Last Updated on March 11, 2023
— CENTRAL COAST NSW AUSTRALIA — Generations of Sydneysiders have enjoyed the Central Coast as the perfect weekend getaway and school holiday destination. Located an hour and a half north of Sydney, you can enjoy water sports of every kind in the many surf and family beaches and eight lakes. Then at the end of a busy day, you can relax with a Sundowner and soak in the jaw-dropping sunsets over the water.
1. Pelican Feeding
One simple pleasure of being on the Central Coast is observing the flocks of birdlife. Many native water birds frequent the shores of the lakes to dine on the abundant fish.
Every year black swans breed on the shores of the lake. You can see the families paddle by in procession.
The most charismatic of the birdlife is the huge black and white pelicans. On a windy day, they fly high above the lakes, enjoying the freedom of the thermals.
Tourists gather at 3:30 pm at the specially built mini-amphitheater known as Pelican Plaza to watch dozens of pelicans that have flocked to The Entrance for a free feed. A commentary is given by volunteers telling enthralled spectators about the 30-year history of feeding the pelicans fresh fish started by employees of a local fish shop. This has since developed into an award-winning tourist event.
The pelicans wait eagerly in the water until it is their turn for a fish. Then groups jump onto the feeding platform, catch a thrown fish in their enormous beak, waddle to the water’s edge and jump back into the lake.
The pelicans amuse the audience by answering questions by nodding or shaking their heads in unison, responding to the waving of the fish they are being offered. Meanwhile, volunteers carefully observe the pelicans. If an injury is detected, the bird is sprayed with blue dye to be treated after the show.
Location: The Entrance on the shores of Tuggerah Lake.
2. Tuggerah Lake Cycleway
There are many designated cycleways on the Central Coast. These are safe places to ride away from traffic and usually follow scenic paths beside lakes or through National Parks.
Our favorite is the Tuggerah Lake Cycleway. Although this is on the opposite side of the same lake where we live, we never tire of the view.
This can be the perfect free family day. Starting at the entrance, a path skirts around the lake, visiting playgrounds, a popular skate park, BMX track, and over small creek bridges for 4 kilometers. Or you can continue on to Chittaway Bay, 13-kilometers away. Seats along the way give plenty of opportunities to relax and watch the abundant birdlife.
Taking another break from cycling, you can walk out 351-meters to the end of the longest jetty in NSW at Long Jetty.
Take a picnic, or the aroma of sizzling sausages and onions may entice you to cook lunch on one of the many free barbeques along the way.
If you are after more of a challenge (and don’t have any children with you), you can do a 51-kilometer circuit of the lake, mainly on a cycleway.
Bikes, some including baby seats, are available for hire at The Entrance.
3. Central Coast Aqua Park
Who doesn’t like a water slide? Multiply that by four, and you have every water baby’s dream come true! Described as “a giant inflatable obstacle course,” the Central Coast Aqua Park lets kids (and big kids at heart) explore the endless challenge of routes of floating obstacles. These include slides, swings, monkey bars, climbing pyramids, and much more.
The specially designed course was the first built in NSW and has been operating for five years. It offers over two hundred activities that change seasonally. Situated in the beautiful tidal bay of Brisbane Waters, activities are far enough from shore to provide a safe depth for all challenges. The area is enclosed by a protective Uninet system that excludes large sea life.
Wearing the supplied life jackets is compulsory, and you must be able to swim. Someone over 16 must accompany children ages 5 to 9, and there is no upper age limit. Activities are fully supervised by trained lifeguards.
The season runs from November to February. A single session lasts for 50-minutes. It is very popular. There is a limit of 150 people per session. Bookings are recommended.
Location: Adjacent to Gosford Swimming Pool.
4. Historic Carousel
Initially powered by pony and then by steam, the historic carousel was built in Germany in the late 1800s. The National Trust classified carousel has been on the shores of Tuggerah Lake at The Entrance since 1930.
