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BRUCE McDOUGALL discovers the natural beauty of a NSW North Coast gem

JUST three months ago Port Macquarie was smashed by floods and large areas inundated in what was called a one-in-100 year event. But the perennial getaway favourite is now back and very much open for business. For pandemic locked up Aussies starved of international travel, Port Mac with its superb beaches, rainforests and coastal walks is shaping as just the ticket. The home of feathered exotica such as the Spangled Drongo and the Wompoo bird, along with many other delights, Port Mac is gearing up for a huge influx of visitors in the lead up to Christmas and beyond. Tourism researchers say it will be one of the state’s most popular destinations next spring and summer, if not the number one choice. We have just given Port an early hit out and you would never know the place had been hit with so much watery devastation unless you looked closely.

The beaches are back to their brilliant best, manicured to perfection daily, the superb coastal walk from Town Beach to the Lighthouse at Tacking Point as good as ever and the hotels, restaurants, pubs and clubs are filling up with bookings. After a nightmare 18 months of bush fires, floods and pandemic, we figured it was time to get out to regional Australia and spend some cash in communities struggling to get back on their feet. So far, we have driven the exceptional NSW south coast, traversed the Snowys and spent some time in the larger inland regional centres such as Wagga Wagga and Dubbo, and smaller ones, along with the stopover in Port Mac. A few days doesn’t really cut it in Port. There’s just too much to do. So we picked out a few of the best and saved the rest for another visit. Take a quick drive out to the rural town of Wauchope, full of boutique shops, quirky cafes and country hospitality. Follow the directions to the Burrawan State Forest a short drive along the Bago Road and a 600m walking track takes you to Old Bottlebutt, reputedly the largest Red Bloodwood tree in the Southern Hemisphere standing 54m high and boasting an epic Kardashian-size 16m base. Breathing in the cool forest air while you are there is a bonus. And it costs nothing.

Back at the parking spot in the forest there’s even a classic long drop dunny and, if you’re lucky, a red back on the toilet seat. Such a traditional Aussie bush experience that even my wife could be persuaded to give it a try.

So many great spots, so little time to do them all. Back in Port Mac, as keen golfers, we had to give the putting and lake target chipping a go at Hydro Golf and Putt Putt. But the one place on the Port Mac agenda we couldn’t miss, after all the devastation of the NSW bush fires and floods, was the Koala Hospital. It’s an inspiration to see the work being done to help this most vulnerable of Aussie marsupials which is fighting for survival on many fronts, not least fires, disease, dog attacks and getting run over.

The hospital staffed by volunteers doesn’t charge for a visit but you must book online for a place and donations are always appreciated. For eateries, we liked the Bandwagon Cafe in William St, the outdoor nosherie at Sea Acres Rainforest Centre and the Salty Crew Kiosk down on Town Beach which commands absolute pole position for sand and sea at brekky. And then there are the local micro breweries and all those craft beers to try. But that’s a whole other story for another day.

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