9 Jan 2018
Join the G’DAY crew as they embark on the classic New South Wales great Australian road trip hitting the bitumen between Sydney and the Gold Coast.
It’s the little things that make a long, leisurely drive memorable. Encounters with interesting strangers, conversation between family members, and jaw-dropping scenery along the way.
As scenic drives go, The Pacific Highway is up there with the best. Anyone who grew up in New South Wales is likely to have fond memories of piling into the family’s station wagon and hitting the bitumen between Sydney and Brisbane. The 790-kilometre-long national highway winds its way along the central east coast of Australia. It is a route dotted with spectacular places to hide from the world, with the benefit of creature comforts along the way. Well known stop-offs include Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, and the Gold Coast but it’s the little detours that really stand out. Small towns like Forster, Emerald Beach, Bellingen, Yamba, and Ballina.
The Pacific Highway is surrounded by rivers. There’s the Hawkesbury, Hunter, Myall (just to the east of Bulahdelah), Manning (south of Coopernook), Hastings (west of Port Macquarie), Macleay (just to the east of Frederickton), Nambucca (near Macksville), Bellinger (near Raleigh), Clarence (via the Harwood Bridge near Maclean), Richmond (at Ballina), Brunswick, and Tweed rivers. Among the most picturesque is the Wallamba River near the seafood-packed town of Forster. The seaside location is 308 kilometres north-east of Sydney and a great spot to park a van, pitch a tent or rest your weary driver’s head in a cabin. For cracking river views, Discovery Parks – Forster is a great place to do so. That’s exactly why managers Jane and Mick Ticehurst moved there two years ago. “The Wallamba River is one of the main attractions here,” Mick says. “People love to ski. You can be towed behind a boat in just about anything: Inflatable donuts, kneeboards, giant pink swans. All sorts. It’s great to watch.”
Jane, who is originally from South Australia, loves their new surroundings so much, she spends her days off in her own hood. “What’s not to love about this part of the world?” she says. “It’s beautiful. We have the best sunsets, great people, the river is amazing, it’s a beautiful spot. You can walk out your back door and throw a line in the water.”
When the fish aren’t biting they take their boat along the stretch of water towards town for lunch. “We had no shoes on when we walked into Tartt café to get our coffee. We forgot them but that’s okay… in Forster they don’t care.”
It’s a laidback attitude typical of the seaside town the locals pronounce as ‘Foster’.
Here, in the beautiful Great Lakes region, it’s all about water. There’s Main Beach, with its ocean baths, Pebbly Beach which is a hit with snorkelers, McBrides Beach, and One Mile Beach which stretches from Cape Hawke to Booti Hill and the Ruins, where fishing and surfing is popular. National park lookouts are a good way to get up-close-and-personal to Mother Nature. Booti Booti National Park (an eight-kilometre peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Wallis Lake) is a top spot for hiking and mountain biking. It also boasts rainforests and beautiful beaches. Visitors to Gardens of Stone National Park can ride a horse or bike along the Crown Creek fire trail, a section of the iconic Bicentennial trail. Summer is a great time to visit, especially for snap happy travellers. The light and shade bouncing off the jagged canyons makes for some gobsmacking photographs.
Whale watching is popular, too. The gentle giants migrate along the coast of New South Wales between May and November. Whale and dolphin cruises let you settle back and concentrate on spotting marvellous mammals.
Or, if you prefer to catch and eat your seafood, a fishing charter is a great way to see the area with a fish-eye-view and an angler’s unique insight.
Life here is focussed on the water, whether it’s gobbling local oysters with a speccy view, or events dedicated to H2O. Opera By The Lake is an event held during March 2018 by The Rotary Club of Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Creative Network. Think arias and ensembles from the world’s most adored operas – performed by the beautiful Wallis Lake. Or, if you don’t mind a bit of sand between the toes, The Jeff Wilcox Memorial bodyboarding competition is held during July 2018. Don’t forget your sunscreen.
When you get back to your accommodation after a hard day exploring, make sure you check out the ‘Wallamba’ song on YouTube. It’s by local muso Carrot Bowen. He wrote the song about Discovery Parks - Forster. “He performs here for us sometimes,” Jane says. “You should also check out his song ‘The Proposal’. He proposed to his partner Kim – took her to the pictures and during the ads at the beginning of the film his song ‘The Proposal’ played. They’re getting married here at the park on the decking in March next year.” Aw. Romance isn’t dead, especially in a place as pretty as this.
Closest Discovery Holiday Park: Discovery Parks - Forster
WATCH: Jane and Mick hit the Wallamba River water.
