enticing a colourful array of unique individuals from all over world – including some of the best street buskers, creative alternate street artists, live body art… and lots of backpackers in their run-down campers… all here to experience Byron’s carefree, chilled out pace!
Most of Byron Bay’s highlights might seem to lie within its centre but Cape Byron, named by Captain Cook in 1770 after his navigator, the grandfather of the famous poet Lord Byron, is mainland Australia’s most easterly point.
Take a stroll along the Cape Byron walking track. This invigorating 3.7-kilometre walking trail winds through rainforest, along beaches and across clifftops that offer stunning views of the ocean and the hinterland to the imposing lighthouse. Cape Byron Lighthouse, built in 1901, was Australia’s most powerful lighthouse in 1956.
Driving up the steep winding road to this lighthouse is also a stunning drive with views of the coastline on both sides… but don’t be surprised to see lots of people walking up instead of driving – the local council charges $7 for parking once you reach the top!
OH, and yes, did I mention the beautiful beaches? There are 6-beaches at Byron Bay, all perfect for families! You’re spoiled for choice here with their idyllic sands reaching south from the rock wall at Brunswick Heads village to the outcrops of Broken Head.
People have come and people have stayed here at Byron… and it certainly is one of the most eclectic places on the east coast to visit – but we are still undecided on what we really think of this surfing mecca!
Lennox Head was our next stop, a little seaside village we have camped at several times… but this time we only stopped to wander out to the headland before continuing to Ballina just down the road.
Just a 20-minute drive from Byron taking the Coast Road, Lennox Head is always a welcome respite.
This trendy surf town boasts restaurants and cafes, boutiques, the best gelato shop, beautiful Seven Mile Beach and one of the best caravan parks we have stayed in, right on the banks of Lake Ainsworth where the fresh billy tea-coloured waters provide therapeutic benefits from its tea tree infused waters.
Lennox Head is the surfing mecca of Australia with the country’s largest stretch of National Surfing Reserve (7.2-kilometres), and Australia’s most iconic right-hand break which, along with its exceptional waves attracts some of the worlds most talented surfers.
On the ancient volcanic hillside that overlooks the surf beach and the township the green land stretches to the sea (usually used for hang-gliding on suitable days) and a track winds its way over the knoll before weaving its way through vegetation to Pat Morton Lookout where views to the north and south headlands are quite spectacular.
With its beautiful headland, chilled vibe, friendly locals, relaxing tea-stained lake and pristine beach, it’s doesn’t take much to understand why this little town is deservedly, one of our much-loved stops.
Just down the road Ballina is situated at the mouth of the Richmond River.
There’s lots to do at Ballina from discovering the coastal pathways, cycling the 25-kilometre paths around town, exploring the Richmond River and coastline or investigating the maritime history of the region at the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum to name a few!
Thursday Plantation Tea Company is also worth a visit and home to a great education centre and interactive displays about tea tree production in the area. It manufactures products such as tea tree and eucalyptus oil, face cream and beauty products and there’s a cafe, rainforest botanical gardens, a tea tree maze and, of course, a shop where you can purchase their products.
East Ballina is another of the North Coast’s best-kept secrets with this tiny seaside community home to a bustling waterfront of cafes and restaurants… and beaches – 3 to be exact – Sharpes, Lighthouse and Shelly beaches (all patrolled) but we were surprised to find them all almost deserted!
Finding a nice little spot to pull in for lunch we sat for a while and watched fishing boats head to sea through the river’s entrance before heading on to Bunnings to purchase a couple of their famous rain umbrellas to get us through the inclement weather forecast for the coming days.
Now if you’re a fan of visiting Australia’s ‘big things’ like I am, then it is here you will find ‘the big prawn’ – right next door to the Bunnings car park! Like most of these ‘big things’ it looked quite out of place… but it was definitely worth a photo shot!
From Ballina our drive took us through the lush Richmond Valley villages of Broadwater and Woodburn, both nestle beside the Richmond River.
Broadwater is a tiny town dominated by a huge and historic sugar mill. This townscape is memorable for its particularly lovely timber dwellings and public buildings while Woodburn on the other hand, once an important river port, is today the tea tree capital of Coraki (a small town that sits on the confluence of the Richmond and Wilson Rivers) and just a stopover on the highway.
Near Woodburn the highway branches off towards Evan Head, another charming surf town surrounded by Broadwater National Park to the north, Bandjalung to the south and the Evans River.
