Port Macquarie can’t be summed up in a word, let alone a single trip! This coastal hotspot has a rarely-matched diversity of activities to get stuck into, thanks to being wedged between the mountains and the coast.
On a weekend trip to Port Mac (it’s only 4 hrs from Sydney), you can camp next to the beach, have a dip at dawn, and be immersed in ancient Gondwana Rainforest by lunchtime. Get #cultured by visiting an ancient gaol or the historic Smoky Cape Lighthouse.
We’ve thrown together a guide to get you started on your Mid-north coast, Port Macquarie adventure. There’s coastal lovin’, rainforest adventures and a guide based on heritage experiences, but you can mix and match to your heart’s content!
On The Beaches
Crowdy Bay National Park
For coastal camping, head to Crowdy Bay National Park. This sprawling seaside getaway is an easy 50-minute drive south from the town of Port Macquarie, and with five campgrounds there’s plenty of camping styles for you to choose from.
Let’s start at the southern end of Crowdy Bay. Crowdy Gap campground features just ten drive-in spots tucked behind the sand dunes. The endless expanse of beach at Crowdy Bay is only a short walk through coastal rainforest and dunes, meaning the campground’s protected from the evening onshore winds. This is good, ‘cause every campground has a fire pit and hot plate. Plan for a cook up!
Ranger Tip: Make sure you’re careful when building campfires, only use designated fire pits and check that there are no fire bans in place.
The northern end of Crowdy Bay National Park has a cluster of campgrounds for all camping styles. Diamond Head campground is your go-to for ultimate beach convenience – this lux campground is only seconds from the water! It’s a large drive-in campground with great facilities, including gas BBQs and flushing toilets. Bookings are essential as this campground is super popular.
There are two fantastic options a little further south: Indian Head campground and Kylies Beach campground. While still close to the beach, these drive-in sites are a little quieter, so you’re more likely to see the park’s kangaroos, lace monitors and seabirds.
Exploring Crowdy Bay National Park
Playing in the surf and on the sand is a given for any coastal escape, but there are also a few excellent walks in this national park that lead to some pretty special spots.
The Diamond Head Loop walk is a must-do. The 4.3km track leaves from any of the northern campgrounds and takes in the lush coastal woodland and rainforest of the Forest walking track (listen out for the call of the green catbird), before traversing grasslands along the coast to Kylie’s lookout, where you can see up and down the coast. Saunter down to the natural archway and watch the impressive quartz face of Diamond Head glitter above you.
Sea Acres National ParkView this post on Instagram
Sea Acres National Park is pretty special, it protects one of the biggest slices of coastal rainforest in NSW – that’s right, the rainforest runs all the way to the sand – and it’s right in the middle of Port Macquarie!
The Sea Acres Rainforest boardwalk lets you experience the rainforest and explore the canopy, all without damaging the fragile ecosystem. There’s heaps to learn about the rainforest, so it’s best to check out the Sea Acres Rainforest centre before your stroll.
If you’re looking for a longer walk, the 9km Port Macquarie Coastal Walk will be just what you’re after. Smell that salty breeze!
Kattang Nature Reserve
This place is wild. Before you head inland you’ve got to explore Perpendicular Point. Part of Kattang Nature Reserve, it extends out into the Pacific Ocean for 270-degree salty views. Check out the 3.7km walking track which includes the ‘flower bowl’, a loop that blooms with native wildflowers in spring. Keep an eye out for flannel flowers, everlasting daisy, wedding bush and boronia, as well as honeyeaters and glossy black cockatoo.
While you’re there, just a short stroll from the carpark is Charles Hamey lookout great for its coastal views and you might just spot a whale or dolphin.
‘Kattang’ comes from the local language of the Birpai Aboriginal people. The landscape and wildlife of Kattang is an important part of the identity, spirituality and cultural heritage of the Birpai People.
Into The Rainforest
Werrikimbe National Park
New South Wales is home to some awe-inspiring World Heritage national parks, and Port Macquarie is an excellent springboard into Gondwana Rainforest. Less than 2 hours from the coast, Werrikimbe National Park is your ticket to the canopies of yesteryear. The best bit? This lesser-known national park is sure to give you the solitude you’re craving.