In school holidays, the carousel is surrounded by noisy modern temporary park rides. However, the tinkling of the traditional carousel music still attracts children of all ages for an old-fashioned ride on the prancing painted horses.
5. Art Gallery & Gardens
Gosford Regional Art Gallery has three main exhibition areas.
Behind the Art Gallery is the Edogama Memorial Gardens. The Japanese- style gardens provide a tranquil area to wander through manicured grounds surrounding a central Koi pond.
There is a sign at the entrance to the gardens saying no eating, but that does not include the Koi. You can purchase a bag of fish food at the restaurant and while away a pleasant hour watching the children happily feeding the insatiable Koi.
6. Tidal Terrace
Tidal Terrace is a creative nature-inspired play space built on reclaimed tidal land opposite Brisbane Water Bay. It is ideal for a free day of unrestricted physical exploration.
At one end, low sandstone animal sculptures, inspired by the nearby Bulgandry Aboriginal art site, create islands in an enormous puddle for children, young and old, to splosh in. Piping under the road allows puddles to replenish daily with the ebb and flow of the tide.
The park has been designed to encourage unstructured play. Towering climbing frames dominate the park, and twisting slides whoosh through underground tunnels. There is a giant rope net tunnel like an enormous crab net to scramble through.
Facilities include picnic areas and free barbeques with temporary shade sails erected until the planted trees grow.
7. Central Coast NSW Mail
It’s hard to believe nearly a thousand homes are not accessible by road just one hour north of Sydney. Waterfront homes are dotted along the banks of the scenic Hawkesbury River. Not all are permanent homes. Some are holiday homes, but they all experience isolation from easy transport.
Since 1910, the postal service has regularly delivered mail and parcels to docks along the river. Formally, deliveries were made in a rowboat. Today the mail is transported in the motorized vessels of the Riverboat Postman.
You can join the Postman as it sails 20-kilometers up the river for a leisurely three-hour cruise retracing the path of the historic mail service.
Morning tea is traditional ANZAC biscuits, and a generous Ploughman’s Lunch is served. The vessels are fully licensed.
The Postman departs Monday—Friday from Brooklyn Public Wharf, walking distance from Hawkesbury River train station. Bookings are essential. Group bookings are also accepted.
8. Broken Bay Pearl Farm
Pearls are the only gemstones created by a living organism. They are graded by size, luster, shape, color, surface, purity, and provenance.
Using east coast Akoya oysters, Broken Bay Pearl Farm is the only pearl farm on the east coast of Australia. It was established in 2003. They create high-quality lustrous pearls of unconventional colors, including blues, greens, and pink hues. Unlike many Asian pearls, Broken Bay Akoya pearls are neither bleached nor artificially colored.
Tiny fertile larvae called spats are collected from the pristine waters of Broken Bay and grown for three years in specially designed nets. When the shell to be seeded has developed sufficiently, it is wedged open for an hour. Then the highly skilled technician meticulously cuts the gonad. The seed must then be carefully inserted within the next 20 minutes, or the oyster dies. The pearls are then nurtured for another two years before they are harvested. So it takes five years to grow one pearl!
Pearls created at Broken Bay are set into jewelry at the original pearl farm in Cygnet Bay, Western Australia. Both farms pride themselves on environmentally sustainable pearl production.
The Shellar Door is at Mooney Mooney. Tours can be booked.
9. Day Trip from Sydney
You don’t need to stay on the Central Coast to enjoy it. If you are a keen cyclist, there is an ideal day trip starting from Sydney catching the train to Gosford. Sitting on the right side of the train will give you panoramic water views.
From Gosford Station, ride towards the bay. You can then hug the foreshore around Brisbane Water Bay for 12 Kilometers to Woy Woy on the mainly flat cycleway. There are activity stations and parks along the way.
