10 essential stops for summer on the NSW Pacific Coast Highway

Smoky Cape Lighthouse, South West Rocks. Picture: Don Fuchs/Destination NSW

SOMERSBY

Kick off your road trip with a sky-high adventure in a microlight.

Just an hour north of Sydney, turn off the M2 at Somersby, where you can leave your car behind for a bird’s-eye view of the Central Coast.

Microlight Adventures has been operating tandem flights over the region for more than a decade, with 40-minute trips taking in Tuggerah Lakes, The Entrance, Terrigal and Brisbane Waters.

“A lot of people think it’s extreme but it’s not,” pilot Len Birger says.

A microlight flight ($190) is an exhilarating way to enjoy the natural beauty of the region’s forests, waterways and beaches. You’ll fly as low as 150m and easily be able to spot large schools of fish, surfers and fishermen. If you’re feeling nervous before taking off, your mind will soon be at ease thanks to Len’s smooth flying skills and commentary. The minimum age for the flights is 14 years, while you’re never too old.

Tip: You’ll be given an insulated one-piece suit to wear but dress warm underneath, too, as it gets cold up high.

Flying high above Terrigal, on the Central Coast, with Microlight Adventures. Picture: Jennifer Ennion

AVOCA

This seaside suburb is home to one of the Central Coast’s newest restaurants, Bombini, and it’s a great place to refuel before returning to the highway. This stylish, down-to-earth establishment offers diners a modern Italian menu, with a focus on handmade and premium, seasonal produce. Fruit and vegies are supplied by the restaurant’s kitchen garden, while other ingredients are from suppliers who share Bombini’s environmental values (think sustainable seafood and grass-fed beef). The menu features dishes such as cured ocean trout in prosecco ($23) and slow-roasted Berkshire pork shoulder ($34), and there is always a delicious gelato flavour to try.

Tip: Summer is the perfect time to enjoy aperitivo in the Bombini Bar, and with complimentary bar food with your drinks from Friday to Sunday (4-6pm), who can resist?

See bombini.com.au

An afternoon of cheese and wine at Bombini restaurant, Avoca.

DIAMOND BEACH

Fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves at Ramada Resort Diamond Beach.

The resort’s self-contained villas and apartments are spacious and perfect for families and groups, with kitchens and laundry facilities.

Book an oceanfront apartment, a stone’s throw from the waves and one of the resort’s two pools. Parents will love the complimentary kids’ club offered during peak school holiday periods, while surfers will enjoy the proximity to Black Head and the beaches of Forster to the south. Located at the edge of the township of Diamond Beach, the resort is quiet and secluded but with a holiday park vibe. Children will enjoy riding their scooters around the property, as parents hit the tennis court, endota spa or resort bar.

Tip: Order the prawn and chorizo pizza, with chilli, for dinner ($22), and walk it off along the empty beach in the morning.

See ramadadiamondbeach.com.au

Diamond Beach is a perfect spot for school holidays.

CRESCENT HEAD

Swap the bitumen for the long waves of Crescent Head, a coastal community that’s been a favourite among surfers for generations. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to surfing or an old-timer, you’ll love the waves here. The point break will keep seasoned riders content, while beginners will feel safe tackling the shories that stretch from the headland up the beach.

Tip: Crescent Head Holiday Park is as close as you’ll get to the sand but book well in advance, especially during holiday season.

See visitnsw.com

Great surfing at Crescent Head.

HAT HEAD NATIONAL PARK

Stretch your legs with a walk up to Smoky Cape Lighthouse, in Hat Head National Park.

The lighthouse was built in 1891 and remains in operation. It’s also the most elevated lighthouse in the state, and worth checking out for the stunning views alone. The grassy area above the car park, Captain Cook’s Lookout, is a good spot to enjoy a packed lunch, with views of empty northern beaches. From here you can also head off on a bush walk among blooming wildflowers.

Tip: You can book a lighthouse tour for 1pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Ph (02) 6566 6301 for the tours.

Surfing at Hat Head. Picture: Don Fuchs/Destination NSW

SOUTH WEST ROCKS

If your summer holidays are all about soaking in seaside, then South West Rocks is for you.

The village is small and charming, and Seabreeze Beach Hotel has prime real estate, just a short walk from Horseshoe Bay. It’s the go-to place for tourists on a budget, with basic but spacious rooms that are surprisingly quiet when there’s a band playing in the bar downstairs. The bistro is a top spot for hearty pub grub, while you can catch the Friday night footy in the sports bar.

