If you’re waiting for me to describe one of my favourite spots as being “the jewel of …” or a “sleepy little hamlet”, don’t hold your breath because I’ll leave those over-used clichés to the young good-looking set in glamourzines and travel shows.
Mind you, Crescent Head is all of those things. It is, in fact, a beautiful spot, with a laid-back feel and a coastline to die for.
To get there, turn east off the Pacific Highway, just south of Kempsey, and follow a winding road through bush, past green pasture and across a river or two until you enter the village. Keep following the road past the service station, bakery and pub. Keep to the left of the roundabout and you’ll end up at the Point. Here you’ll be 10m from the ocean and, in a decent swell, face to face with one of Australia’s longest right-hand point breaks.
When you get out of the car and look at the skyline above the town you’ll see the “crescent” that gives Crescent Head its name. This is Nobbys Ridge, a curved hillside rising to nearly 100m at the highest point. It’s a north-facing natural amphitheatre, too steep for playing cricket, but just perfect for ensuring that nearly every house gets at least a glimpse of the ocean and some a view to die for. Go for a stroll and check it out for yourself. You’ll enjoy spectacular views of Killick Creek, the open ocean and Nobbys Point. Looking northwards, you’ll find the peak of Hat Head National Park 20km away.
To me the appeal of Crescent is multi-faceted: there’s the point break, which is just perfect for a longboard, there’s beautiful scenery, a fantastic cake shop (who doesn’t like a hot pie after a cold, early morning fish or surf?) and there’s the creek.
That said, nothing beats the camping, surfing and fishing options to be had along the 20km stretch of dirt road that joins Point Plomer to Crescent Head. I don’t have rocks to fish from at home, so a weekend spent rock hopping is a real treat for me … but more on that later.
Killick Creek: This waterway runs into the ocean at the base of the point. It is a shallow, canoe-friendly stretch of water that runs north behind Killick Beach and is accessed via the walkbridge at the creek mouth or via sandy tracks on the road to Gladestone.
At a couple of kilometres in length, there’s plenty of options for chasing the big three: flathead, bream and whiting. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours doing just that when the swell is on the flat side.
The flatties aren’t huge, but there are plenty of small ones and quite a few keepers to make it fun to throw soft plastics or small hard-bodies around the bays and channel edges. Summer is whiting time and there are plenty of pink nippers on the flats to make it worthwhile. Young fishermen will love chasing flatties and whiting through the shallows in the warmer months. Winter bream come into the creek and are readily available along the rocky sections.
This is a beautiful stretch of quiet water that’s worth exploring. The birdlife is spectacular and on any given day you’re likely to encounter the neon blue of a kingfisher as it hunts the riverbank or the raucous call of a flock of yellow-tailed black cockatoos. Wallabies live along the secluded banks, so a quiet paddle might become a memorable experience for those more used to city life.
Killick Creek has a concrete ramp that, when the swell is low, offers access to the ocean for smaller boats. Being tucked right back inside the point means it’s a sheltered spot, but being both tidal and at the mercy of shifting sand it pays to check it before use.
There’s a much friendlier set up down at Point Plomer but the 18km drive can be a shocker, and you’ll need to 4WD to cross the sand.
When the warm waters of summer and autumn wash south you can expect Spanish mackerel, spotted mackerel, cobia and bluefin tuna to be nearby. There’s bait to be caught over the shallower reefs near the point and towards the centre of the bay … but nothing beats a slow-trolled live tailor, so a troll past the rocks with a small lure in search of choppers is always a good starting point.
This is relatively uncrowded water. It doesn’t cop much pressure and the populations of snapper, pearlies and kingfish are quite healthy … putting to sea here is worth the effort.
If you have a boat that is too large to launch at Crescent, you can always take the back road to South West Rocks. It’s a beautiful drive that takes about an hour, and the fishing at SWR can be spectacular … but that’s another story!
Personally speaking, it’s the rock fishing that draws me to this area time and time again. The rocks are of the typically nasty North Coast variety. Birthed in the fiery bowels of the earth, this is an igneous rock playground that doesn’t weather well, so don’t expect many comfortably flat sections. Wear decent joggers and minimise time spent scrambling over the rocks themselves – look for tracks in the scrub instead.
There’s a headland at both ends of every beach, so the options are numerous. No general location is known as a hotspot at the expense of others, which means crowds tend to be spread out.
The rocks at the front of the Point are popular spots, but I’ve never fished there myself, although I have had fun catching drummer and luderick from the pools in front of the golf course.
Other popular headlands include Delicate Knobby, Racecourse, Big Hill and Point Plomer.
Racecourse has some great fishing at the first point in the bay as well as right out on the end. The walk is a long one, but worth it when the fish are biting. Big Hill has fewer spots and is more exposed to the swell in places, but the walk is much friendlier. Simply pull up in the carpark opposite Limeburners Creek and take the track leading up and around the headland.
