There's a reason why families and holiday-makers are flocking back to the good old caravanning vacations of yesteryear - and it's not because the bigger overseas trips are no longer available. It's because we are re-embracing all things slow and rediscovering the joy in simplicity.
They used to be compulsory: the annual family trips where days felt like weeks, mums laughed out loud all day and dads let all the rules be broken. Kids made new friends that became lifelong pen pals. Dogs ran freely on the beach and ice-creams dripped under the midday sun. Afternoons drifted by from a hammock in the shade and shoes were abandoned on day one, only to be worn if you ventured out to the cinema for a treat.
But somewhere along the way we've forgotten that this is the perfect holiday. We started to believe long-haul flights and hotel buffets were solutions to all our stress. And that giant swimming pools and theme parks were what brought us together as a family. Shopping trips for mum. Golf holidays for dad. Ski school for the kids. This is what everyone has been aspiring to.
For those of us who remember the beauty of a childhood caravanning holiday, as well as those keen to try one out, the low-key holiday parks of the NSW Central Coast are the perfect spot to unhitch your caravan.
The region has plenty of seaside holiday parks, natural beauty and even wildlife and adventure parks. Here, you'll stop, reconnect and breathe. Ahh...
Where to stay
Budgewoi Holiday Park
There are a bunch of reasons why Budgewoi is a winner for a camping or caravanning holiday. And if you've never heard of the place, then that's an even better indication that it's still a hidden gem. The holiday park sits alongside lovely Lake Munmorah, which is great for paddling adventures, boating, waterskiing and windsurfing. Budgewoi Creek is popular with fishing enthusiasts hoping to catch flathead and bream in the bright blue waters. The giant grassy foreshore at Mackenzie Park is also perfect for picnics, and the fun playground equipment, including a jumping pillow, will keep the kids entertained for days.
Toowoon Bay Holiday Park
For something a little buzzier, Toowoon Bay is right near The Entrance's smattering of cafes and restaurants, shops and a cinema. And then to escape, you have a bunch of patrolled beaches at your doorstep. Pets are welcome at the holiday park, and there are loads of grassy areas to explore on long walks. Head to the resort-style pool if you feel like a moment kicking back with a cool drink in the sun and dreaming of Palm Springs afternoons.
Norah Head Holiday Park
Norah Head is the quiet cousin of Toowoon Bay, lesser known but by no means less fabulous. Norah Head is king for watersport enthusiasts. Think stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing and wakeboarding. The two popular surf beaches, the Lakes and Soldiers Point, have regular surf breaks perfect for beginners or pros. For a romantic evening stroll, grab a picnic hamper and head down the beach to the Norah Head Lighthouse and catch the sunset.
Canton Beach Holiday Park
Canton Beach is a family-friendly favourite with a huge range of cabins, camping and caravan spots so even the extended rellies can join you and still have room to spread out and relax. It's a great location for teaching the little ones a bit about bush flora and fauna since it is surrounded by the local national park. Long treks around Tuggerah Lake and along the beach foreshore are great for spotting native plants. The kids will also delight in spotting native wildlife and watching out for humpback whales on their migrations that occur a few times a year. Again, this holiday park is pet-friendly and has a huge range of facilities that will make it hard for you to leave. The main streets of Toukley are just around the corner so you can also pick up any supplies you need, or hire fishing gear and watersport equipment.
Things to do
Outside of the holiday parks and nearby beaches and lakes, the Central Coast is a stunning region for those seeking adventure and quality relaxation time. For a special treat, take the kids to the nearby TreeTops Adventure Park or the Australian Reptile Park. Or, hire some bikes and head out to feed the pelicans at The Entrance.
Couples can hire a double kayak with Ocean Planet Kayaking Tours and spend the day exploring the hidden beaches and lakes. And then finish the day in Gosford, with a stroll through the Edogawa Commemorative Garden, before catching a show at The Art House theatre in Wyong.
Caravanning holidays don't have to be rough and basic. Take the scenic route from Sydney, or make a daytrip of it, and drop by luxury boutique hotel Bells at Killcare, less than 30 minutes' drive south of Gosford. Stop for the afternoon, eating at Wild Flower Bar & Dining and treating yourself to a pamper session at the spa.
Where to eat
The dining scene on the Central Coast is growing thanks to some talented chefs and local producers pushing fresh ingredients that exemplify "from farm to plate". The kids will love Woy Woy Fisherman's Wharf, where they can sample the fresh seafood of the region. Nearby Pinocchios Wine & Pizza in Gosford is also a hit thanks to its buzzy, casual atmosphere.
* Check with operators prior to travel. Some venues may not be operating at capacity due to restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
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