This little community boasts walking trails, freshwater lagoons, sprawling wetlands, and amazing coastal views from Razorback Lookout on Goanna Headland.
It had been a long day and we were looking forward to setting up camp in one of the nearby National Parks, so we decided to bypass this turnoff.
Further south the Clarence Valley is home to the unique towns of Yamba, Maclean and Grafton… and somewhere in the vicinity, another 60 villages scattered somewhere along the mighty Clarence River and its tributaries.
The Clarence River is the largest waterway on the east coast of Australia. It rises in Queensland’s McPherson Ranges and flows 400-kilometres to the sea on a journey that takes it through deep gullies, past massive forests, rich farmland and 100 chartered islands that lie within it.
On these islands’ little river towns like historic Chatsworth, Harwood and Brushgrove are significant reminders of the river’s crucial role as the commercial and trade route for this region during the 1800s.
After a quick trip into Yamba and Angourie we headed back out to the highway and made tracks through the Scottish town of Maclean.
Yamba sits on the side of the mouth of the Clarence River opposite its twin Iluka and is surrounded by beautiful beaches, river flats and of course a national park.
It was here at Pilot hill where Matthew Flinders first discovered Yamba in 1799 and where a maritime station and lighthouse precinct now stand, offering majestic views and a couple of walks.
To the south Yamba’s gorgeous surrounds also include the National Surfing Reserve of Angourie Point, renowned for its freshwater ‘Blue and Green Pools’ (originally rock quarries)… and another right-hand point break to excite those more experienced surfers.
The 65-kilometre Yuraygir Coastal Walk also begins here and follows a track through Yuraygir National Park to Wooli offering remote camping spots along the way.
Yuraygir National Park, covering 60-kilometres of coastline, isolated beaches and quiet lake systems, is part of the traditional homelands of the Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl Nations and stretches from the tip of Angourie taking in Shelley Beach Head, Brooms Head, Sandon, Minnie Waters, Wooli and the tidal lakes at the mouth of the Clarence River and Corindi River.
The Wooli and Sandon Rivers divide this park into three sections – a northern section, a central section, and a southern section – all with all-weather roads giving access from the Pacific Highway to each section.
Less than an hour’s drive from Grafton, Maclean and Coffs Harbour this National Park is a popular playground for locals, campers and fisherfolk alike… and an ideal spot for us to set up camp for the night.
The Scottish town of Maclean was the next notable community we passed through before we turned into the National Park.
This is little town has street signs bearing their Gaelic translation, a Scottish Cairn built from rocks from around Australia and Scotland commemorating the towns Scottish pioneers… and power poles (over 100 in fact) all painted with Scottish clan tartans and each bearing the name of appropriate clans.
15-kilometres south of Grafton we turned left onto Wooli Road at the historic river port of Ulmarra then 45-kilometres on we turned left again at the Minnie Water turnoff and drove just a little further to Illaroo camp area.
What we didn’t plan for here was the fact we needed to have completed an online booking – which we hadn’t – and it was already packed to the rafters… but a trip back along the road we had come in on (to get phone coverage) soon had us securing the only site left!
llaroo campsite is right on the beach at Minnie Water and split into 3 sections – south camp, north camp (the larger of the two) and a group campsite.
Camping is $10 per person and $7 per day for your vehicle.
There are long drop toilets, a few tables, bbqs and fire pits (although there was a fire ban) – and like all these coastal parks, the beach didn’t disappoint with kilometres of pristine white sand stretching from the campsite towards Rocky Point.
For 4WDing enthusiasts, you can drive this beach at low tide to where it connects with a bush track that takes you through to Sandon village where, according to local campers most of the fishing happens. Licences can be purchased at the Minnie Water shop for $7 for 3 days.
Minnie Water is one of the older fishing settlements on this coast which came about due to good anchorage in the shelter of the southern reef and the presence of permanent water which drains across the beach.
After an uncomfortable night of trying to save ourselves from sliding out the rooftop tent door we packed up early next morning, and after back tracking to Ulmarra we set our sights on Grafton. Our next destination Point Plomer, just past Crescent Head. We might have been lucky enough to secure the last campsite but on the downside – it was on a slight incline!
Ulmarra is one of those quaint country towns you may not have heard of, but this former river port abounds with historic buildings, a river ferry… and an old-fashioned charm of a time when the river was the vital transport route in this district.
