Travel opens your eyes to many wonderful places and regions and we in Australia are lucky enough to be well and truly spoilt for choice. Be it the open desert or outback spaces, the mighty High Country or our stunning coastal expanses the list of potential favourites is endless. Just like a really good song list favorite destinations can be almost unlimited and varied. However, if you have a love for the attraction of stunning beaches in a largely natural unspoiled environment then the Macleay Valley Coast will without doubt tick that box. This stretch of the NSW mid north coast has that older world charm of how things used to be in simpler times. The local regional tourism authority has a slogan and it reads “Drop In and Chill Out” and that is pretty much spot on.
The region that encompasses the Macleay Valley Coast stretches from Crescent Head in the south and heading north includes Hat Head, South West Rocks, Stuart’s Point and lastly Grassy Head. Inland along the mighty Macleay River you have a selection of small towns scattered throughout the beautiful hinterland and of course the region’s main provincial center the town of Kempsey.
Kempsey sits almost equal distance between Sydney at 533kms south and Brisbane at 543kms north and has easy access via the Pacific Highway. As the main highway passes well inland from the coastal towns that helps with this vibe of relaxed and peaceful ocean side living.
So the jewels in the regions crown are very much centered around its stunning beaches and all of the activities that go hand in glove with them, swimming, surfing, fishing and just unwinding “living the north coast dream”. Let’s start in the south and look in more detail at what’s on offer to you the RV traveller. Crescent Head is a national surfing reserve and has a renowned right hand point break that surfer folk are drawn to, it’s also a brilliant long board wave so no matter your ability fun is guaranteed. The small town is situated right on the beach and has all your daily needs pretty well covered. Surrounding the town is some 60kms of national parks with many beach options to choose from, throw in a Country Club, a good selection of restaurants and cafes and as they say “life is a beach”.
For the RV traveller the other gem in Crescent Head’s offerings is the local caravan park, these days known as the Crescent Head Holiday Park, this park is one of five that make up the Macleay Valley Coast Holiday Park Group, and if location is the be all in real estate then this holiday park has location covered in spades.
The holiday park is right on the beach just metres to water, a large park offering the full range of accommodation choices from a large selection of different cabins to powered sites, it is without doubt one of the best sited and convenient holiday parks I have ever had the pleasure to stay in. The beach has a large modern Surf Club and is patrolled, the club also has a great little café for takeaway coffee and snacks, coffee while checking out the waves and for many folk that’s simply heaven.
Moving north our next stop is the tiny hamlet of Hat Head, the one and only road into the village is fine and fully sealed but it goes just to the Hat and then stops. South West Rocks and Kempsey are both around 20-25 minutes away. The small village of Hat Head located in the lee of the large headland which when viewed from a distance in particular from sea looks very much like a large bush hat hence the name. The town is small in every sense, a selection of holiday rental homes and cottages mixed in with the permanent locals throw in a great caravan park, a bowling club and two small general stores and you are done. Add a surf club that opens in season, a boat ramp and fish cleaning table and couple of tennis courts and kids play ground and the picture is complete.
The caravan park, sorry Holiday Park is like its sister parks at Crescent Heads brilliantly situated with it being only a very short walk to the main surf beach and even shorter walk to the beautiful Korogoro creek. Aside from its beauty and top location the park offers all forms of RV camping options with plenty of room and all the normal facilities. The nearby bowling club is pleasant and well equipped with a great little dining room that serves up some fine fare, they are open Wednesday to Sunday, while the two stores have all your basic needs covered and the ‘Blue store’ with post office attached does a top hamburger.
The town sits on the banks of a small coastal creek (Korogoro Creek) which is fun to fish, paddle or swim, on the northern side of town is a long and beautiful beach called Smoky, this beach which runs for many a mile all the way up to Smoky Cape and its lighthouse is on a long curve of white sand against the blue of the Pacific. At the Hat Head end this beach is very well protected from any southerly weather and a safe swimming beach in most conditions. You are able to drive on Smoky beach with a current beach driving permit and thus find your own space and enjoy the solitude. Within easy walking distance (via a lovely wooden foot bridge) or via a very short drive from town you will find Gap Beach, its only small but is a top location for whale watching both in early Winter as they head north and then again in Spring as they return south to the Antarctic for the Summer.
