At the tip of the Great Lakes of New South Wales, Tuncurry is one of a pair of twin towns, and is joined to its sibling Forster by a record-breaking bridge.
When it comes to sheer variety of things to do, Tuncurry is hard to match.
There’s the pure waters of Wallis Lake, abounding with fish and producing the freshest oysters you could hope to taste.
There are beaches of all shapes and sizes, all set up for tourists or traced by nothing more than boundless coastal rainforest.
And minutes away you’ll come to lofty cliffs capped by lookouts with distant views where you can spot humpback whales breaching and blowing plumes of mist in winter.
1. Wallis Lake
Tuncurry and Forster face off across the inlet for a massive body of water, filled by several rivers and bounded by large stands of littoral rainforest.
Wallis Lake is treasured for its high level of purity, and the waterways feeding the lake are laden with oyster farms.
Recreational fishing is big business here, and a whole catalogue of species have a habitat in these waters, changing by the season.
To name a small handful there’s grouper, bonito, bream, black kingfish, black drummer, bluefin tuna, yellowfin, tailor and drummer.
In paces Wallis Lake is swept by ocean breezes, and so is ideal for windsurfing and kitesurfing, while on a paddling adventure by canoe or kayak you may come into contact with bottlenose dolphins.
On land, the Booti Booti and Wallingat National Parks frame the lake, blessed with rainforest-covered hills and nature-rich wetlands for birdwatching and hikes.
2. Nine Mile Beach
Beginning at the breakwater on the Tuncurry side is a magnificent, unpatrolled beach uncurling on a gentle arc for 11.7 kilometres (eight miles, despite the name). Sitting on Nine Mile Beach you’ll notice few signs of development, save for the breakwater.
The southern end is the easiest access point, and 4WD vehicles are allowed if you’d like to travel further up the beach where the waves are more suitable for surfing.
And given the enormous dimensions of Nine Mile Beach, it’s no shock that it should be dog-friendly.
Puppers are allowed off-leash north of the 4WD access track, and are allowed on-leash early and late in the day at the southernmost section.
3. Tuncurry Rock Pool
Nestled inside the northern breakwater where Wallis Lake enters the ocean is a cherished swimming spot.
The Tuncurry Rock Pool has perfect white sands, and is lapped by Wallis Lake’s clear waters.
The 100-metre beach is unpatrolled but the entrance to this manmade cove is protected by a safety net to stop swimmers getting into difficulty, as the drop-off into the inlet is sharp.
Now, although the waters at the Rock Pool are generally calm, they are affected by Wallis Lake’s tidal activity, and currents can be strong.
For those who want to hang out on the shore, this is just the place to cool your feet and lie back on the sand, while the Tuncurry Rock Pool Cafe is on hand among the lawns to the rear.
4. Whale Watching
June to August humpback whales depart their feeding grounds in the Antarctic for a long journey up Australia’s east coast to breed and calve.
Then later in the winter/early spring these giants make the return journey with their newborns in tow.
Despite growing to 16 metres long, and weighing up to 30 tons, humpbacks are famed for their acrobatics and are known to swim close to land.
Forster-Tuncurry is up there with the best places in Australia if you want to spot humpbacks from land.
To see them on the water there’s Amaroo Dolphin and Whale Watching Cruises, which skippers a state-of-the-art vessel with spacious observation decks, and guarantees that you’ll see a whale between June and November.
A 300-strong pod of playful and inquisitive bottlenose dolphins also resides in these waters, and can be sighted on expeditions throughout the year.
5. Cape Hawke Lookout
One of many superb whale watching locations on land in Forster-Tuncurry, is this 8.5-metre tower high above the Pacific Ocean at Cape Hawke.
The cape lies just within the northern boundaries of Booti Booti National Park and affords a complete panorama over the park’s distinctive hills, far inland to the Barrington Tops and over Wallis Lake to Wallingat National Park.
The trail to the lookout is memorable too, wending its way through dense rainforest.
Bring binoculars and a camera, not just for the whales, but to spot the seabirds like terns and pelicans inhabiting the coastline.
6. Colin Wren Oysters
Oyster farming is a lucrative trade in Forster-Tuncurry, second only to tourism.
So it’s definitely worth your while seeing this industry close up, and you can do this at Colin Wren Oysters from September to May.
The farm, now in its second generation, has a scenic setting, facing the islands in the estuary, and can be reached on foot from the centre of Tuncurry.
Colin Wren himself will show you around the beds, explaining everything what goes into harvesting oysters, “from seed to shuck”. Naturally you’ll get to taste the fruits of this knowhow, trying mature oysters plucked straight from the water.
Colin will even teach you how to shuck if you need some pointers, and it will be hard to resist returning with a bag full of ultra-fresh, plump oysters.
7. John Wright Park
This park on the estuary in Tuncurry is named after John Wright (1835-1910), the town’s first European settler.
Wright showed up in 1875 and soon set up a timber and shipbuilding business.
The park is on the site of the shipyard and sawmill that he founded – the plot was allocated for public recreation and named after Wright in 1962. Year round, it’s a picturesque place where you can take in the bridge and gaze across to Forster.
