The NSW Central Coast has seen a major facelift in recent years. No longer just a sleepy backwater between Newcastle and Sydney, the region is now home to world-class restaurants, waterfront cafes, and eclectic boutique shops that are well worth the 90-minute drive from Sydney.

Thankfully, the Coast is still home to some of the state’s most stunning natural beauty – much of it protected within national parks. With a population of less than 350,000 (a fraction of Sydney’s 5 million), it’s the perfect place to take a breather from the chaos of life.

Whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend away, a few screen-free days with the family, a relaxing staycation close to home, or a chance to catch up with mates in the great outdoors – the Central Coast has something to offer.

Here’s our whistle-stop tour of the Coast, including the best places to stay, national parks to visit, and walks to try.

  • Where to stay on the NSW Central Coast

    People camping, Little Beach campground, Bouddi National Park. Photo: John Spencer / DPE
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    Little Beach campground

    Bouddi National Park

    John Spencer / DPE

    From budget-friendly national park camping or options and family holiday parks to high-end houses and luxury hotels, there’s no shortage of places to stay in this relaxed coastal region.

    To get the most out of the next four days, we recommend basing yourself around Avoca, Terrigal, Ettalong, Woy Woy, or Killcare – but the Coast is well-connected by the Central Coast Highway, so you do you!

  • Day 1: Bouddi National Park

     

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    Start the day with breakfast, to keep you fuelled for the day ahead. Coasties are well-versed in serving good coffee and brekky, so if you’re not self-catering – get yourself a table at one of the great cafes in Avoca

    From there, it’s a 15-minute drive via The Scenic Road to the Maitland Bay Information Centre. Built in 1945 and nestled amongst eucalyptus trees in the middle of the park, this place has everything you’ll need to get yourself ready for a day exploring the beautiful Bouddi National Park. Here you can collect maps and brochures, while the kids get hands-on with the interactive displays.

    The Maitland Bay Information Centre is only open on weekends and public holidays, so make sure you plan your trip before you arrive.

    You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to walks and activities in Bouddi, but we have a few favourites that we keep coming back to. For an epic half-day hike, the 8.5km (one way) Bouddi coastal walk is the jewel in this national park’s crown. You’ll trace the golden coastline for the majority of the walk, with near-constant panoramic ocean views. You may even be lucky enough to see some of the park’s locals – we’ve spotted echidnas, whales and tonnes of native birds while walking this special track.

    To immerse yourself in the fascinating ancient history and cultural significance of the Bouddi Coastal walk, Girri Girra Aboriginal Experiences offers an easy three-hour Bouddi guided Aboriginal heritage tour.

    When’s the best time to visit? In spring, you’ll see an array of colourful wildflowers on display. Summer is a great time to cool off with a dip at one of the park’s gorgeous beaches, or try snorkelling at Maitland Bay. In winter, grab your camera and spot humpback whales as they migrate north between May and July.

    Aerial of three people walking along Tallow Beach, Bouddi National Park. Photo: John Spencer / DPE
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    Tallow Beach

    Bouddi National Park

    John Spencer / DPE

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    For a shorter but still very scenic option, the Flannel Flower walking track is a 3km return, running between Tallow Beach and Lobster Beach. In spring, you won’t be able to miss the flannel flowers in full bloom, carpeting the floor with white and pale green petals.

    When you’re done walking, finish up with a picnic lunch at Putty Beach or take a seat with a sandwich at Gerrin Point lookout and soak up the view.

    If you’ve still got some energy left to burn, head to the bustling town of Ettalong. Here, you’ll find an usually calm and shallow beach, plenty of boutique shops, market stalls, places to eat and drink, and a cinema to keep you and the kids occupied right through to bedtime.

    Leave no trace: Tips to leave the bush as you found it.

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  • Day 2: Brisbane Water National Park

     

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    We’ve got more of the Coast’s best walks in store for you today. Start the day with breakfast at your accommodation, or treat yourself to a feast at one of the cafes in Erina Heights or East Gosford.

    Then, take the Central Coast Highway west to the northern section of Brisbane Water National Park. You’ll find yourself in the Girrakool picnic area, where the Girrakool Loop track begins. This easy 2km walk through bushland, overlooks waterfalls, winding past an Aboriginal rock engraving site, and takes around 30 minutes to an hour.

    Please take care: don’t walk over the Aboriginal rock engraving site.

    For a challenging add-on, the 4km Piles Creek loop climbs through deep rocky gorges, around waterfalls, and even crosses over a bouncy suspension bridge.

     

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    No matter which walk you opt for, you’ll eventually end up back at the Girrakool picnic area in time for lunch. Relax on the grass under the shade of the old gum trees, or pull up a pew at the picnic tables and make the most of the BBQs.