Down the road, Grafton was our next stop.
Sitting in the Clarence Valley Region on the banks of the Clarence River, Grafton is an interesting city divided by a huge bridge that passes right through.
The Grafton Bridge gives wide expansive views of the Clarence and Susan Island… and just 200 metres upstream of the bridge the remains of the hull of the old Induna (Grafton’s smaller train ferry) on the south west bank of the Clarence River, can easily be seen and walked to from the Grafton Bridge. Story has it that the ship ‘Induna’ was once used to evacuate soldiers from Gallipoli during WW1, including Winston Churchill.
Grafton is a very pretty, historic city with some lovely old buildings each telling the pioneering story of the Clarence Valley. Surrounded by river flats it is also known as the ‘city of trees’ for its famous Jacaranda trees (originally planted in the 1870s by a local seed merchant) that when in season line the streets and parks with brilliant purple blooms.
35-kilometres south of Grafton we passed the turn off to beautiful Pebbly Beach.
We had visited Pebbly on a previous trip but knowing there were a few sandy tracks and a beach and tidal creek to cross to get to the campground… we decided to push on!
If you’re contemplating this side trip be warned it’s 4WD only with the biggest challenges on this drive the beach exits/entries which are deep, soft, and sandy – and Station Creek crossing where at high tide it’s impassable. Just take care, be mindful of the tides… and make sure you walk the creek before driving it choosing the shallowest route across!
Further along we detoured from the highway… this time we were heading to Red Rock, another favourite of ours!
This northernmost village on the Coffs Coast is named after its stunning red rock formations and is a quiet village nestled on the estuary of the unspoiled Corindi River with its main attraction, a magnificent 20-metre-high headland composed of 300-million-year-old jasper, a form of red quartz that towers over the coast!
This headland is a significant place to the local Gumbaingirr people, also known as the ‘sharing people’ as they frequently shared their abundant resources with other nations… but it was here on this headland in the 1880s that ‘The Blood Rock Massacre’ took place when Europeans chased a large group of Gumbaynggirr people from their camp at the river to the headland, resulting in many innocent people losing their lives.
To walk this headland, it’s difficult to believe this beautiful, peaceful setting was once the site of such an horrific event. The only indication of its dark history – next to the boardwalk winding up to headland and easily missed in overgrown grass rests a simple memorial plaque that records this brutal event unknown to many.
It’s not a busy community – only a few houses, a bowls club, a surf club, a caravan park and a recreation area near the mouth of the river offering sensational views up and down the river.
There’s a playground, shaded picnic tables, plenty of grassy areas with trees to laze under, an amenities block, boat ramp… and a great caravan park which, is an idyllic location to spend a few days to explore the area offering plenty of camping sites and cabins, a great camp kitchen, bbq facilities, very clean amenities, and a general store.
There are also a few great walk and bike riding tracks in the area with Red Rock the beginning point of the 60-kilometre Solitary Islands Coastal Walk heading south… and across the estuary to the north in Yuraygir National Park the end point of the 65-kilometre Yuraygir Coastal Walk.
The small village community of Corindi Beach is just a short drive south. It too offers great beaches but a few more facilities than Red Rock – a tavern, a caravan park, general store, service station and an arts and crafts and cultural centre.
With a history of gold mining in early settlement days this little settlement is set in largely untouched bush and coastal lands and offers vast expanses of bushland and rainforest with the islands, ocean, headlands, and estuaries in this area all within the Solitary Islands Marine Park.
Woolgoolga Headland further on in the Coffs Coast Regional Park, is also worth a stop just to take in the stunning views of the Solitary Islands.
Known to the locals as ‘Woopi’ this seaside village just 25-kilometes north of Coffs Harbour is where in the 1940s, the first Indian migrants settled to work in the nearby banana plantations. It is now popular for its beautiful beaches, Sherwood Nature Reserve, Woolgoolga Creek and Guru Nanak Sikh Temple.
Linking these southern beaches to the north the 60-kilometre Solitary Islands Coastal Walk (I spoke about at Red Rock), meanders through Coffs to the seaside villages of Korora, Moonee and Emerald Beaches where on the northern end of Woolgoolga Beach, you will find the remains of the colonial ‘Buster’ shipwreck which ran aground in 1893.
