The Set Up:
Since the 50’-60’s golden era of longboard surfari exploration, Crescent Head – a tiny village perched on Australia’s eastern seaboard – has been a fave of surfers making the dash between Sydney and the Sunshine State. While the shortboard revolution dinted Crescent’s crown a little, it’s never lost appeal with families, fishermen, nature lovers and surfers wanting to get away from the rat race.
One peek at a map detailing the coastline around Crescent – which sits to the north of Port Macquarie and just south east of Kempsey – and it’s not hard to see why. A series of rocky points and protected sandy bays in the area offer a good variety of wave types working on different swell and wind preferences. While most surfers would have heard of its famous namesake point that delivers the kind of long, dreamy waves that mal riders froth on, the area also offers miles of punchy beach breaks, lesser known points and back beaches, hidden reefs and mellow beginner-friendly waves; Crescent is blessed in terms of variety.
The second striking feature you’ll note on any map is the lack of sprawling development – a sea of green surrounds the town thanks to a series of national parks. Hat Head National Park runs from north of Crescent up to South West Rocks, while south of town Goolawah and Limeburners Creek Nature Reserves extend towards Port Macquarie. Added together, this means around 60km of the coastline to the north and south of Crescent Head has been preserved.
This stymie on development combined with a fairly lengthy distance from the main highway (deterring ‘accidental’ tourism by the passing hoards) ensured the town has remained pretty much unchanged for decades – a stark contrast to its famous surf town counterparts in either direction. It’s all fairly laid back and surf-centric – the servo sells wax and leggies, the post office rents boards, and it’s just big enough to offer most travelling surfer needs. There’s a bottle-o and a couple of classic Aussie watering holes, a smattering of stores on its main strip (including a surf shop and world-class bakery), plus a decent variety of accommodations ranging from private rentals, eco villas and motels, a surf camp, a caravan park right on the water and several bush camping options nearby. The town radiates towards the point where you’ll find a modest skate park, boat ramp, a six hole golf course with the best view from a green this side of Scotland, and Killick Creek which offers fishing, SUP and swimming holes for the kids. To be sure, Crescent Head has all the makings of an idyllic coastal hideaway.
When family friends we’d met over our years of being part of a group called Surfing Mums invited us on a weeklong camping mission to Crescent during school holidays, we jumped at the chance. Crescent has always been one of our family’s favourite holiday destinations in NSW, but usually our surf trips there were chasing swell – not just hanging out for a week waiting for waves to magically come to us. As the east coast was experiencing a bit of a wave drought at the time, this meant we did a lot more exploring either side of town than on previous trips, and a lot of time hunting down kid-friendly waves too. Luckily Crescent delivered on all fronts.
A few families had pitched in together to rent a house, while the rest of our group (including ourselves) were camping at the grounds right on the point. Being school holidays the place was jam packed to insane proportions, but once you moved a few kms away from the caravan park in either direction you’d often find yourself on an empty stretch of beach. Each family in our group would go of exploring in different directions each day and evenings were spent chatting over our various adventures, often over a meal of fish caught fresh by members of our posse. The kids would swim, surf and skate themselves into a grubby feet, salty haired coma each day, then wake at dawn full of beans to do it all over again. Our six year old was so enamored with the surf feral lifestyle he’d adopted over a week of camping Crescent ( see the video below to view a little slice of it) that when it was time to leave he threatened to become a fugitive living in the park’s amenity block. Judging by the number of people in campervans at the point, I doubt he’d be the first or last person Crescent has had this affect on.
You know, despite the ridiculous headline of this article (internet sheep-le only click headlines with numbers in them, apparently) when all’s said and done the main reason anybody plans a family surf holiday to Crescent is the surf. So for our list of nine reasons to visit, here’s a breakdown of just nine of the better known breaks in and around Crescent to explore.
1. Crescent Point
Right in town and the target of most people’s pilgrimage to these parts, the point offers long, fun walls across over a rocky shoreline, but don’t expect to get it all to yourself on a decent swell – when it’s pumping people come out of the woodwork. It can get crazy busy, especially on weekends/school holidays, but when the sand fills in at the right spots it can produce waves a couple of hundred metres in length. Can work in a variety of swell directions – particularly E or NE, or big S swells strong enough to wrap back around into its crescent-like shape. The curvature of the coastline here means it’s fairly protected from southerly winds, and can be buttery-clean in winds with west combinations (SW/W/WNW).
2. Front Beach/ Killick Beach
Just down from the town’s uber cute pastel enamel-tiled surf club, Crescent Head front beach offers a variety of right and left-handers. There’s a shifting left and right hand peak by the creek mouth that beginner surfers flock to, while a ten minute stumble down the beach towards the north usually reveals a few rip banks and fun peaks away from the caravan park crowd. When the point is too small to catch waves without loosing a fin, it’s often worth searching for empty peaks here as it tends to be more open to swell, while working on much the same wind/swell directions. It’s also a fave for kids – it’s where the video above was shot.
3. Beachies Towards Hat Head
Accessible by a dirt road from Crescent (Loftus Rd), there’s a wide stretch of empty coastline here (17km) devoid of crowds and open to the elements. It’s best with a 4×4 – permit holders are able to cruise the beaches from Richardsons Crossing to Hungry Camp Area – but regular vehicles can still navigate the dirt access road to the few beach access/carparks along this stretch and hike in.
Hat Head itself can also offer up the odd fun wave, including a short right hander that runs down a rocky shelf-like point (works on NE to SE swells and S/SW winds). Beyond Hat Head there’s Smoky Cape campground to the north – an epic tree fringed bush camp right on the beach (which can also get fun waves).
