Forster to Coffs Harbour: the ultimate Mid North Coast family road trip
Unspoilt yet accessible, the stretch of New South Wales coastline surrounding Forster to Coffs Harbour is a natural playground for families.
By Celeste Mitchell
There’s something sacred about a family road trip. Packing the car – surfboards, beach umbrella, bikes if they’ll fit – and escaping the city is the start of a carefree adventure. And there’s no better place to head than the New South Wales Mid North Coast.
Head out of Sydney and make your way up the coast to discover a laidback pace of life, uncrowded beaches and national parks to explore. In fact, the area, which stretches from Seal Rocks to Coffs Harbour, has attractions and activities to suit the whole family. Explore it all on this eight-day itinerary.
Day 1: Sydney to Forster-Tuncurry
- Drive time: about 3.5 hours
Leaving from Sydney (there are daily flights into Sydney from most major Australian cities; you can pick up a hire car at the airport), take the Pacific Highway/A1 north past the Central Coast and take the exit towards the town of Bulahdelah. From there, wind your way roughly 40 minutes towards the coast to the butter-coloured swathe of sand that is Boomerang Beach. Young surfers will be itching for a paddle here if the swell’s right (note: the beach is only patrolled in summer). Regardless, Boomerang and nearby Blueys beaches make a showstopping twinset.
Refuel with a nasi goreng from Kembali Cafe at Blueys Beach for lunch, then cruise the narrow isthmus of Booti Booti National Park with a stop at Cape Hawke lookout. After 420 steps, you might just be rewarded with the sight of breaching whales during their annual migration along the coast from May to November.Show more
Day 2: Forster-Tuncurry to Port Macquarie
- Drive time: about 1.5 hours
With everyone in the car, get back onto the Pacific Highway/A1 for the easy drive to Port Macquarie, your base for the next two days. This morning it’s time to turn your attention to our most beloved gumtree residents, the koala. Port Macquarie is home to the highest koala population on the east coast, as well as the lifesaving Koala Hospital. Join a guided tour of the hospital to learn about the rehab and research programs for the furry marsupials. Don’t leave without an adoption certificate – there's no better souvenir.
After a morning spent making friends with koalas, hold off on lunch for the time being and go for an Ocean Blast Port Jet Cruise Adventures. This 40-minute white knuckle ride on one of the fastest commercial boats in New South Wales also offers up the chance of seeing dolphins, sea turtles and whales (when in season).Show more
Days 3 and 4: Port Macquarie to Sawtell and Coffs Harbour
- Drive time: 1.5 hours
This morning, board a ‘ship of the desert’ and take a camel safari along Lighthouse Beach with Port Macquarie Camel Safaris, a 10-minute drive from the centre of town. Rides take 30 minutes, and bookings and credit cards aren’t accepted, so arrive with cash.
Now it’s time to continue driving up the coast to Sawtell, the beach village of your childhood imagination and your base for the next two nights. Make a b-line straight to Sawtell Beach to spend time swimming or surfing; it is also a popular spot for fishing. Grab a burger and rainbow Paddle Pop from The Kiosk Sawtell for the quintessential beach lunch.Show more
Day 5: Sawtell to Bellingen via Dorrigo National Park
- Drive time: 1 hour to Dorrigo, under 1 hour to Bellingen
After breakfast, drive west out of Sawtell to arrive at the Skywalk at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre – a 70-metre boardwalk teetering over the Bellinger Valley – before walking among 600-year-old Rosewoods along the Wonga Walk in Dorrigo National Park. The 6.6-kilometre (4-mile) loop will keep even mini hikers captivated with a suspension bridge, waterfalls and southern angle-headed dragons clinging to the trees. Be prepared for some steeper sections, a few steps and some boulder crossings (note: this walk is not pram-friendly).
You’ll be hungry by the time you finish, so head east out of the park towards the town of Bellingen. Grab lunch at Qudo, with its menu of temaki hand rolls and chicken karaage burgers.Show more
Day 6: Bellingen to Crescent Head via Scotts Head
- Drive time: under 2 hours
It’s time to start your journey back to Sydney, so this morning drive 45 minutes south to spend the morning in the under-the-radar beach town of Scotts Head. Of the two beaches here, Main Beach is best for kids; grab a coffee from Showroom Surf & Espresso and watch them play.
Back on the road, Crescent Head is a one-hour drive away. The coastal town’s reputation among surfers precedes it; you can watch locals catching waves or try it for yourself with Crescent Head Learn to Surf – the conditions are perfect for beginners.Show more
Day 7: Crescent Head to Port Stephens
- Drive time: just over 3 hours
Today, continue your drive south destined for the dolphin-filled waters of Port Stephens. Stop at the Worimi Conservation Lands, 4,200 hectares of land managed by the Worimi traditional owners, and home to the largest coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. Here you can find out about local Aboriginal culture as well as go sandboarding or quad bike touring (slow tours are available for 7–13 years).
Once you arrive in Port Stephens, grab a table for lunch at the Below Deck Café and Bar at Little Beach Boathouse, before heading out on a trail ride through casuarina forest with Sahara Trails Horse Riding a 20-minute drive away.
Day 8: Port Stephens to Sydney
- Drive time: about 2.5 hours
Set the alarm to wake early for a very special animal encounter – the only permitted wild dolphin swim in New South Wales (suitable from age seven); one with a research and assisted therapy focus. Watch as wild bottlenose dolphins dart around you, serenading you with their bio-sonar in a tear-jerking finale to your family sojourn.
Then it’s back in the car and back on the Pacific Highway/A1 for the last leg of your holiday back Sydney.