For us, Coffs Harbour is usually just a stopover to stretch our legs on a road trip down the coast, but we always manage to squeeze in a few hours exploring the waterfront and Mutton Bird Island.
Coffs is a beautiful spot; it is framed by a stunning and unique landscape of forested mountains almost reaching to the sea and is the only place in NSW where the Great Dividing Range meets the Pacific Ocean.
Most famous for ‘The Big Banana’, Coffs is a typical coastal town with wide open beaches and like all these coastal towns, a laid-back atmosphere.
As well as the Great Dividing Range siding with the Pacific Ocean this busy little hub also has an island right on its doorstep that can be accessed from Park Beach along the break water wall.
Muttonbird Island was given its name by early settlers because of the migratory, wedge-tailed shearwaters that nests there.
These little birds spend the northern summer around the Philippines before travelling thousands of kilometres to Australia where they can be spotted between August and April each year.
Their mammoth journey takes the best part of 2-months to complete and it’s not unusual to see hundreds of thousands of little birds descend with precision at certain points along Australia’s coastline for their breeding season… a sight we often saw when we lived on Flinders Island off the northern-eastern coast of Tassie in Bass Strait!
Following a sealed path to the top of the hill on the island information plaques along the way provide heaps of facts about these fascinating little birds and you can see their burrows on either side of the trail. Each year the pairs return to the exact same nest to breed.
This path is quite steep but once on top you have the added bonus of stunning 360-degree views to the Solitary Islands on the northern coast and distant headlands to the south.
Long before this island was connected to the shore, certain Gumbaynggirr people were the only ones permitted to venture to it. They came to collect muttonbirds for food, protected for their survival by a giant moon-man guardian.
This fascinating Dreaming story and many others are explained in detail at the Muttonbird Island Outdoor Learning Space located near the entrance at the base of the island.
One hours drive inland from Coffs is also another attraction worth checking out, the World Heritage Dorrigo National Park.
I love this National Park and it certainly deserves a spot on the list of ‘top-things-to-do’ if you’re visiting Coffs Harbour.
This park is an ancient Gondwana rainforest that has a great 6.6-kilometre walk – the Wonga Walk that covers all the best parts of the forest including an abundance of waterfalls and stunning views over the mountains from Point Lookout.
This national park is part of the stunning ‘Three Brothers’ ranges – 3 separate mountains of the Mid North Coast region of NSW.
These 3 mountains dominate the coastal hinterland from Port Macquarie in the north to Taree in the south with Dooragan called North Brother, Booragan is South Brother and in between is Mooragan, or Middle Brother. They were named the ‘Three Brothers’ by James Cook but what he didn’t know was the Birrbay (Biripi) people had also called these mountains the ‘Three Brothers’ — Dooragan, Mooragan and Booragan.
Further south we bypassed the seaside villages of Sawtell, Mylestom and Grassy Head only taking the detour to Nambucca Heads to check out the view from the lookout and make a cuppa.
Mylestom is a small quiet little village, nestled between the ocean and the beautiful Bellinger River and located only a short 5-minute drive off the Pacific Highway. This is an ideal spot to pull in for the night – it has a great caravan park!
From here on south, the Nambucca Valley encompasses the villages of Nambucca Heads, Macksville, Scotts Head, the historic heritage town of Bowraville in the hinterland and Valla Beach before adjoining the Bellinger and Kempsey/Macleay Valleys.
Back on the coast and detouring off the very busy highway Nambucca Heads, once renowned for its marine and timber getting past when it was an important coastal port with ship building and timber mills as the main industries in the 1800s and early 1900s, was a welcome break.
If you find yourself in this secret coastal hide-away make sure you check out the breathtaking views from Captain Cook and Rotary Lookouts and wander the river foreshore along the Gulmani walkway that will take you to the heritage V-Wall where the massive boulders of the breakwater at the river entrance have become a colourful outdoor gallery for graffiti artists!
Back out on the highway we passed through Macksville, the administrative centre of this valley.
Macksville’s name came about when two of the early settlers, Angus Mackay and Hugh McNally, built the local Star Hotel… and not surprisingly when the village was established, it was called ‘Mack’s Village’ – later to become Macksville.
Aussie country pubs always seem to have a story to tell and the short trip west of Macksville to Taylors Arm to visit Australia’s very famous ‘pub with no beer’ is a must do!
