We were quite happy to be leaving Port Macquarie and its civilised shopping strips and brand-new housing developments behind when we boarded the ferry at Settlement Point to take our Suzuki Grand Vitara north across the mouth of the Hastings River.
This feature was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s April 2012 issue
This wasn’t going to be a rollicking bush bash in the middle of nowhere, but we did want to get the Grand Vitara dirty, and to spend long days at the beach and sultry nights camped out under the stars – and we didn’t want to see one more roundabout or fluorescent-lit service station. For a little while, at least.
The stretch between Port Macquarie and Crescent Head (made up mostly of Limeburners Creek and Goolawah national parks) is a coastal holiday utopia. As well as private camping grounds, there are several NPWS campsites, long stretches of white sandy beaches for swimming, surfing and fishing, and Point Plomer Road – which is 4X4-only for the 16km before Point Plomer, and lends a bit more adventure to the otherwise well-graded but mostly unsealed track.
When we drove Point Plomer Road, the air was viscous with humidity, and armies of mosquitoes buzzed from the shadowy melaleuca forests that line the track. Clay-stained puddles were axle-deep and the oozy mud stuck to our thongs like glue.
Along the way, several short sandy tracks dart off towards the long, unprotected beach, which can be driven on in this part of the coast with an NPWS permit (as always, watch the tides).
The Grand Vitara had us cringing on occasion as it scraped its relatively low-hanging belly on unidentified objects in the deep, muddy holes, but otherwise handled the track effortlessly.
Budget camping options with limited facilities and easy access to the beach are available, but at this time of year (the no-man’s-period between Christmas and New Year when only crazy people like us don’t get in early or book ahead), they were pulsating with families and holiday-makers.
So, we drove a little further onward to the unlikely-named Delicate Nobby Camping Ground to try our luck at securing a private campsite.
As it happened there was, miraculously, an available site. Located across the road from the beach, it had full facilities (including a fire pit for each site, and free firewood), but still a bush-camp feel.
Delicate Nobby is a little pricier than the NPWS bush camps at $20 per adult per night (peak season rates), but is well worth a look, offering easy access to the several surf beaches up and down the mid-north coast.
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And that’s exactly how we spent the several days and nights that followed – enlisting the Grand Vitara when it was needed, or else enjoying the beaches within walking distance … and making the occasional sneaky trip to Crescent Head to stock up on supplies, or even grab a coffee.
Because, like the Grand Vitara itself, a holiday on the mid-north coast of NSW can provide all the adventure you want or need, without feeling as though you’ve strayed too far from civilisation.
AND THE 4X4…
As we drove the 1.9-litre manual turbo-diesel Grand Vitara on this beach jaunt, it occurred to me along the way that – as a 20-something, childless couple on our summer break by the beach, after a bit of adventure, but remaining within reach of civilisation – we were exactly who this fourby was made for. So, we left the little ol’ Jimny in the driveway at home and took a step up in the world for a couple of weeks.
With seats folded in the five-door model (diesel isn’t available in short-wheelbase, unfortunately), the cargo area provided ample space for all our camping gear, and we used soft racks to strap surfboards to the roof.
With (standard highway) tyres deflated for sand and corrugations, we didn’t suffer one flat – more than can be said for the several other travellers we crossed paths with juggling jacks, spanners and spares.
With boards on the roof, two passengers on board and a mix of on- and off-road and highway driving, we achieved a frugal 7.5L/100km fuel consumption – allowing long stretches between needing to refill the 66-litre tank.
The manual gearbox was, as Paul called it, somewhat “agricultural”, with a very short first gear – good for off-roading, but liable to cause RSI (repetitive strain injury) in your left wrist after stretches in the city.
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However, after our comparably feeble Jimny, we certainly appreciated the ample torque available low in the rev-range.
The Grand Vitara is like a soft roader with guts (read: low-range gearing). It might be let down off-road by its limited ground clearance, but for the job we assigned it – to get us safely up the coast on the highway without using all of our holiday pocket money on fuel, and to have a bit of fun in the sand and on dirt roads in between days at the beach – it fits the bill nicely.
The Jimny might just need to watch out.
Limeburners Creek NP is located north of the Hastings River. Take the car ferry ($3 one-way) from Port Macquarie. From Kempsey, turn off the Pacific Highway onto Crescent Head Road.
There is a mix of campgrounds scattered throughout this area, both privately owned and NPWS run. Point Plomer and Melaleuca camping grounds cost $10 per adult per day ($5 for children). Point Plomer has flush toilets, wood barbecues and cold showers, while Melaleuca has pit toilets only. A daily $7 vehicle entry fee is also required to stay in the national park (and for beach driving).
Delicate Nobby Camping Ground costs $20 per adult per day (peak season rates) and provides full facilities and free firewood.
Most of the roads in the region are unsealed but in good condition – suitable for a softroader. Conditions vary on Point Plomer Road; it can become quite rutted after rain. A 4X4 is recommended. When driving on sand, always reduce tyre pressures and monitor the tides.
Kempsey Tourist Information Centre: 02 6563 1555.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: visit environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks or phone 1300 361 967.