Brushy Mountain Campground
Going bush camping takes a bit more prep than the coastal campgrounds at Crowdy Bay, but it’s well worth the effort. Stash water, firewood, rubbish bags and toilet paper in the car before you jet, it’s time to get wild. Brushy Mountain campground is where you’ll be immersed in blackbutt forest, ready to explore deeper into the rainforest.
The drive takes in the Hastings Forest Way touring route, a 122km return drive that climbs a whole kilometre above sea level as it winds into the escarpment climate. It’s this altitude that’s protected the Gondwana Rainforest for so long.
Ranger Tip: This road is remote and often used by logging trucks. Make sure your car is in good working order and drive safely.
Plateau Beech Campground
Just down the road from Brushy Mountain campground, Plateau Beech campground is great for getting in touch with nature ‘cause you’ll have to carry your tent a little ways from the car to set up. There are covered picnic tables, soft grass, toilets and boundless rainforest to explore, what else do you need? The King Fern walking track leaves directly from the campground (so technically, it leaves from your tent).
Please remember to: take your rubbish with you and make sure you leave no trace.
Walking In Werrikimbe
The Brushy Mountain loop track leaves right from the Brushy Mountain campground and offers an easy few kilometres of strolling beneath sprawling ribbon gums and shady ferns. Give yourself a few hours for this one, you’ll want to stop to look for spotted quolls and listen for bird calls, or head out at night with a torch to spot sugar gliders hanging out above.
From Plateau Beech campground you can take the King Fern walking track into a densely forested mountain gully. In less than 2km you’ll be at King Fern Falls and the Filmy Ferns Cascades. Take a chance to reflect on how special these areas are to the Dunghutti people, the Traditional Owners of the region, and how lucky we are to be able to experience them.
Ranger Tip: Werrikimbe National Park is very remote. Travel together and let your people (fam and friends) know your plans when heading out of range. It’s also a great idea to fill out a trip intention form and drop it into the visitor centre to get the latest information.
Arakoon National Park
Did you know that New South Wales National Parks isn’t just responsible for natural environments? They also look after heritage sites, including Aboriginal cultural sites and ruins from our recent past. Around Port Macquarie, there’s a historic gaol, lighthouse and the remains of an early convict settlement to explore.
The surrounding area of Arakoon National Park is culturally and spiritually significant to the local Dunghutti People, who contnue to pass on cultural learning and share their dreaming stories today.
Trial Bay Gaol
An hour north of Port Macquarie stands Trial Bay Gaol. The 130-year-old building was designed to house prison labourers who were building a breakwater – hence the prime real estate!
The best way to experience the gaol is with a guided tour. Hear stories about daily life in the gaol and German prisoners in World War 1 – as well as getting access to special parts of the building.
Need A Place To Stay? Trial Bay Campground offers brilliant beachside camping of all styles, but make sure you book early. It’s pretty popular!
Hat Head National Park
Smoky Cape Lighthouse
Just south of the gaol sits the stunning Smoky Cape lighthouse, built only 5 years later in 1891. They don’t make them like they used to. Hook into the Smoky Cape Lighthouse: Reach the top guided tour and you’ll get to hike up the spiral staircase and see the inner workings of this functioning lighthouse.
On the tour you’ll learn about life as a lighthouse keeper in the early 20th century, but nothing quite compares to a stay in the Smoky Cape Lighthouse Keepers’ cottage. Or you can always stay close to nature at Smoky Cape campground if you’re after that beachside fix.
Smoky Cape Lighthouse picnic area
This might be the best picnic spot on the East Coast. We’re talking whale watching, BBQs, kangaroos frolicking around like it’s a Qantas ad, just do yourself a favour and add Smoky Cape Lighthouse picnic area to your itinerary.
Ranger tip: #DontFeedIt! The roos (or any animals) are wild, they need natural food and it’s safest to keep your distance, you’ll be doing them a favour!