Apparently, this pub has been dispensing beer for over 100 years and legend has it – it once ran out! Of course (in genuine Aussie humour) it didn’t take long for local timber cutter and song writer, Gordon Parsons to preserve the story in what became one of Australia’s most famous songs sung by our very own Slim Dusty and aptly named ‘A Pub with No Beer’!
South of Macksville is the seaside town of Scotts Head but with all these little communities offering a similar scene of idyllic beaches, headland walks, safe estuaries, cafes and restaurants and cool boutique shops we decided to push on and take the detour into South West Rocks.
Located at the entrance to the Macleay River, ‘The Rocks’ as it is affectionately known to the locals is the largest seaside town on the Macleay Valley Coast and as well as steeped in history, showcases some of the coasts most beautiful beaches and national parks. This is one 20-minute detour off the highway you won’t regret!
Perched high up on a hill within the Arakoon National Park, Trial Bay Gaol is an imposing fortress.
It opened in 1886 after 13-years of construction and was built to house prisoners who were forced to construct a breakwater to make Trial Bay a safe harbour for boats travelling between Sydney and Brisbane. This ambitious project was shelved after more than a decade of work due to bad engineering and storms… then during World War I it was reopened as an internment camp for people of German descent who were feared to be enemy sympathisers.
It closed in 1918 but the ruins still provide an insight into the harsh environment the prisoners had to endure and today this historic ruin stands as a testament to those who lived and died here!
There’s an easy walk to Monument Hill here that takes in an historic monument built for German gaol internees. This walk joins with the Brible trail and loops back via the Powder Magazine walking track where you will always be rewarded with picturesque casuarinas in the heathlands and many flannel flowers planted by the internees because they reminded them of edelweiss and home!
It’s hard to comprehend how such a place of so much tragedy can also be a place of so much beauty with Monument Hill overlooking some of the most stunning coastal views this region has to offer.
Arakoon National Park hosts several campgrounds, walking tracks and fabulous coastal scenery and if you’re planning on staying a few days Trial Bay Gaol Caravan Park offers a range of sites and facilities… but for us, the most stunning campground is south of the town at Smokey Cape in the Hat Head National Park.
This national park hugs the coast all the way from South West Rocks south to Crescent Head and is simply stunning!
Smokey Cape camping area is only 7-kilometres from South West Rocks and offers shady sites, toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, a magnificent view of the Smokey Cape Lighthouse, a couple of resident goannas, kangaroos and kookaburras who will most probably pay you a visit… and if you’re up for a challenge grab a beach permit and head along the magnificent beach that stretches all the way from South West Rocks to Hat Head.
Smokey Cape was named by Captain Cook in 1770 when he saw smoke rising from above the headland… smoke from the fires of the Dunghutti Aboriginal people who lived in this coastal area.
The beach is only a short walk from the campground to the base of Smokey Cape Lighthouse, but the lighthouse can only be accessed by car a few kilometres back from the campground… and of course, we couldn’t leave without a visit.
The road to the top was long and windy and at first there was no sight of what we had come to see when suddenly, a break in the trees revealed a view over heath covered ground to this magnificent beacon, and below on the leeside of the hill, tucked away from the prevailing winds, the keeper’s cottages and the sheds.
Just below on the narrow headland Captain Cook’s Lookout provided stunning panoramic views of Hat Head National Park… but I have to say the lighthouse itself is just as beautiful as the vista that surrounded it!
Back out on the highway we pointed Harry Hilux in the direction of Hat Head.
The quaint township of Hat Head has a general store, bowling and surf lifesaving clubs, and a huge caravan park if you’re looking for a few creature comforts… but to get to the campground it means backtracking to Gap Road which follows Korogoro Creek to Hungry Road right through to Hungry Gate camping area.
This is another of our favoured spots where we like to spend a few days however, in all the NSW National Parks on the coast you do need permits to camp and camping fee envelopes can be found here at the entrance information area just past the creek crossing!
Back out on the highway we bypassed Kempsey.
Kempsey, on the Macleay Valley Coast, straddles the Macleay River and is the commercial hub of the region with the Old Pacific Highway running right through the heart of the town.
It was late in the day when we pulled into a very busy Crescent Head.
Even though it was nearing the end of the school holidays the place was still packed with the holiday park on the beach front full of tents, caravans and holidaying families.
