The NSW Central Coast, a one-hour to 90-minute drive north of Sydney, is a quintessential Australian holiday playground, where swimming, surfing, and fishing are as much a part of a stay as going for a coastal bushwalk or downing a beer around the barbecue. Yet its imagery is more far-reaching, worthy of Hollywood status . . . as the film set, as I found during a visit to beachside Umina, for an upcoming Netflix TV series starring Aussie actor Toni Corlette. Little wonder local tourism authorities chose the theme “Love the Central Coast”.
Whether you decide to stretch your legs on a scenic walk, paddle a canoe, sail a yacht, try out dining alfresco style, sample home-grown delicacies, spot whales or come up close and friendly with wildlife, this 60km section of coast has the ingredients for a full-on beach escape.
As a mouth-watering addition, a self-drive Central Coast Makers Trail has been introduced for lovers of hand-crafted chocolate, nougat, cheese, boutique fruity and botanical wines, and freshly shucked oysters, including the rare Akoya pearl oysters farmed in the Hawkesbury River.
Here are 20 reasons why the Central Coast should be in your next Australian holiday plans.
- Central Coast, NSW
- Top Tours
- 17 Things To Do In Central Coast
- 1- Feel The Sand Between Your Toes
- 2- Explore Headland Lookouts
- 3- Go Fishing
- 4- Follow A Walking Trail
- 5- Admire Aboriginal Rock Art
- 6- Learn About Oysters And Pearls
- 7- Taste Chocolate And Nougat
- 8- Go Wine Tasting
- 9- Taste Gourmet Cheese
- 10- Go On A Treetop Adventure
- 11- Meet Vegemite And Toast At Reptile Park
- 12- Meet The Meerkats
- 13- Breakfast With Alpacas
- 14- Look For TV Film Sets
- 15- Visit A Photo Gallery
- 17- Go On A Marine Discovery
- Where To Eat In The Central Coast
- Where To Stay In The Central Coast
Central Coast, NSW
- Central Coast Private Tour – Discover Aboriginal art and waterfalls in Bouddi National Park and Brisbane Water National Park, explore beaches and visit a winery.
- Broken Bay Pearl Farm Tour – You don’t have to go to Broome to learn about pearl farming. Board a catamaran to see how pearls are farmed and shop for pearl jewellery.
17 Things To Do In Central Coast
1- Feel The Sand Between Your Toes
Avoca Beach, Terrigal, Ettalong, Umina, Copacabana, Killcare, The Entrance and Toowoon Bay are among a host of names synonymous with getting the sand between the toes on a beachside holiday on the Central Coast.
While many of the 40 or more beaches are favoured for surfing, others within vast Brisbane Water – Ettalong, for example – are protected from the waves, ideal for families with young children.
The choices are many, where you can combine a picnic with a splash in the water.
2- Explore Headland Lookouts
Jutting out to the Tasman, separating the stretches of sand with rocky outcrops are the commanding headlands and a series of natural viewing platforms for spotting ships, dolphins, seals and, in season, the migrating whales on their northbound and southbound swim.
At the northern end of the coast near Toukley is the popular Norah Head and a historic lighthouse that dates from 1901 and continues to operate.
Other headlands include the Skillion at Terrigal (prepare for a steep climb) and Crackneck, near Bateau Bay, the latter with nearby parking and a perfect spot for fish and chips with a view.
3- Go Fishing
Brisbane Water is a holidaying playground for boat lovers and fishing enthusiasts, where multi-million-dollar craft share the same waters as budget-style boats for hire.
From the mouth at Broken Bay to Gosford, Brisbane Water stretches several kilometres, on one side, the popular beach of Ettalong and nearby Booker Bay.
Across the waters, the quaint and more tranquil villages of Hardys Bay and Wagstaffe are reached by road via the Maitland Bay Drive Bridge.
Further north is the popular holiday town of The Entrance, famous for its fish and chips and resident pelicans, and mouth to the much larger Tuggerah Lake, boats for hire and fishing for bream, flathead and whiting is a favourite pastime, so too prawning.
4- Follow A Walking Trail
Whether you prefer a coastal and bushland setting, the Central Coast has a marked trail for all ages and standards of fitness, of note is the spectacular 8km-long Bouddi Coastal Walk from Killcare to McMasters Beach.
You don’t need to cover the entire distance to see a breathtaking ocean view from this national park.
Alternatively, there’s the 6km return Coast Walk Track along the cliff through the Wyrrabalong National Park, from Forresters Beach to Bateau Bay.
Ideally, especially during the whale watching seasons, you should enjoy a picnic lunch at Crackneck Lookout.
