A summer holiday favourite, Forster in NSW’s Mid North Coast is where the crystal clear Wallis Lake flows into the Pacific Ocean.
The choice of things to do around Forster is almost overwhelming.
There are at least ten sandy beaches within 20 minutes of the town, some blasted by the powerful Pacific surf and others more sheltered and family-friendly.
In between are cliffs and rocky headlines, linked by footpaths and crowned with lookouts where you can catch sight of the humpback whales that swim past in winter.
Away from the ocean you’ve got the Great Lakes, primed for fishing, kayaking, snorkelling and hikes in littoral rainforest, while the town has all the amenities you could want for some deserved rest and recuperation.
1. Whale Watching
May to November humpback whales make a long migration from their Antarctic feeding grounds up the east coast to tropical waters to breed and calve.
Despite weighing up to 30 tonnes, this inquisitive species is known for being remarkably athletic, as you’ll see from their acrobatic breaching behaviour.
Some 18,000 whales pass by Forster every year, and in winter you’ll be able to spot humpbacks simply by standing at a lookout with a pair of binoculars.
For a closer look, Amaroo Cruises offers whale watching tours aboard a high-tech, $2.1m vessel.
Between the start of June and November the company guarantees that you’ll see whales.
There’s another cetacean in these waters all year, as Forster has a pod of up to 300 common bottlenose dolphins that are always happy to put on a show.
2. Forster Main Beach
Always spotless, Forster Main Beach is a classic resort beach, with ample facilities, an enticing arc of soft sand and lovely views.
The shore curls from the breakwater at the mouth of Wallis Lake to the rocks at Second Head.
There’s mild surf, and in a southerly the swells will challenge novice and intermediate surfers.
At other times the water can be glass-like and tranquil.
If you’re here for swimming then there are sea baths at the east end, tucked into Second Head.
For when you get peckish, Beach Bum’s Cafe is just behind and attached to Forster Surf Lifesaving Club, while the town centre is minutes away on foot and has a restaurants for all tastes.
3. Great Lakes
Forster is the main settlement in a region of varying coastal water bodies, all beautiful and all set within or beside national parks.
At the town, the barrier estuary Wallis Lake meets the ocean, and we’ll go into more detail on Wallis Lake later.
But further down the coast are Myall Lakes, a chain of Ramsar-protected freshwater lakes, as well as Smiths Lake, a saline coastal lagoon.
Exploring the Great Lakes means bushwalking in unblemished coastal rainforest, along unending beaches and in bird-rich wetlands.
Given the vast system of waterways on your doorstep, the options for water activities are huge, whether you’re fishing, navigating the extensive Myall waterways in a kayak (lazy paddles) or catching the ocean breezes windsurfing or kitesurfing.
4. Booti Booti National Park
Forster is on the northern edge of a national park, covering 15 square kilometres of rainforest-covered coastal hills and beaches.
To give you an idea of the natural bounty so close to town, more than 650 plant and 210 bird species have been recorded at Booti Booti.
There’s 11 kilometres of estuarine foreshore here, a large proportion of which is occupied by the marvellous Seven Mile Beach.
You can head to the beach to bathe in seclusion, hike up to scenic lookouts and bring binoculars to spot spectacular birds like silvereyes, yellow-faced honeyeaters and scaly-breasted and rainbow lorikeets.
5. Cape Hawke Lookout
A great place to see those humpbacks from land, Cape Hawke in Booti Booti National Park is ten minutes at most from the centre of Forster.
To get there you’ll make a brief but joyous hike through littoral rainforest before you get to a tower, 8.4 metres tall and granting 360° views of the area.
Bring a pair of binoculars and May to November you stand a good chance of seeing humpbacks breaching, but at any other time the views merit the hike.
You can contemplate Booti Booti unfolding to the south, Wallingat National Park in the hinterland, and when the weather’s clear you can make out the ridges of Barrington Tops up to 100 kilometres to the north-west.
6. Forster Coastal Bicentennial Walk
This footpath begins by the baths at Forster Main Beach, carrying you through rainforest along the cliff top, around Bennetts Head and then down to One Mile Beach.
The magic of the trail comes from the many places along the way where you can stop and stare in awe at the Pacific and the cetacean visitors that swim past every winter.
There are designated lookouts between Main Beach and Pebbly Beach, and at Bennetts Head, which we’ll describe in more detail below.
On the way to Bennetts Head the trail passes The Tanks, where the rocks create a safe area for swimming and snorkelling at low tide.
You’ll never be more than a minute from the town’s residential streets, but civilisation will feel distant on the tree-tunnelled path around Bennetts Head.
7. One Mile Beach
The sublime One Mile Beach is several hundred metres of pure white sand bathed by emerald waters, running south from the cliffs at Bennetts Head.
As it happens, the name comes from the beach’s distance to Forster’s Post Office and not its length, which is a couple of hundred metres over a mile.
This beach is patrolled on holidays and weekends and has reliable waves for rookie surfers, while remaining relatively safe for swimmers.
