Official 4WD Touring Guide – Escape the Crowds at Crowdy Bay

Crowdy Bay National Park

The Crowdy Bay national park in the mid0-north coast of NSW offers it all for the avid camper and 4WDriver, with stunning campsites and great beach driving along with some incredible scenery. With a Trayon Camper you can take full advantage of this region in style and comfort.

The Northern entrance to the Crowdy Bay National Park can be accessed via Laurieton which is 33 km south of Port Macquarie via the picturesque Ocean Drive which hugs the coast. From Laurieton there are a couple of options to get to the National Park but the choice will depend on which beach permits you hold (more on this a little later) and the current tidal conditions. With a beach permit and favorable tides, you can drive through Laurieton then Dunbogan and onto Dunbogan Beach for a run south down to Diamond Head. The sand can be quite soft on Dunbogan Beach so ensure you have dropped your tyre pressures down and selected 4WD. There are some inland tracks in places that may be a better option than struggling on the beach. Dunbogan Beach is a challenge but worth the effort as the scenery is fantastic with plenty of opportunities to wet a line in the surf. The more conventional way is via the well-formed gravel Diamond Head Road down to Diamond Head.

Diamond Head Campground

The main campground and ranger station is at Diamond Head. Here you can pay your park entrance and camping fees for Diamond Head campground and any of the other campgrounds in the park. You can also book particular sites here online or over the phone prior to arriving. Diamond Head has lovely flat grassy sites most with shade, and flush toilets and cold showers. You can even hire a fire pit and purchase wood for the mandatory evening campfire.

When the Trayon setup in a few minutes and chairs placed around the firepit, it was time to take in the sites and sounds of this marvelous place.

The campground is frequently visited by kangaroos, possums, goannas, kookaburras and wallabies which is quite entertaining especially for kids. Other activities at Diamond Head include swimming in the crystal-clear water, fishing from the rocky outcrops or strolling along the beach. It can get very busy here during the holiday periods and long weekends so perhaps avoid these times if you can.

At Diamond Head there are several great walks including the Mermaid Lookout Track and the longer Diamond Head Loop Walks. Both walks offer scenic coastal views, heathlands with spectacular wildflowers in spring, and dramatic cliff faces with glinting rock faces which gives Diamond Head its name.

From the Diamond Head Camping Area head back to the main road and continue south, taking the turn-off on the left to Indian Head.

Indian Head Campground

Indian Head was a basic camping area with grassy sites and a pit toilet. There is plenty of shade and is generally well sheltered from the wind. There are also a couple of walking tracks which emanate from this campground, the downside of this camp is the lack of beach access.

From Indian Head backtrack to the main Diamond Head Road and turn left to continue southwards. About 1km on turn left on Kylies Beach Road to the camping area at Kylies Beach.

Kylies Beach & Hut Camp Site

Kylies Beach Camping area has several large grassy areas and plenty of shade. There are several clean pit toilets and cold-water showers. It is a great spot to camp and generally quieter than Diamond Head, however the sites cannot be booked and camping is on a first in basis. 

From Kylies Beach Camping Area or Indian Head it is a short walk into Kylies Hut. This timber slab hut was built in 1940 by a reclusive local, Ernie Metcalfe for Kylie Tennant as a writing retreat. Kylie fell in love with the area and with the story that surrounded old Ernie. She wrote many books from this hut including one on Ernie called The Man On The Headland. The hut has been restored by NPWS and there is walk-in camping around the hut.

Beach Permits & Driving

Now to the beach permits you need and beach driving. The Crowdy Bay area is served by different councils which unfortunately have separate rules and permits. The area north of Diamond Head (Dunbogan Beach) is part of the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council region and requires their permit. 

The Mid-Coast Council covers beaches in the Manning and Great Lakes region, which is south from Diamond Head (Kylies Beach) down to Hawks Nest. Both councils offer annual and 30 day passes, with the short-term pass a great option for visitors. There are beach speed limits (50 km/h for the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and 40 km/h for the Mid-Coast Council) and restricted areas – see the supplied maps provided with your permit for details.

Make the effort to obtain the relevant permits and experience the beach – this is one of the highlights of a visit here. Perhaps give Dunbogan Beach a miss and just tackle the fabulous beaches south of Diamond Head – this way you just need the one beach permit. Another option to make the most from your beach permit/s is to visit and drive the beaches south of Crowdy Bay such as the Myall Lakes region, or north around the Port Macquarie/Hasting region.

You can pick up your permit from the Laurieton Convenience Store on the way down to Crowdy Bay.

At Kylies there is the next beach access point so drop your tyre pressures down and engage 4WD for the entry onto the spectacular Kylies Beach. The sand on this beach is generally firm so you shouldn’t have any problems. The 14km run down the beach is fantastic, with the surf pounding in and the headlands of Crowdy Head in the distance. There are plenty of gutters along the beach to wet a line, or you can just cruise along the beach down to the well-marked exit near the surf club. The boarded exit is easily negotiated and then it’s just a short drive to Crowdy Head Camping.

Crowdy Head Village and Crowdy Gap Campground

Crowdy Head is a quiet fishing village with no facilities other than some toilets and the surf club that sells take-away food & coffee. Back north along the Crowdy Bay Road there is another campground at the Crowdy Gap with grassy sites, toilets, gas BBQ’s and picnic tables. A short walk from the camping area is Crowdy Beach which is perfect for an afternoon swim or fish. 

Crowdy Head History

When Captain Cook was sailing past this area in 1770, he spotted a group of Aboriginals on the headland and named it Crowded Head. Over the years the original name was changed to Crowdy Head. On the headland above the harbor is the Crowdy Lighthouse. Built in 1878 to guide ships through the Manning River it was manned by a lone light keeper until 1972 when full automation took over. The picturesque stone building is a great backdrop to the stunning views up and down the coast, and this is also a fantastic place to spot whales during the migration period (August-November, March-May). We were lucky enough to spot a female humpback with her calf here.

The original inhabitants of the Crowdy Bay area were the Birpai Aboriginal people, and this area is an important place for their descendants. There are several sites such as shell middens and campsites that are protect, and if you come across any of these important historical sites please leave them exactly as they are.

Harrington Beach

Just south of the Crowdy Bay headlands is the beach access point to the next beach run down Harrington Beach. The sand on this beach can be quite soft particularly on the southern section of the beach near the Manning River. Here we were very glad we have a light-weight slideon camper such as the Trayon as it would have been much more difficult towing through the soft sand and negotiating the tight tracks. Also the southern exit can be difficult to spot – we actually missed the exit and ended up beside the Manning River and had to backtrack through some bush tracks to the actual access point. Here it is time to air back up and say goodbye to the Crowdy Head National Park. If you have time and are enjoying the beach driving, there are plenty more beaches further south that are covered by your beach permit.

Crowdy Bay is a great place to spend a few days relaxing in one of the fantastic camping areas after some stunning beach driving and perhaps some fishing and walking. At less than 5 hours north of Sydney and 7 hours south of Brisbane it’s not that far away. Come and experience this region for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.

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