Long stretches of golden beaches, rolling surf and mountains of precipitous dunes characterise the coast of the northern New South Wales. For jaw-dropping seascapes and the hinterland scenery, the region is a popular vacation gem for both Australians and foreigners.

View from the lighthouse at Cape Byron, NSW

PORT STEPHENS

The main access point to the subtropical North of NSW is Nelson Bay – locally known as a water sports paradise. Fingal Bay, Shoal Bay, Anna Bay and Soldier Bay offer world-renowned pleasure grounds. Port Stephens is the major hub typical of dense vegetation and abundant wildlife.

Nelson Bay port

Great Lakes Marine National Park is home to dolphins, whales, turtles, sponge gardens, mangroves and salt marshes and it is well-known amongst all fans of boating, fishing and sea life.

For nature admirers, there are so many wonderful walking and mountain bike tracks around the bay that one could stay for weeks, and it would not be enough. Tomaree Headland Lookout with staggering views of the port`s offshore islands is the No 1.

Tomaree Headland Lookout is Port Stephen`s premier attraction

Food lovers will surely be not left behind, and there is excellent home-grown produce in the region, such as fresh oysters, macadamias, figs, avocados, olives, boutique wines and craft brews.

However, the absolute highlight of Port Stephens is undisputedly the Worimi Conservation Lands and the gigantic Stockton Bight Sand Dunes. This is truly one of nature`s masterpieces, and the good thing that you can drive it!

Quad bike riding down the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes truly is a great fun

ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN PORT STEPHENS

  • Stockton Bight Sand Dunes – search around the largest dunes in the southern hemisphere on foot, quad bike or a 4WD, or sandboard down a 40-metre long dune
  • Tomaree Head Summit Walk & Lookout – admire the idyllic scenery of Port Stephens and its emerald waters encircling the offshore islands, have a picnic on the beach after two hr of moderate hiking
  • Nelson Bay – swim with wild dolphins and winter whale watching is a must!
  • Anna Bay – you don`t need to travel to Broome to ride camels along the endless sand stretches, Anna Bay has it all!
Camel riding in Anna Bay, Port Stephens

COFFS HARBOUR

Banana plantations, exotic birds, seaside holiday retreats and thriving jungles around Coffs Harbour indicate the close distance to the tropics. Covered with reserves and national parks and lush, verdant foliage, Coffs Harbour makes a wonderful destination.

Visiting Coffs Harbour – the Big Banana town, one should learn about the region`s natural marvels, and a good way to do so is paying a visit to the Butterfly House and Solitary Islands Marine Park.

Coffs Harbour – the Big Banana town, is associated with subtropical fruit

A short trip southwards, down the Legendary Pacific Coast, the Nambucca Heads and South West Rocks can be visited, especially by the campers – there are some of the best camping spots in NSW. 

Nature and wildlife lovers will want to explore the national parks and reserves around the Coffs Harbour. Bellingen NP is known for its river adventures and kayaking as well as frequent cultural events, Cascade NP has an outstanding mountain bike and hiking tracks, Bindarri NP teems with waterfalls, and the Bongil Bongil NP has brilliant beaches, walking tracks, campgrounds and koalas.

The greatest attraction of the region is absolutely the Dorrigo National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Area). Skyway Lookout offers an exceptional walk above the rainforest canopy that is a wonderful introduction to the tropical Queensland.

Skyway Lookout provides stunning views of the Gondwana Rainforest

ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN COFFS HARBOUR

  • Sapphire Beach – walk a partial section of the 60 km long Solitary Island Coastal Walk – especially at the Sapphire Beach Headland and enjoy the arresting views.
  • Boambee Beach – swim, kayak, jet-ski, paddleboard or catch a fish in the clean calm waters of this stunning beach
  • Sealy Lookout/Forest Sky Pier – easy access to a breathtaking lookout in the Bruxner Park Flora Reserve
  • Waterfall Way Scenic Drive – this 2-3 hour driving route traverses five national parks and will take you to the best waterfalls in the region, (starting at Coffs Harbour), the  highlight is Ebor Falls
  • Dorrigo National Park – gorgeous subtropical Wonga Walk with its Crystal Shower Falls and more than 600-year-old trees and exotic birds, will not leave you disappointed (2-3 hour easy loop trek)
  • Bellingen markets/festivals – there is a different festival every month in Bellingen, and the town is famous for its friendly laid-back Saturday market at the Bellingen Park, visit the Bellingen Music festival
Wonga Walk, Dorrigo National Park

