13 September 2022
Sprawling across a spectacular stretch of coastline between Forster and Port Macquarie on the north coast of New South Wales, Crowdy Bay National Park feels like something of a secret.
Endless arcs of powdery white sand lapped by curling turquoise waves, headlands marked by rugged cliff lines and curious rock formations, and forested mountains that offer up stunning vistas overlooking it all.
Thankfully, unlike the nearby weekend hotspots of Hawks Nest and Crescent Head, Crowdy Bay National Park also remains delightfully quiet and if you’re visiting mid-week, you might just find you’ve got the place all to yourself.
Here are all the best things to do in Crowdy Bay National Park during your visit, as well as a few ideas to keep you occupied nearby.
Rising impressively between the two sublime beaches of Crowdy Bay National Park, Diamond Head is best explored via the Diamond Head Loop Walk which circles the entire headland, rewarding you with excellent views up and down the coast.
It is without a doubt the best walking trail in the national park and shouldn’t be missed!
Starting behind the Diamond Head Campground, the trail climbs gently through open grassland before being entering the treeline where a lush canopy provides some much-needed shade and a carpet of ferns and a few colourful wildflowers dress the forest floor.
Beyond, take a short detour onto the remote and windswept Kylie’s Beach (via Kylie’s Hut) before climbing up onto the headland.
Up here, you’ll be guided along the cliff tops where you’ll find fantastic views overlooking the vast sandy stretch of Kylie’s Beach, a natural rock arch, ocean pool and a few secret beaches.
As you approach the highest point of the headland, be sure to cast your gaze back for impressive views across to Middle Brother rising up from the hinterland and the forests that crowd around its base.
The circular walk is 4.3km and can be comfortably completed in 2 hours. There are some gradual hills but overall the walk is reasonably easy.
If you’re up for another walk after this, you can also try the 10-minute Mermaid Lookout Track which skirts along the northern side of Diamond Head. While you’re likely to see kangaroos here and some pretty landscapes, personally I didn’t find the views here as impressive as elsewhere on the headland.
Extending out in a perfect crescent beneath the watchful eye of North Brother, Diamond Head Beach is a little bit magical.
As wild as Kylie’s Beach is on the far side of the headland, Diamond Head Beach holds calm clear water that invites you for a swim. That said, visiting at the tail end of winter meant it was decidedly too chilly for an afternoon dip but I sure was tempted.
The waves here are generally small making it a great spot for beginner surfers and SUP-ers and it’s not uncommon to see large pods of dolphins feeding in the calm waters of the bay.
Head out for a slow morning stroll along the wide stretch of sand, wandering as far as you please along the glorious 10km stretch of beach.
Be sure to also explore Split Rock which lies around the base of Diamond Head where the sheer cliffs make for a dramatic sight, especially after sunrise when the light gleams through the gap.
Another absolute stunner, Crowdy Bay is blessed with glimmering white sand and clear turquoise waters that curl in perfect waves towards the shore.
This blissful corner of the bay is far easier to reach than the beaches closer to Diamond Head and lies just 10 minutes from Harrington via a paved road (a real treat after the pothole-riddled roads you’ll find in much of the national park). There’s plenty of parking here and a small beachside cafe that operates during peak periods.
If you’re only passing through the area or visiting for a day at the beach, Crowdy Bay would make an excellent, easily accessable choice.
Perched atop Crowdy Head, the Crowdy Head Lighthouse is quaint and charming painted in vibrant white with navy and orange trimming.
Built in the same style as Tacking Point Lighthouse at Port Macquarie, this one is reasonably small and not really anything to write home about, but the high vantage point does offer wonderful views across Crowdy Bay National Park, Harrington Beach and all the way to the mountains in the distance.
While there is plenty within Crowdy Bay National Park to keep you occupied, there are also a number of impressive sights just outside its borders which are well worth a visit while you’re in the area.
The locations north of the park could comfortably fit into a full day of exploration, while those to the south are great places to stop on your way if you’re driving up from Sydney.
Encompassing the entirety of Dooragan National Park, North Brother offers up one of the best viewpoints you’ll find anywhere along the northern NSW coastline.
Climbing steeply above Laurieton, the scenic drive winds towards the North Brother Lookout flanked by soaring eucalypts and clusters of white everlastings that twirl in the mountain breeze.
