Great Walks spends a weekend exploring the new Tomaree Coastal Walk on the NSW Hunter Coast.
It’s 7:15am, showers are forecast and I’m sending my four-year-old up the toughest part of the new Tomaree Coastal Walk in Port Stephens, NSW. As all adventurous parents know, early morning is the best time to get little people out and about before hunger and exhaustion set in. But that’s not the only reason I’m joining locals jogging up Tomaree Head, a short but vigorous 2.2km (return) Grade 5 trail in Tomaree National Park. I’m heading out on my first self-guided multi-day walk and I have 27km in front of me.
The $6.7 million Tomaree Coastal Walk is a fabulous initiative by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The trail is part of a project to create a network of NSW Great Walks, which includes the Murramarang South Coast Walk (read about it at greatwalks.com.au). Of the Tomaree Coastal Walk’s 27km, around 12km has been upgraded, while another 9km are new and the remainder follow beaches or bitumen.
The hike starts at popular Tomaree Head before following the coastline south to Birubi Point, the entry point to the sand dunes of Worimi Conservation Lands. The newly linked trail isn’t exactly aimed at children, especially those as young as mine, but Port Stephens has long been a family holiday hot spot, so it makes sense to bring the kids for at least a fraction of it.
One of the walk’s selling points is that it’s easily accessible, so family or friends can duck in and out for manageable portions. I’ve tackled Tomaree Head Summit Walk before, so I know it’s a hike my eight-year-old son and husband will enjoy. At the top, we admire undeveloped islands, empty coves and the picturesque village of Shoal Bay while munching on dried pear and mango. My son has limitless energy, while my daughter scores a downhill ride on Dad’s shoulders. The Summit Walk takes us almost twice as long as it would without kids, leaving me eager to bid the family goodbye and hit the rest of the trail; they’re heading for breakfast in nearby Nelson Bay, while I set off for quiet Zenith Beach.
Zenith to Barry Park
Zenith is a picturesque section with cream coloured sand, a large hunk of driftwood and only one other soul on the beach. I venture uphill along a track that is a mix of rock, sand and gravel. It’s wide and strenuous. I spot houses through casuarinas, banksias and yellow wattle, and eventually end up on a pebblecrete path enjoyed by cyclists. After walking solo for an hour, it’s nice to see other people and I stop by Fingal Bay’s Longboat Cafe for a takeaway chai.
As I continue along Fingal Bay Beach, surf lifesavers and a hooded plover entertain me. Then I leave the sand and scale a road up to Barry Park, where elderly friends gather and people look for humpback whales on their annual migration (May-Nov).
Barry Park to Big Rocky
A few hours into my hiking, I have good momentum, so I only pause momentarily before disappearing along Barry Park Track. The trail leads me across timber boardwalks and around bends riddled with tree roots. I realise at trail’s end that this section is by far my favourite; it’s rugged, colourful and challenging.
This section of the Tomaree Coastal Walk features gymea lilies that rise above the forest. As majestic as they are, my heart is truly happy when I follow a sign to Big Rocky lookout and discover a beach strewn with rocks, dried sea sponges and cunjevoi. I lunch here and then do a quick sweep of the shells to remove marine debris.
Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary
Day one comes to an end as I head onto Samurai Beach, where a wide stretch of sand is lined with 4WDs, and surfers fill a northern break. I push through the final stretch toward Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary, my accommodation for the night. By the time I reach my family in our large glamping tent, my legs are burning and I’m ready for bed.
Koalas to Kingsley
A wild storm rolls in overnight and we wake to a wet, windy day. Fortunately, the rain stops and I dash out the door to knock over the final nine kilometres. I follow a stone stairway off the beach up a headland, and the views of the tumultuous sky and sea are spectacular. I navigate slippery rocks that require focus and steadiness. Wild waves roar through a narrow gap in rock ledges. Soon I reach Kingsley Beach, an arc of sand splattered with seaweed.
The final leg
I trudge down a road into Fishermans Bay and my kids excitedly rush toward me. They’ve had lunch by the beach and insist on escorting me past large houses with ocean views. Aside from cliffside walking at the start, this section is more built up, and I pass homes and tourists before reaching Birubi Point Aboriginal Place, with more windswept views of dunes and water. I take a moment to appreciate artwork celebrating Worimi Country.
The kids join me for the last bend of a concrete pathway to Birubi Beach. They’re thrilled to have Mum back and I’m proud to have completed my first self-guided multi-day walk. To mark the occasion, we return to our starting point, but instead of hitting the trail to Tomaree Head, we pull up seats at Shoal Bay Country Club. We feast on beef burgers as the sun comes out to lull me into a sleepy post-walk, full-belly state.
For all info on the Tomaree Coastal Walk click here.