A Weekender's Guide to Patonga, Pearl Beach and Killcare
Feast on oysters, sip locally made gin and stay in luxury accommodation on the Central Coast.
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This pristine expanse of beaches, national parks and picturesque villages on the New South Wales Central Coast make for one excellent trip, whether you're just driving up from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. On top of all the nature, there's a growing foodie scene, driven by down-to-earth experts wanting to do their thing without the burden of city rent prices. Ever sipped on a Six String brew? You've already begun your acquaintance with the Central Coast's creations. Now it's time to go deeper with a visit to Patonga, Pearl Beach and Killcare — and, lucky for you, we've partnered with Destination NSW to uncover some the area's dining gems, top-notch activities and luxe waterside accommodation, too.
Please stay up to date with the latest NSW Government health advice regarding COVID-19.
In the teeny-tiny, 200-person settlement of Patonga is where you'll find seafood feasts at The Boathouse Hotel Patonga. Nab a spot in its sunny courtyard or inside the restaurant's luxury yacht-like interior, either way you'll have expansive water views. The seafood platter of tiger prawns, oysters, baked scallops, battered fish and salt and pepper squid is a must. Otherwise, you can opt for the likes of burgers, steak, pasta, pizza and a bunch of share-style plates. If you'd rather take your feed even closer to the water, you can grab fish and chips from the takeaway shop next door.
For your next meal, make your way to Pearl Beach. It's the first town east of Patonga — a swathe of national park cuts between the two — with Pearl facing Broken Bay. For a fine diner, head to the aptly named Pearls on the Beach, headed up by chef Scott Fox and his partner Melissa for the past 20 years. Housed in a beach cottage just a few steps from the sand, the restaurant is clean and uncluttered, with pastel colours and white tablecloths. The menu is seasonal, but you can expect dishes like marlin carpaccio served with a burnt shallot, jalapeño and coriander salsa, blood orange marmalade and cashew cream; carrot katsu topped with gochujang ketchup, wasabi mayo, wakame oil and pickled shitake; and pomegranate-glazed quail served with beetroot labneh and pickled radicchio. If you're after something more casual, drop into Pearl Beach General Store and Cafe for hearty, healthy breakfasts and laidback lunches.
Travelling north from Pearl Beach, the national park withdraws west to make room for the bigger, more connected towns of Umina, Ettalong and Woy Woy. Located on the redeveloped Ettalong Beach foreshore, The BOX on the Water is one of the go-to spots around. The sleek building capitalises on its absolute waterfront position, with floor-to-ceiling windows that disappear during warm weather. Here, you'll find an assortment of share-style plates, with an emphasis on seafood — think chilli garlic prawns, lemon zest-dusted baby squid, barramundi with a side of coastal greens and seafood paella.
Now, we're going to jump across Brisbane Water to Killcare, one of the southernmost villages on the Bouddi Peninsula. It's here that boutique hotel Bells at Killcare stretches across 8.5 acres of gardens, housing its rebooted restaurant Wild Flower Bar & Dining. Famed chef Sean Connolly is behind the menu, which makes as much use of the 500-square-metre kitchen garden as possible. Tuck into whole-grilled fish, rigatoni with king prawns, eggplant moussaka, seafood bouillabaisse or Berkshire pork chop with salsa verde. Or, go for the $120 chef's tasting menu, with the option to add paired wines, too.
Drive over the hill and you're back beside still water in Hardys Bay. Here you'll find fun-loving Southeast Asian eatery The Lucky Bee, located right on the water, as well as The Fat Goose Bakery, Deli and Cafe, which dishes up a mean bacon and egg roll, plus pastries and other breakfast fare.
Your first port of call for a drink should be the award-winning Distillery Botanica in Erina for an afternoon G&T. The stunning garden distillery is from Philip Moore who just so happens to be the man behind Mr Black cold drip coffee liqueur — which you can sample and purchase here, too. The distillery's gins are made using botanicals grown in the garden, including murraya, jasmine, orange blossom and coriander. You can either stop in for a gin tasting, or head to the on-site Bar Botanica for a gin-based drink. If you need a pick-me-up after you imbibe, it also does a great cup of joe. Or, you can grab an ice cream from the Mr Goaty gelato bar, also located within the gardens.
