The last reach of the Camden Haven River is commanded by a lone mountain wrapped in rainforest.
This is North Brother Mountain, the northernmost of the Three Brothers, running parallel to the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.
By amazing coincidence, the Aboriginal name for these peaks, relating to three brothers killed by a witch, is the same as Captain James Cook’s, who dubbed them “Three Brothers” because of their resemblance to each other.
At the foot of the North Brother is the parish of Camden Haven, formed by a cluster of little towns and suburbs, with littoral rainforest, unblemished beaches and picturesque lakes all close by.
In Camden Haven you can combine joyful days at the beach with hikes to stunning lookouts, paragliding adventures, lazy boat trips, nights at a vintage cinema and tours of the first-class oyster leases in the estuary.
1. Dooragan National Park
The northernmost of the Three Brothers is a constant presence at Camden Haven, rising sharply above the coastal plain to a height of 476 metres.
North Brother Mountain is contained by Dooragan National Park and its peak is up there with the best paragliding and hang-gliding sites in the country.
Less daring visitors can hike on trails through eucalyptus forest past enormous blackbutt trees.
To get to the summit take the Laurieton Track, lifting you from the town into fern-bedded rainforest brimming with life and with clues from the logging industry in the pioneer days.
Eventually you’ll reach the summit for an almost indescribable view across Laurieton, the river estuary and the coast.
From the summit picnic area you can walk the easier Rainforest Loop, leading you past birds nest ferns and epiphyte orchids to a lookout facing south towards diamond head.
2. North Haven Beach
Also known as Grant’s Beach, this gorgeous strip of pale sand trends north-east from the mouth of the Camden Haven River for more than three kilometres.
The southern end, fronting the suburb of North Haven, has more by way of facilities, with a cafe, holiday parks, picnic tables, showers and lifeguard patrol during school holidays.
This side is also affected by the breakwall at the river mouth, great for surfers who come to ride the superb right-handers when there’s a southerly swell.
The beach is tracked by a walking trail through heathland and coastal forest, while the beach starts to feel remote after a short walk north and you’ll be free to walk your dog outside the patrolled area.
3. Kattang Nature Reserve
On the opposite side of the Camden Haven River mouth there’s 70 hectares of conserved coastal scenery culminating in the east with the finger-like Perpendicular Point.
In a relatively small space the Kattang Nature Reserve squeezes in a beach, cliffs battered by the surf and a variety of vegetation including littoral rainforest, dry heathland and dry eucalyptus woodland.
Trails meander through the bush, delivering you to a striking lookout atop Perpendicular Point to scan the ocean for humpback whales between May and November.
On the south side is another elevated vantage point at Charles Hamey Lookout, where you can see right along Dunbogan Beach and inland to Gogley’s Lagoon backed by North Brother Mountain.
4. Camden Haven Historical Museum
For a bit more context about the Camden Haven Parish there’s a great local history museum in Laurieton.
This has a fine setting at the heritage-listed Laurieton School of Arts, designed in the Federation style and dating to 1912. The museum is open in the morning from Tuesday to Saturday and is run by volunteers.
The displays explore the various trades in the Camden Haven Valley, like wood harvesting, farming, fishing and other waterborne industries.
The museums shelves are stacked with tool and implements, from saws to scales, oil lamps and fishing equipment.
You can also find out about curious events in Camden Haven’s past, like the day in August 1944 when Bob Hope no less crash-landed on a sandbar on the Camden Haven River.
5. Dunbogan Boatshed
This spot on the Camden Haven River, with dramatic views across the water to North Brother Mountain, is the place to go for all your boating needs.
The Dunbogan Boatshed was built in the 1940s and holds onto its vintage charm.
Head here to stock up on bait, tackle and other fishing gear, or to hire a BBQ boat, tinnie (aluminium-hulled motorboat) or a kayak.
The Boatshed is also an attraction of its own, where you can feed fish right from the deck, enjoy coffee and treats and maybe spot dolphins in the estuary.
6. Rockin’ Oysters
Gogleys Lagoon lies right by the Camden Haven River estuary, and could not be a better location for an oyster farm.
Rockin’ Oysters uses cutting-edge farming techniques to produce plump and full-bodied oysters coveted by some of Australia’s most prestigious chefs and restaurants.
They have a complex flavour that graduates from salty/tangy to creamy in the middle and then a lasting umami finish on the back palate.
If world-class oysters shucked straight from the water sounds like a good time, you can visit the farm for a tour.
This can be done on land or in a boat, shuttling around the leases, finding out all about oyster farming before going ashore for a delectable seafood lunch.
7. Pilot Beach Reserve
Wedged between the two breakwalls at the mouth of the Camden Haven River is an enticing, unpatrolled beach with perfectly calm waters.
As you’d expect, those breakwalls keep the ocean surf out most of the time, especially when there’s a southerly breeze, creating a safe place for children to paddle and for parents to relax.