Just before Woy Woy, you will cross the Spike Milligan Memorial Bridge. The combined cycle and footbridge is dedicated to the memory of the late renowned British Comedian Spike Milligan (of Goon fame), who adopted Woy Woy as his home. He also contributed to bicycle safety regulations. A room in the Woy Woy library displays memorabilia of his life and comedy.
You can enjoy fish and chips in the park or at the popular fish market before catching the train from Woy Woy station back to Sydney. Alternatively, you can take the ferry to Palm Beach and another to Circular Quay.
10. Bar Botanica
Phillip Moore retired over a decade ago from a highly successful herb-growing business. He then bought the overgrown Fragrant Garden. He set about reviving the fifty-year-old garden, growing herbs and botanicals suitable for his experiments in gin making.
Distillery Botanica now produces International award-winning tipples such as Moore’s Dry Gin and Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur. Mr. Moore continuously follows his passion for developing new, interesting botanical combinations, grown in his 3-acre garden, for his gin and liquors.
Distillery tours and “distill your own” gin workshops will soon be launched in the new building currently under construction.
Two years ago, English chef Dan Hughes and his wife Julia renovated the 1970’s vintage mud-brick building in the garden. They already owned a successful business, Mr. Goaty Gelato. They also established the casual dining area of Bar Botanica. They specialize in cocktails using Distillery Botanica alcohols.
With a “garden to plate” philosophy, they include food from their garden or buy from small local producers as much as possible. For example, many of their gelato flavors come from the garden, such as Honeycomb and Lavender.
Not forgetting their Mr. Goaty Gelato, they still have their original, quirky ice cream bike that can be hired for functions, including weddings!
Cellar Door is open Wednesday—Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Bar Botanica is open Wednesday—Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm.
11. Floating Oyster Wine Bar Cruise
Sit back and relax. Sip on a glass of fine wine and nibble on oysters and prawns as you float down the calm waters of the Hawkesbury River.
A new venture, The Floating Oyster Wine Bar, is reminiscent of the luxury European-style River Cruises. Instead, you are surrounded by steep verdant cliffs of Sydney Sandstone with sleepy communities along the banks.
Try their Floating Epicurean Menu. You will be treated to the finest of Sydney Rock Oysters, Tiger Prawns, Siberian Reserve Caviar, and locally smoked oysters from The Oyster Shed, all delicately served with vinaigrettes and paired wines.
The Sydney rock oyster is an oyster species that only occurs in estuaries along Australia’s east coast. Since the Hawkesbury River’s first oyster lease was granted in 1872, it has been a premier oyster growing area near Sydney. You can be sure the oysters are super fresh.
They currently offer themed cruises on Sundays like High Tea for Mother’s Day or the delicious Floating Epicurean Cruise. They have plans for expanding their cruises to include special occasions such as weddings, photography safaris, and team-building activities.
12. Norah Head Lighthouse
Built in 1903, the lighthouse initially ran on a kerosene burner. The lens was rotated using a mechanical weight and clockwork mechanism. The lighthouse keeper had to wind it up every 4 hours. This was such an exhausting procedure that it required three keepers. In 1961 the lighthouse was converted to electricity, thus requiring only one keeper. It was fully automated in 1995
Tours of the lighthouse are available on weekends. Stepping back in time, you will hear about the history of the lighthouse and the keeper’s duties as you climb the 96 stairs to the tower balcony to enjoy the 360° coastal views. You can stay in the two Lighthouse Keeper’s cottages. Both are heritage-listed.
Walk down the wooden stairs to the beach, where you can take a leisurely stroll. Explore the significant geological features of basalt dykes running through the Sydney Sandstone of the headland. If you turn left, you can head to The Rockpool for a swim.
The 2.2-kilometer loop Headland Nature Trail also starts here.
Some new and exciting activities have been added to the simple joys of weekends and school holidays on the Central Coast of my childhood memories. It is still the ideal place for family fun that keeps you coming back year after year.