Central Coast, NSW, Australia - secluded, stunning scenery, a tangible sense of place.
The Joy of a Summer Road Trip
Sunday morning is the preferred time to drive south from our Gold Coast home to Sydney. It is summer and we are heading from the lazy, hazy, humid days of South-east Queensland to the softness of Gosford and the Central Coast. First stop - North Haven, just south of Port Macquarie. There is less heavy truck traffic on Sundays and the highway opens up to our notion of a road trip – the expansive feeling of crossing the Tweed River, the generous green, lush Northern Rivers scenery passes us by, crossing the luxuriously deep coastal rivers, and powering, at the speed limit, of course, mile after mile through good old Aussie bush.
There is still a lot of road works on NSW highways, turning the trip into a meander at 80 klms an hour past Byron Bay and Ballina, but it doesn’t detract from our sense of adventure. A stop in the little Scottish haven of Maclean for coffee – the quaintness, the telegraph poles painted in clan tartans, the public toilets by the river – one door out of four open and a line of teenagers and travellers waiting – but all peaceful, all good. It is Sunday afternoon, kids on skateboards – the occasional cyclist or two peddling down the road in the middle of nowhere.
The Maclean River is serene – dragging its silt-laden waters out to the ocean along with Sunday boaters and the odd (actually odd, beanie-wearing) canoeist. The town itself has several cafés with espresso machines and Sunday opening hours - impressive. Yet, it is sad to see the old pub closed. Have coffee in town. It provides the opportunity to walk along the main street and look in the windows of the old-world boutiques and sewing and fabric shops, and peruse the local gift-ware/interior design window displays. Try to get a scone with the traditional cream and jam or bacon and egg roll. Walk along the river. Then, head back to the highway. The land is low and flat here and etched by the waterways. The river takes you back to the road.
There are many small coastal towns on the route south to stop the night but North Haven is our destination of choice. The sweetness of a little cabin near the ocean adds to the uniquely coastal feeling of the drive. Remember travelling with your parents to a beach house or caravan in the school holidays; it all comes flooding back. There is a microwave to heat soup we brought from home and a small TV that no one wants to watch. In the morning, we walk to the end of Ocean Road, where there is a delightfully modern, yet relaxed, café overlooking a long white sand beach. Naturally, the good sleep and ocean air lends itself to another bacon and egg roll, and another coffee. This accommodating and surprisingly civilized stretch of coast supplies accessible toilets in a good old beach toilet block at the edge of the path to the beach. What more can you ask for on a road trip?
The old car slumps into Gosford, none the worse for wear, at about 2.30 pm. There is plenty of time to stop with a friend for afternoon tea and drive out to the Entrance before sunset. The water at the Entrance is lagooned from the ocean, but out on the horizon, the Pacific is throwing up foam – like a Jackson Pollack painting – spraying white across the pale blue sky. Stage 1 of the road trip is over, and there is space and time now for the Central Coast to offer up its cornucopia of accommodation, activities, cafes, restaurants, walks, national parks, beaches and swimming holes. For a great guide, pick up a free copy of “Coast” from a local store or motel coffee table. We spent several nights in Terrigal, which proved refreshing with a surprisingly beachside, local ambience. After a train ride into Sydney to see the Brett Whitely exhibition at the NSW gallery, the trip home is enhanced by a diversion into Hawkesbury River country.
Stage 2 sees us across at Wiseman’s ferry. Heading into the Hawkesbury River area is a little like heading into Narnia. A land of mystical gums and deep water, written about in the Secret River by Kate Grenville. The loop around the river and ferry crossings at Wiseman’s on the Hawkesbury offer a musical even song-like journey, sometimes on gravel roads, lined with old gum trees and water reflections that are unsurpassed. The cliffs and banks, like colourful duck’s eggs, are speckled with retreats, cabins, and homestays that overlook the water. The profound stillness of the resting river and the bush at night leave an impression that lingers as the highway beckons for the trip home.
We rejoin the A1 north of Gosford and head for Coffs Harbour. This is an easy stretch of road that could take all day with little digressions into Bulahdelah for more coffee, Seal Rocks for a dose of ambient yet, intense beauty and Nambucca Heads, just for fun. There are many great spots to spend the night in the hills behind Coffs Harbour or head right for the beaches and resorts that permeate the northern shore. Drive out of Coffs early and plan to make Lennox Heads by mid-afternoon. You’ve got an hour up your sleeve from day-light saving as you cross back into Queensland.
I’m shaking sand out of my white sneakers and bobby socks and loving it. A little bit of the Central Coast has come home with me.