North Coast

We’ve compiled the best of the best in North Coast - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Byron Bay Hinterland

    Undulating green hills that once boasted a thriving dairy industry are dotted with charming villages and small organic farms growing avocados, coffee, fruits, and macadamia nuts. The best way to discover this gorgeous part of the world—nicknamed the Rainbow Region—is to grab a map and just drive. From Byron, take the road toward the regional town of Lismore for about 15 km (9 miles) to the pretty village of Bangalow. Walk along the lovely main street lined with 19th-century storefronts. Carefully follow your map and wind your way northwest for about 20 km (13 miles) to Federal. Meander, via the cute towns of Rosebank and Dunoon, to The Channon, where on the second Sunday of every month you'll find a wonderful market with dozens of stalls and entertainment.

  • 2. Dorrigo National Park

    From Bellingen a meandering and spectacular road leads inland to Dorrigo and then travels back east eventually reaching the Pacific Highway, close to Coffs Harbour. This circular scenic route, beginning along the Bellinger River, climbs more than 1,000 feet up the heavily wooded escarpment to the Dorrigo Plateau. At the top of the plateau is Dorrigo National Park, a small but outstanding subtropical rain forest that is included on the World Heritage list. Signposts along the main road indicate walking trails. The Satinbird Stroll is a short rain forest walk, and the 6-km (4-mile) Cedar Falls Walk leads to the most spectacular of the park's many waterfalls, but the most dramatic of all is the free Skywalk lookout, a 230-foot boardwalk above the canopy that has panoramic views out to the coast. The national park is approximately 31 km (19 miles) from Bellingen.

    Dome Rd.
    - 02 - 6657–2309
  • 3. Koala Hospital

    Operated by the Koala Preservation Society of New South Wales, the town's Koala Hospital is both a worthy cause and a popular attraction. The Port Macquarie region is home to many of these extremely appealing marsupials, and the hospital cares for 250 to 300 sick and injured koalas each year. The staff is passionate about their furry patients and happy to tell you about the care the animals receive. You can walk around the grounds to view the recuperating animals; you can even adopt one (but you can't take it home). Try to visit during feeding times at 8 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon. There are guided tours daily at 3.

    Lord St.
    - 02 - 6584–1522

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Donation requested
  • 4. Merewether Baths

    The largest ocean baths (swimming pools) in the southern hemisphere, Mereweather Baths are a Newcastle icon perfect for swimming and splashing all year round. Opened in 1935 at one of the city's six fabulous beaches, they comprise two pools, with one suitable for children. Complete with barbecues and picnic tables, the baths are the ideal place for a family outing. The baths are patrolled by lifeguards during the summer months only, from around late September to late April.

    Henderson Parade

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 5. Ned's Beach

    This beautiful beach on the northeast side of the island is a mecca for fish because fishing bans protect them here. Brightly colored tropical creatures, such as parrotfish and their less-spectacular mullet mates (which are occasionally chased by a harmless reef shark), swim up to shore and greet visitors at the daily 4 pm fish feed. However, visitors can also feed them at other times—you can buy fish food to toss to them from a beach kiosk. This feeding frenzy is fun to watch. Bring snorkel gear to explore the coral a little farther out, or bring a picnic and relax on this beach that's one of the cleanest in Australia. The beach is an easy drive, cycle, or walk from town and the northern hotels. Amenities: none. Best for: snorkeling; sunrise; swimming; walking.

    Ned's Beach Rd.
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  • 6. Sea Acres Rainforest Centre

    This interpretive center comprises 178 pristine acres of coastal rain forest on the southern side of Port Macquarie. There are more than 170 plant species here, including 300-year-old cabbage-tree palms, as well as native mammals, reptiles, and prolific birdlife. An elevated boardwalk allows you to stroll through the lush environment without disturbing the vegetation. The center has informative guided tours, as well as a gift shop and a pleasant rain-forest café, a lovely place for a bite to eat while listening to the birdsong.