Gap Beach is also the starting point for some great walking tracks, heading north you can walk the entire Korogoro Point (Hat Head) headland circuit, it will take you about an hour but the coastal views and stunning headland rock formations are well worth the effort. If fishing is your go then this track opens up to plenty of top class rock fishing locations. However, be well aware of the sea conditions as a number of fisherman have paid the price for getting it wrong.
Leaving Hat Head the next stop on our journey is the larger town of South West Rocks, known by locals simply as the “Rocks”. Situated at the mouth of the mighty Macleay River the town is quite simply one of Australia’s best fishing and diving locations. With all shops and services covered it has plenty to offer while still retaining that small coastal town feel without the high-rise development. The Trial Bay Goal and surrounding Arakoon NP is a must visit. The holiday park is located at Horseshoe Bay and again location is just brilliant with the beach and the town right on your doorstep.
Fishing options in and around South West Rocks are almost unlimited from beach, rock, estuary (both boat and shore based) and ocean fishing its reputation is not without reason. Lastly before leaving South West Rocks I would urge you if the opportunity allows to take a day trip a few km’s south of town and visit the Smoky Cape Lighthouse, the view is breath taking (in particular when the whales are passing by) and again the walking options to a number of local beaches is world class.
Still moving north our next stop is the tiny river side village of Stuart’s Point, situated on a northern arm of the Macleay River system, it’s a very tranquil and relaxing coastal village. Stuart’s Point has only basic shopping on offer along the same lines as Hat Head but the place has a real sense of relaxation. One can access the beach by walking over a large pedestrian footbridge, the river is at your feet for fishing, boating, canoeing and sailing. The holiday park is located on the banks of said Macleay River and is perfect for folks with a small boat as you can simply pull it up onto the beach in front of the camping sites. Aside from beach activities and fishing there are some great bush waking tracks on offer.
Our final destination in our Macleay coast journey is Grassy Head located only a few km’s north of Stuart’s Point, Grassy is tucked away, pristine and just a real gem in a coastline that has many. The tiny village of Grassy is tucked away at the southern end of Grassy beach in the lee of the headland; there is around about a dozen homes (mostly holiday) an ocean reserve for day visitors and the holiday park and folks that is IT. Nightlife central it’s not but if you would like to escape the mad mad world and simply relax, recharge and chill in a beach side location then you have found heaven.
The Grassy Head holiday park is like the village on the small size but it has all the required facilities with powered and unpowered sites and some cabin options. Its location like all Macleay Valley parks is simply perfect about 50 metres walk to the beach, a little further if you wish to walk or fish the headland.
Surfing, fishing, nudist beach, bushwalking, wildlife, rainforest drives and endless 4WD tracks or just simply CHILL it’s a rather special place. The park managers on my visit called the place an escape back to nature and it sums up the place rather truly, if you are looking for that SPECIAL PLACE then maybe this could be it.
The Macleay Valley coast does have that simple easy relaxed lifestyle in a truly great natural setting that has become a major draw card for many people. The simple joy of putting a pack on your back and with fishing rod in hand walking off to some great beach or rock fishing location, the outcome more often than not means fish in the bag, but now the place and its surrounds are more important than the fishing. Enjoying the waves in water that’s almost always warm, sun on your back, sharing it with family or friends adds another level of enjoyment.
So if you enjoy coastal scenery and the simple rhythm of a relaxing break and find yourself heading north in NSW on highway No 1 then check out the Macleay Valley Coast for a day or three, I don’t think you will be disappointed and who knows it may even become one of your favorites too.
Location: Turn off the Pacific Highway at Kempsey if coming from the south and then to, Crescent Head or Hat Head or South West Rocks via Gladstone and Kinchela. For Stuart’s Point and Grassy Head turn off the Pacific Highway onto Stuart’s Point road as signposted.
Camping: Visit www.macleayvalleycoastholidayparks.com.au
Time to visit: Like most coastal locations the summer holidays are rather busy and if looking for the peace and quiet should be avoided. For the best fishing and whale watching then early winter May-June is great also Spring time. Weather is good with warm days even in winter however nights can be cold. Water temperature is still warm well into Winter.
Beach Driving: A number of beaches in the area are open to driving on, Smoky and Killick are the main two, permits are required and are available, remember to drop your tyre pressure down before hitting the sand.