Dive into coffee and culture on the Macleay Valley Coast in New South Wales.
This region is famous for its breathtaking beaches and world-class waves, but the towns are also buzzing with local cafés, galleries and markets to explore.
Get creative in Kempsey
The main hub of the region – which stretches from Crescent Head in the south to Grassy Head in the north – is Kempsey, famed for being the home of country music legend Slim Dusty.
The Slim Dusty Centre celebrates the life and career of this Aussie icon, with objects, paraphernalia and photos from the Kirkpatrick family’s extensive archive. It’s a wonderland for country music fans, and a great place to visit to appreciate Slim Dusty’s impact on Aussie music: producing over 100 albums and the first number one hit by an Australian musician internationally, ‘A Pub With No Beer.’
In South Kempsey, the Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery showcases the works of Aboriginal artists who maintain a strong connection to the region. The gallery always has new and fascinating pieces on display, and you can pick up a souvenir from the gift shop to support local artists.
Take a stroll down to Kempsey’s Riverside Market on the first Saturday of the month to stock up on farm-fresh fruit and veggies, enjoy stellar coffee and live music, or browse locally made art, relishes and handmade soaps.
If you love street art, don’t miss the colourful murals in the heart of Kempsey on Elringtons and Savages Lane. Part of Kempsey Shire Council’s innovative laneways project, the murals were created by ten exceptional artists to celebrate the natural beauty and shared history of the region.
Known as the ‘cultural heart of the Macleay,’ Gladstone is a charming riverside village a short drive north of Kempsey with 19 preserved historic buildings, a heritage pub and plenty of cafés and galleries to explore.
The Macleay Valley Community Art Gallery is one to visit here. With two gallery spaces that host rotating local exhibitions, it’s a great place to discover both established and emerging artists in the area.
You also can’t miss The Gladstone Hub: built in 1897 and painted an eye-catching shade of red, it now houses a collective of local creative businesses. Showcasing sourced and handmade items, from accessories, decor, health food and jewellery, to providing holistic services like yoga and sound energy healing, there’s a lot to discover.
If you’re sticking around for lunch, follow the signs to Steam and Cedar in the The Gladstone Hub garden for fresh food, coffee and drinks. Make sure to sample some of their delicious toasties and smoothies.
On the third Sunday of each month, the Gladstone Quality Markets come alive on the banks of the Macleay River. It’s a fun day out where you can browse through stalls selling locally made jams and preserves, fresh produce, chutneys, ceramics, plants and more. Grab a coffee or snack on a gourmet pie while the kids are entertained by facepainting and the jumping castle.
Coastal-chic in Crescent Head
Surf culture runs deep in the seaside town of Crescent Head, evident in the town’s cool, laidback cafés and coastal-chic boutiques. Get your morning caffeine fix at Point Break Café before hitting the waves. Located on the beautiful beachfront at the base of the surf club, it specialises in tasty bites and barista coffee. Grab an acai bowl and enjoy one of the best views on the Mid North Coast.
Situated in the iconic old bakery site, Pandanus Garden Bar and Restaurant is a one-stop emporium in paradise. Swing by for sumptuous seafood and steamed dumplings in the garden, or take a look through their shop for local artisan products.
Hidden down a laneway in Crescent Head, you’ll find Ikigai: a creative collective of artists and makers. As an open studio, they are an evolving space for locals and visitors to connect through the joys of making and sharing. Pick up handcrafted, painted and sculpted pieces by local artisans for a truly unique souvenir.
Housed in the heritage-listed Pilot’s Residence, the South West Rocks Art Gallery lies right in the heart of the town’s Maritime Precinct Hub. Pop in to explore the latest exhibition from Macleay Valley artists, and you’re likely to unearth some treasures. Meanwhile, take your time exploring the Maritime Hub, which includes a museum, arts and crafts room, a men’s shed and a charming Visitor Information Centre.
It’s rare for visitors to get the chance to meet local makers, but at The Yarrahappini Studio Gallery you can do just that. Located along Stuarts Point Road, the gallery features the work of local artists Dave and Pamela Jones.
Dave is a designer and maker of contemporary custom furniture and timber giftware, while Pamela is a design artist whose hand-worked textile art panels, lino prints and works on paper reflect the colours and textures of local landscapes and native flora. The gallery is open by appointment, so be sure to phone ahead.
Fredo Pies and Café is a must-do when visiting Frederickton, the village just north of Kempsey. The famous pitstop has been drawing visitors from far and wide for 25 years to taste their famous crocodile pies.
Wander along the banks of the Macleay River to dine at one of the restaurants or cafés. The fantastic Garden Bar and Kitchen has unbeatable views of the waterfront. The venue, which was once the Old Cheese Factory, has been beautifully refurbished, offering laidback lunches to late-night wining and dining.
For more to do on the Macleay Valley Coast, make sure you beach hop along their gorgeous coastline.