There’s something old-school about the Macleay Valley and its coastline – in a very good way. Here you’ll pass through beachside hamlets that remain distinctly undeveloped, and largely undiscovered, along with spots of sublime natural beauty (that’s you, Hat Head National Park). Then, when you’ve picnicked at secret coves and surfed world-famous Crescent Head, explore the hinterland’s heritage towns, roadside stalls and the tranquil Macleay River.
The main town in the region is Kempsey, famed for being the home of two Aussie icons: country music legend Slim Dusty and Akubra Hats. Located on the banks of the Macleay River, Kempsey is an important rural hub with a rich history, lovely colonial architecture and a good selection of restaurants and boutique shops, making it a solid base for exploring both the untouched hinterland and the golden beaches.
Country music fans will make a beeline to the $10.4 million Slim Dusty Centre, which celebrates the life and career of this Kempsey-born icon. This multi-purpose facility encompasses a Visitor Information centre, an art gallery, a function centre, cafe and shop, as well as the museum featuring memorabilia from the Kirkpatrick family’s own collection.
Among surfers, Crescent Head is spoken of in hushed, reverent tones, famed for one of the longest right-hand breaks in Australia. A recognised National Surfing Reserve, Creso (as locals call it) hosts the annual Malibu Classic amateur longboarding competition; while in the town itself, surf culture runs deep, with cool cafes and coastal-chic boutiques setting the tone.
Surrounded by beautiful beaches and lush national parks, South West Rocks is an idyllic holiday destination with a rich and fascinating history. For a spectacular overview of the region, climb to the top of Smoky Cape Lighthouse, one of the country’s oldest lighthouses; while the picturesque ruins of Trial Bay Gaol further illuminates the town’s harsh colonial past.
Nature lovers are also spoilt for choice in South West Rocks. Not only does it have a selection of pretty beaches, but just offshore is Fish Rock Cave, widely considered one of the world’s best cave dives and a great spot to see endangered grey nurse sharks on a guided scuba tour with South West Rocks Dive Centre or Fish Rock Dive Centre.
There are also beautiful walking trails through Hat Head and Arakoon National Parks; while the 4.4-kilometre return Smoky Cape Walking Track passes through a large remnant littoral rainforest with sweeping coastal views.
Little Bay Picnic Area, Arakoon National Park, North Coast
The Macleay Valley Coast is around a 4.5-hour drive from Sydney and 5.5-hour from Brisbane. You can also catch a train direct from Sydney to Kempsey and the journey takes just over seven hours. There are also daily flights with Qantas and Rex into Port Macquarie Airport, where you can hire a car to explore the region.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.