BYRON BAY

This gorgeous 30 kilometre stretch of sandy beaches is home to a small yet celebrated town – Byron Bay. Originally, the place was best known for its abattoir, and it used to be an ordinary working-class town. Later on, the area became popular with surfers, especially around the nearby Lennox Head.

Nowadays, “Byron” is a trendy hub famed across the whole country, and this is so not only for the Splendor in the Grass – Australia`s biggest winter festival.

Byron Bay is renowned for excellent surf, tranquil hinterland and alternative lifestyle

The turning point was the 1970s when numbers of hippies had arrived, and the face of Byron Bay dramatically changed. As the community grew the town was prospering, and Byron Bay has become a popular hotspot for artists, free spirits, organic food lovers and fans of an eco-friendly environment. What once was associated with slaughterhouses and meat products, today it is a mecca for all vegans.

The alternative lifestyle is visible on every corner – New Age therapies to try, straightforward yoga, esoteric flotation tanks, quirky bookshops attached to the vegan cafes, Tarot readings, Indian massage and little crystal and gemstone shops. This vibrant place also attracted many craftspeople, writers and musicians, with numerous beguiling festivals and annual events.

Byron has become a creative arts hub

In spite of all that, Byron Bay remains the little surfer`s paradise and a laid-back destination ideal for spending quiet time and relaxation.

NOTE

Byron Bay welcomes both backpackers and wealthy holiday-makers since there is a wide choice of accommodation along the bay, varying from quiet bush campsites, B&B and hotels to the luxurious upscale resorts.

Cape Byron Headland walking track offers fantastic views

ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN BYRON BAY

  • Beach and Surf – relax, sunbake orcatch a wave at the Main Beach, Clarke`s Beach, Watego`s Beach and the Broken Head Holiday Park
  • Meditation and Yoga – any of Byron`s beaches are ideal for practising yoga an meditation; beginners can seek for more information and advice at the Byron Yoga Centre
  • Markets and Events – visit the Byron Community market, the seasonal Beachside markets, the Saturday Byron Bay Artisan market or one of the farmer`s markets. For cultural events and festivals check out http://www.byron-bay.com/events/
  • Walking and Hiking – the iconic Cape Byron Headland walking track to the lighthouse (1 hr loop trek), North Head walking track ( 30 min walk great for bird spotting), Three Sisters Walk (20 min coastal walk offering great views), Mount Warning fairly steep hike with its magnificent 360 degree views (3 hrs return)
  • Marine Adventures (Julian Rocks) – a wonderful collection of tropical fish in 80 hectares aquatic reserve, Lake Ainsworth – a marvellous tee tree stained dunal lake popular with kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders but also ideal for swimming, picnic and BBQ
Byron Bay Artisan market is among the favourites

WHEN TO TRAVEL

The North Coast has quite pleasant weather throughout the whole year. However, summer school holiday time (Dec-Feb) is always busy and accommodation often fully booked, the beaches crowded and you might well happen to get stuck in a traffic jam, especially around Byron Bay.

 It is always recommended to travel outside the peak season (Oct-Nov and Mar-Apr) unless visiting festivals and special cultural events.

HOW TO GET THERE

Fly to Sydney, drive northwards along the coastline – to Port Stephens (3 hrs), Coffs Harbour (6 hrs).

Although Byron Bay is 9 hrs away from Sydney by a car, there is the Ballina Byron Airport, well-connected to Sydney.

 If you drive from Brisbane it will only take 2 hrs, or from Gold Coast around one hr drive.

For all flights go to www.momondo.com or www.skyscanner.com

Byron Bay is a paradise for surfers and marine life, including dolphins and sharks

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Eva Bodova

Eva Bodova

Sunday 25 August 2019

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