I’ve been living on the north coast of NSW for most of my life and it amazes me that there are always new and exciting places to explore that l just don’t know about. For some time now I’ve been wanting to explore the northern end of Yuraygir National Park, namely Minnie Water and surrounds. Taking a gamble, we decided to head away for a couple of days to explore this area.
The Yuraygir National Park extends between Red Rock and Yamba and has the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in NSW. The local Yaegi and Gumbaynggirr people have been fishing, hunting and camping on this land for generations, and there are still areas of cultural significance to show for it. We accessed Minnie Water by heading 10km south of Grafton and continuing for 35km east to the coast.
Hitting Minnie Water we realised that this was a very sleepy coastal village due to its location and limited services. Our choice of accommodation was a local caravan park where we based ourselves for a few days.
The Minnie Water Holiday Park run by Jay and Sarah might not have all the fanfare of other flashy parks, but still you definitely won’t be disappointed. Whether you stay in their cabins, glamping tents or decide to bush campin the park – with a location this good, it’s what is around you that’s the main attraction.
Within an hour of setting up camp we spotted a shy coastal dingo watching us, a hungry goanna cruised the camp looking for a feed, and then there was the array of birdlife making a racket in the trees above. This area is also home to the coastal emu, which has a darker colouring to those out west – not rare, but endangered. Bush camping in the caravan park allowed us to have a fire and gave us quick access to the walking trails into Yuraygir NP.
The best thing to do after setting up camp is to lock the car, flick the shoes off and start taking in the whole area. You’ll soon notice stress levels drop as this idyllic spot’s calming effect sets in. If you’re after a little exercise or want to grab a coffee at the local shop, there are several walking trails that lead to Minnie Water along the coastline.
A popular walk is the Angophora Grove walking trail, an easy hike along the coast with stunning scenic views that takes around an hour to complete. Just between you and me, it would be a great spot to whale watch during the migrating season. In fact nearly every headland we stopped at gave unrelenting views up and down the coast – you can see for miles and miles.
If you needed to top up supplies or to recharge the batteries in the 4WD, Wooli is 30 minutes away and has very limited supplies and fuel. Wooli has a great little seafood shop if your fishing hasn’t been up to scratch. On our agenda for a few hours was to drive north up the beach from Illaroo towards Sandon, a remote beach village that dates back to 1930. You do need to pick your tides however, as there is only one way in and out and that’s along the beach.
Giant pandanus trees, sheer cliffs and thick scrub protect the coastline from the ocean swell and sandblasting. The day we drove the beach it was like a freeway; the sand was hard and there was plenty of room to pass other 4WDs. Keep in mind that road rules do apply, there is a speed limit and the beach is also used by walkers, fishermen and kids.
It’s amazing how nature can do its own thing. We saw sea eagles scoping the beach looking for a feed, there were dolphins cruising down the waves and then we came to a smelly lump of a whale carcass that had been washed up on the beach tucked up beside a headland.
After a quick look we noticed the track shot up and around the headland. NPWS have laid rubber mats within the sand here to stop erosion and damage from 4WDs that head over the headland.
Sandon soon appears, and with the ocean on one side and the banks of the Sandon River on the other, it’s not hard to see this is a very isolated village. Don’t get too excited if you’re expecting to grab an ice cream or need fuel – there is nothing here except for 30 odd shacks and houses. We’re not sure if the locals here have the ideal life of fishing, boating, peace and quiet – it doesn’t seem right to the outside world, even mobile phone signal is limited. Perfect isolation in paradise.
Having an hour to spare until the change of the tide we decided to leave the car at Sandon and walk around the village. Old fishing shacks, holiday houses and permanent dwellings lined the unsealed grass and sand roads – there is no tar here.
At the headland we meandered down a track lined with coastal banksia plants to a beach that was covered in shells and driftwood. Rocky outcrops gave the impression of some great fishing, and may even hold the odd lobster or two. Spending time down here was great on our perfect summer day but we needed to head back south along the beach before the tide came in and stranded us.
To the south of Minnie Water towards Wooli keep an eye out for the sign-posted Diggers Camp turn-off on the left that takes you deeper into the Yuraygir NP. This unsealed road takes you past Lake Hiawatha which is a water source for the local area. Diggers Camp Road passes through thick heathland and occasionally you’ll have ocean glimpses. There are several 4WD trails down through the heath that lead you directly to stunning beach areas, and if you pick the right time of year you’ll see Christmas Bells or Flannel Flowers in bloom.
The highlight of Diggers is the amazing walks from the headland around the shoreline, and several walks that are wheelchair friendly, too – a perfect spot to park the car, go for a stroll and have a BBQ in the day area. While great for swimming and surfing, please be mindful that the only patrolled area is back at Minnie Water’s main beach.
I’ve become a huge fan of this area. There’s natural beauty and wildlife everywhere, and the minimal phone reception means you can totally log off, kick your shoes off like one of the locals, and have nothing to distract you but the feeling of sand between your toes.
Where to stay
Whether you’re a camper or a glamper, Minnie Water Holiday Park has something for everyone, including six ensuite cabins, safari tents complete with bar fridge and kettle, slab powered sites for caravans, and scenic campsites for tents scattered around the pool and tucked away in the bush.