For a NSW holiday mecca which built its reputation on surf, sun and sand, Port Macquarie, a four to five-hour drive north of Sydney, offers a great deal than at first meets the eye. Tap onto the Port Macquarie tourist information website and you will find a host of things to do in Port Macquarie, more than plentiful for those planning to stay a week, perhaps two, on a family break.
Named after NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie, it’s hard to imagine Port Macquarie was originally a penal settlement for convicts from England.
Today, it spells holiday bliss, its mid-North Coast address boasting a warm and temperate climate, ideal for some well-earned R&R on the beach – all year round.
It doesn’t take long to realise Port Macquarie caters for different holidaying tastes and budgets.
Whether you choose to be active or merely find a tranquil corner to relax, there’s almost everything from coastal walks and gallery tours to camel safaris, river cruises and scenic seaplane flights to book.
Not forgetting the fresh food, primarily seafood, and wine-tasting opportunities.
- 12 Things to do in Port Macquarie
- 1- Surf and swim at these Port Macquarie Beaches
- 2- Admire the view from the Tacking Point Lighthouse
- 3- Ride a camel on the beach
- 4- Pick strawberries at Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries
- 5- Get lost in the largest hedge maze in NSW
- 6- Taste handmade Australian chocolates
- 7- Walk Port Macquarie’s trails
- 8- Explore Burrawan State Forest
- 9- Visit the Koala Hospital
- 10- Brush up on history at a Port Macquarie Museum
- 11- Don a wig at the historic Port Macquarie Courthouse
- 12- Watch a show at the Port Macquarie Glasshouse
- PORT MACQUARIE RESTAURANTS
- FEATURED PORT MACQUARIE ACCOMMODATION
12 Things to do in Port Macquarie
1- Surf and swim at these Port Macquarie Beaches
From the town centre to Laurieton, a 20-minute scenic drive to the south, the beaches of Port Macquarie are as inviting as they are portrayed on the tourist postcards and billboards.
Put on the swimming costume and splash on the essential sunscreen.
You can enjoy a dip – perhaps catch a wave or two – by surfing or merely body surfing at sought-after beaches around Port Macquarie.
Top Port Macquarie beaches include:
- Oxley Beach
- Flynns Beach
- Nobbys Beach
- Shelly Beach
- Lighthouse Beach
2- Admire the view from the Tacking Point Lighthouse
It’s only when you take up a vantage point at the historic 1879-built Tacking Point Lighthouse, a favourite spot for seasonal whale watching between May and November, that you appreciate how popular the surf, sun and sand is to visitors.
Along this expansive nine-kilometre-long beach surfers share the same sands as fishermen and four-wheel drive enthusiasts.
3- Ride a camel on the beach
Don’t be surprised to see camels taking holidaymakers on a ride with Port Macquarie Camel Safaris.
4- Pick strawberries at Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries
What began as a hobby on the outskirts of Port Macquarie has blossomed into a fruitful farming business for brothers Anthony and Richard Sarks.
The effervescent farming pair’s tomatoes and strawberries are so sought after, visitors will drive for hours to sample the juicy fruits, many choosing to roll up the sleeves to pick the succulent strawberries straight from the greenhouse hydroponically-fed vines.
From a modest market garden where the shop was a mere roadside table with honesty box, Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries – a five minute drive west of the Port Macquarie town centre – has grown into a multi-award-winning tourist attraction, its Café Red a hive of activity for those wanting to enjoy morning or afternoon tea, lunch or sample the various sauces and jams offered for tastings.
Take a wander through the café and you’ll find all kinds of locally produced delights, the freshly-made strawberry jam and the Hobart gold medal-winning tomato and passionfruit jam favourites.
“We handpick more than one million tomatoes annually,” said Anthony, “What we don’t sell doesn’t go to waste,” he added, proudly holding a jar of their spicy Red Tomato Salsa, a bronze medal winner at the Sydney Royal.
5- Get lost in the largest hedge maze in NSW
Near the Hastings River town of Wauchope, a five-minute drive along a winding dirt road among the eucalypts in forested Bago, is a virtual oasis, where guests – young and young-at-heart – literally get lost, only to be rewarded afterward.