4. Back Beach/ Goolawah Beach
Heading south from Crescent, tucked over on the other side of the headland you’ll find a left-hander that occasionally breaks like a point if banks and swell allow, and long wide stretches of beach break extending as far as the eye can see. The north corner here is tucked away from the northerlies and open to S and E swells; coming from Crescent Goolawah can be accessed off Baker Drive (which later turns into Plomer Rd). If you’re in town and staying anywhere up near the lookout/water tower, you’ll be able to check this stretch of coast directly to the south from those eagle-eye vantage spots without taking a drive.
Heading further south along Plomer Rd, which alternates between paved and graded dirt as it ventures along the coastline, you’ll soon come to a series of campgrounds. Look out for the Racecourse signpost – this beach extends from Back Beach about 7km south towards Racecourse Headland. There’s often fun waves along this stretch, and Racecourse Point itself is actually another decent point break when sand banks comply, but at the very least you can usually find a few empty peaks along the beach to the north of the headland.
6. Delicate Nobby
On the other side of Racecourse headland, there’s a little carpark that will let you access the northern-most part of Delicate Nobby beach which is tucked away from the northerlies – it’s perfect for kids as they can climb up the headland and play in rock pools.
There’s sometimes a rebound-y left called Sunset that runs back from the headland, while to the south there’s another campground and an unusual rock formation that juts out into the ocean and gives the beach its name. It’s said if the swell is direct east you can sometimes get waves peeling off each side of the rocks here, but you’re more likely to find rip banks either side working depending on wind/swell.
7. Big Hill
Heading towards Big Hill and over a small river crossing, you’ll find another campground across the road from little beach carpark tucked up to into the point.
The sand-bottom point itself isn’t long or particularly defined, but it’s called Big Hill for a reason – you’ll be able to see the drive beyond here goes high up and over the headland – so the sheer size of the hill offers this break protection from strong southerlies. It’s often clean, fun and glassy when other spots are too big and washy to enjoy in big south swells, and can also be fun when swells from N or E hit it the right way. Down the beach a little to the north, you’ll find plenty more empty beachies too.
Over the hill, there’s a spectacular little back beach out of the north winds with an assortment of rock and sand bottom peaks that can work in various swell combos too.
8. Point Plomer
This area offers bush campsites with direct surf access in abundance, and before the road in was fixed, graded and partially paved, it had an almost mythical reputation for attracting the kind of crew who like to pitch tents to wait for swell for weeks at a time, Bear Grylls-style diving for crayfish with their bare hands for their substance. But while rustic, Plomer has always been family-friendly, and there’s also a few more upmarket cabins and holiday houses here, too. The ever-present surf nomads (plus proximity to Port Macquarie) make sure whenever Plomer’s boulder-bottomed point starts cranking there’s always at least a couple of absolute shredders and longboarders owning it, but thankfully there’s usually plenty to go around and usually attracts a very low key, sparse, mellow crowd. Can be fun on a N to E swell, but loves a good big S/SE swell to start properly working, preferably with S/W winds. Beachies up and down Barries (the beach extending to the north of the point) can deliver good quality lefts and rights, too. For kiddies and beginners, try the protected inside sandbar located in the southern corner of Plomer.
9. Plomer Back Beach/ Queens
Tucked behind Plomer are a couple of rocky outcrops before the beach wraps away southward towards Port Macquarie. In summer when the Nor East winds prevail, this is the promised land as there’s usually bountiful fun waves to be found. It’s also popular with the Port bodyboard crowd as it can be a bit of a swell magnet open to a range of directions. Down the beach is also worth exploring for fun punchy waves, but 4 wheel drives are king here – it’s best explored with a vehicle that can handle the terrain.
Other Things To Do
When your paddle arms can’t take it anymore or the surf gods decide you must have a layday, there’s plenty to keep you occupied around Crescent.
Kids flock to the Killick Creek foot bridge (picture above) near the surf club at high tide, as the strong tidal push around the ‘s’ bend of the river mouth is like a natural waterpark ride.
Fishing by beach rod along the empty stretches to the north or south of Crescent always produced a sea bounty, while spear fishing in permitted areas also produced the goods – snapper, jew fish, black bream and more.
To do more touristy sight seeing, check out the Smokey Cape Lighthouse past Hat Head. South West Rocks, about 50 minutes drive to the north of Cresecent is also a good day trip, as there’s a historial jail (Trial Bay Jail) atop a bluff with with amazing ocean views. There’s a small entry fee for admission. It’s part of Arakoon National Park, so there’s lots of walking trails, camp sites, and picnic spots too – for a splash, nearby Horseshoe Bay is pretty protected and good for kid-friendly swimming/snorkelling.
Daily Surf Reports:
Magic Seaweed usually have general forecasts for the area.
Places to Stay:
As noted, most of the breaks have a campground nearby varying from the drop toilet/cold water shower kind where you need to bring everything in with you to the powered, paved and pampered kind (Check out our review on the Crescent Head Holiday Park). In the past, we’ve also stayed at Sun Worship Eco Villas in Crescent, which were great for a small family, but there’s also a massive range of private house rentals through to budget motels for all tastes and budgets.
Getting There And Away:
To check out nearest towns and distances between breaks, check the area out on Google Maps:
Been to Cresecent Head? Have stories to share? Let us know in the comments below!
What's Your Reaction?
Happy Place Hunter's resident Editor In Chief, Caz Emge, has written for publications around the globe for two decades. An avid outdoor buff, in her (limited) spare time she and her videographer husband and two sons gather insights for this site – sharing happy places as they find them Click to read full bio