Planning on a road trip from Sydney to Port Macquarie? There are loads of iconic stops along the way. Whether you are looking to stretch your legs, or make a bit more of an an adventure, there’s quaint coastal towns with plenty of great restaurants and cafés to explore. It’s generally a 4-5 hour drive if you hit the road in one trip, but the Cassegrain family make this trip often, so we share some of our favourite destinations and fun dining spots to add to your itinerary for your next north coast road trip.
1.5 hours from Sydney. 3.5 hours from Port Macquarie.
- Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf
This third-generation waterfront restaurant is a must-stop for sustainably sourced, market-fresh seafood – and the best fish and chips on the Central Coast. There’s relaxed all-day dining in the modern glass and wood dining room that cantilevers over the calm waters of this favourite fishing destination. The contemporary menu spans daily oysters and classic fish and chips to the likes of Szechuan salt and pepper snapper, Singapore-style mud crab and spicy tuna tostadas. Prefer to picnic? The takeaway kiosk offers an extensive blackboard menu of seafood classics. Get your fish and chips to go so the kids can burn off some steam in the adjacent Fisherman’s Wharf Playground and watch the pelicans on the water’s edge.
- Norah Head Lighthouse
From the M1, take the Gosford exit for the most scenic route to the photogenic Norah Head Lighthouse. Built in 1903 to prevent shipwrecks along this perilous stretch of coast, the tower boasts 96 stairs to the 700-lense prism and panoramic views of the coastline. Guided tours run every half hour between 10am and 1:30pm, taking you behind the scenes of what it’s like to be lighthouse keeper with plenty of stories of shipwrecks in days gone by.
- Australian Reptile Park
If you’ve got kids on board, then it could be worth stopping at the Australian Reptile Park. Home to over 2000 animals it’s often a calling card with Ploddy the Dinosaur distinctively seen in the hills of Gosford as you head up the highway.
2 hours from Sydney. 3 hours from Port Macquarie.
- Caves Beach
Located on the Swansea peninsula between the blue waters of Lake Macquarie and the Pacific Ocean, Caves Beach is home to a network of sea caves that can be explored at low tide. Feel like stretching the legs for a little longer? Caves Beach Walk is a moderate 2-hour trail that follows the path above the cliff line down to Spoon Rocks, which has remains of the break wall that was constructed to load coal ships. From Spoon Rocks follow the path along to Quarries Head, which is a pretty spot overlooking the ocean, then continue on to Pinny Beach if you have time. The walk runs through part of the Wallarah National Park, which is a great spot for whale and dolphin watching.
- Boffee Cafe
This Caves Beach cafe is a local favourite for its excellent coffee, friendly service and casual dining. The creative brunch and lunch menus are served daily until 1:30pm. The egg and chorizo brekky tacos are a favourite, along with the vegan bowl, buttermilk pancakes, chicken burger and daily selection of muffins. Be sure to fuel up on barista-perfected Danes coffee, roasted in Sydney, before you hit the road and continue further north.
2 hours from Sydney. 2 hours 45 minutes from Port Macquarie.
- Merewether Baths
Cool off at this iconic ocean pool, which opened in 1935 and is still one of the largest seawater baths in NSW and even perhaps Australia. Perched at the southern end of Merewether Beach with spectacular ocean views, the baths are open year-round. There’s ample parking and shower facilities to rinse off before you get back in the car and on the road again.
- Popolo Artisan Gelateria
After your dip, head to downtown Newcastle for a hand-made artisan gelato at Popolo Artisan Gelateria. Load your gluten-free cone with creamy scoops of pistachio, stracchiatella, hazelnut and salted caramel made fresh each day on site. There are daily vegan options too, from coconut to berry.
- Heatherbrae’s Pies
A regular stop off for the Cassegrain family on their road trips back and forth to Sydney is Heatherbrae’s Pies. Established in 2001 this is a local institution, famous for taking the humble meat pie to a whole new level with specialty offerings like butter chicken pie. They certainly have won many accolades over the years! Whether you’re stopping for breakfast or just in need of a sweet treat, there’s lots to savour to break up a road trip. There’s also a new gluten free pie option available here too!
3 hours from Sydney. 2 hours from Port Macquarie.
These days, the highway bypasses Bulahdelah, a sleepy town whose name is the Worimi Aboriginal word for ‘the meeting place of two rivers’. Set on the riverbank amid lush pasture and National Park, and with western access to the Myall Lakes, Bulahdelah is a popular spot for fishing and houseboat holidays. It’s also a great spot to stop for a picnic lunch on the water’s edge and to stock up on fuel, groceries and snacks for your roadtrip. In town there’s a well-stocked IGA supermarket, plus Barry Bros. Butchery, which sells local grass-fed beef and meat. Healthy lunch options abound at Oliver’s Real Food, in the form of juices and smoothies, pita pockets, sweet potato wedges, yoghurt and bircher pots, good coffee and a range of bakes, with gluten-free and vegan options. The passionfruit coconut cake at Café on Main has cult status, and for old-fashioned bakery goods, from meat pies to vanilla slice, head to Bulahdelah Bakery.
- Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse
Myall Lakes National Park is a national park that encompasses one of NSW’s largest coastal lake systems – Myall Lakes. The area offers countless opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, boating and fishing, and includes 40km of pristine swimming and surfing spots. Elizabeth Beach is a protected beach, making it great for families, while the sandy expanses of Bluey’s Beach, Boomerang Beach and Seal Rocks offer plenty of opportunity for swimming, surfing and beachcombing. After your swim, take the short walk to Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse located on the dramatic headland at Seal Rocks and a great spot for whale watching. Insider tip: look out for the Single Fin coffee cart at Seal Rocks – they do excellent brews.
- Kembali Café
Located in the small run of shops at Bluey’s Beach, Kembali Café has city-worthy coffee and mod breakfast and lunch fare with an Indonesian twist. For breakfast there are virtuous smoothie bowls, corn fritters and classic eggs on toast (with avo of course!), while Indonesian dishes include the Indo brekkie rice bowl, ayam goreng fried chicken with wombok slaw and pickles, and barbecue squid with peanut sambal. Kembali offers vegetarian and gluten-free options, too, and proves that fish and chips is no longer the only option when it comes to road-tripping through sleepy beachside towns. Insider tip: swing by Burraduc Buffalo Dairy for exquisite locally made buffalo milk, yoghurt and mozzarella cheese made the traditional way by Elena Swegen using sustainable farming methods.
- Tea Gardens/ Hawks Nest
What used to be a quiet little escape has now been a convenient detour. Head for some fresh fish and chips at the Co-Op on the wharf in Tea Gardens or venture across the Singing Bridge into Hawks Nest. Kids can enjoy the beautiful white sand of Jimmy’s Beach and potentially see some of the dolphins in the bay.
Need more Port Macquarie local tips?
Once you’ve arrived in Port Macquarie, there’s plenty to explore. Read our related articles on Things To Do, Where To Stay and Where to Eat and Drink in Port Macquarie and be sure to visit our Cellar Door. We’re located only a short drive from Port Macquarie town with lots to enjoy – an award-winning restaurant on site, a range of exceptional NSW and horse riding for the more active guests. We’d love to see you on your travels.