The views from up top are spectacular, taking in Laurieton and the Havens as well as Queens Lake and the north coast which extends into the distance.
While you’re here, be sure to cross over the road and follow the delightful Rainforest Trail as well. This easy 600-metre circuit is tucked away on the south side of the mountain and takes in a lush array of ferns, orchids and enormous trees before arriving at the viewing platform that overlooks Middle Brother and Crowdy Bay National Park.
For more adventurous visitors, it’s also possible to hike up North Brother via the challenging Laurieton Walking Track which begins at the end of Laurie Street at the back of town.
However you reach the top, the temperature is noticeably cooler up here so I’d recommend having a warm jacket on hand.
If you’re travelling up to Crowdy Head from Sydney, Wingham makes a serene place to break up the journey and is located just 20 minutes from the highway.
Nestled alongside the Manning River, you’ll find a lovely boardwalk that carries you through the Wingham Brush Nature Reserve. Despite being home to a colony of endangered flying foxes and a vast array of unique native birds, one of the most intriguing features here is actually the trees.
From an unruly mess of weeds and overgrowth, this reserve was lovingly restored in the 1980s and is now humming with birdlife and the squawking of bats that hang from the trees.
Just a short way into the reserve, you’ll find an impressive fig tree with roots that extend into the rainforest in thick, meandering bands. Further along you’ll notice many more, some intertwined with a neighbour having not yet fully engulfed their trunks.
Though it’s just a short 2km walk, it’s wonderfully peaceful here and a great place to stretch your legs before getting back on the highway.
Located at the mouth of the Manning River just south of Crowdy Head, Harrington is a small coastal village with a strong fishing tradition.
Built as a protective barrier for boats entering the channel in the late 1800s, the Harrington Breakwall has today been converted into a scenic walkway that stretches on for nearly 3km.
Passing by mangroves, glimmering sandbars, plenty of waterbirds and showing off the strong, churning currents that make this passage so treacherous for boats, it’s a lovely place for a walk to get better acquainted with the area.
There’s no need to walk the entire wall but I’d suggest picking a shorter section to cover and visiting in the early morning or late afternoon as there is no shade anywhere along the route.
You’ll find parking near the Marine Rescue Centre or at the many parking bays along Beach Street.
Rising up behind Camden Head lies Perpendicular Point and the Kattang Nature Reserve.
After completing the Diamond Head Loop Walk where Perpendicular Point is a constant presence on the horizon, you’ll be all too familiar with its chiselled shape and sheer cliffs that tumble into the ocean.
Beginning at the corner of Camden Head Road and Bergalia Crescent, the Perpendicular Point Track leads you past some spectacular coastal viewpoints to the very tip of the headland where you’ll be rewarded with vistas across the beautiful North Haven beaches and the rugged cliffs to the south.
For the return journey, be sure to turn onto the Flower Bowl Circuit which was simply brimming with blooms during my visit, before following the detour to the impressive Charles Hamley Lookout which overlooks the pearly white strip of Dunbogan Beach all the way to Diamond Head.
The entire loop is 5.5km when adding in all the little side trails and can be comfortably completed in 1.5 hours.
After a morning of glorious sunshine, I arrived at North Haven to an absolute deluge of rain which quickly put a stop to any plans I had of exploring this area on foot, but if the weather is on your side, there’s an excellent walkway that runs along the north side of the Camden Haven Inlet all the way to the beach which is worth a visit.
If you’re on foot, you can start almost anywhere along Ocean Drive or The Parade once you’ve hit the roundabout. From Ostler Park, it’s about 2km to the end of the North Haven Breakwall, or 3km if starting from Riverview Reserve. The are plenty of spots along the way with picnic tables when you’re ready for a break.
If you’re travelling by bike, the cycle path actually extends from the breakwall all the way through Laurieton towards the bridge that crosses over to Camden Haven.
There are very few things that will motivate me to roll out of bed in the wee hours, especially in the cold of winter, but cracking the tent door to see the deep purple stain of dawn creeping across the bay just a few steps from bed sure did the trick.
Watching the world wake up to a new day is almost always something special, but throw in a pod of dolphins frolicking amongst the waves, the golden morning light caressing the contours of the mountains and streaming across the rocks and the brilliant blue waves rolling across an empty beach and you’ve got something downright magic.
