Encompassing long swathes of unkempt beaches, extensive coastal lake systems, wetlands and rainforest, the National Parks of the NSW Mid North coast offer a spectacular and diverse backdrop to family adventures. Far enough from big population centres to offer tranquility and space, but easily accessible, these four national parks are ideally placed for memorable camping, hiking, and wildlife-spotting visits.
With its four coastal lagoons, 40km of sweeping surf beaches, coastal campsites and offshore Broughton Island, Myall, which means ‘wild’ in the local Worimi language, is the Mid North coast’s most varied park. It can be explored by kayak and on lazy houseboating weekends, launching from Bulahdelah; while on land, the 21km Mungo walking track threads behind the coastal sand dunes, taking in areas of Aboriginal significance like Dark Point. Several shorter trails, including the Treachery Headland track to the Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse, provide more bite-sized walks, while the flat, 20km-long Mining Road to Old Gibber Rd cycling trail is excellent for families on bikes. For those with younger children, there are safe, shallow swimming spots, like those beside Neranie campground. Other attractions include the state’s tallest tree, the 400-year-old, 76m-high ‘Grandis’, the Bombah Point car ferry (8am-6pm daily) linking the park’s southern and northern sections and Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse, overlooking Seal Rocks. Camping options range from rustic seaside spots like Yagon, remote lakeside locations like Shelly Beach, to larger sites such as Mungo Brush, sandwiched between the lakes and mountainous coastal dunes.
Booti Booti takes in several enviable beaches, including the long sweep of Seven Mile Beach, family-favourite Elizabeth, with its usually gently rippling waves, and secluded, clothes-optional Shelly. Occupying a thin peninsula between oyster-filled Wallis Lake and the sparkling Tasman Sea, south of the resort town of Forster, it’s bookended by chunky headlands – to the north by Cape Hawke, and to the south, by Charlotte Head, overlooking popular surfing spot, Boomerang Beach. At Cape Hawke, a trail leads uphill to an elevated lookout with dramatic coastal views. In the southern section, a lovely 7.3km loop walk climbs up steep steps from Elizabeth Beach, running along the clifftops and down to Seven Mile, before returning via an easy trail beside Wallis Lake. For longer visits, The Ruins campground, tucked behind Seven Mile Beach, has unpowered sites (with power points available in the amenities), toilets and showers.
‘League after league the headlands curve up the coast of the continent’, wrote author Kylie Tennant (1912-1988) of Crowdy Bay, ‘the white fingers of the sea play on them, each bluff giving out its unique note, making its own unique music’. Inspired by the coastal setting, Tennant lived in a hut here during WWII, writing the novel Man on the Headland about her experience. Her legacy lives on in the relocated hut, set in a clearing, a clifftop lookout, and the calm Kylie’s Beach and its adjacent family-friendly campground, where koalas and kangaroos are regular visitors. Kylie’s Beach is one of four drive-in camping areas within the 10,000ha park, which hugs the coast, south of Port Macquarie. Two others, at Diamond Head and Indian Head, are linked by a 4.8km loop walk, which runs through the forest, coastal heath, and traverses the 100m cliffs, affording views of a craggy shoreline full of rock formations like the Arch, assailed by the sea. The headlands, heaths, rivers, and beaches that makeup Crowdy Bay provided a bountiful supply of food to the Birpai people, with campsites and shell middens dating back 6000 years found throughout the park.
Reaching north from the surfing resort of Crescent Head to Smoky Cape, with its 1891 lighthouse, Hat Head is a narrow, coastal national park, comprising long spans of empty beach backed by wetlands, creeks, heath, and littoral rainforest. Over thousands of years, this area supported one of the coast’s largest Aboriginal populations, the Dunghutti people roaming these shores and river valleys, feasting off fish and shellfish and plentiful land-based food. These days, Hat Head provides the perfect environment in which to introduce children to the Australian bush, with coastal walking trails ranging from 600m to the 6km loop Connors Track, which winds through forested gullies to two secluded beaches. Views from that trail, and from the shorter Korogoro track (3.2km loop), include the shimmering coastline and, in spring, wildflower shows and, out to sea, migrating humpback whales. Other excellent vantage points, at Smoky Cape, are Captain Cook’s lookout and the lighthouse – worth climbing on a tour. With safe swimming in Korogoro Creek and campgrounds at Hungry Head and Smoky Cape, Hat Head invites a longer stay.