    Pacific Dr.
    - 02 - 6582–3355

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 7. The Big Banana

    Just north of the city, impossible to miss, is the Big Banana—the symbol of Coffs Harbour. This monumental piece of kitsch has stood at the site since 1964. It welcomes visitors to the Big Banana complex, which takes a fascinating look at the past, present, and future of horticulture. There's a multimedia display called "World of Bananas" and a walkway that meanders through the banana plantations and banana packing shed. The park is fantastic for kids and has varied rides all with different prices, including toboggan rides (A$7), a waterslide (A$19.50 for 90 minutes), an ice-skating rink (A$16.50), and laser tag (A$9.90). There's a café on the premises, as well as the Banana Barn, which sells the park's own jams, pickles, fresh tropical fruit, and frozen chocolate-covered bananas on a stick.

    351 Pacific Hwy.
    - 02 - 6652–4355

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Entry to Big Banana free; rides and tours extra
  • 8. Trial Bay Gaol

    Trial Bay Gaol, a jail dating from the 1870s, occupies a dramatic position on the cliffs overlooking the seaside village of South West Rocks, 100 km (62 miles) north of Port Macquarie. The building, now partly in ruins, was used to teach useful skills to the prisoners who constructed it, but the project proved too expensive and was abandoned in 1903. During World War I the building served as an internment camp for some 500 Germans. It's free to walk around the outside of the ruins and visit the beach; the A$11 admission includes entry to a small museum. To get there, travel north through Kempsey and turn off to South West Rocks and follow the signs. The Trial Bay Kiosk Restaurant is a wonderful spot for lunch with a glass of wine while enjoying the stunning views across the bay—the fresh local seafood is always superb—but it's also open for breakfast (daily) and dinner on Friday and Saturday.

    Cardwell St.
    - 02 - 6566–6168

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: A$11, Daily 9–4:30
  • 9. Cape Byron Lighthouse

    The most powerful beacon on the Australian coastline, Cape Byron Lighthouse dominates the southern end of the beach at Byron Bay and attracts huge numbers of visitors, who want to tick standing at Australia's most easterly point off their bucket list. You can tour the lighthouse (no children under five) daily from 10 am, with the last tour departing at 3 pm. The tours are led by volunteers, and there's $8 entry fee. Whale-watching is popular between June and September, when migrating humpback whales come close to shore. Dolphins swim in these waters year-round, and you can often see pods of them from the cape. You can stay in either of the two six-person assistant lightkeeper's cottages for A$360 a night in low season; prices rise from mid-December to late January and a two-week period over Easter (book well in advance during this period). There's a three-night minimum stay.

    Lighthouse Rd.
    - 02 - 6620–9300

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: A$8
    View Tours and Activities
  • 10. Cape Byron Walking Track

    This popular trail circumnavigates a 150-acre reserve, passes through grasslands and rain forest, and has sensational seas views as you circle the peninsula and the lighthouse. From several vantage points along the track you may spot dolphins in the waters below. The track begins east of the town on Lighthouse Road.

    Off Lighthouse Rd.
  • 11. Dolphin Marine Conservation

    Near the port in Coffs Harbour, the Dolphin Marine Conservation aquarium includes colorful reef fish, turtles, seals, penguins, baby crocodiles, and dolphins. Shows take place daily at 10 and 1, and visitors are advised to arrive 30 minutes earlier to get a good seat and receive free "dolphin kisses" from the cute critters before each show. Children may help feed and "shake hands" with dolphins, as well as interact with the seals. You can swim, pat, and play ball with the dolphins and seals in special group encounters if you book in advance. These sessions vary in price depending on time of year—during peak holiday season, dolphin encounters run around A$399 per four-person group. The company's official name is Dolphin Marine Conservation, but many of the locals still call it by its old name, the Pet Porpoise Pool.

    65 Orlando St.
    - 02 - 6659–1900

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: A$38
  • 12. Dorrigo Rainforest Centre

    The excellent Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, open daily 9--4:30, has a good display on the natural heritage of the park and a small café that serves good coffee. From here you can walk out high over the forest canopy along the Skywalk boardwalk.

