A Weekender's Guide to the Central Coast
Picturesque hikes, shipwrecks, rooftop bars and acclaimed eateries can all be found less than two hours from Sydney.
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Some say NSW's Central Coast is the Venice of Australia, which may sound like a stretch, but there are, actually, many similarities: great pizza, alfresco spritzes, aperitivo hours and stunning beaches. And, as a bonus, there are (hopefully) less floods and less tourists. It's also located less than two hours from Sydney — an easy road trip to accomplish in a weekend.
The Central Coast is expansive — stretching all the way from the Hawkesbury River to Lake Macquarie — and encompasses more than 40 beaches, so this weekender's guide is in no way comprehensive. Instead, it's a handpicked list of our favourite places to eat, drink and stay, and things to do, that can easily fill a weekend.
From pristine beaches and bountiful wine regions to alpine hideaways and bustling country towns, Australia has a wealth of places to explore at any time of year. We've partnered with Tourism Australia to help you plan your road trips, weekend detours and summer getaways so that when you're ready to hit the road you can Holiday Here This Year.
Some of the places mentioned below may still be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please check websites before making any plans.
Some of the beaches on this list are not patrolled by lifeguards. To ensure you stay safe, head over to Tourism Australia for its latest tips on water safety.
EAT AND DRINK
To start a weekend right on the Central Coast, you should start it by the water. And aptly named The Box on the Water offers just that. Located on the redeveloped Ettalong Beach foreshore, the eatery offers sprawling views across Broken Bay, great dog spotting and tasty fare from breakfast to dinner. If you're there at sundown, stop by for one of five spritzes and a picture-perfect sunset. A 20-minute drive away, you'll find Burnt Honey Bakery directly opposite Copacabana Beach, which has some of the best handmade pastries in the area. Drive a little further north and you'll hit the environmentally conscious Like Minds Avoca. A stone's throw from Avoca Lake, the hip cafe has a chandelier made from repurposed milk jugs, it hosts regular produce swaps in its garden and serves locally roasted Fat Poppy Coffee. For more great coffee, head over to Glee in Erina Heights — another local roaster, which has three spots on the east coast.
On a stretch of the Central Coast that has more similarities to Newtown than Venice, Long Jetty, you'll find The Glass Onion Society. It, too, would be comfortable relocating to Sydney's inner west, decked out with retro lounges, plants and eclectic knick-knacks. It has many vegan-friendly options, including a particularly tasty mushroom and hash brown brekkie burger. For your final daytime eating spot, make tracks to Saddles — a stunning homestead-like restaurant and bakehouse located on a 28-acre property in Mount White.
As the sun starts to dip, you (like us) might start contemplating a refreshing cocktail or two. Which is fair, you're on holidays after all. For this, there are many options. Terrigal's Pocket Bar — sister to Sydney's Stitch Bar and Button Bar — pairs modern twists on classic cocktails (including watermelon martinis) with fun bar snacks; the Caribbean-themed Mumbo Jumbo's down the road has espresso martinis on tap and a rooftop bar that looks out across the water; and Avoca Surf House is serving up many spritzes and sparkling wines right on the beach.
Another spot doing great drinks is The Lucky Bee, but we really recommend heading here for dinner. It's run by Matty Bennett and Rupert Noffs, who closed their acclaimed NYC eatery of the same name, swapped the city for the beach and opened on the Central Coast. Located at Hardys Bay, The Lucky Bee's Southeast Asian fare is fiery, the drinks extravagant and the atmosphere always buzzing — so make a reservation. Young Barons, run by another young couple, is yet another restaurant hitting all the right notes, with pasta and gelato made fresh daily and bottles of natural wine served up in an unassuming spot around the corner.
If you're back down in Terrigal, stop by Rhonda's. It really embraces the coastal Italian feel of the area, serving up Roman-style woodfired pizza, handmade pasta and house-made limoncello in a breezy, plant-filled space. It has a rooftop bar, too, where you continue drinking spritzes well into the evening.
If just the thought of all that food makes you want to embark on a digestive stroll, you're in luck — there are many on the Central Coast. Back at Ettalong Beach, you can walk along the shore to Umina Beach (an easy three kilometres away) looking out across Broken Bay to Palm Beach. Another short trek is the one-kilometre Maitland Bay Track, which carries you through rainforest to Maitland Bay. Here, at low-tide, you're able to see the shipwrecked remains of PS Maitland at the bay's eastern end.
For something longer, the nearby Bouddi Coastal Trail, an 8.5-kilometre hike, winds pass lookouts and beaches. Pack your snorkelling gear and explore one of them — we recommend heading to the sheltered Lobster Beach and keeping an eye out for dolphins.
Prefer shopping to snorkelling? There are lots of vintage stores and boutiques scattered around the Coast, too. Back at the inner west-like Long Jetty, pop into Long Jetty Vintage, Websters Vintage and Plain Janes. While you're there, visit the town's namesake: the 351-metre Long Jetty stretching out into the middle of Tuggerah Lake.
Once you've shopped up a thirst, Distillery Botanica is the next order of the day. This stunning garden distillery is from the distiller behind Mr Black cold drip coffee liqueur — which you can sample and purchase here, too. The distillery's gins, also named Distillery Botanica, are made using botanicals grown in the garden and taste how you'd image spring would.
The distillery is also home to Mr Goaty, an award-winning gelato made on the Central Coast. Founded by Dan Hughes, formerly a chef at Sydney's Three Blue Ducks, the brand is known for its signature flavours made using goat's milk, which is lighter in sugar but equally creamy. Many of the flavours — goat's milk, cow's milk and dairy-free — are made using plants grown in the distillery garden, too, including the honeycomb and lavender and lemon myrtle macadamia.
Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Tasman is Copacabana Beach House. Spread across three storeys, the restored 70s house is the perfect spot to stay if you're heading away with a crew — it has three bedrooms and sleeps up to eight people — or if you're looking for a very spacious (yet affordable) property for two.
It's even equipped for winter visits, fitted out with a crackling indoor fireplace, a decked-out kitchen and outdoor fire pit. During the cooler months, you might even be able to spot humpback whales migrating right past your window. But the Beach House is ideal in warmer months, too, when you can wander down Del Monte Place to Copacabana Beach for a morning dip, and eat fresh seafood on the house's sprawling balconies.
For something smaller, but also by the water, Terrigal's The Clan has 21 waterfront rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beach or lagoon.
Whether you're planning to travel for a couple of nights or a couple of weeks, Holiday Here This Year and you'll be supporting Australian businesses while you explore the best of our country's diverse landscapes and attractions.
Top image: Copacabana Beach
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Published on May 29, 2020 by Samantha Teague