Word on the beach is there’s no aphrodisiac like freshly shucked oysters. Especially when they’re knocked back with a craft beer as the sun sets over Wallis Lake. Hamiltons Oysters is a family-run waterside restaurant and bar with beautiful views. “The family has been in the area for six years and the restaurant had been trading for three,” manager Jeff Clubb says. The Sydney rock oysters are harvested out of farms on Wallis Lake. “Sydney rock oysters are known for their fleshy, creamy flavours,” Jeff says. “Traditionally, they’re a lot better at Christmas time because they follow the same season as a mango.” For the full experience, a tasting plate is the way to go. A mix of nude and lemon, nam jim, avocado, lime and flying fish roe, passionfruit and lime, chilli mango pearls with mango finishing vinegar, and wakame (seaweed salad), lime and soy dressing. “One of our most popular items would also have to be the local market fish.”
There’s a relaxed bistro style menu available all day and the vibe is casual. Don’t forget happy hour every Friday from 4pm to 7pm and live music on Sundays. Bottoms (and oysters) up! 1 Palm St, Tuncurry.
WATCH: Seeing is believing. Jeff introduces us to Hamiltons’ beautiful surrounds.
It’s not crowded on this stretch, with only the sounds of waves and hooves on sand. “There’s never a bad day on the beach to be riding a horse,” Horseabout Tours owner Craig Cross says. And when you look out to the water for a moment on the back of a gelding, you know there’s something to that. Forster-Tuncurry is the place people go to take their skis out on the Wallamba – the river is religion. But there’s a real Australian feeling in saddling up on a horse and going for a trail ride. Horseabout Tours’ friendly team of instructors know how to match you up with the right horse (Gina and Bucky will quickly win your heart), making it an experience to remember for both first-timers and pro stationhands.
“A lot of people come to unwind,” Craig says. In groups of 6 to 8, you can choose to go for a ride from bush to beach, watch the sun rise or set over the Pacific Ocean, wind through the mountains of the Forster Hinterland, campout on an overnight adventure, or go for a picnic.
WATCH: We saddle up on sandy Pacific Ocean beaches.
National Motorcycle Museum
Riders, welcome to paradise. Every corner of the National Motorcycle Museum of Australia is chock-a-block with vintage bikes, petrol pumps, and rider wear. Avid bike collectors Brian and Margaret Kelleher have showcased bikes from Australia (and all over) since 1991. From Harley-Davidson to Velocette, this is a serious collection of wheels.
The walls are lined with newspaper clippings, old photographs and info about legendary Australian racing events and riders. Remember Dale Buggins? The lost but not forgotten stunt-rider launched into stardom at 17 when he broke a world record for jumping over a whopping 25 cars on a dirt bike – the previous record was held by the legendary Evel Knievel. After losing themselves in memorabilia, RV travellers with pets can enjoy some free off-the-lead time in an area safe for them to run around before the next leg of the trip. Even horses can be tethered for the night on a lunge rein at the paddock out the front of the museum.
WATCH: Explore bikes galore with us at the National Motorcycle Museum.
It’s as beautiful as it sounds. Emerald Beach is a hit with families and a must-see (and stay) during a Pacific Highway jaunt. You’ll find it just south of Woolgoolga and about 15 minutes north of Coffs Harbour. It is a safe spot for swimming (there are plenty of little rock pools for nippers to play in) and surfing the southern left-hand reef break.
A beach walk to Look At Me Now Headland is stress-busting stuff. There’s also a playground in the park behind the beach. Tourists flock to the rolling hills adjacent to Emerald Beach to watch families of kangaroos graze the land. Travellers with furry friends can even walk their dog on a lead north of Fiddamans Creek and south of Diggers Head. A trip into Coffs Harbour is a great way to spend a day. There’s plenty of shopping, wharf fishing, and family activities there to entertain all ages. Save a day to head to the gorgeous hilly town of Bellingen. The small town is home to hip cafes and the wonderful Bellingen Community Markets, one of Australia’s’ largest and most diverse regional markets (held on the held the third Saturday of every month). It’s also a top spot for a massage (if all that driving is taking its toll).
Closest Discovery Holiday Park: Discovery Parks – Emerald Beach
Watch: video below about Discovery Parks – Emerald Beach.
Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve
If there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss when you’re in the Coffs Harbour region, this is it.
