These sleepy towns will reel you in with their underrated beauty and charm.
On the Lower Mid North Coast of NSW, the Barrington Coast is a vast region that encompasses the Manning Valley, Great Lakes and Gloucester.
As such it’s a medley of rolling country valleys, snaking rivers and a swirling emerald and turquoise coastline, with a plethora of under-the-radar towns that are prime for chilled-out getaways. Here, eight of the best towns on the Barrington Coast.
1. Blueys Beach
This small pocket of coast was thrown into the spotlight when Tourism Australia’s ‘beach expert’ Brad Farmer named Boomerang Beach one of country’s best for 2023. In fact, we also included it in our 100 Emerging Destinations.
Blueys Beach is a perfect surfing spot in Pacific Palms. (Image: Destination NSW)
The crescent-shaped stretch of coast, along with its neighbour Blueys Beach, boasts luminous water, pristine sand and a consistent beach break, drawing in surfers and beach-lovers from far and wide. But despite the attention, these ’hoods are the epitome of a languid seaside break.
Take a breather at Blueys Beach. (Image: Destination NSW)
The tiny township of Blueys Beach is where it’s all at: a handful of dining options including Indo-inspired Kembali Cafe and Hueys at Blueys pizzeria, a small supermarket, a bottle shop and deli, and a zen wellness centre for soothing massages between sand time. Slow, chilled days – what the best beach holidays are made of.
Head inland along one of the state’s oldest tourist drives, Bucketts Way to the small country town of Gloucester.
The Gloucester River connects above the beautiful cascades of Gloucester Falls. (Image: Destination NSW)
Nestled in a valley where the Gloucester, Avon and Barrington rivers meet, this quaint town is overlooked by the Buccan Buccans (Bucketts Mountains) and is known as base camp for adventures in the Barrington Tops National Park, home to the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests.
Gaze in awe at the enchanted mossy rainforest of Barrington Tops National Park. (Image: Destination NSW)
Aside from kayaking, bushwalking and mountain biking, the region is rich in Gold Rush history (tours of a nearby gold mine are available), is where infamous bushranger Captain Thunderbolt roamed in the 19th century, and the surrounding countryside is dotted with cellar doors including Mograni Creek Estate.
3. Old Bar
Flying under the radar, Old Bar is a beachside gem near Taree that has long been a favourite with surfers. Of late, it has also become a music lovers’ pilgrimage, with the arrival of Boogie Woogie Beach House in 2016.
Drink booze with your friends at Boogie Woogie Beach House. (Image: Destination NSW)
This motel turned music-themed hotel (including rooms adorned with Dave Grohl, Bowie and Nick Cave iconography) is host to a packed calendar of live music events. For a small town, Old Bar sure packs a punch, with the recently renovated Finns at Old Bar offering a coastal-chic stay, and a handful of great eateries including Sai Thai and Buyi Espresso Bar.
Once a thriving small town popular catering to travellers on long road trips across the state, Bulahdelah flew off the radar once the bypass was built. But this inland town, meaning ‘the meeting place of two rivers’, is well worth a longer linger.
Bulahdelah is blessed with abundant waterways, some 130 kilometres in fact, where houseboating is an idyllic holiday choice.
Myalls Lake Getaway Houseboats hires out a range of houseboats to skipper yourself around this large freshwater lake system, where you can spend unhurried days kayaking, swimming and fishing.
Overlooking the township, Bulahdelah Mountain is a legislated Aboriginal Place of the Worimi People. Located within Bulahdelah State Forest, there are three walking tracks that take you to the Worimi Cultural Area and the mountain lookout, through a verdant landscape of towering Blackbutt trees and grass trees.
5. Hawks Nest
Hawks Nest is one of those coastal towns that families return to again and again for nostalgic holidays. Days are spent in the sun, sand hopping between its incredible beaches.
Paddle your way around Karuah River off Jimmys Beach, Hawks Nest. (Image: Destination NSW)
Bennetts Beach, also known as The Dolphins Playground, is a great spot for surfing, while Jimmys Beach, a family favourite for its sheltered swimming conditions, is a pristine five-kilometre arc between the Myall River and Yacaaba Headland.
The sun rises majestically over Bennetts Beach. (Image: Destination NSW)
You can reach the tip of this headland on a challenging yet scenic six-kilometre hike from Bennetts Beach, weaving underneath angophora and through grass trees, up a steep rocky track to the forested ridge top. From here you’ll have panoramic views to Seals Rock and Tomaree Headland.
Bennetts Beach is one of the most beautiful, accessible beaches on Barrington Coast. (Image: Destination NSW)
6. Seal Rocks
There’s only one road in and one road out, which is part of the beauty of Seal Rocks. This isolated surf village has been luring surfers in for decades, who set up camp in either Treachery Camp, Reflections Seal Rocks or Yagon Campground. You’ll need to bring all provisions, as there’s also only one shop.
Opt for a remote getaway at Number One Beach, Seal Rocks. (Image: Destination NSW)
Continuing on with the theme, the town’s main beach is also known as Number One. It’s good for beginner surfers and SUPers, while Treachery Beach and Lighthouse Beach are magnets for old hands.
Soak up sweeping turquoise coastlines at Number One Beach, Seal Rocks. (Image: Destination NSW)
The heritage lighthouse, Sugarloaf Point, has been standing sentinel since 1874 and is still in operation today, using the original main light. There is a walk to the lighthouse, which will take you through coastal forest and up to the headland for a spectacular view of this remote and uncrowded coast.
Capture 360-degree views of the surf village at Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse. (Image: Destination NSW)
Step back in time at the oldest town on the Barrington Coast, Wingham. A 10-minute drive west of Taree, this town was settled on the banks of the Manning River in 1844 by timber cutters and dairy farmers and retains much of its old-world charm.
Its town square is dotted with glorious Federation-style buildings that are recognised on the National Trust, including the Post Office, the 1889 Australian Hotel (where you can still enjoy a hearty pub meal), the old 1929-built bank, and the Wingham Museum, which is housed in an 1870 building and displays a rich homage to yesteryear.
Pick up a map to take the self-guided five-kilometre heritage walk around the historic town and to the river. Spend time exploring Wingham Brush Nature Reserve, a rare subtropical lowland rainforest, home to the vulnerable grey-headed flying fox and gigantic Moreton Bay figs.
OK, we admit this one is a little more roused. But Forster is a long-loved seaside town that still offers the essentials of a slow seaside break. Gloriously set between Wallis Lake and the Pacific Ocean, Forster is an aquatic wonderland.
Wallis Lake has crystal-clear waters perfect for stand-up paddle boarding. (Image: Destination NSW)
Take your pick of water-based activities from calm swimming at Main Beach or in the ocean baths, rock-hopping around to the magical pools of Pebbly Beach, or suiting up with Dive Forster and swimming with grey nurse sharks or dolphins.
Pace yourself on a stand-up paddleboard. (Image: Destination NSW)
There’s also excellent fishing off the breakwall, whale watching and scenic cruises with Amaroo Cruises, kayaking, SUPing and boating in Wallis Lake, home to dolphins, rays and turtles.
Stroll along the white sand path along Forster Beach. (Image: Destination NSW)
The lake is also prime oyster territory; sample them straight from the water at Thirty Three Degrees. Across the lake, Mexican cantina Si Senorita is a lively spot for tacos, tequila and sunsets, or head beachside for an ocean-view lunch at Beach Bums Cafe.
Dine by the beachside at Beach Bums Cafe, Forster. (Image: Destination NSW)