There’s a barbecue area and picnic shelters, as well as a bandstand that hosts a variety of public events.
At Christmas a carnival sets up at the park, and during the festive season you can also catch Carols by Candlelight and the New Year’s Eve fireworks.
8. Great Lakes Museum
At the northern gateway to NSW’s Great Lakes you can learn a little more about these bodies of water, their culture and the changing settlements on their shores.
You’ll find out about the Biripi and Worimi people, whose links to the Great Lakes go back millennia, and who trapped fish and left piles of shells (middens) behind on these shores.
Their descendants still reside in the Forster-Tuncurry area.
There’s information and artefacts covering the timber and shipbuilding industries that took off on the north shore of Wallis Lake at the end of the 19th century, as well as the construction of the distinctive bridge linking the twin towns, completed in 1959. The Great Lakes Museum is run by volunteers and opens Tuesday to Thursday and weekends.
9. Bicentennial Walk
One of the most rewarding things you can do in Forster-Tuncurry is put on a pair of walking shoes and hike the paved path that follows the rugged coastline around to the bottom of One Mile Beach.
You can start your journey from the shore of the estuary in Tuncurry, and crossing the longest pre-stressed concrete bridge in the Southern Hemisphere to savour Wallis Lake.
From the east end of Forster Main Beach the Bicentennial Walk ushers you through deep rainforest to lookouts and a series of other beauty spots.
On the way to Bennetts Head, there’s a stairway down to the Tanks, a set of rock-enclosed pools for safe swimming at low tide.
All along the trail there are endless opportunities for Instagram-able photos, and moments of hushed awe.
10. Bennetts Head Lookout
Maybe the walk’s standout section is when you climb to this headland at the top of One Mile Beach.
Served by a car park and picnic area, Bennetts Head Lookout has three different platforms, the most impressive of which takes you out over the cliff top to look straight down a ravine.
There you can behold the vastness of the pacific ocean, and in the winter you stand a good chance of sighting a humpback whale.
If there’s an ideal time to come, it’s first thing when you can start a new day watching the sun come up over the Pacific Ocean.
11. One Mile Beach
The destination for the Bicentennial Coastal Walk is as close as it gets to beach perfection.
One Mile Beach is patrolled during the summer holidays, and takes its name from its distance to the post office in Tuncurry, and faces east, bearing the full brunt of the pacific surf.
At the north end is Bennetts Head, and lining the sharp slope down to the beach is a sand hill, attracting sand boarders and casual sand sliders.
The view of the beach’s white sands from the top is spectacular, and from here you’ll often see Forster-Tuncurry’s resident dolphins playing in the emerald-green surf.
12. Forster Main Beach
On the Forster side of the breakwater is a welcoming resort beach, traced by apartment blocks and blessed with lots of amenities.
Depending on the conditions Forster Main Beach has a healthy break for surfers, but at other times has little more than a ripple.
Forster-Tuncurry’s dolphin pod is regularly sighted here, and while the open surf is usually safe for swimming, there’s always the added safety of the Forster Ocean Baths, tucked into the east side under the rocks at Second Head.
At the opposite end is the Forster Surf Lifesaving Club and accompanying cafe, while a few steps from the beach is a multitude of local shops, restaurants, bars and ice cream parlours.
13. Booti Booti National Park
Touching the south-east side of Forster, and encompassing Cape Hawke is more than 15 square kilometres of protected coastal scenery on a peninsula between the ocean and Wallis Lake.
Booti Booti National Park has abrupt hills, big swathes of coastal rainforest, dunes, cliffs, exquisite beaches and perched lookouts for whale watching.
The natural diversity is incredible, with more than 650 plant species and 210 recorded bird species.
One sensational spot is Elizabeth Beach, at the foot of the park’s peninsula, where you can bathe in tranquil waters and set your gaze on the rounded outline of Booti Hill to the north, cloaked in rainforest and reachable from the beach via a walking trail.
14. Horseabout Tours
The wealth of littoral rainforest and untouched coastline around Tuncurry means you have to consider an adventure on horseback.
A ranch based right on the edge of town, Horseabout Tours puts you in the hands of experienced local guides, steeped in knowledge about the area.
You’ll ride on horses that have been carefully trained and nurtured, and are regularly rotated to keep them fresh.
There’s a wide choice of experiences available, among them beach and rainforest rides of varying lengths, as well as overnight campouts, riding camps for kids, wine and cheese tasting tours and special sunrise, twilight and moonlight rides.
15. Tuncurry Markets
On the fourth Saturday of the month possibly the largest market in the Great Lakes area trades at John Wright Park in Tuncurry.
Running from 07:00 to 13:00, this event is organised by Marine Rescue Forster-Tuncurry and hosts more than 100 stalls.
There will be something for all tastes, including arts and crafts, plants, jewellery, fashion, tools, fabrics and much more.
Local musicians put on some live entertainment as you shop, and Marine Rescue members light a barbecue, cooking up delicious breakfast food.