Tucked into the lee side of Big Nobby, a volcanic remnant that slopes towards the sea in a tumble of basalt boulders, Crescent Head, known as Australia’s longboarding capital, is a lovely little seaside town hemmed in on the south side by Goolawah reserve and Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve where we planned on spending the next couple of days.
After stocking up on a few supplies and water the last section of our journey to the uncrowded beach at Point Plomer Campground was only a 17-kilometre drive over a partly unsealed, sometimes rough road.
Complete with beautiful campsites and very clean amenities this campground does, however, require you to be mostly self-sufficient. There are showers but they are cold and as bore water is the only option, you do need to bring your own drinking water.
After booking into the campsite office, we set off to set up camp for the next 3-days.
The sites themselves are undefined so it’s simply a matter of rolling in and choosing wherever we wanted to set up. The eastern side of the park has a beautiful coastal outlook… but with bad weather forecast we decided on the more sheltered western side protected behind a wall of trees and shrubs.
With school holidays seemingly still in full swing this was a very busy campground indeed and with the weekend almost upon us too, it appeared everyone north or south of Port Macquarie and anywhere in between had set up camp here.
Fortunately for us we arrived before the late hour traffic arrived and managed to secure a recently vacated site that provided us with relative solitude, compared to the other areas in the campground… and then it was pretty entertaining to sit in our camp chairs and watch as families, backpackers and surfers kept rocking after dark, and setting up wherever they could find a clear patch of grass.
The blustery days that followed were mostly wet with the odd sprinkle and during the nights we were often treated to a sudden, short downpour.
Having camped here a couple of times this seemed a common occurrence, but it didn’t stop us from roaming the beach and exploring the headland – sometimes buffeted by the wind and caught in showers that sheeted across the sand.… but once the clouds moved on and the scorching sun showed its face we’d head to the ocean for a cool swim.
As well as a small dingo population there was also an abundance of other wildlife and birdlife that call this point home.
In the quite calm out of wind on the headland sea eagles, and wedge-tailed eagles were often seen hunting the headland’s plentiful food supply and we even spotted and followed an echidna along the walking track at the top of the headland.
On occasion we stopped to watch wedge tail eagles take to the air, flapping up slowly from a rocks then rising in frantic spirals before floating effortlessly higher over the grey seas…
… and the views were incredible from above and below the headland as the waves surged against the steep cliff walls before shattering themselves on the rocks below.
Down by the waters edge a lone dingo fished from the rocks then surprised us as it dragged a decent size fish to the safety of the sand dunes. Pelicans preened themselves and gulls would flock on the edge of the tide mark – and as we walked towards them, they would scare and lift chortling into the air only to congregate once again further along the beach.
Other dingos lazed at the high tide mark seemingly needing each other’s company.
It truly was a magnificent setting and one high on the top of our camping list.
Our next adventurous path would take us further south towards Settlement Point on the northern shore of Port Macquarie where we would catch the vehicle ferry over the Hastings River.
We knew from our last trip this route quickly turns from a gravel road into a narrow track that requires a high clearance 4WD and was quite rutted with deep sandy washouts in several locations… but once we hit the start there was no turning back and after 50-minutes of slow-going through very rocky sections, deep waterholes, mud, bottomless sand traps and humps and hollows we arrived on the outskirts of Settlement Point!
This track was entertaining to say the least and had us lurching over dips and reaching for the dashboard to steady ourselves numerous times… but we loved the challenge and if you have a compressor and basic recovery gear it really should be added to your list – just make sure you get your tyre pressures right!
The ferry runs around the clock at $5 each way and despite it being a busy time, we were able to get straight on and soon disembarking on the otherside after a short 10-minute crossing of the beautiful Hastings River to Port Macquarie.
Port Macquarie is a beautiful spot and worth a stop just to walk the iconic break wall to check out the brightly painted artwork on the rocks… say hi to some of the 50 large scale fibreglass ‘Hello Koalas’, individually designed, named and hand painted to form a 9-kilometres ‘Hello Koalas Public Sculpture Trail’ from the mountains to the sea… and visit the Koala Hospital where you get to meet some of our very own iconic Aussie bears desperately in need of some TLC!
Established in 1821 this city has many early structures still standing in the centre of town – a reminder of its past… and only just a few clicks out of the town centre, Sea Acres Rainforest Centre is worth a visit. This heritage listed coastal rainforest remnant, bordered by Shelley Beach, has a great boardwalk that meanders through a forest canopy. At the northern end of the beach Tacking Point Lighthouse, built in 1879, and at only 8-metres tall, is the third oldest lighthouse in Australia.