Tip: Arrive with plenty of time to nab a table in the beer garden for dinner. I recommend the pan-fried rainbow trout in almond butter ($24).

See seabreezebeachhotel.com.au

ANGOURIE

If you’re fond of a picnic and need a break from the car, head to Angourie Blue Pool. The watering hole has been drawing summer visitors for decades but isn’t a heavily promoted tourist attraction, making it a great place to unwind. It’s easily accessible and will take you about two minutes to walk from a seaside car park down a concrete path to the pool. It’s also a popular spot with local surfers, as it provides access to a few breaks.

Not far from the pool is Angourie Rainforest Resort, set among 600ha of forest. Although the resort could do with a freshen-up, the cabins are large, with wide verandas, kitchens, laundry facilities and carports. There’s also a lovely pool area for lazy summer afternoons.

Tip: If you have kids, book one of the resort cabins beside the playground and pool area.

See angourieresort.com.au

Angourie Blue Pool has drawn visitors for decades. Picture: the Legendary Pacific Coast

NEWRYBAR

It may be small but Newrybar is home to one of the Pacific Coast’s best eateries, Harvest Cafe, on the Old Pacific Highway. This is where you come for fancy food but casual dining. I recommend ordering the charred octopus entree ($22) and a main of braised beef brisket with marrow ($36), or the fish of the day with wood-fired cauliflower and mussels ($38).

The barista also makes a mean chai tea. Creating such a delectable spread takes time, so it’s best to call in on a day trip from places such as nearby Byron Bay or Lennox Head, as opposed to stopping past on a long driving day.

Tip: Allow plenty of time to savour your meal and make a reservation, even midweek and outside holiday periods.

See harvestcafe.com.au

Harvest Cafe, in Newrybar, is one of the Pacific Coast’s best eateries. Picture: Jennifer Ennion

BANGALOW

Travellers keen to get a taste of the Byron Bay Hinterland will enjoy stopping in Bangalow, where shops and cafes line the main drag (Byron St). For shopping, my pick is Our Corner Store, with its stylish collection of home wares, jewellery and handicrafts. Think leather wallets, powder-coated lamps, knitted toys and artisan chocolate. A word of warning: it will be hard to leave without snapping up at least one dapper souvenir.

Tip: Time your visit with Bangalow Market, held on the fourth Sunday of every month (9am-3pm).

Our Corner Store, in Bangalow, has a dapper collection of home wares. Picture: Jennifer Ennion

BYRON BAY

Before you head for home, call into the region’s most happening attraction, The Farm at Byron Bay. A hobby farm, restaurant, bakery, florist and all-round gathering place is rolled into one here, and it’s worth all the hype.

Three Blue Ducks cafe blends sophistication with Byron’s famous chilled-out vibe, and is a great place for road-trippers to stop, as it’s just off the Pacific Motorway. Seating is spaced out but communal, the hipster staff are friendly and efficient, and the menu is pleasantly unique. The crispy fish “wings” (fish fins with flesh) with nahm jim ($25) are tasty, while the rolled pork belly with pancetta ($32) is perfect for meat eaters. The choice of non-alcoholic beverages is lengthy, too, with a range of organic soft drinks and plenty of creative teas (such as rooibos turmeric chai). After lunch, have a stroll around the property and say hello to the heritage black pigs, free-range chickens and Scottish Highland cows.

Spend the night at The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa, set on 18ha of subtropical rainforest. The resort is out of town, allowing guests to unwind in a peaceful, relaxed setting. You’ll feel like you’re in northern Queensland, not NSW, as you wander the wooden boardwalks underneath towering palms. The one-bedroom suites are modern and you’ll be tempted to curl up in them all day. Instead, lounge beside the resort’s infinity pool or book in for some day spa pampering.

Tip: Before leaving The Farm, be sure to grab a takeaway banana and butterscotch muffin from the bakery, The Bread Social, then work it off during the complimentary morning yoga class at The Byron, at Byron Resort and Spa.

See thefarmbyronbay.com.au and thebyronatbyron.com.au

The crispy fish ‘wings’ at Three Blue Ducks at The Farm at Byron Bay. Picture: Jennifer Ennion

The writer travelled with assistance from Destination NSW and The Legendary Pacific Coast

ESCAPE ROUTE

PACIFIC COAST, NSW

GETTING THERE

The Legendary Pacific Coast starts in Sydney and ends in Brisbane. The Pacific Highway and Old Pacific Highway are the two main routes, but you will travel along other freeways and motorways (such as the M2). Driving from Sydney to Brisbane takes about 12 hours, not including stops.