It’s here at Bago Wines that visitors test their skills within the largest hedge maze in NSW – 200 metres of paths that twist and turn in an area spanning 10,000 square metres.
The hedge of lili pili trees – planted 14 years ago – are shaved at 2.3 metres high, so unless you are a towering basketball player, you’d have little chance of seeing over the top.
For many it takes around 20 minutes to complete. For others, the emergency exits are a handy option, providing you can find them.
Whatever the result, you can reward yourself with some wine tasting from the estate’s cellar door, where local winemaker and owner Jim Mobbs is often on hand to assist with information on the estate’s chardonnay – spritzy or traditional (unwooded) – and the regional favourite red wine, Chambourcin.
Then there’s the rare Norton red variety – if it’s not already sold out.
6- Taste handmade Australian chocolates
In a private room in a corner of the cellar door awaits another mouth-watering treat – Baba Lila Chocolates – where Tash Topschij lovingly makes by hand chocolates inspired by her Russian mother’s family recipes yet spiced by native Australian flavours.
Her mother – Lila Topschij, was keen on making chocolates, so Tash decided to pass down the tradition by making her own versions.
Today, the thousands of chocolates made each week have an Australian slant and Tash’s daughter Rhianna is proud to talk about the 12 tasty truffles (suggest the Lemon Myrtle, Wild Lime and Prune ‘n Brandy), the inviting wine and chocolate pairings and Baba’s famous Chocolate Bark – seasonally flavoured chocolate slabs broken into shards.
7- Walk Port Macquarie’s trails
Whether you choose to put on the walking boots to stretch the legs on a section of the nine-kilometre-long Port Macquarie Coastal Walk or head inland to Hastings River-side Wauchope for the 1.4km Rocks Ferry Walking Trail, hikers of different levels of fitness are well catered for in and around Port Macquarie.
From May to November, the coastal walk is particularly popular for its many whale spotting vantage points.
Don’t be surprised to also see dolphins sharing the same waves as the surfers.
The Rocks Ferry Walking Trail, while scenic, is easy to cover in 30 minutes.
8- Explore Burrawan State Forest
Also, easy to cover is the 600-metre loop walking track within the Burrawan State Forest.
It’s here that the Old Bottlebutt has stood for more than 200 years.
With a massive girth of 16 metres, this towering and the grand tree is said to be the largest Red Bloodwood tree in the Southern Hemisphere.
9- Visit the Koala Hospital
Despite being billed as the only one of its kind in Australia, the Koala Hospital at Port Macquarie receives no financial government support.
The hospital is self-funded, as it has been since nature-loving Jean and Max Starr founded it in 1973.
It’s, therefore, a good thing that animal-loving tourists include the hospital on their holiday plans and donate generously to the cause.
Arrive around 3 pm, and you can join a free “feed, walk and talk” tour to find out more about the cuddly patients, and how you can contribute to their survival through an adopt-a-koala scheme.
Any assistance goes a long way for the park which has been responsible for saving around 300 of the injured or malnourished marsupials in a year.
While these figures have dropped considerably in recent years, it is not a good sign as it is indicative of the predicted decline in the area’s koala population.
10- Brush up on history at a Port Macquarie Museum
Anyone who visits doesn’t leave without visiting the neighbouring and well-preserved 1890-built Roto House (museum), once home to land surveyor John Flynn and one of the few remaining 19th Century timber buildings in Port Macquarie.
Another museum where you can learn about the settlement is the Port Macquarie Historical Museum on Clarence Street.
11- Don a wig at the historic Port Macquarie Courthouse
Since it opened its doors in 1869, the original Port Macquarie Courthouse and adjacent lock-up have seen their share of convictions in a 117-year history, including the trial of a woman accused but acquitted (due to lack of evidence) of poisoning her husband.
Today, the historic courthouse, designed by prolific and well renowned Scottish architect James Johnstone Barnet, is a fascinating museum where you can learn much about Port Macquarie’s early colonial days from volunteer guides such as former school teacher Colin.
Barnet was responsible for designing as many as 169 post and telegraph offices, including the Sydney GPO in Martin Place.
He also designed 130 courthouses, 110 gaols and 20 lighthouses, including the Port Macquarie Tacking Point Lighthouse.