Away from the coast and ideal for children is the quick and easy 500-metre return walk to Somersby Falls, great for a picnic and splash around on a hot day.
5- Admire Aboriginal Rock Art
Sheltered in an inland area close to Kariong and the nearby M1 motorway is a natural sanctuary where thousand-year-old aboriginal rock art is uncovered on a walking tour while walking in the footsteps of the Darkinjung people with elder Gavi Duncan of Darkinjung Cultural Tours.
Alternatively, in another corner of the Central Coast is Warre Warren Aboriginal Place in Upper Mangrove, home to 200 or more eye-opening art sites.
All tours include a bush tucker-inspired morning tea and a Welcome to Country smoking ceremony.
6- Learn About Oysters And Pearls
Just off the M1 is the Broken Bay Pearl Farm and an aptly branded Shellar Door, which showcases the gems in many different lights under the Pearls of Australia label.
The Mooney Mooney store may look unpretentious but there’s nothing unpretentious about the gems on show and for sale, from those grown in Western Australia’s Cygnet Bay to the rare and precious Akoya pearls grown in and around Broken Bay, at the only pearl farm in NSW.
Here, you either browse over the variety of cultured pearls and mothers-of-pearl shells before taking a pre-booked informative two-hour guided tour which includes a cruise under the historic railway bridge to one of the farmed sites.
As a bonus, you will see some fascinating Aboriginal rock, date unknown. Reserve your spot on the tour here.
7- Taste Chocolate And Nougat
For some hands-on fun, The Chocolate Factory, West Gosford, serves up plenty in true Willy Wonka style, from creating your own chocolate bar toppings to arranging a mixed box of confectionaries while children don aprons for junior chocolatier workshops.
The factory is one of four award-winning family-run establishments to present signature artisan experiences along the self-drive Central Coast Makers Trail and hosts regular pre-booked guided tours.
It is home to Bon Bon Fine Chocolate and the Sydney Marshmallow Company and is the world’s second-largest producer of nougat, Nougat Limar, under the guidance of chocolatier Andrew Yiasemides and his team.
Allow time to enjoy a cup of the Bon Bon hot chocolate in the café.
8- Go Wine Tasting
Another property on the Central Coast Makers Trail is the Firescreek Botanical Winery.
It’s an oasis tucked away in Holgate, where the matching of fruity award-winning boutique wines with a selection of chocolate is one of the many tasty reasons to visit such a family-owned establishment.
The property’s garden is popular for weddings, outdoor wine tastings, pairing with bushtucker, and the chocolate from local store Luka, located at the Wyong Milk Factory.
Inside the rustic wine cellar door to meet guests is winemaker Nadia O’Connell, who has as many as 25 wines on sale at any time.
There’s a raspberry wine that’s as refreshing as it sounds, followed by a blackcurrant and coffee mix, perfect for lovers of coffee.
A Chilli and orange blend has a bite with a hint of citrus, while a must is the lavender and blueberry.
9- Taste Gourmet Cheese
On the historic Wyong Milk Factory site is the humble Little Creek Cheese Factory, tiny in size but large for its reputation to attract cheese lovers.
Founded by devoted cheese maker Sue Parsons, her husband Russell and their son Alex, this compact workshop and shop is a surprise packet for its various club cheddar, yogurt cheese and marinated fetta, winning friends from the first bite.
What started as a mere hobby where the Parsons would share their culinary craft with friends and family has blossomed into a serious cheese-making operation, resulting in major awards.
Of note are the haloumi and creamy goat fetta, which picked up an award at the coveted 2022 Australian Dairy Product Competition for its flavour.
Make sure to take along an esky as you will not see the various cheddars and jars of fetta in the supermarkets.
10- Go On A Treetop Adventure
For those looking for an adrenalin-charged challenge amongst the native Australian wildlife and a typical bushland setting of towering eucalypts, Treetop Adventures has a series of swinging, flying, and bouncing for all ages.
The park, within the Ourimbah State Forest, is the flagship of 14 Treetop Adventures parks nationwide and includes tree rope courses (from two to 25 metres above the ground).
Courses are for different ages and standards and take more than two hours to complete.
11- Meet Vegemite And Toast At Reptile Park
A popular spot for families and now home to newly born devilish twin boys is the Australian Reptile Park, Somersby, the Tasmanian Tiger newcomers named Vegemite and Toast, joining cousins Cheese and Pickles.
The joeys were born inside the park’s Aussie Ark as part of the organisation’s campaign to save the endangered animal species.
The family-friendly park, 60 years in the making, is home to over 200 native and international wildlife, from venomous spiders and snakes to marsupials such as quokkas, kangaroos, and koalas.