    142 Dome Rd.
    - 02 - 6657–2309
  • 13. Fort Scratchley

    This was one of several forts built on headlands along Australia's shore in the mid- to late-19th century to defend the colony against a possible Russian attack. Built in 1882, its guns had never been fired in anger until June 8, 1942, when the fort returned fire from Japanese submarines in a little-known World War II confrontation called "the shelling of Newcastle"—the city sustained 34 shells but neither damage nor loss of life. The fort, situated on Flagstaff Hill in Newcastle's east end (not far from the railway station), was occupied by the Australian Army until 1972, after which it became a historic site. Although admission is free, a tour of the fort's tunnels is A$13, and a tunnel and fort tour is A$16. Tours run from 10:30, with the last one at 2:30.

    Nobby's Rd.

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: A$13
  • 14. Main Beach

    As the name suggests Main Beach is right in the heart of Byron Bay, across the road from the much-loved Beach Hotel (a popular pub that has good restaurants and accommodation). It stretches southward for some 3 km (2 miles) where its name changes to Clarkes Beach and then The Pass, the latter a legendary surfing spot. Always busy in the summer months, the beach is most easily reached on foot from the town center. There's a sea wall and swimming pool at the northern end, and about 300 feet offshore lies the wreck of the Tassie II, a small ammunition supply boat that sunk around the end of Word War II. Swimmers should always swim beside the flags as rips and currents can make this beach hazardous at times—an average of about nine swimmers annually require rescue. There are barbecues and picnic tables in the leafy park flanking the beach. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (summer only); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.

    Jonson St. at Bay St.
  • 15. Muttonbird Island

    The town has a lively and attractive harbor in the shelter of Muttonbird Island, and a stroll out to this nature reserve is delightful in the evening. To get here, follow the signs to the Coffs Harbour Jetty, then park near the marina. A wide path leads out along the breakwater and up the slope of the island. The trail is steep, but the views from the top are worth the effort. The island is named after the muttonbirds (also known as shearwaters) that nest here between September and April. Between June and September Muttonbird Island is also a good spot for viewing migrating humpback whales.

  • 16. Newcastle Museum

    In the former headquarters of the Great Northern Railway, right on Newcastle Harbour, this museum tells the story of the city's coal mining and steel production. Visitors can don a hard hat to witness the Fire and Earth exhibition, which re-creates life in a steel mill complete with furnaces, theatrical drama, and interactive displays that shed light on the workers' challenging lives. Newcastle's other faces are captured with exhibits on Aboriginal history, the gorgeous beaches, and the earthquake that struck the city in 1989. A popular draw for kids, the Supernova Hands-on Science Centre explains how a heavy car is lifted, a tornado occurs, and magnetic fields work.

    Workshop Way
    - 02 - 4974–1400

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 17. Nobby's Lighthouse

    A Newcastle landmark, Nobby's Lighthouse (on Nobby's Headland) was the third to be built in New South Wales when it opened in 1854. It's at the end of a long narrow spit (a longshore drift) and is accessed by a nearly 1-km (½-mile) path. Before it was converted to electricity in 1935, the original 20,000-candle light was tended by three keepers. The grounds of the lighthouse, and one of the lightkeeper's cottages, are open Sunday 10–4. It's a terrific vantage point for avid photographers.

    Nobby's Headland

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 18. Port Macquarie Historical Museum

    Housed in a two-story convict-built house dating from 1836, this eclectic museum displays period costumes, memorabilia from World Wars I and II, farm implements, antique clocks and watches, and relics from the town's convict days.

    22 Clarence St.
    - 02 - 6583–1108

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: A$7
  • 19. Promised Land Retreat

    If you want to stay overnight in the area, the three chalets at the 100-acre Promised Land Retreat are lovely self-contained sanctuaries.

    934 Promised Land Rd.
    - 02 - 6655–9578

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From A$250 per night
  • 20. St. Thomas Church

    This 1828 church, the country's fifth-oldest house of worship, was built by convicts using local cedar and stone blocks cemented together with powdered seashells.

    Hay St. at William St.
    - 02 - 6584–1033

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