Just a hop and skip away from the bright lights of Sydney, NSW’s Central Coast lures visitors with its sweeping ocean vistas and stunning beaches. The region is peppered with seaside towns oozing laidback coastal charm and expansive National Parks, making it a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts like hikers and surfers.
It’s the area’s stunning natural beauty that keeps Central Coast local Kirsty Hill coming back – despite being no stranger to epic locations. Kirsty runs a popular family travel site called Travel With Meraki, a showcase for the adventures of her family of five with itchy feet. “We travel whenever we have the opportunity. Sometimes that means a local trip to explore somewhere new, sometimes it means a solo trip, or even a parents only retreat. Other times it includes jumping on a plane for 30+ hours with three kids in tow.” Kirsty said. Meraki is a Greek word that means to do something with heart and soul – to put a little bit of yourself into something. “I aim to travel with Meraki on all our adventures. I also have a pretty bad photography habit and take waaaaay too many photographs on every adventure.” Jump aboard as Kirsty shares her hometown highlights and tips (and photos!) to inspire the perfect Central Coast family getaway.
Where’s home right now: We live on The Central Coast, NSW, about an hour north of Sydney.
Kids ages: My kids are 11,10 and nearly 9. Only 34 months between the three of them which has kept us super busy.
Q: How long have you been living on the Central Coast, and what inspired you to move there?
A: I first moved to the Coast when I was 12 years old with my parents when we emigrated from England. I’ve lived here on and off since then but we settled back permanently when I was pregnant with our first child. Obviously living close to family was a big factor but the lifestyle here is hard to beat. We have amazing beaches and it is a wonderful place to bring up kids, while still being close enough to the bigger cities like Sydney and Newcastle for day trips.
Q: Best thing about where you live:
A: The coastline! Today I got to watch whales play while walking our dog on the local beach at Wamberal. Such an amazing way to start the day.
Q: When you have overseas visitors with kids visiting you, where’s the first place you take them to showoff your town?
A: The beaches. We actually are trying to visit all our local beaches as part of a fun challenge as we have so many on the Central Coast that we haven’t even been to them all yet. With such variety we know there’s always a certain beach to suit different families and what they enjoy doing.
Q: What’s the best time of year to visit the Central Coast and why?
A: I would say there’s always something to explore here at any time of the year. We do get lots of visitors from Sydney during the school holidays though so if you want to enjoy the area at a more peaceful time avoid peak seasons like Easter and Summer School Holidays. Even then there are still plenty of quieter places to enjoy with the locals.
Q: Would you rate the area as expensive to visit? If so, what are some tips to keep costs down.
A: One of the things I love about our home is that there is plenty to do for families without spending money. Parking is free at all of our beaches, then there are beautiful walks like Bouddi Coastal Walk and other National Parks or exploring waterfalls at Somersby Falls. Even our major tourist attractions like The Australian Reptile Park (which is a must visit) can be made affordable as they have a great picnic area and BBQ facilities so you can pack your own lunch. There is also a huge range of accommodation options that suit families such as caravan parks and Airbnb.
Q: Best hikes for small children?
A: For National Parks, head to Bouddi Coastal Walk, Somersby Falls and Girrakool Loop Track. During whale watching season Crackneck and Terrigal Haven are great spots to walk and watch whales play.
Q: Any local attractions you think are overrated/best to avoid?
A: I can’t actually think of any…
Q: Best local coffee place (and is it kid friendly?):
A: Some of our favourites are The Tame Fox, which has farm yard animals and delicious coffee, Bamboo Buddha which is in a beautiful bush setting where you can hear bellbirds whoop and serves delicious vegetarian meals. The kids can feed Koi here too. Our fav place to grab a takeaway coffee is Glee Coffee Roasters at Erina Heights.
Q: Family friendly places to eat out:
A: Fish and Chips at the beach is one of our family favourites and a great budget option. Terrigal Beach Fish and Chip Co is our go to. We usually grab takeaway then head down to the beach to enjoy and let the kids play. Davistown RSL is brilliant for families as it is located right on the water and has a huge playing area for the kids, they even have a jumping castle set up on weekends. For something fun, Warnies Cafe is famous for its crazy shakes.
Q: List the best local activities/places to keep the kids entertained for free (or at least under $20):
A: A few of the best family-friendly beaches are Terrigal, Avoca, Toowoon Bay, Ettalong and The Entrance. The Entrance also has Vera’s Water Garden, a free water park for young children and daily pelican feeding at 3:30pm which is great to go and watch.
We also love exploring the National Parks I mentioned above. If you head to Somersby Falls pack some swimmers for the kids as they can splash in the falls. Most have picnic facilities so you can take lunch and save money.
Norah Head Lighthouse is free unless you want to walk up the lighthouse, but is still affordable.
If you love art, we have The Ken Duncan Gallery and Gosford Regional Gallery which also has a beautiful Japanese Garden.
The Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre at Terrigal also holds rockpool walks during certain times of the year. You can also learn lots in the centre with a family ticket costing around $26.
Glenworth Valley has a variety of activities for families at a cost but they also hold the running of the horses most afternoons. It is free to go and watch the 200+ horses being mustered.
We are also lucky to have a variety of markets and festivals on throughout the year. Avoca Beach Markets is a wonderful place to wander, listen to local live music and enjoy food from around the world, and The Harvest Festival in June is brilliant fun with fruit picking and local farm experiences.
Q: Local park with the best kid facilities:
A: There are so many great parks here. Some of my kids favourites are Peninsula Recreation Park at Umina, The Ettalong Beach Waterfront Reserve and Playground, The Rotary Park Playground at Terrigal and Vera’s Water Garden and The Entrance Foreshore Playgrounds. Parent bonus is all these are close to cafes with coffee.
Q: Best local hidden gem that tourists don’t often know about:
A: Haha our secret beaches…but I’m not sharing them.
Q: Since travelling, what have you noticed that is unique to where you live that you haven’t noticed anywhere else?
A: I think our environment is quite unique here. We seem to honestly have it all at our finger tips. You can go from amazing beaches to bushland in minutes. We have rainforest to explore and sunken ship wrecks to dive. No matter what your interests, there is something to see and do.
Q: Tell us a bit about your biz – and how much of what you do is inspired by being a parent and/or where you live?
A: I started Travel With Meraki as a way to share our adventures and to hopefully inspire others that travel doesn’t have to stop once you have children. I had quite a nomadic childhood, living in different parts of England and Germany until we moved to Australia. Travel got under my skin and I really wanted to share that with my children. Now they have bucket lists nearly as long as mine. Travel has so many benefits for children and adults, from learning better acceptance of others and how they live to realising there are so many different ways for us to live life and that it’s up to us to choose how we want to make the most of our time here on this beautiful Earth. I think it also makes you really appreciate your local area more too. I hope that by sharing our adventures others are inspired to explore and learn more too.
Q: Can you picture doing what you do anywhere else?
A: There are parts of living in Europe that I really miss. Like being so close to other countries. We do dream of taking some time out and going to live there for a while but I think we would always return back here eventually.
Q: And finally, the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given:
A: Visit a place like a local, not a tourist. Ask locals what they love about their hometown and you will find all sorts of amazing places. We’ve found this to be even more important since having children. Locals often know the best places for families to go explore and eat.
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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