For a bit of fun, you can dress in costume for the camera.
“But beware. You could be put on trial for impersonating a judge,” laughs guide Colin.
12- Watch a show at the Port Macquarie Glasshouse
Then explore the most contemporary building Port Macquarie, the Glasshouse, home to a number of air-conditioned theatres, a fascinating art gallery and the invaluable Port Macquarie Tourist Information Centre. Go here to see what’s on at the Glassshouse.
PORT MACQUARIE RESTAURANTS
Where to eat seafood in Port Macquarie
From takeaway wraps of fish ‘n chips to beachfront dining on fresh seafood and other locally-grown produce, seeking a spot to eat in Port Macquarie can be as fun-filled as it is tantalising. There’s a dining option for all tastes and budgets. Here are five recommendations that won’t disappoint.
- Whalebone Wharf
- Fat Fish restaurant
- Stunned Mullet Restaurant and Bar
- Mike’s Seafood for takeaway fish and chips
- Bills Fishhouse and Bar for casual dining
Casual places to eat in Port Macquarie
Cafes are almost as prevalent as the pelicans which call Port Macquarie home, the Rivermark Café overlooking the Hastings River to the Rainforest Café within the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre.
Many locals find comfort in dining at one of the two affordable restaurants at the Westport Club while nearby Quay Lime Bar and Grill is another favourite for its fish of the day, oysters and chilli, lime and ginger dressing.
Bread and pastries are also much sought-after in Port Macquarie.
Walk down Short Street and you’ll find the German-inspired and family-owned Burkhardt’s Organic Bakery, while, also in the heart of town is the Urban Grain Bakery, popular for its sourdough breads, pastries and doughnuts.
FEATURED PORT MACQUARIE ACCOMMODATION
Sails Port Macquarie by Rydges
The water view from the balcony of suite 233 is as breathtaking as the sunrises and sunsets at Port Macquarie.
Dotted with rowing teams and sailing craft of all shapes and sizes, the Hastings River almost mesmerises guests of the Sails Port Macquarie by Rydges, from the early morning arrival of the resident dolphins to the regular afternoon visits by the pelicans from the adjacent island.
Below, along the meticulously grassed frontage, resident Eastern Water Dragons scurry across in search of a feed. So familiar are these lizards, staff looking after the cabanas around the retreat’s outdoor pool know each by name.
As one of the best resorts in Port Macquarie, whitewashed Sails is in a prime waterfront location to attract both wildlife and nature-loving holiday seekers – all year round.
Having undergone a stunning multi-million-dollar transformation from its early life as Pelican Shores, the “new” coastal resort boasts 92 tastefully-decorated rooms and suites, the self-contained suite 233 particularly attractive, not only for its water views, but for its many features from the large fridge, stove and oven, microwave, dishwasher and iron and ironing board to the king-sized bed.
Dining at the resort centres on the appropriately named Boathouse Bar and Restaurant, the quality of the dishes on the evening menu matched only by the warmth and friendliness of the attentive staff.
For larger events, Sails also boasts a large ballroom on the added third floor, a waterfront wedding chapel and event pavilion on ground level, and a tennis court often frequented by the friendly lizards.
In contrast to Sails, in the heart of Aussie nature, a 15-minute drive north of Port Macquarie is the multi-award-winning Telegraph Retreat.
Telegraph Retreat has three purpose-built timber cottages set in a tranquil rural corner of bush near the tiny trackside single pub town of Telegraph Point.
Two are self-contained studio cottages, located “up the hill” from the owners Melanie and Roger Marshall’s main homestead, in a secluded section among the gumtrees, home to ducks, kookaburras, magpies and kangaroos that graze at the front door each morning.
The retreat has all the hallmarks of a luxury farm stay, the rooms with their antique furniture providing a homely country feel – with some modern luxuries thrown in for good measure.
Outdoors, on the veranda, is a spa perfect for soaking the body under the blissful night’s sky, perhaps with a glass of bubbly bought from either the Cassegrain Winery in Port Macquarie or from Bago Wines – long after challenging the maze and munching on the Baba Lila chocolate truffles.
Here are more Port Macquarie accommodation options and the latest prices: