If your idea of relaxing is languishing over a long pub lunch with water views, followed by beach stroll or bushwalk, then head to Patonga on the NSW Central Coast.
This chilled-out seaside village, about 90 minutes drive from Sydney and half an hour from Gosford, is sometimes written on early maps as 'Betonga' (an indigenous word meaning oyster) and is the most southerly beach on the Central Coast.
The land here was issued as a grant to John Hatfield in 1839, then subdivided by a subsequent owner who died in the wreck of the Dunbar in 1857.
Regular visitors to the coast may have had a beer or two at the popular watering hole, Patonga Beach Hotel, surrounded by huge Norfolk pines with views out over the beach and bay to Pittwater and Barrenjoey Lighthouse on Palm Beach.
Now the landmark hotel as been given a $5 million facelift (thanks to Sydney's Northern Beaches power couple Andrew and Pip Goldsmith) and reopened as The Boathouse Hotel Patonga in November, offering breakfast and lunch, and dinner from Wednesdays to Sundays.
The Patonga venture is the latest addition to the pair's portfolio - they also own Barrenjoey House, Moby Dick's Whale Beach, Boathouse Palm Beach, Shelley Beach and Balmoral. And designer Pip has added her signature 'beachy cool' style to the Boathouse Patonga.
There's everything from seafood platters and burgers to delicious flatbread 'pizzas' on the menu - with plenty to appeal to everyone - and a choice of 17 beers at the bar. And if you don't fancy staying put you can grab takeaway fish and chips from the adjoining kiosk.
The restaurant doesn't take bookings, but with heaps of outdoor seating (and plenty of shaded options, thanks in part to a huge Norfolk pine in the centre of the beer garden) all with views out over the bay, getting a table is not a hassle.
Walk it off
After filling up here, a walk is probably a wise move. Luckily there are many options - from a stroll along the jetty or beach to a longer bushwalk.
From the end of Patonga Beach, follow signs to the national park. The Patonga to Pearl Beach walk follows the beautiful red gums of Brisbane Water National Park following the Great North Walk route.
A wider trail brings you to a short (and worthwhile) side trip to Warrah Lookout - with views of Hawkesbury River and Pacific Ocean. This is the most popular vantage point overlooking Patonga with a vast ocean view an on its western side is Waratah Patch where you can appreciate the natural waratah displays through September and October.
From here, the walk follows the wide trail down to Pearl Beach. Enjoy the wildflowers in spring and also great water views on sunny days. Bring your swimmers and a towel – this walk begins and ends on a beach, with plenty of opportunity for a refreshing dip or a spot of fishing.
The walk is just over 4 km each way. Visit the National Parks website for more information.
Head out on the water
Patonga is also a popular kayaking spot.
From here you can meander through the coastal heath forests and mangroves of Brisbane Water National Park on Patonga Creek, allowing you to observe wetland birds in their natural habitat. F
locks of ibis, sea eagles, white-faced herons, egrets, spoonbills and pied cormorants are regulars on this trip. One of the largest species of sea eagle also nests in this area.
Glenn Hartley is the owner of Xterra Adventures which runs half-day kayaking tours in Patonga Creek for $90. He said the tours suit all abilities, as long as you can get in and out of a kayak.
If you fancy staying for a few days, there's a council-run caravan and camping area. It has 36 powered and 45 unpowered grassed sites, with easy access to the beach and boat ramp. Visit Central Coast Council website for more information and search for Patonga Camping Ground.
Patonga is an hour and a half drive north from Sydney, on the M1 Pacific Motorway and take the Gosford exit and follow signs to Woy Woy.
It is also a 30-minute ferry ride from Palm Beach, with two ferry services to choose from.
Palm Beach River Cruises runs a round-trip service between Palm Beach and Patonga on weekends, school holidays and public holidays, leaving Palm Beach at 9am, 11am and 3.45pm. On Fridays and Mondays (non school holiday periods) the service leaves Palm Beach at 11am and returns from Patonga at 3pm.
Return fare is $17.50, concs $13, child $10. One way $9, concs $7, child $5. Click HERE for timetable.
Fantasea Cruising runs a regular ferry between Palm Beach and Ettalong, but also runs a special weekend summer lunchtime service to Patonga, leaving Palm Beach at 12pm for lunch time guests. Click HERE for timetable.
There is a courtesy bus from The Boathouse Patonga to Ettalong for the ferry service back to Palm Beach. The bus service operates between The Boathouse and the communities of Ettalong, Umina and Pearl Beach from Wednesday to Sunday. Click HERE to find out more.