Whether you’re up at dawn to see the bay transform from violet to gold, or settling in for sundowners on the beach, be sure to experience a sunrise or sunset right here at Crowdy Bay. You can thank me later!
There are four campgrounds located within Crowdy Bay National Park which are operated by the NPWS. Ground fires are not permitted anywhere in the national park but you can rent fire pits from the office at the Diamond Head Campground. Bookings for all locations are essential and cost $24 twin share, per site.
Diamond Head Campground | One of the best national park campgrounds I’ve stayed at in NSW and the best-established camping spot in Crowdy Head National Park. The camp is located right by the beach with plenty of kangaroos hopping around, a large toilet block, barbecues, picnic tables and enough space that you’re not tripping over your fellow campers.
The road in from the north is reasonably good and there are facilities for both tents and caravans. There’s also a national park office here that can provide information on the park and rents out fire pits ($10 for the entire stay). Check rates and availability here.
Crowdy Gap Campground | This was where we had originally planned to stay, but after being wowed by Diamond Head Beach, we decided to swap our booking over to there instead. Crowdy Gap is still spacious and well set up but it is certainly more remote and doesn’t have quite the same level of amenities as you’ll find in Diamond Head.
Plus, after travelling the pothole-ridden road that lies between the two, we were somewhat reluctant to have to tackle the drive all over again. If you’re planning to stick around the Crowdy Head side of the National Park, Crowdy Gap would make an ideal spot. Check rates and availability here.
While camping is really the best way to experience Crowdy Bay National Park and offers the opportunity to go from bed to beach in just a few steps, if you’d prefer a bit of extra comfort, you’ll find a handful of simple accommodation options in either Harrington or Laurieton. For anything more luxe, you’ll need to head north to Port Macquarie.
Harrington River Lodge | The best-rated option in town, this sprawling 4-star country estate is set right along the banks of the Manning River and offers spacious suites that include either a private patio or balcony. You’ll also find a pool and pub on site. Check rates and availability here.
Woongarra Motel | Located in North Haven, just minutes from the beach and directly opposite the river, Woongarra is a well-rated option on the northern end of Crowdy Bay National Park. Check rates and availability here.
Harrington Village Motel | This run-of-the-mill small-town motel is reasonably priced and located right on the main road in town. A decent budget option with simple rooms and a kitchenette. Check rates and availability here.
There is no drinking water available within the national park so you’ll either need to bring in extra water with you or some way to purify the water provided.
I bought a large drum of tap water up from Sydney but purifying your water using Aquatabs or a Steripen could also work as there are several taps priovided in the park.
Between Crowdy Head and Dunbogan, there’s a gravel road that runs parallel to the beach and, in short, it’s in pretty terrible condition.
While it has clearly been graded at some point and is flat with no large rocks to contend with, some sections are so riddled with potholes that it becomes a matter of choosing which ones to drive through as they’re impossible to avoid altogether.
The worst section is between Crowdy Head and the Kylie’s Road intersection which can be pretty slow going, while the section between Diamond Head and Dunbogan is actually reasonably good.
If you’re in a large 4WD, this won’t be much of an issue, but if you’re visiting in a smaller car or with a caravan, I’d highly recommend accessing the national park from the north via Dunbogan to avoid the worst of it.
While mention of the three brothers may evoke the tale of the Deathly Hallows for any diehard Harry Potter fans (me!), instead these brothers indicate the three imposing mountains that rise up from the hinterlands just south of Laurieton. They bear a strong cultural significance and are woven with Dreamtime stories of the local Biripi people.
The legend goes that there were three brothers who took to the bush as part of their initiation. With growing concerns for their parents during their absence, the younger brother travelled back to check on them. While he was away, a witch infiltrated the brother’s camp and killed the two older siblings.
On his return, the youngest brother retaliated with a boomerang gifted to him by his father and split the witch in half. He gathered up the bones of his brothers and buried them before making his way further south where he himself perished.
That night, the mountains rose high above each resting place to mourn the misfortune of these brothers, marking what we now know as North, Middle and South Brother.
For all visits to Crowdy Bay National park, there is a daily entrance fee of $8 in addition to any camping fees.
However, if you love exploring and plan to visit several national parks throughout the year, it’s a far better idea to buy an Annual Multi Parks Pass for $65 which covers all national parks within NSW except for Kosciuszko.
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