With our sights now set on Diamond Head where we arranged to meet with our friends from Newcastle we only stopped this time to stock up on food and water and fill up with gas for our upcoming trip to Barrington Tops in mid NSW.
However, after driving aimlessly around Port Macquarie on a busy Saturday morning in peak hour traffic, we soon gave up any prospect of finding a tap for water and with the hope of filling up down the road, headed for Lake Cathie!
Lake Cathie – pronounced ‘cat-eye’, is just 12 -kilometres south of Port Macquarie and has always been a stop over point for us to pull in for a break and stretch our legs. There’s a lovely forest walk here that leads to the northern headland and a viewing platform that offers fabulous views over the ocean and across the salt lake, the second largest estuarine salt marsh area in NSW.
Water is an absolute essential part of life let alone when you’re travelling around Australia with just a rooftop tent and only x2 20-litre water containers to store it in… so unless you plan to stay in caravan parks the entire time, you really do need to know ways of finding water on a regular basis.
The big question is – where to find it?… and thank heavens for these small towns where you will always find a local to ask!
After stiking up a conversation with a man mowing his front lawn, we soon had the Trangia boiled for a cuppa, our water containers filled at the nearby recreation area – and we were on track to meet our friends.
Further on we passed through North Haven a small suburb on the northern shore of Camden Haven connected by bridge to the nearby commercial centre of Laurieton.
One of my favourite stops in this area is nearby Laurieton Lookout on the North Brother Mountain and with 2 ways to get to this summit – the challenging 3-kilometre walking track from Laurieton… or a 5-kilometre drive via the Captain Cook Bicentennial Drive – I promise you it is well worth the effort, just to see the magnificent view from the top!
Our next stop was Diamond Head situated in the Crowdy Bay National Park in the Mid North Coast Manning Valley.
This National Park is another much loved camping area of ours that sees us returning time and time again!
Offering everything for the avid camper and 4WDer this national park affords stunning campsites, great beach driving, incredible scenery, unforgettable sweeping vistas from the cliff top… and another lighthouse – Crowdy Head Lighthouse, built in 1878.
There are 2 ways to get to Diamond Head and we accessed the northern entrance to the Crowdy Bay National Park from Laurieton by the more conventional track via the well-formed gravel Diamond Head Road to Diamond Head… but for the avid 4WDer up for the challenge there is a beach drive from Dunbogan Beach (with a beach permit of-course) as a second option!
Finally, we reached Diamond Head campground where we paid our park entrance and camping fees at the ranger station and made our way over to set up camp next to Nola and Pete. It had been many months since we first met up with this lovely couple and it was so nice to sit around the campfire with a nice glass of red and share notes!
This beach side campground is one of the most popular places to stay in Crowdy Bay National Park offering lovely flat grassy sites with shade, flush toilets and cold showers.
With lots to explore in the area you can take your pick of hiking tracks from the 4.8-kilometre Diamond Head loop walk via Indian Head with its panoramic views of coast, mountains and forest – to the shorter Mermaid Lookout track.
Sometimes, like it or not, you end up camping in the rain. That doesn’t mean it has to be a miserable experience… you just have to be prepared, and thanks to our Bunnings umbrellas we were able to enjoy sitting around the campfire.
That night we were constantly woken to the rhythmic pattern of the rain beating against the canvas, strong winds, and thunder and lightning… and were relieved when morning arrived with the promise of blue skies.
As we climbed out of our abodes in the early hours of the morning, we weren’t surprised to find Nola and Pete’s van surrounded by water, but it was obvious others didn’t fare so well as there were many fogged windows where some campers had to resort to their emergency plan and evacuate from their tents to their cars!
Once we’d packed up and explored the blackened pillars of Split Rock on the beach it was time to make tracks once again with the next part of our journey taking us inland to explore the spectacular Barrington Tops.
Over the next 6-days our adventure will see us exploring the lush farming district of Gloucester and surrounds, as well as the pristine wilderness that is the ancient and magnificent world heritage listed Gondwana Rainforest region of Barrington Tops.
From there we head to Chichester State Forest located in the foothills of the Barrington Tops, on the Allyn River
Be prepared to be delighted with the magnificent scenery, quaint country towns, meandering rivers, and fresh mountain air in this little-visited part of New South Wales.