February 13, 2023
8 mins Read
Starting in the south at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River and ending at the northern tip of the coast where dense forest rolls into the Watagan Mountain Range, breathe in country air as you drive through a scene of hinterland, farmland and charming villages, and be sure to make time for these incredible experiences found along the way.
Picture this. You’re standing at a white-clothed table, knee-deep in bottle green waters, surrounded by hilly vista, the only sound is the drone of cicadas from the enfolding bush. A platter abundant in freshly plucked Sydney Rock Oysters and prawns sits on the table before you, you are served a glass of Perrier Jouet and spend the next hour in the very waters that the delicious oysters you’re slurping down have been farmed.
Starting the drive from Sydney, Sydney Oyster Tours should be your first stop – and what an experience it is. The family-owned and -run oyster business runs three regular tours to its Hawkesbury River farm, including a scenic cruise with oyster-tasting, a unique in-water experience, and a seafood lunch on a secluded beach. Host and oyster farmer Sheridan Beaumont shares her knowledge and gives tips on how to shuck these tasty morsels yourself throughout the tour.
This elegant but relaxed restaurant is an idyllic pit-stop for a cockle-warming meal among 11 hectares of quintessential Australian bushland in Mt White – it is also one of the best places to eat on the Central Coast, full stop! Saddles Mount White is inspired by a traditional bakehouse but elegantly styled like a first-class restaurant with leather and velvet furniture, sandstone and timber and brass accents.
The breakfast and lunch menu comprises modern Australian cuisine, including home-grown favourites such as pork and fennel sausage roll and a beef, red wine, onion and mushroom pie, alongside a six-week dry-aged T-bone. Or if you’re after a sweet treat, try the lamington with chocolate ganache or strawberry jam donut and cream. Takeaway coffee and bites are also available to enjoy by the dam or to take for your road trip.
A brilliant combination of culture and conservation, Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park at Calga is a sanctuary for native animals including the Tassie devil, koala and wombat, as well as a breeding program for endangered animals. Visitors can learn about wildlife and environmental conservation, as well as connect with Country through many Aboriginal cultural activities. The park is steeped in Indigenous history, home to significant sites where you can view rock art and stone arrangements, join a bush tucker tour, or immerse in dance and culture workshops.
The Australian Reptile Park has been an icon of the Central Coast for more than 60 years – keep an eye out for its giant diplodocus ‘Ploddy’ which greets you on the M1 at Somersby. The famous park delights families with its 2000-plus residents, including legendary saltwater croc Elvis and 71-year-old Galapagos tortoise Hugo, and is involved in important antivenom and conservation work.
Kids and wildlife lovers of all ages can watch daily shows, including feeding the famous cranky croc, a Tasmanian Devil talk, and the chance to pat a cuddly koala. You can even get behind-the-scenes with one of the zookeeper programs or on an animal encounter with a wombat, a Komodo dragon or enter the venom room to get up close with snakes and spiders.
Located in Brisbane Water National Park, near the reptile park, Girrakool Walking Track is an easy two-kilometre walk but for a short track it sure packs a punch. The track weaves through bushland and thick forest, past waterfalls and creeks, an important Aboriginal engraving site, and a spectacle of wildflowers in spring. It starts and ends at Girrakool Picnic Area, so pack some food and make this a snack stop on your drive. (Find more hikes around the Central Coast in our guide.)
Mt Penang Parklands is a community park that comprises 12 individual gardens on a vast sculptural plateau, featuring ponds, fountains, cascades and a footbridge, with more than 70 per cent of the plants and trees native to Australia. To stretch your legs, enjoy a picnic, or grab a bite to eat at the onsite cafe that overlooks the dam. The park is found at the exit to Gosford and Terrigal, so it’s an easy one to add to your itinerary if you’re heading to the coast.
Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures is the coast’s premier adventure hub, a sprawling 3000-acre property just north of Calga, made up of rainforest, creeks and bushland where you can pick your own adventure from a thrill-inducing list. Explore the property on a quad bike, propel down escarpments with an abseiling experience or take a gentle kayak down a eucalypt-lined creek. It’s one of the state’s largest horse-riding centres with more than 200 horses and 50 kilometres of trail: join a riding lesson, take a gourmet picnic ride or join the cattle drive where you’ll muster a herd through the scenic green valley.
Nestled among the rural landscape of Peats Ridge, The Springs is home to a championship 18-hole golf course, which is designed for golfers of all abilities. After your game, head up to Sitting Duck, a rustic restaurant that offers an ever-changing farm-to-table menu of homely food served elegantly with a peaceful vista of the rolling hinterland, a cosy fireplace for winter and an alfresco deck perfect for sun-drenched days. If you’re here on the weekend, high tea is available at 11am and 2pm.
Set on 45 acres of regenerated farmland in Mangrove Mountain, this certified organic farm is owned by a fourth-generation farmer. Growing a diverse range of fruit and vegetables using sustainable farming practices, Fanelli Organics sells direct to the customer at local markets and at their farm shop. Stop by to pick up provisions for your road trip or get your hands dirty on one of the regular farm tours, which allows you a glimpse into organic farming life; check out their website for future tour dates.
Grace Springs Farm is a small family-owned farm in Kulnura that ethically produces pork, beef, chicken, duck, vegetables, and honey, focusing on healthy chemical-free soil and pastures. Visitors are invited to join in on the afternoon chores on a private tour, which includes feeding the pigs, getting up close with the chooks and collecting eggs, watching calves as they feed, and sometimes allowing for cuddles with chicks and ducklings. Young farmhands will love the animal encounters while adults can experience farm life and learn more about where their food comes from.
Located in Ourimbah State Forest at the northern end of the Central Coast section of Tourist Drive 33, TreeTops Adventure Park is a thrilling end to your journey. This network of rope courses and zip lines is for young and old alike to channel their inner Tarzan or Jane as they soar through the treetops. The park’s NetWorld is a series of nets and ball pits elevated in the trees, where kids as young as three (and their fun-loving adults) can bounce, leap and play among the trees. The entire park has been constructed in a way that allows the forest to grow around it.
Adventure by day and tranquillity by night, Glenworth Valley has several different options for staying overnight. You can camp by the riverfront in your own tent or stay in one of the luxury bell tents, equipped with plush mattresses. Or opt for an eco-cabin, a supremely comfortable and modern villa nestled in remote bushland, or one with a woodfired hot tub to soak in among nature. There is a cafe and essentials store on-site.
Located in the leafy suburb of Kulnura, Noonaweena is an ECO Certified stay that comprises four lodges that can accommodate 32 guests. Its green cred is impressive: the property is powered by solar, is self-sufficient with natural water and recycles grey water, composts green waste, and keeps chickens for eggs and bees for honey.
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