Just one hour north of Sydney lies the Central Coast of New South Wales. Blessed with some of the world's best beaches, this bucolic region is the first stop on Australia's legendary Pacific Coast drive, which stretches 900 km from Sydney to Brisbane. The Central Coast has more than 15 golden beaches beckoning along nearly 90 km of shoreline these plus pristine bushland give the area a strong getaway appeal for Sydneysiders and foreign travelers alike. Here are five great reasons to visit.
1. Australia Walkabout Park
Sleep overnight among Australia's iconic fauna at this unique, hands-on conservation park. Snooze securely in snugly zipped animal-proof tents while around 180 species freely roam the 32-hectare facility, including koalas, spiny echidnas, dingoes, Tasmanian devils and 'roos. Eat a bush-tucker barbecue, share campfire tales, see ancient Aboriginal sites and go behind the scenes with rangers. Visit walkaboutpark.com.au.
2. Avoca Beach
From the great sets of waves (top pro surfer Adrian "Ace" Buchan is Avoca Beach bred) to the child-friendly rock pool, this is iconic Australian beach living at its most sublime. Marked by a distinctive line of Norfolk Island pine trees, Avoca also offers a vast rock platform for cliffside exploration, great fishing, relaxed venues for eating and drinking, and funky boutiques. It retains a village ambience even when its population of 4,200 swells significantly during peak season.
3. Boating, Brisbane Water
Indulge in a great Australian pastime and take a "tinnie" for a spin. These small tin boats with outboard motors are perfect for fishing or picnicking in waterfront spots. Hire from Killcare Marina (about $100 for four hours), motor across for a 45-minute trip to Woy Woy and pick up fresh prawns from Fisherman's Wharf. Two more minutes to the east and you can picnic on the sandy shores of the uninhabited Pelican Island in Brisbane Water. Bliss. No boat license needed, but you must be over 18. See killcaremarina.com.au.
4. Bushwalking, Pearl Beach to Patonga
Fresh coastal air, spectacular views and exercise are yours on this 4.2-km walk from Pearl Beach to Patonga in Brisbane Water National Park (allow three hours for the 8.4-km return trek). Start at the signposted fire trail (the access route used by emergency vehicles in bushfire season) in Crystal Avenue, Pearl Beach. Walk uphill and along a ridge accompanied by majestic views over the Pacific, while hello-ing fellow walkers. Descend into the fishing village of Patonga Beach, grab lunch at Patonga Beach Hotel, drop into the Bakehouse Gallery and have a quick dip before returning. For more, see environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks.
The suburb of Terrigal, north of Avoca Beach, is marked by the bustle of cafés, boutiques and an idyllic beachside promenade. Enjoy sweeping sea views from the top of a rocky promontory known as the Skillion, then head to Bellyfish Café for a casual lunch of contemporary Australian cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. Run by Steve Jury and his three sons, the seasonal menu uses local produce when possible. Don't miss the Persian feta with guacamole on house-baked olive-rosemary bread. Tel: (61-2) 4385 6838.