And you can even adopt an animal, perhaps a Tasmanian Tiger.
12- Meet The Meerkats
For another close encounter with the wildlife, the Walkabout Wildlife Sanctuary at Calga has introduced several packages where you can meet the curious meerkats, from a 10-minute speed date and a 30-minute meerkat magic encounter.
Some guests can make a night of it by staying in one of the site’s cabins or safari tents and include an after-dark spotlight tour.
Expect to see creatures, great and small, in a sanctuary that boasts a petting zoo among its family attractions. And you can adopt an animal. www.walkaboutpark.com.au
13- Breakfast With Alpacas
Based at Jilliby, in the Central Coast hinterland, is the Iris Lodge, where a herd of alpacas, llamas, sheep, cows and horses graze and guests, particularly families with young children, can enjoy breakfast with their friendly locals.
The multi-award-winning working farm was the brainchild of Sharon and Sean Hooper, who wanted to share their love of farming.
Breakfast with alpacas must be booked and is held on weekends and public holidays.
It includes cereal, yoghurt, a fruit platter, muffins, tea breads, bacon and egg sandwiches, coffee and juice.
14- Look For TV Film Sets
Umina, Ettalong and MacMasters Beach have played to host to film stars Tony Corlette and Bella Heathcote, to name two, for the filming of a new Netflix television series Pieces of Her, which went to air in 2022.
Central to the filming was the popular beachfront restaurant and bar Margarita Daze, on Umina Beach, which was transformed into the Belle Isle Crab Shack for the shoot.
Grab a table and you can sip on a cocktail and order a meal where the stars once wined and dined.
Despite being filmed on the Central Coast, the eight-part thriller focused on the fictional American town Belle Isle.
TV-watching locals should keep an eye out for recognisable sites.
15- Visit A Photo Gallery
Renowned photographer and pioneer of limited-edition Australian art, Ken Duncan, is among a host of celebrities to call the Central Coast home, his modern purpose-built gallery at Erina Heights, one of the largest privately-owned galleries in the country.
You can spend at least an hour browsing over some of his framed printed masterworks before or after a coffee and snack at the adjoining Kew Dining Café.
Admission to the gallery is free.
17- Go On A Marine Discovery
The deliberate sinking of the decommissioned HMAS Adelaide, 1.5 km from the beach, is one of the fascinating subjects covered in the Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre at Terrigal.
A display of the sinking in 2011 is featured in this family-friendly interactive centre with an artificial touch pool and fish feeding.
The 138 m HMAS Adelaide is said to be the largest and most accessible former naval dive wreck in the Southern Hemisphere, transformed into an artificial reef for lovers of diving.
There is an admission charge to the centre.
Where To Eat In The Central Coast
As the population has grown, so too has the number of cafes, far too many to name.
The Pantry, inside The Quarters Forresters Beach retreat, is popular for breakfast, brunch or lunch; the menu features eggs your way and eggs Benedict to a pasta of a day, a beef burger, and a Balmain bug slider, washed down with one of three cold-pressed juices.
The café, open daily till 3 pm, is also licenced.
Avoca Beach Seafoods
For fish and chips on the beachfront, Avoca Beach Seafoods is a magnet for costume-clad diners in summer – for outdoor dining or takeaway.
The Central Coast features a host of cafes and restaurants for different tastes and budgets.
For Indian fare, the Grand Pavilion Terrigal offers a relaxed setting dining at a price that won’t burn a hole in the pocket. A sister restaurant is located at Ettalong, also on the Central Coast.
The Gilded Anchor
For families, the Gilded Anchor, The Quarters Forresters Beach is open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday or lunch on Sunday.
The casual restaurant has a menu of share dishes – with an Asian influence. Among the dishes are steamed dumplings, wontons, crispy Asian tofu, and pork belly bites.
Where To Stay In The Central Coast
Kims Beachside Resort
Nestled in a sub-tropical garden, fronted by a row of towering Norfolk Pines with the protected waters of Toowoon Bay at your feet, Kims Beachside Resort is a haven for its luxury bungalow and villa accommodation, quality dining, and overall tranquillity.
Book ahead, and you can be pampered with a full body massage, including a much sought-after Japanese Reiki treatment.
Quarters Forresters Beach
A great base from which to explore the Central Coast is The Quarters Forresters Beach, on the Central Coast Highway, which has just undergone a transformation and is within an 8km drive of Terrigal.
It’s a family-friendly retreat with king, triple, and family rooms along with large studios, the centrepiece a swimming pool and outdoor spa.
For holiday information, go here.