Hidden Hinterlands: Exploring the NSW Central Coast

By Jennifer Ennion August 30, 2023
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Venture away from the waves and you’ll discover a Central Coast Hinterland brimming with bush walks, mountain bike trails, culture and a growing ecotourism scene.

Stretches of golden sand, countless surf breaks and a relaxed, sun-kissed community has made the New South Wales Central Coast a popular place to both holiday and live. It’s also a favourite weekender destination for the Sydney set, keen to dip into the ocean and indulge in the locally caught fish and deliciously crunchy hot chips. And now, visitors are venturing away from the waves to discover a Central Coast Hinterland brimming with bush walks, mountain bike trails, culture and a growing ecotourism scene.

A Hinterland road trip

On the doorstep of Sydney, the Central Coast Hinterland is prime road-tripping territory, with great cafes, plenty of adventure activities and wildlife attractions. If you’re travelling north from the city, exit the Pacific Motorway at Calga and start your adventure on Peats Ridge Road. One of the first major attractions here is Glenworth Valley Wilderness Adventures, where you can go horse riding, quad biking, abseiling and even kayaking. If you’re visiting in winter, time your visit with Glenworth Grazing Food and Wine Festival, at which you can taste your way around more than 90 local vendors and enjoy live music and clean country air.

Horse riding at Glenworth Valley Wilderness Adventures and walking the Bullimah Spur Track in Bouddi National Park. Image credits: James Vodicka

Rejoin Peats Ridge Road for lunch at The Springs, a tranquil fine-dining destination set on a 50-hectare property that features a championship 18-hole golf course. Other highlights on a Hinterland road trip include the conservation-led Australian Reptile Park, where you can meet koalas and learn about how the team use venomous reptiles to save lives; Mt Penang Gardens and Parklands, which has several garden areas and stone sculptures amongst its eight hectares; and TreeTops Adventure Park, an ECO Certified ropes course and natural playground suspended in the canopy of Ourimbah State Forest – it’s a must-visit in school holidays.

If you want to take the guess work out of plotting an itinerary, follow Love Central Coast’s guide to Tourist Drive 33.

The Central Coast’s farm gates

Plenty of Central Coast locals head into the Hinterland to enjoy the boutique farms and artisan growers. You’ll often see beachside residents exploring the region during the annual Harvest Festival in June, when plenty of farms open their doors for pick-your-own orange and pecan experiences, among other family friendly festivities that connect kids to the countryside. Locals also travel inland every December, when it’s time to find the perfect Christmas tree at Central Coast Christmas Trees, Kulnura. There are plenty of hands-on farm experiences, with opportunities to pick a bunch of sunflowers, citrus fruit, blueberries and avocados.

Orange picking in Dooralong. Image credit: James Vodicka

If you want to theme your visit around the Hinterland’s wholesome farms, you can also call past roadside stalls or join seasonal open days. Let the kids get their hands dirty on a tour of family-owned Fanelli Organics, which also has a farm stand (though call ahead) and sells pre-ordered vegetable boxes. You can grab pasture-raised pork or beef from Full Circle Farm or Grace Springs Farm, plus chemical-free veggies. If you want a one-stop shop, call into Mountain Growers’ Market, where you can pick up plenty of farm-fresh produce for your weekend away, as well as a light lunch, handmade cake or cuppa, and peruse their preloved vintage shop.

Hinterland walking

The Central Coast is one of Australia’s first official sustainable destinations, certified by Ecotourism Australia in 2022 supported by the WWF-Australia Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund. Not only is the Hinterland home to the aforementioned organic and regenerative farms, it’s also where you can immerse yourself in nature with a swathe of bushwalking routes, emerald pools and picturesque waterfalls and picnic spots. 

Take a dip in Emerald Pool in Popran National Park. Image credit: James Vodicka

Arguably, the most significant trail is the Great North Walk, which starts in Sydney and meanders north onto the Central Coast and finally into Newcastle for a whopping 250 kilometres. But you don’t have to walk the whole length, with many day options, such as Mooney Mooney Creek to Somersby (16km) and Somersby to Ourimbah Valley (6km).

Hiking along Old Great North Road in Dharug National Park and creek crossing in Piles Creek Loop Brisbane Water National Park. Image credits: James Horan and James Vodicka

If you’re seeking a deeper connection to place, you can hike one of the Central Coast’s culturally significant sites Old Great North Road, which is a fantastic route that leads experienced hikers along a road built by convicts in the mid-1800s. Located in Dharug National Park, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed loop is a nine-kilometre Grade 4 track that partially follows the Hawkesbury River; keep an eye out for the graffiti carved in rocks by the convicts.

To connect with some of the Central Coast’s rich Aboriginal heritage, you will find rock engravings along the Girrakool Loop Track (2km) in Brisbane Water National Park, as well as the sacred Bulgandry Art Site Aboriginal Place, less than 10 minutes from the Gosford CBD.

Hinterland mountain biking

If you’re keen to step up the pace, sign up for a mountain bike session in Ourimbah State Forest, a pocket of the Central Coast that’s increasingly on people’s radars. You can take your own bike or hire one from a local operator, who is also happy to shuttle you back to the top of the trails (for a fee). The Mountain Bike Park is MTB heaven with more than 18 kilometres of trails. You don’t need much experience in downhill riding to enjoy a day at the park either; there are even trails suitable for young kids. And if you take children here for an afternoon session be sure to hang about until dusk to show them the fireflies that light up every November and December. The glowing beetles add yet another special moment to a Hinterland adventure brimming with them.

Mountain biking in Kincumba Mountain Reserve. Image credit: David Ross

This Love Central Coast project has been brought to you by Destination Central Coast and jointly funded by the Australian and NSW governments under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.