On the shore is an accommodating crescent of white sand, edged by the dense bush that backs onto Gogley’s Lagoon.
There’s a picnic area on the foreshore, and if you keep your eyes on the estuary you may get to see dolphins playing.
8. Rainbow Beach Reserve
This sublime beach is about 10 minutes up the coast from Laurieton, arcing gently for 2.5 kilometres between Bonny Hills and Middle Rock Point.
Backed by low vegetated dunes, Rainbow Beach is on a light slope with a boundless spread of sand at low tide.
At the south end Little Vinegar Creek weaves across the sand to the ocean, and this part of the beach has the majority of the facilities, like the surf club, picnic area and park.
Amateur geologists may be interested in the beach’s little outcrops, which are sedimentary by Bonny Hills but are igneous dolerite at Middle Rock Point.
9. Queens Lake Walking Track
This scenic body of water sits on the north side of Dooragan National Park, with nature reserves, picnic areas and little communities like West Haven and Lakewood hemming its south shore.
You can navigate the southern shoreline on a 4.4-kilometre walking trail with constant vistas of the lake and its wooded margins.
The Queens Lake Walk is a point-to-point trail conveying you through paperbark forest, tidal mangrove flats and eucalypt forest.
There’s plenty of shade all the way, and lots of wildlife to spot, like lizards, a diversity of birds and even the occasional koala.
10. Plaza Theatre
Opposite the School of Arts building in Laurieton is a Modernist movie theatre from 1959 and with a real place in moviemaking history.
In the early-1970s the father of future Hollywood director Baz Luhrmann was the projectionist at the Plaza Theatre, and it was at this time that Baz fell in love with movies.
The cinema prides itself on having the best picture and sound quality on NSW’s Mid North Coast, so if you catch a rainy day or its too hot outside, you’ve got a perfect alternative here.
This is also the only cinema on the coast to be powered completely by solar energy, and for extra comfort you can watch a movie in the Deluxe Cine Lounge.
11. Middle Brother National Park
The next of the Three Brothers can be found a few kilometres south-west of Laurieton.
Middle Brother is the tallest in the range, at 554 metres, and you can make the short trip to visit the national park encompassing the land directly south-east.
The land here has rich volcanic soils, nourishing rainforest and eucalyptus forest, and the national park was created to conserve two of the largest blackbutt trees growing in New South Wales.
These giants, known as Bird Tree and Benaroon, have survived in spite of Camden Haven’s voracious logging industry, and can be admired at the Bird Tree Picnic Area.
Deep in the forest this location teems with wildlife, from koalas resting in the eucalypts to ring-tailed possums, owls, wedge-tailed eagles, king parrots and glossy black cockatoos.
12. High Adventure Paragliding
North Brother and Middle Brother, with their exposed peaks, coastal convection currents and nearby beaches, make up one of the best locations in Australia to learn to paraglide.
And this is the just the start, as the High Adventure Paragliding school in Laurieton has access to 15 different flying sites, all set close by.
If you’re new to paragliding and want to achieve a decent level of competency there’s an eight-day Learn to Paraglide Course.
This makes full use of all the different flying locations, as well as the centre’s own private training hill, to turn you into an experienced and confident pilot.
13. Kendall Craft Co-operative
If you’re scratching your head for a souvenir or gift from Camden Haven you can pop over to the historic railway station at Kendall, which has been around for more than a century.
The interior is now used as a sales space for a local craft co-operative.
So you can browse a big selection of handmade knick-knacks, children’s toys, jewellery, cards, decorations, bookmarks and fridge magnets.
Also on offer are sweets, pickles, conserves and other homemade goodies.
14. The Big Axe
“Big Things” have been sprouting up around Australia since the 1960s.
These are gloriously kitsch, minor visitor attractions, normally representing a local point of pride.
New South Wales alone has a Big Ant, a Big Apple, a Big Kookaburra, a Big Spider and even Big Ugg Boots, to name a handful.
In Kew, across the Camden Haven River from Kendall is the Big Axe, evoking the logging industry, which continues to be a big employer on the Mid North Coast.
This monument dates back to 1979, but needed a makeover in 2002 because of ant damage.
You’ll find the Big Axe just off Nancy Bird Walton Drive, by the iKew Visitor Information Centre, which has a children’s playground at the back.
15. Slice of Haven
The grassy riverside in Laurieton the venue for a one-day celebration of food and drink pulling in tens of thousands of visitors.
Slice of Haven takes place on a Sunday in late-May, inviting dozens of producers from around the Mid North Coast and its hinterland.
You can give free rein to your inner gourmand, tasting the crème de la crème of regional delicacies, beer, wine and coffee.
On the program each year are demonstrations by celebrity chefs, cooking workshops, dance performances, live music and whimsical street performers.
There’s also plenty of rides and games for wee ones at this family event.