Point Plomer is further to the south and to access it you’ll need to enter the National Parks Camping Area, keeping to the right. Plomer has its own little point break and it’s where you’ll find a ramp onto the sand. The best fishing is found by taking the paved path up over the headland. Walk down to the left at the viewing platform and fish either the hole or the side of the headland. I’ve caught bream, tailor and drummer from these rocks and was with a guy who landed a 10kg jew using a chromed lure. One afternoon I snorkeled into the washy hole to the right and found it was filled with hundreds of school jew up to about 7-8kg. After watching them for five minutes, a mate on the rock yelled “shark” just as the fish bolted out of the hole. As a surfer had mentioned a tiger shark earlier in the day, I ejected myself across the barnacles like a rat up a drainpipe, tearing up my wetsuit and feet … my “mate” thought it was a great joke … they were dolphins and he was kidding!
Additional spots are found as you follow the path to the south, rocky fingers offering good bream, luderick, jew and drummer fishing.
The next headland south is Queens Head. It’s hard to navigate and impossible in places, but there are fish there. One morning my wife and I went for an early stroll and were up on the headland when we noticed a big school of fish moving around the point. You can imagine our delight when we recognised them as the jewfish school I’d snorkeled with the day before, and to our astonishment, within a minute or two they’d split up and disappeared into the boulder-strewn shallows directly below us!
There are several beaches in the area worth fishing. Killick Beach to the north and Queens to the south are the longest, whilst Crescent Back Beach, Delicate, Racecourse Beach, Big Hill and Plomer beaches are all worth a look. All are productive in terms of fish and bait, so you’ll have to do some exploring.
Killack Beach (or Front Beach as it’s known locally) is a popular family swimming spot and it usually has a productive fishing hole within walking distance of the river mouth. Access is via the walk bridge across Killick Creek and takes no more than a few minutes.
The first 4WD access point to Killick Beach is half way along the sand, to the north, at Richardsons Crossing. 4WDs can driven all the way up to Hungry Head (with another access track 200m shy of Hungry Headland) to fish the corner or gain access to the rocks. The Headland is a productive spot for both fish and waves, particularly as it offers some shelter from NE winds. The curve in the headland is called “The Jew Bite” for good reason and the first point is known as a LBG spot.
Killick Beach is a classic fishing beach that runs in a straight SW direction until almost right to Crescent Head. It has very fine sand with a double sandbar structure that results in holes and rips every couple of hundred metres along its length. On a 15km straight, this makes for a lot of options!
There’s always good water to fish and plenty of worms to be had. Winter is the time to target North Coast beaches as this is when the school jew, tailor and bream congregate. During summer you’ll catch plenty of whiting and flathead.
The northern half kilometre and the Crescent Head end are closed to all vehicles. The remainder is open to beach driving permit holders. Permits available from Kempsey Shire Council, the caravan park and the service station.
There’s bass to be had in the hills and in closer waters. The Maria River is said to contain bass and the Macleay River is a bass fishers’ heaven in its higher reaches. For those interested, you could try nabbing a bass, bream or flathead around the Gladestone Bridge or do a day trip up into the hills, west of Kempsey. Bellbrook is a little hamlet well known in the history of bass fishing in this area; so well known in fact that one of the first bass lures was called the “Bellbrook Wobbler”.
Things to Do
Like most coastal towns, Crescent Head offers more than just sun, sand, surf and fish. There’s a bowling green, tennis courts, skateboard park, swimming pool, children's playground and an accredited six-hole golf course right on the point. The shopping centre includes a supermarket, pharmacy, fresh fruit shop, pub, golf club, surf shop, bakery, restaurants, newsagent (to buy the latest Fishing World of course) and cafes.
Instead of wandering off alone, take the family when spying out likely fishing spots. Walk up to the top of Little Nobby for 360-degree views or stroll out on the headlands. In winter you’ll likely spot a whale or two. Otherwise enjoy unforgettable walks at Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve, exploring rocky headlands and unique coastal vegetation.
Take a drive north along the back road and enjoy the early history of Gladstone and Smithtown, the beautiful creek and headland walk of Hat Head and the breakwall and beaches of South West Rocks.
There are a variety of options available: from a council run caravan park (tent sites to cabins) to NPWS camping areas, holiday rentals and more up-market cabins and bungalows. The best bet is to get onto the Internet and do some research.
Eight ships are on record as having sunk off Crescent Head, with the most notable survivors of one wreck being two men and a woman who were involved in a murder and kidnap attempt in New Zealand. One man was later arrested and the other man and his partner turned themselves in. Both men were returned to NZ and hanged.
Crescent was one of the original North Coast hotspots. The point break at Crescent is ideal for longboarding. Back in the day, it received international attention in surfing magazines and films.
With the resurgence of longboarding it’s as popular now as it ever was. Whenever a solid E/SE swell hits the coast, the point lights up; and if you can combine the swell with southerly winds, you enjoy offshore conditions. When it’s lined up, and you have cutbacks in your surfing repertoire, rides of 300-400m can be expected.
If longboarding isn’t your thing, there’s more than 20km of coast to the south that’s well worth exploring, as is the northern end of Hungry Headland, which provides punchy waves sheltered from summer NE winds.