Legendary Pacific Coast COAST AND BEYOND Back roads lead to all the finest spots on the NSW Mid North Coast, writes Lee Atkinson. There are two ways you can explore the Mid North Coast between Tea Gardens and Coffs Harbour. You can drive the tourist drives that lead off the Pacific Highway and ramble around the string of seaside villages and deserted beaches where the essence of a holiday is a quiet beach and fresh fish and chips. Or you can take the back roads and explore the mountainous hinterland and state forests. Start at the twin towns of Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest, around three hour’s drive north of Sydney. There is a koala sanctuary here and you’ll often spot koalas around the village streets, as well as a resident pod of dolphins that are often seen from the beaches. Take the coast road to Mungo Brush, past beautiful bush camping sites along the shores of Myall Lake and Bombah Broadwater and ride the ferry across to Bombah Point to rejoin the highway at Bulahdelah, but don't stay on it for long – the Lakes Way to Forster winds through Bulahdelah State Forest and along the shores of Myall Lake. Turn-off to Seal Rocks, a sleepy fishing village where fishermen sell shells outside their boathouses. Take a walk up to Sugarloaf Lighthouse on the point overlooking the beach. There are two ‘back ways’ to Port Macquarie – through the hills or beside the sea. To explore the hinterland follow tourist drive eight from Taree to Wingham to walk through Wingham Brush with its resident flying foxes and then on to Ellenborough Falls. You can take the 642 steps to the bottom or follow the much easier walk through the rainforest to view the falls from the other side of the gorge. The village of Comboyne is perched high on an open plateau, and the road winds its way back down the mountain rainforest towards Wauchope, where you can visit Timbertown, a recreated wood milling village or the brand new Bago Maze at Bago Vineyard: it's the largest hedge maze in NSW.The beside-the-sea way is to take the coast road from Kew through Laurieton to Port Macquarie. In Laurieton, the lookout at North Brother Mountain has good views over the Camden Haven and its expanse of waterways and beaches, and the coast road to Port cuts through heath-covered sand dunes, over headlands with views along endless stretches of beach and skirts the shores of Lake Cathie (pronounced ‘cat-eye’). Once in Kempsey, turn off the highway again to visit the village of Crescent Head or take tourist drive 12 to South West Rocks along the banks of the Belmore and Macleay Rivers and through verdant dairy farming country. At South West Rocks, drive up to Smoky Cape Lighthouse and Arakoon Recreation Area to wander around the ruins of historic Trial Bay Gaol. Back on the highway turn off five kilometres north of Urunga, driving west to Bellingen. ‘Bello’, as the locals call it, is a town known for its big music, theatre, reading and writing scene. The town is host to a number of musical and literary festivals throughout the year, as well as live music at the pub and numerous halls most weekends.From the Bellingen turn-off it’s only 25 kilometres to Coffs Harbour. Up on the mountain-top behind the town there's a new lookout in Bruxner Park, cantilevered more than 20 metres out over the edge of the Great Dividing Range with great views of Coffs Harbour and the coast. Whatever you do, don't drive through Coffs without visiting the Big Banana, the ‘big thing’ that started the craze in building monster-sized roadside attractions across the country. It doesn't get much more legendary than that. Six Mid North Coast Secrets1. The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, the only one of its kind in the state, has been caring for sick and injured koalas for the past 40 years, but the tireless work of its cheerful band of volunteers is largely unsung. Between 200 and 250 koalas are admitted through the hospital annually, most suffering from Chlamydia or injured in motor vehicle accidents or dog attacks. Feeding time is at 8am and 3pm, and coincides with the twice daily free ‘Feed, Walk and Talk’ tour where you can learn all about the too-cute patients.2. Don’t leave Port Macquarie without stepping out along the two-hour beach-to-beach walk from Lighthouse Beach to the centre of town. Nowhere else will you find deserted beaches and such wild windswept headlands this close to a large town.3. Housed in an old WWII bunker, the Bunker Cartoon Gallery in Coffs Harbour is home to a staggering collection of 16,000 cartoons and caricatures (mainly of the political and satirical persuasion), and exhibitions change monthly. It’s on John Champion Way near the Hogbin Drive/Albany Street roundabout. Entry costs $3 and it’s open seven days between 10am and 4pm. 4. Hailed as one of the best 10 dive spots in Australia, Fish Rock Cave near South West Rocks has an amazing diversity of life, as well as superb visibility and water temperature that is good all year round. You’ll see turtles, spotted eagle rays, huge schools of pelagic fish, coral forests and grey nurse sharks.5. Fellow the whale trail. Between May and November you've a good chance of seeing humpback whales on their annual migration along the coast: they cruise north in early winter and, after giving birth, the whales and their calves make their way back south in spring. There are countless good vantage points from beaches and headlands all along the coast, or you can get a closer look on a whale watching cruise.6. Go on a surfari. The Mid North Coast is home to some brilliant surfing spots and if you love surfing you'll love this part of the world. Most famous of them all is Crescent Head, home to one of the best right-hand surf breaks in the country and a favourite with long board riders around the world. If you haven't surfed before but are keen to learn, you'll find a heap of good surf schools. For more info check out the Surfari trail on the Legendary Pacific Coast website.