It’s not unusual to see playful dolphins riding these waves, and there are tremendous views over the surf and down to Booti Booti Hill at the north end.
Here, Sloping down from Bennetts Head is a massive sandhill, big with sand-boarders and it’s hard to resist sliding down on your backside!
8. Wallis Lake
Officially a “trained wave dominated barrier estuary”, the water body next to Forster is renowned for its exceptional purity.
This of course makes the transparent waters beautiful to behold from the shore, and a haven for activities like swimming, boating, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking.
Dolphins are regularly sighted in the lake, and one of the reasons they’re so plentiful is because of the abundant marine life sustained by these waters.
Oyster farming is the second largest industry in the area, behind tourism, and there’s a vast supply of fish for anglers.
As well as being a place of immense beauty the twin breakwaters at the mouth are a magnet for bream and mullloway weighing in excess of 70lbs, and around the lakeshore you can cast a line for black kingfish, bonito, cobia, mackerel, bluefin tuna, yellowfin, the list goes on.
9. Bennetts Head Lookout
A favourite stop on the Bicentennial Walk is this elevated position atop the rocks at the north end of One Mile Beach.
Bennetts Head Lookout is not for those with a fear of heights, as the main platform extend rights over the edge of the cliff, letting you peer down a ravine and gaze out into the infinite Pacific Ocean.
This is another great place for whale watching in the winter, and year-round you may catch sight of dolphins frolicking in the ocean.
Walking from the centre of Forster you can continue along the path to the gigantic dunes on the north side of One Mile Beach.
Arrive first thing and you’ll be treated to a sunrise that will live long in the memory.
10. Burgess Beach
The appeal of this unpatrolled pocket beach on the Forster edge of Booti Booti National Park comes from its sense of peace and its striking rock formations.
If you need a quiet place to relax on the sand and marvel at the rugged coastal bluffs, Burgess Beach is the one for you.
All along the beach the surf is buffered by rocky outcrops, creating little patches of clear water to wade in.
Staying safely on the shore, families could have a fun time hopping from rock to rock and checking out the marine life in the rockpools.
11. Scuba Diving
Forster is the best place to go diving in the Mid North Coast and there’s a couple of accredited centres (Dive Forster and Forster Dive Centre) for first-timers or those continuing working towards qualifications.
The town’s great diving reputation comes from the grey nurse shark aggregation sites just off the coast, for stunning wildlife dives.
There are also reefs teeming with marine life, while for many years Seal Rocks was notorious for its shipwrecks and a few are ready to be discovered.
THE PADI-accredited Dive Forster also offers guided snorkelling trips to the Great Lakes, as well as ocean tours for confident snorkellers.
12. Elizabeth Beach
At the rocky southern end of Booti Booti National Park is an impossibly beautiful bay contained by rainforest-covered slopes.
The coastal bluffs help to keep Elizabeth Beach’s gentle curve of white sand out of the wind.
The waves are moderate and bring in the surfers, but they do break a good distance offshore, so there’s usually lots of calm and shallow water.
This beach is patrolled at peak periods, and as well as a boat ramp there’s a grassy picnic area just behind for a leisurely barbecue by the sea.
Rising to the north is the 169-metre hill that gives the national park its name, and you can hike there along the Booti Hill/Lakeside walking track.
13. Seal Rocks
If you’re ready to travel a little further, the village of Seal Rocks is about half an hour south of Forster, resting amid gorgeous coastal scenery.
You’ll find it on a peninsula culminating with Sugarloaf Point, and on both sides are beaches beloved by surfers (Lighthouse Beach, Treachery and Yagon). As we mentioned earlier, the namesake rock formation is famously treacherous, claiming a number of ships in the 19th century.
So here, at the top of Sugarloaf Point is a lighthouse erected in 1875 and considered rare thanks to its external stairway.
This is yet another superb vantage point for spotting whales in winter.
Seal Rocks the village is quite remote and has avoided big tourism development, keeping its cosy, intimate atmosphere.
14. Forster Entertainment Centre
This family amusement centre in the heart of Forster has plenty to entertain grownups and youngsters alike.
For starters there’s 12 lanes of tenpin bowling, and on Friday and Saturday nights these are converted for “cosmic bowling”. But also on hand is a Jurassic-themed indoor mini-golf course with model dinosaurs and sound effects, as well as a 160-square-metre laser tag arena, an arcade with more than 30 machines and a cafe/snack bar.
15. Coastal Brewing Company
Keen beer aficionados will be pleased to know that there’s a craft brewery in Forster, at an industrial estate towards the south of the town.
Coastal Brewing Company runs a 1,200-litre brewhouse and has a tasting room on site, open Wednesday to Sunday.
You can show up for a brewery tour, tasting experience, a glass of whatever beer catches your eye, or to buy cans or fill growlers.
When we wrote this list in 2020 there were eight brews on tap, among them three IPAs, a Blonde Ale, a Stout, a Dark Ale and a Sour.