When Siu On and I were looking to head north of Sydney, the Central Coast was one area that kept getting honorable mentions. We got the big thumbs up to check out Patonga Beach, The Entrance and Norah Head for quieter and budget options along the coast; and Avoca, Terrigal and Long Jetty for hipper and trendy areas. It took us a hectic two hours to drive out from the centre of Sydney in some crazy after school and rush hour traffic, but once we passed Ku-Ring-Gai we started to feel the city tension fade away the closer we got to the coast. Maybe it’s the sun shining brighter and brighter as Spring takes hold, or maybe I’m just desperately missing some much needed beach bum time, but despite this I was excited to see what the Central Coast had to offer and it didn’t disappoint.

A boat on the Patonga Creek shores

The Peninsula

The Central Coast can be a pricey area, and as far as budget accommodation options go, Patonga is your best option for price (mind you, not the cheapest place we’ve camped at) and location; here you’ll have on one side you have Patonga Creek and the other Patonga Beach. The local council run Patonga Beach Camping Ground is a great budget option in the area with all the amenities you can imagine (including hot showers). The town is only accessible by Patonga Drive which descends Mount Ettalong, otherwise there is a ferry that comes by, although I never saw it so I can’t give you any advice there (mind you it was technically low season when we visited). In town the Patonga Beach Hotel has a large beer garden complete with views out to Brisk Bay and Patonga Jetty; and popular Patonga Beach Seafood is where you can get some freshly caught fish and lots of chips. There is also a hiking trail that links Patonga Beach with Pearl Beach, and forms part of the Great North Walk, which also gives you great sea views.

A view of Patonga Beach with a yacht moored off shore

Pearl Beach
If you’re looking for a slice of the Hampton’s on the Central Coast then look no further than Pearl Beach, with its seaside mansions and expensive cars cruising by you immediately feel the air of exclusivity as you descend Mount Ettalong. However, despite the distinct smell of money in the air, the area is incredibly laid back and relaxing. Pearl Beach has a beautiful beach sheltered in the small bay and with a tidal pool at the far end. There is a General Store and Cafe in town, however it was closed the day we were there so we didn’t get the opportunity to try it out. I really enjoyed hanging around the beach here and found it a great spot to spend the day, especially after hiking over from Patonga Beach.

A view of Pearl Beach tidal pool and beach front

Coastal Villages

Avoca and North Avoca
After Patonga and Pearl Beach the vibe goes a little upmarket, with both Avoca and North Avoca having more of a city feel to it with its abundance of cafes and boutique shops. The beaches continue this way and you can check the surf forecast if you’re planning to hit the waves. Both Avoca and North Avoca are lovely towns and if you prefer something with more facilities than Pearl or Patonga, but smaller and less ‘ritzy’ than it’s neighbor Terrigal, this is the place for you.

A view of Avoca from the Skillion

Trendy Terrigal with it’s upmarket boutiques and expensive sports cars parked outside the Crown Plaza, was definitely not friendly to our budget. The area has a very Sydney city-like feel to it with its drawcard being Terrigal Beach, a beautiful and busy stretch of sand and Norfolk pine trees which lead to the iconic headland known as the Skillion. Here you’ll get great views out to Avoca and to the sea, and is probably the cheapest thing to do in town! We had lunch at Bella Natural Foods and as you’d expect on the Central Coast, it was pricey but we did expect that. Terrigal is a popular surf spot and you can check out the Terrigal Surf Cam and Surf Report to see if you can get out on the water.

A fancy Terrigal hotel and car

The Entrance

The Entrance
Blink and you’d miss the amazing beaches here at the Entrance, so be sure to pull off the highway and onto Marine Parade where you’ll find a long stretch of sand and shallow water. There is an easy coastal walk which takes you from the small entertainment area to the sea baths at the other end of Marine parade, and stop for a coffee at the Entrance Surf Life Saving Club for beautiful uninterrupted sea views.

Blue sky and surf at The Entrance

Long Jettty
A small strip of hipster shops and cafes line The Entrance Highway between Toowoon Bay Road and Surf Street. Here you’ll find a selection of vintage and boutique clothing stores, and colorful street art store fronts enticing you to come inside for a cold drip or alternative a farm to table meal at any of the restaurants lining the short strip. Common Ground Canteen and Kitchen as well as the Green Tangerine looked pretty good, but alas, closed on Mondays so maybe next time. (Note: a visit later in the week and on the weekend will see more stores open than on the Monday that I passed through.)

Long Jetty's unique shop fronts

Northern Lakes

Norah Head
The main attraction at Norah Head is the beautifully preserved Norah Head lighthouse that was built in 1903 to assist ships making the passage between Sydney and Newcastle. The lighthouse overlooks a popular beach and fishing area, and is a great place to watch the sunrise like we did on our visit. You can also stay in the old lighthouse keepers quarters, although you’ll pay a pretty penny for it like elsewhere in the Central Coast. A few minutes down the road from the lighthouse is a cafe called The Ark that serves great food (although breakfast set us back $44!) and is very popular with the locals – be early to snag a table outside on a nice day! And once you’ve had your fill here you should head down the pathway leading to the beach and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins.

The Norah Head lighthouse

Munmorah State Conservation Area
Siu On and I stayed the night at Freeman’s campground in Munmorah State Conservation Area. As with other national parks in New South Wales you’ll need to pay an entry free in addition to your camp ground fees, but luckily for us we bought a New South Wales National Park Multi-pass park which covered the entry fee. Freeman’s campground has good facilities including BBQ and toilet blocks and you can either book a site online or at the visitor’s information centre, and the camp is a short walk to the beach.

Sunset on the Central Coast

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All photography by Jelena Stipanicev.