With coastal drives, hinterland forest and beaches where you're the only person standing on the sand, the New South Wales Central Coast is Sydney's best-kept secret.
By Paul Chai
The Central Coast, an hour north of Sydney, is a favourite weekend destination for tourists and locals alike. Known for its beautiful harbour setting, lovely beaches, pretty local villages, boutique hotels, stunning coastal terrain, great shopping and lush national parks, Central Coast makes for a perfect holiday. There are several popular beach towns here, including Avoca, Hardys Bay and Terrigal, and one of Australia's premier luxury lodges, Pretty Beach House.
- Sample the seasonal menu at Bells at Killcare
- Take a seaplane to Pretty Beach House lodge
- Walk the unspoiled coastline and beaches
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Top things to do on the Central Coast
Spend a night at Bells at Killcare
This boutique hotel caters to couples that want a chic, adults-only escape where the food is excellent and the surrounding area is bushland with beautiful walks. Hidden away on the Bouddi Peninsula – also the home of Bouddi coastal walk (see below) – Bells at Killcare has hotel rooms and two-storey standalone villas. At night the on-site restaurant is run by Australian celebrity chef and author Stefano Manfredi, whose local, sustainable menus have in the past been awarded Australia's highest accolade, the distinction of three chef's hats.
Get back to nature on the Bouddi coastal walk
Bouddi National Park is a stunningly beautiful bushland area, just a short stroll from Bells at Killcare. It's home to the eight kilometre (five mile) Bouddi coastal walk, which follows the curve of the coastline on dramatic cliffs, along icy white beaches and through lush woodland. Whales migrate along this section of coastline between May and November each year, and the walk provides an excellent vantage point from which to watch them swimming and playing in the water.
Feed a crowd of hungry pelicans
The Entrance is a town that got its name because it's at the entrance to Tuggerah Lake, a popular fishing spot where three local rivers meet the sea. It's home to not just one, but several of the best beaches in the area, including Shelly and Bateau Bay beaches. Once you've finished exploring the beautiful sandy bluffs and long stretches of sand, head to Pelican Plaza, where, every day at 3.30pm, a large crowd of hungry pelicans assembles to eat whole fresh fish, in a tradition that's more than 20 years old. It started when staff at the local fish shop began feeding scraps to birds at the end of each day. Today, Pelican Plaza – a specially built section of popular public outdoor area, Memorial Park – is a well-loved spot where visitors and locals get close to these large, unusual-looking Australian birds. The Entrance is just over half an hour's drive north from Bells at Killcare and Bouddi National Park.
Relax at Pretty Beach House
A five minutes walk from the shores of Broken Bay – the body of water surrounding Bouddi National Park, where the Hawkesbury River meets the Tasman Sea – is the exclusive, six-star guesthouse, Pretty Beach House. Among the gum trees of Bouddi National Park (five minutes down the road from Bells at Killcare), Pretty Beach House is considered by many to be Australian rural luxury at its best. Like the nearby Bells at Killcare, the menus at Pretty Beach House are overseen by celebrity chef Stefano Manfredi. Guests have the option of arriving by seaplane on a beautiful scenic flight direct from Sydney, flying past Sydney Harbour and many of the city's beaches and islands before landing almost directly out the front of the boutique hotel itself, in the calm waters of Broken Bay.
Explore the coastal towns
The Central Coast's towns draw holidaymakers from Sydney with their beachside markets, art galleries and cafés, often just metres from the sand. The town of Avoca, just over an hour and a half drive from Sydney, is well-known for its proximity to the great family beaches of Macmasters, Copacabana and Avoca. The neighbouring town of Terrigal, just across the inland Avoca Lake, is a popular fishing spot also known for some great beachside dining (try the seasonal menu at Bellyfish, which sources most of its produce from along the nearby coast). You'll also find great food at Hardys Bay, a small but stylish enclave with a handful of great cafés (including The Fat Goose), as well as some great seaside shopping at Mooch Inside.
How to get there
The Central Coast is an easy hour's drive north from Sydney. Simply follow the Pacific Highway – Australia's national route 1 – north from Sydney's city centre until it joins the M1 Pacific Motorway, then take the sign-posted exit to your destination.