    You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to spending the rest of the day. If you’ve got kids to entertain, we’d suggest stopping by the Gosford Regional Gallery and Japanese Gardens or taking a trip to the Gosford Waterfront Park.

    For the big kids, there’s an awesome brewery and distillery, set on 3 acres of gardens in Erina Heights. For dinner, head back to basecamp for an alfresco dinner under the stars, or into Terrigal and take your pick of the many restaurants on offer.

    Leave pets at home: As much as we adore them, pets – other than certified assistance animals – aren’t allowed in our national parks. Here’s why your pet needs to stay home and which regional parks allow dog walking.

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  • Day 3: Watagans National Park

    You’ve had a delicious taste of two of the region’s most scenic national parks in just two days – how about going in for a third serving?

    Watagans National Park is about a 50-minute drive from Gosford, heading north on the M1 towards Newcastle. Although you’re now in the Hunter Region, this spot is close enough to take as a day trip from your current Central Coast digs, or there are a couple of campgrounds where you can pitch a tent and get comfy for the next 24 hours.

    Human food is not for native animals: help us to keep wildlife wild #DontFeedIt.

    This beautiful park is home to lush rainforest, stunning mountain scenery, gorgeous local wildlife, and more than 40 Aboriginal art and engraving sites; the ideal way to spend your third full day in the Central Coast and Hunter region. Out in the serenity of the Watagans, you can stretch your legs or just relax and unwind amongst the trees.

    Once you’re settled in, put on some walking shoes and head to the Circuit walking track. This short but scenic 0.6km loop takes you through pristine rainforest. You’ll walk beneath blue gums, pass by an Insta-worthy moss-covered rock wall, and could even be lucky to spot (or hear) an elusive lyrebird.

     

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    You’ll end your walk back at Boarding House Dam picnic area, where you could easily be tempted with a paddle in the cool waters. The picnic area, shaded beneath a canopy of rainforest, is an ideal lunch spot – with BBQ facilities and picnic tables. The Boarding House still stands today – a relic of a once-booming logging camp that provided cedar and hardwood to service the nearby coal mining industries.

    Ranger tips: Check the weather before you set out, as the road to Boarding House Dam can become slippery when it rains. Prolonged wet weather may cause temporary road closures.

    Before evening hits, don’t miss the chance to head up to Monkey Face lookout. Here, you’ve got the best vantage point in the Watagans, with sweeping views east across the Martinsville Valley.

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  • Day 4: Wyrrabalong National Park

     

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    It’s nearly time for your adventure to reach its end – but we’ve got one more unmissable place in store before you hit the road back home.

    Wyrrabalong National Park is located around Bateau Bay, back on the Central Coast. It’s a 50-minute drive from the Watagans or around 25 mins from Gosford.

    This small but special park conserves the Central Coast’s last remaining patch of coastal rainforest and borders two of our favourite beaches – Bateau Bay and Forresters.

     

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    There are a few walks for you to choose from, including the popular The Coast walking track. Winding along clifftops and offering striking glimpses of the coast, you’ll pass Crackneck Point lookout. This is a popular whale-watching spot, or if you’re feeling a little philosophical after spending 4 days in incredible national parks it’s a great place to take a breather, and simply reflect on the wonders of life!

    If you’re there in spring, wildflowers, including ground orchids and flannel flowers, will greet you in full bloom along the winding track. This one-way walk is 3km long, and it’ll take you around 1.5 hours to complete. If you’re in the mood for something else, there are two other just-as-scenic loops you can choose from – the Lillypilly loop trail or the Red Gum trail

    Your trip to the Coast wouldn’t be complete without a dip at one of our world-famous beaches. We reckon you’ll find it pretty hard to resist swimming in the usually calm and gentle turquoise waves or having a paddle in the rockpools at Bateau Bay.

    Beach safety: Beaches in this park are not patrolled, and can sometimes have strong rips and currents. We recommend swimming at patrolled beaches. These beach safety tips will help you and your family stay safe in the water.

    When you’re all walked out and ready for a bite to eat, stop for a picnic or BBQ at the Bateau Bay Beach picnic area or make your way to the local bowling club, or one of the great cafes nearby. 

    And that’s your fourth and final stop on this epic four-day trip to the rich and varied landscapes of the Central Coast, done and dusted.

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If you’re headed back to Sydney, it’s just a 90-minute drive back home via the M1 – practically a stone’s throw. Wave goodbye to the sights and delights of waterfalls, mountains, beaches, and rainforests. Just make sure you come again to The Coast soon. 

Remember: national parks are natural and unpredictable environments. So before you go plan for all weather conditions, check for park alerts, and stay updated with fire safety info.