The natural beauty of the Central Coast remains the destination’s enduring attraction and protecting it has become the region’s most important quest, writes Katie Carlin.
It’s a place where you can find a beach to suit every mood, hiking trails that lead to hidden waterfalls, and a breadth of cultural experiences driven by the community of makers and creators that call the Central Coast home. The bushfires of 2019/20 put all this under threat, but it sparked a different kind of flame too – a passion to transform the region into a certified sustainable and conscious destination in the next two years.
Find natural beauty around every bend on the Central Coast
Eighty-seven kilometres of unspoilt coastline meets an Eden-like haven of national parks, state forests and conservation reserves to deliver one of the most nature-rich regions in NSW. Protecting this pristine natural environment is the destination’s top priority – and exploring it will leave you with the same goal.
Hike the Central Coast’s five national parks – Bouddi, Brisbane Water, Wyrrabalong, Dharug and Popran – to take in majestic clifftop vistas, spot whales off the coast, find Aboriginal rock engraving sites and take a dip in the swimmable pools of Somersby Falls. We recommend the two-hour Patonga to Pearl Beach Hiking Trail through Brisbane Water National Park to Warrah Lookout. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic views that reach out across the water to Palm Beach and Barrenjoey Lighthouse. Refuel at the Boathouse in Patonga or Pearl Beach Café when you’re done. For a gentler option, opt to walk through one of the oldest Arboretum’s in Australia in the Strickland State Forest to discover its collection of native and exotic plant species that date back as far as the 1880s.
Soak up the sun on any of the 41 golden-sand beaches that line the coast from Patonga to the northern tip of the Coast at Lake Munmorah, where you’ll also find stunning caves inside Munmorah State Conservation Area. There are 15 family-friendly patrolled beaches in the region including Avoca Beach, Soldiers Beach and Shelly Beach – which also provide surfers with a steady stream of waves to ride. Get among the beachside dining scene of the seaside villages and taste the fresh produce grown in the vast Central Coast hinterland that fuels their ‘paddock to plate’ philosophy.
Don’t leave without booking an experience with one of the local tour operators. The knowledgeable guides reveal the rich tapestry of Indigenous heritage woven into the natural landscape of the region with over 100 Aboriginal rock carvings and artefacts to be found. It’s an unforgettable journey.
The operators driving change
Many operators are in the process of transforming their offering of nature-based and cultural experiences into ones that embrace sustainable and responsible practices – which also happens to be the best way to explore the region.
Gain an understanding of Australia’s first people on a 3.5-hour tour with the Aboriginal-owned Girri Girra Aboriginal Experiences through Bouddi National Park to view some of its many Aboriginal sites, hear ancient stories and take in the park’s breathtaking vistas.
Further immerse yourself in the culture of the Guringai and Darkinjung people with a visit to the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park in Calga. Find Aboriginal engravings and artworks throughout the working wildlife sanctuary’s 80 acres of State Heritage-listed land, spot wild native animals and reptiles roaming freely, take in one of the live daily ranger talks, or opt to stay overnight and book a ‘Wild Night Out’ tour.
TreeTop Adventure Park in Ourimbah State Forest provides plenty of adrenalin-pumping challenges. The outdoor adventure park boasts the world’s longest rollercoaster zipline and its newest addition, Networld, allows you to play games as you bounce around on nets high up in the trees.
Bed down for the night at the eco-certified four-star nature retreat, Noonaweena (an Aboriginal word meaning resting place in the bush), in one of their luxury lodges set up high in the hinterland with picturesque views of Yengo National Park below. Expect it to be a restorative experience.
The journey to become an eco destination
This impressive portfolio of experiences is just a taste of what’s to come. Supported by funding from WWF-Australia, the Central Coast aims to become a certified ECO Destination with Ecotourism Australia by 2022. They are one of eight bushfire-affected regions in Australia and one of four in NSW (including Blue Mountains, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie-Hastings) to receive the funding to join the program. If successful, it will cement the region’s strong commitment to sustainability and quality – and make it easier for visitors to find eco experiences in the future.
Central Coast Council’s Green Grid plan is also underway, which aims to connect, rejuvenate and restore local green spaces across the community to improve liveability and visitor appeal – an indication that the region’s pristine natural environment looks set to stay that way for generations to come.