Just down the road, old mates Chris Benson and Adam Klasterka have been revolutionising the Central Coast's craft beer scene with their Six String Brewing Company. According to the guys, when they first started back in 2012, people on the Central Coast only wanted to drink Carlton Dry. And that wasn't the only challenge — the duo grappled with three years worth of red tape before setting up for good at the current site. Fast forward to 2020 and their brewery and taproom is buzzing almost anytime of day. Plus, the venue's small kitchen is whipping up southern US-style snacks like buffalo wings, nachos, brisket and burgers. On weekends, live music is a nice addition to the good brews and grub.
If you're after a refreshing spritz or bottle of minimum-intervention vino, Young Barons in Woy Woy is sure to satisfy. And, while you're sipping away, it'd be remiss not to try some of its freshly made pasta.
Between all that feasting and carousing, you might want to consider doing some moving. If you're keen to give surfing a crack, then book a lesson with the Central Coast Surf Academy at one of NSW's top surfing beaches, Umina. While dragging your board through the whitewash, instructor Peter Hayes will give plenty of tips for novices and intermediate surfers alike.
On land, there are walks and bike rides aplenty. For the best trails in Bouddi National Park, visit our guide over here. Meanwhile, Ettalong's shared path gives you 7.5-kilometres of waterfront bike riding, walking or running. Or, if you don't mind sharing the road with traffic (and tackling a few hills), the epic, 14-kilometre Putt Putt to Putty ride carries you from Wagstaffe's Mulhall Street Wharf all the way to Ettalong Wharf.
Alternatively, should your ultimate weekender mean laying horizontal and doing absolutely nothing, check into the Central Coast Day Spa at Bells. Don a bathrobe and sip on complimentary tea before being led into a candle-lit room. There's a range of spa treatments available, but we recommend you book in for the signature Kodo massage, which comes with Australian essential oils and a smoking ceremony. It's inspired by Indigenous techniques and based on rhythms aimed at balancing the body and the mind, too.
If you can muster enough energy for a post-massage wander in Killcare, the handful of shops are worth exploring. Among them are the Central Coast's only Aboriginal art gallery, Bouddi Gallery. Most of the paintings, jewellery, carvings, ceramics, weaving and glassware you see come from non-profit, Aboriginal-owned art centres in the Kimberley, Central and Western deserts, Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land.
If you want to kick back in quiet, Patonga is your best bet — and you'll want to check into the aforementioned The Boathouse Hotel Patonga. After a massive revamp, the hotel's accommodation now includes three one-to-three bedroom apartments, each with waterfront balcony views. The trio of rooms sit on the structure's upper level, and also feature separate living and dining areas, marble bathrooms, and either a kitchenette or kitchen. Unsurprisingly, each room is coastal-themed, complete with timber and terrazzo flooring, nautical-inspired fabrics, handmade shell mirrors, and rope and cane pieces. And, should you need to swim immediately, Patonga Beach is across the road. Be warned, though, a night here will set you back a cool $550–1200.
Pearl Beach is pretty relaxed, too. Protected by the National Trust, it's reached its maximum capacity, at 600 dwellings. So, while other parts of the Central Coast battle with sprawl, this village, with its sheltered beach and ocean pool, is sitting pretty. Plus, it offers a heap of quaint accommodation options, including this secluded retreat, nestled among the trees and perched just a quick hop from Pearl Beach and a contemporary six-person beach cottage rocking a bright and elegant coastal style, with a primo outdoor entertaining area and a pool to yourself. Or, you could stay right above the water at the luxurious two-level Seabreeze apartment, offering breathtaking panoramic views.
If you want to be able to access more northern parts of the coast — and their dining and drinking gems — Killcare is where you want to be. As already mentioned, Bells at Killcare is a bit of an institution and is definitely worth staying at if you have a spare $504 (minimum) lying around. Inspired by the chic designs of The Hamptons, Bells offers a range of accommodation options, from king suits to villas and one- and two-bedroom cottages. Whichever you choose, expect it to be decked out with Ralph Lauren-style furnishings, swish bathrooms and luxe linens. If you'd rather be a bit closer to the beach, both The Nest and Beachviews sleep up to eight people and offer sweeping ocean views.
Now that interstate border restrictions have started to ease, start planning a trip to this stunning stretch of NSW coastline. For more details, visit Destination NSW's website.
Top image: Pearl Beach, Destination NSW
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Published on November 16, 2020 by Jasmine Crittenden