What a way to walk the walk

Lee Atkinson bucks the trend while exploring a spectacular stretch of Port Macquarie coastline.

I've never felt so wicked, at least not with my clothes on. I'm at Miners Beach, the first of seven beautiful beaches linked by a newly upgraded coastal walkway in Port Macquarie. The reason I feel so deliciously naughty, however, is that Miners Beach is Port Macquarie's only nudist beach and since there is no one here we've thrown caution to the wind and dived in in our swimmers! I may be flouting convention but at least my mum wouldapprove.

The stretch of coastline south of the city centre is one of the most picturesque on the NSW North Coast, a string of white sandy coves punctuated by rocky outcrops and sheer-sided headlands that jut into the sea.

The beaches have always offered great swimming but the lie of the land meant that beach-hopping from one to another was largely impossible for those not inclined to scramble up and down rough tracks and dangerous cliff faces.

Until now. The local council has just completed the last of several wooden walkways and staircases that allow easy access over the high headlands, opening up a stunning nine-kilometre coastal walk. Flanked by rainforest rather than high-rises, you could easily believe you are deep inside a wild national park. You are, in fact, only minutes from the town centre.

The walk starts at Tacking Point Lighthouse. Built in 1879, the squat blue-and-white lighthouse presides over one of the best views in town, an endless stretch of beach unfurling to both the south and north. There's a whale-watching platform at the nearby lookout and from there the track winds through the rainforest, one of the largest remaining coastal rainforest reserves in NSW and the reason why this walk feels a million miles from habitation from the beach, it's all you can see.

Miners Beach is the first you'll come to and if nudity offends, you'll need to keep your eyes to the ground during this stretch, although there's hardly ever anyone there.

If you prefer getting wet with cossies on, the next beach along, Shelly Beach, is a favourite with families, the sheltered rock pools great for toddlers and free barbecues popular with picnickers. Neither of these beaches, nor the next, Nobbys Beach (best for dog walkers), are patrolled but beach No.4, Flynns, is.

The town's most popular beach, Flynns has a lovely shady parkland abutting the sand and a great beachside cafe serving up gourmet burgers, which is where we stop for lunch.

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The track leaves the beach at the northern end of Flynns, rambling across parkland above the aptly named Rocky Beach, skirting the edge of Oxley Beach (named after surveyor-general John Oxley, who founded Port Macquarie in 1818) and traversing the long expanse of Town Beach, which is also patrolled.

From here, it's a leisurely stroll along the breakwater at the mouth of the Hastings River and across the Town Green. We finish the walk at the waterfront beer garden of the Royal Hotel, downing a cold ale as we watch the sun sink into the river. Is there any better way to end a day at the beach?

TRIP NOTES

Getting there

Port Macquarie is 385kilometres north of Sydney. Both Virgin and Qantas have regular daily flights to and from Sydney.

Staying there

Soak in the ocean views from your apartment balcony at The Observatory, overlooking Town Beach. 40 William Street, Port Macquarie, phone 1300888305, see observatory.net.au.

Tips

The walk is one way, so either leave your car in town and catch a cab to the lighthouse (about $20) or catch bus 322 or 324 (near-hourly, less frequently on weekends). Allow at least three hours to complete the walk, more if you want to swim, and time your outing for low tide.

Further information

See portmacquarieinfo.com.au.

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