Lee Atkinson finds there's much more to do than laze on the sun-kissed sand. Although that's good, too.
Why go? An easy couple of hours' drive from Sydney, the laid-back coastal village of Avoca Beach on the central coast is all about good old-fashioned family fun in the sun, with sandy surf beaches and a sheltered lagoon that's perfect for splashing about in the shallows.
What it's known for Avoca Beach is most well known for the beach it's named after, a two-kilometre golden stretch of sand book-ended by rocky headlands and flanked by a grassy foreshore and Bulbararing Lagoon and Avoca Lake, and no family holiday is considered complete without a couple of hours spent exploring the lake on an aquabike or pedal boat. But it's not the only good beach in the area: fashionable Terrigal, with its boutiques and cafes, is the next beach to the north and local surfing favourites Copacabana and Macmasters Beach are a short distance to the south.
What you didn't know ... The waters off Avoca Beach are home to one of the only military dive sites in NSW, the sunken naval warship HMAS Adelaide. The 138-metre naval frigate, which served from 1980 until January 2008 in the Gulf War and East Timor, was scuttled in April 2011 and rests on the seabed in about 32 metres of water 1.8 kilometres off the beach. Unlike most wrecks, which can be difficult to access, diver holes were strategically placed throughout the vessel before it was sunk to allow for greater exploration, and it is open to divers of all levels. Highlights include the captain's chair, helicopter hangars, bunk rooms and the operations room with weapon shells. To book a dive see hmasadelaide.com.
What's new The annual 5 Lands Walk Festival (around the winter solstice in June) has been a popular cultural event for the past seven years, with thousands of people walking from MacMasters Beach in the south to Terrigal in the north via Copacabana and Avoca. Work is under way on a permanent pathway so you can do the walk on your own at any time of the year: interpretive signs have just been completed. A highlight is the Captain Cook Lookout on the headland between Avoca and Copacabana: on a good day you can see south down the coast to Sydney and north to Terrigal. During whale season (June/July and October/November) it's a good place to watch whales. If you don't fancy the walk, you can drive to the lookout: follow the road up to the headland from Copacabana Beach (Del Monte Place). 5landswalk.com.au.
Don't miss Catch an indie film at the historic Avoca Beach Picture Theatre. This family-run beachside cinema was built in 1951 and is fabulously retro, without trying. The foyer is covered in vintage movie posters, memorabilia and antiques, the snack bar is fully licensed, and as well as screening the latest blockbusters it also has live theatre and music, film festivals, French and Italian nights, and a great selection of arthouse and documentary films. It's worth going for the hot chocolate alone. You'll find it at 69 Avoca Drive. avocabeachpicturetheatre.com.au.
Where to eat For breakfast or lunch with a killer view you can't go past Point Cafe Avoca, underneath the Avoca Beach Surf Life Saving Club. Fish and chips is the go here, although the barbecued duck pancakes and wagyu beef burger are also excellent. It's open daily from 7am to about 3.30pm. pointcafe.com.au. Rojo Rocket does good authentic Mexican food with tacos and tapas on Wednesday and Thursday nights and a full a la carte menu on Friday and Saturday nights. 366 Avoca Drive, (02) 4382 2255, rojorocket.com.au. For something special go to Manfredi at Bells at Killcare boutique hotel in Killcare, about 15 kilometres to the south. It's open for dinner daily and lunch Friday to Sunday, but book well ahead. (02) 4349 7000, bellsatkillcare.com.au
Where to stay Avoca Palms Resort Apartments sits atop a row of shops on Avoca Drive in the village centre. Each apartment has a view of either the lake or the beach, and there is a choice of two or three bedrooms or a four-bedroom penthouse. Facilities include a pool, sauna, gym and games room. Rates start at $160 a night midweek, minimum two-night stay. avocapalmsresort.com.au. For those on a budget, Palms at Avoca has two-bedroom self-contained cabins starting at $130. palmsavoca.com.au.
How to get there Avoca Beach is 90 kilometres north of Sydney, via the F3 Freeway and Central Coast Highway.
More information visitcentralcoast.com.au.
Stayz picks of the week in Avoca
SEA FARM Set on six hectares of native bushland, this lavish property has four bedrooms plus a charming two-bedroom cottage. Boasting an extensive list of luxurious facilities including a swimming pool, tennis courts and a private cabana, Sea Farm is the ideal accommodation option for a group getaway or family get-together. From $1350 a night; sleeps 12. stayz.com.au/54434.
LIGHTHOUSE This four-bedroom penthouse boasts spectacular views of Avoca, Terrigal and beyond. Ideal for entertaining, guests will adore the outdoor alfresco area with heated spa and plunge pool. Beaches, dining and shopping are close by. From $625 a night; sleeps 10. stayz.com.au/60061.
SEASPRAY The family-friendly Seaspray features five bedrooms and ample living space. Conveniently located 100 metres from the Avoca shore front, guests will enjoy picturesque ocean views from the property's multiple entertaining areas and observation tower. From $200 a night; sleeps 10. stayz.com.au/33936.