Join NPWS Aboriginal ranger and Gumbaynggirr Elder Mark Flanders on a Muttonbirds by Moonlight tour. Uncle Mark is a character and has a wealth of knowledge about the thousands of years of cultural connection to the island. “This is a very sacred place to my people,” Mark says. “I’ve been here all my life.” Mark leads the hour-and-a-half full moon tour full of information about the island’s elusive, feathered inhabitants. “You don’t see muttonbirds here during the day at all. You only see them at night time. When the sun comes in the morning they all fly out to sea and feed all day. As soon as the sun goes down, they all come in. We come out here as it’s starting to get dark and the full moon is rising on the ocean. You see the muttonbirds coming in… it’s just a beautiful sight.” During the tour Mark talks about the history of the local area, native plants, and if you’re lucky, he’ll tell you the dreamtime story of the Moon Man. It’s a cracker.
Bring a small, personal torch and insect repellent, wear something warm, and be prepared to learn a lot. “We try to look after this island as best we can to try and conserve the population.” Tours start at $10/child and $20/adult.
WATCH: Uncle Mark Flanders talked to us about elusive muttonbirds.
Dolphin Marine Magic
Fin-flipping fun for all the family. The cute factor is extreme at this marine park. Resident seals and dolphins put on an interactive show aimed at inspiring people to conserve marine animals and their environment for future generations. Pose for a pre-show pic (and a kiss) with the majestic mammals, relax in the landscaped gardens, or grab a refreshing drink and bite to eat in the Creekside Café (opens daily at 7.30am). The gates open at 9am and close at 3pm every day of the year. 65 Orlando St, Coffs Harbour.
Closest Discovery Holiday Park: Discovery Parks – Emerald Beach
WATCH: Kissing seals and amazing dolphins in action at Dolphin Marine Magic.
A fast food outlet (the healthy, organic variety) nestled next to a petrol station. It’s actually very good. Think cups of beans, edamame, or chunks of sweet, nutritious pizza pockets, and grab-and-go options such as sushi, boiled eggs, and snack packs for kids (think carrot sticks, not chips). M1 Freeway, Wyong (and also in Coffs Harbour).
Stop off at The Little Local Café, a tiny coffee van on Ulmarra’s main drag. It’s a popular spot for a caffeine hit (what’s in the cup is decent) and it’ll fuel the sugar cane-lined drive ahead. Find the little cutie on Instagram: @thelittlelocalulmarra
What’s not to love? Find this big yellow beast on the outskirts of Coffs Harbour. There’s a gift shop full of banana-related gems, a café, and best of all – priceless photo opportunities. 51 Pacific Hwy, Coffs Harbour.
Image: The Big Banana, Coffs Harbour; Credit: Destination NSW
I spy with my little eye… a giant crustacean. West Ballina is home to this big orange beast. Stretch your legs, take a snap, and keep moving (unless you need hardware supplies – it’s right next to Bunnings Warehouse). 507 River St, West Ballina.
BALLINA & BYRON BAY
The name ‘Ballina’ is believed to be derived from the Aboriginal word ‘Bullinah’ meaning ‘place of plenty or big stomach, plenty to eat’. There is, too. Especially if you’re prepared to hunt for your dinner. Fishing doesn’t get much better. The coastal town is located on an island at the mouth of the Richmond River. Brisbane is just two hours away so it’s a leisurely drive from either Brissy or Sydney. While you’re in town, take a river walk, cycle, walk or run the many pathways, take a river cruise or go swimming, paddle boarding, or cast a line and catch your dinner. There’s a prawn festival in November so plan ahead if crustaceans are your caper. Got kids? Stretch your legs at The Macadamia Castle (419 Hinterland Way, Knockrow) between Ballina and Byron Bay.
Image: Hinterland, Byron Bay; Credit: Destination NSW
There’s something about Byron Bay. Maybe it’s the all year-round pleasant climate, sandy beaches, surfing, scuba diving sites and laid-back vibe. The town’s main drag isn’t exactly peaceful. Gift and clothing stores, eateries, bars and a steady flow of tourists make for a vibrant (busy) atmosphere. Find your inner zen and get close to nature.
Cape Byron State Conservation Park is on a headland and boasts Cape Byron Lighthouse which stands on a rocky cliff with a sheer drop of 100 metres. The views are gobsmacking.
Between June and November, humpback whales can be spotted from headland viewpoints including the Captain Cook Lookout. The cafés and restaurants are top notch, if you know where to go. Hot tips include Three Blue Ducks café and restaurant on The Farm, a five-minute drive from Byron. It’s a beautiful place for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Take a stroll around the property while you’re at it. There’s a playground for the kids, a foraging trail, and loads of beautiful picnic locations.
