With the right car and destination, road-tripping with teens can be a pleasure… well, almost.
The family road trip is an Aussie tradition – car packed to the rafters with camping gear as families make the annual journey up or down the coast to their favourite campsite or holiday park.
When our kids were younger, we booked the same campsite every year at Hat Head on the New South Wales Mid North Coast, where the kids could go feral for two weeks, returning to the tent only for meals and bedtime.
The kids are now teens, and they still enjoy a good road trip, but these days we opt for a cabin over a tent – we still get that lazy summer holiday park atmosphere and I don’t have to worry about setting up a tent, inflating air mattresses and moaning teens unwilling to help. Plus, teenagers take up a LOT of room.
This year we headed north again to explore New South Wales’ Mid North Coast, and even though we chose to dispense with the camping gear, somehow our spacious Nissan Pathfinder still seemed packed to the rafters with teenage paraphernalia, dive gear and Christmas presents. The girls even insisted on bringing a giant inflatable unicorn!
The Pathfinder is a good choice for a road trip with teens. The seven-seater has plenty of room for leggy teens to spread out without arguing about personal space, enough charging points for multiple mobile devices, cup holders for every seat – there’s even seat-back entertainment. Video displays behind the two front seats can be played individually, so there’s no need for everyone to watch the same thing, with movies accessed via USB, HDMI or a DVD player on the dashboard.
The car’s sound system can sync to numerous mobile devices, with access to apps such as iTunes and Spotify – in fact, I think this car was actually designed with teenagers in mind.
Our first stop was Forster Tuncurry, staying at BIG4 Great Lakes Holiday Park, located on the shores of a tidal lagoon on the Tuncurry side of town. It has a lap pool, water park and obligatory giant bouncing pillow, as well as a café that serves pretty good coffee. While we chose a cabin, the park recently introduced luxurious glamping-style tents, which would be a great choice for long-legged teens.
In the mornings, while it’s still relatively cool, we found hiking trails then cooled off at the beach after lunch. During school holidays there is often live entertainment at the café, a great place to wind down as the sun goes down.
Here’s our pick of things to do in and around Forster:
Hiking. Hike up to Bennetts Headland, which offers spectacular views up and down the coast. It’s an easy climb (even on a hot summer’s day) with a gradual slope leading to the top of the headland. So gradual, in fact, that we didn’t even notice how high we’d climbed until we reached the headland itself and peered over the side of the dramatic-looking cliff face.
Swimming. Head over to One Mile Beach for a swim. On the other side of Bennetts Headland, the sand dunes of One Mile Beach come halfway up the headland. The beach is quieter than the main town beach, with decent surf for those so inclined.
Snorkelling. Along the trail to Bennetts Headland is The Tanks, a popular snorkelling spot protected from the crashing waves by a straight wall of sedimentary rock. The water in this natural swimming pool is crystal clear, and it’s a lot of fun to lean against the sloping wall of rocks as the waves crash over the top of you.
Kayaking. Hire a kayak or stand-up paddle board at one of the boatsheds along Forster lagoon. It’s an easy paddle along the waterfront to a sand spit near the bridge that spans the lagoon, joining Forster to Tuncurry.
Diving. Go diving with grey nurse sharks. Nearby dive sites, such as The Pinnacle and Big Seal Rock, have some of the largest aggregations of grey nurse sharks in New South Wales, and some are shallow and sheltered enough for beginner divers.
BIG4 Saltwater has a completely different feel to it than the lively Great Lakes. Located a few kilometres out of town, this peaceful holiday park is like a little riverside retreat. Set on 130 acres of peaceful bushland beside Clarence River, this Yamba caravan park is hugely popular for fishing and kayaking. The shady park has an adventure playground, a large water park and an outdoor cinema.
During school holidays, the park invites local food trucks to set up shop, including Flour + Water Woodfired Pizza, Pocket Curries and Ed’s Little Boy Brisket. So, with gourmet food, free movies and a waterpark, there’s really no reason to leave the place. In fact, not many people do; the park used to offer a shuttle service to and from Yamba, but it was discontinued because nobody used it.
Here are our top five activities for teens in Yamba:
Kayaking. With the river right next to Saltwater and a labyrinth of mangrove forests to explore, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding are obvious choices. The park has free kayaks available for use – you just need to book them.
Hiking. Nearby Iluka Nature Reserve, home to more than 140 species of birds, contains the largest remaining patch of coastal littoral rainforest in New South Wales. It features a number of walking trails of varied length and grade.
Swimming. Angourie Blue Pool started life as a rock quarry until a freshwater spring was disturbed, turning the quarry into a deep freshwater pool. It’s just metres from the ocean and great fun to jump into from the high rock platforms that surround it.
Surfing. Angourie was the first gazetted National Surfing Reserve in New South Wales, famous for its superb breaks. According to four-time world surfing champion Mark Richards, “Angourie is the best right-hand point break in Australia and also one of the best in the world”.
Beach fun. The coastline in and around Yamba is dotted with beautiful beaches. While patrolled beaches such as Main Beach and Turners Beach are great choices for younger kids, our teens preferred to hang out at Spooky Beach, with great surfing at one end and snorkelling at the other.