Ask locals and they’ll tell you that Harvest Newrybar (18-22 Old Pacific Hwy, Newrybar Village) is also worth a drive. The restaurant, bakery and deli is open seven days for lunch and dinner and breakfast on weekends. The Eltham Valley Pantry (713 Boatharbour Rd, Eltham) is a top spot to chow down. Find it on the way to Lismore. The café serves beautifully presented local food, art, gifts and produce. The setting is unforgettable: the pecan orchard and beautiful 100-year-old farmhouse provide a lovely backdrop for a meal. The weekly roving markets are a great place to try food made by locals. Byron Bay, The Channon and Bangalow host big markets on the first, second and fourth Sundays of each month respectively. It’s food (and gift) heaven.
Image: Byron Bay Markets, Byron Bay; Credit: Destination NSW
If a liquid meal is more your thing, head to Cape Byron Distillery (80 St Helena Rd, Byron Bay). It is open for tours by appointment only and is set in the heart of a macadamia farm and surrounded by sub-tropical rainforest. Now that’s a tasting. Sip Brookie’s Gin and toast life on the open road.
Then there’s live music. You haven’t ‘done’ Byron until you’ve sunk a beverage at the iconic Beach Hotel overlooking Main Beach. Catch a band, grab a burger (or hot chips with truffle and parmesan – wow), and let the good times roll. Meanwhile, Byron Bay Bluesfest is an internationally renowned blues and roots music festival held each year during the Easter long weekend. It boasts more than 200 performances across seven stages and fans (100,000 and counting) travel far and wide to lap up the laid-back atmosphere and funky beats. The action happens on 120 hectares at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, 11 kilometres from Byron and the festival is family friendly.
Families should go to Brunswick and take a drive up to The Minyon Falls. The waterfall thunders over 100-metre-high cliffs which were once part of the Tweed Volcano.
A plunge waterfall on the Repentance Creek in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia. The waterfall topples 100 metres over cliffs which were once part of the Tweed Volcano. Exploring the hinterlands is also a must.
TO MARKET TO...
No-one does markets like Byron and the ultimate is The Byron Community Market. The huge event is held at the Butler Street reserve from 8am to 3pm on the first Sunday of every month. During December and January, it is also held on the third Sunday of the month. Set aside a full morning to browse your way through stall after stall of lovingly handcrafted jewellery, clothing, bags, dream catchers, artwork, décor, and beauty products. There’s plenty of food, too. It’s all inspired by faraway corners of the globe and the best of local produce. Fill your belly while roving performers fill your eyes, ears and soul.
Image: Miss Margarita, Byron Bay; Credit: Destination NSW
Want more? Also try the Byron Farmers’ Market (from 8am to 11am every Thursday), Byron Artisan Market on Saturday evenings (5pm to 9pm, October to March at Railway Park, Jonson St, Byron Bay), and the Byron Beachside Market (8am to 4pm in early January, Easter Saturday, and late September on the foreshore of Main Beach, east of the Surf Club in Byron Bay).
WATCH: We explored the colourful, vibrant Byron Bay Community Market.
Crystal Castle and Shambhala Gardens
Naren King had a dream and boy did he make it a reality. In 1986 the gentle owner of the Crystal Castle and Shambhala Gardens in Byron’s Hinterlands found a unique building on 25 hectares near Mullumbimby. He fell in love with it and wanted to make it a place for all to visit, share, enjoy, breathe deep and find inner peace. He went on to become Australia’s first direct importer of quality natural crystals from around the world, supplying wholesale crystals around Australia. Now, he lives onsite and has filled the exquisitely landscaped grounds full of some of the world’s largest crystals. Over the past 17 years, creative director (and Naren’s wife) Sono King designed the gardens, a labyrinth, Buddha walk, and rainforest walk. It’s a mystical place. You know you’re onto a good thing when your World Peace Stupa is blessed by the Dalai Lama. “I feel my life’s purpose is manifested here,” Naren says. “It’s a place where people can get off the merry-go-round of life and just have a day where they just go, ‘Ah’ in awe and wonder of nature.” A visit to Crystal Castle is not complete without staring up in wonder at the giant crystal guardians. The natural wonders stand five-and-a-half meters tall and weigh 20,000 kilograms. “It’s the biggest ever found.” You can also take a crystal home. “We retail crystals from all over the world, collected over 30 years. We also have crystal jewellery, a bookshop and the Lotus Café with beautiful, healthy food straight from our organic veggie garden.”
Workshops and guided tours are available and are included in the entry price. There’s a crystal workshop, music of the plants and guided garden walk, plus a Crystal Castle peace experience, and a nurturing sound healing meditation run every afternoon. Get an aura photo and tarot reading while you’re there. 81 Monet Dr, Mullumbimby.
WATCH: World’s largest crystals and the magnificent Shambhala Gardens in Byron Bay’s Hinterlands.
Watch video below about Discovery Parks – Byron Bay.