Living up to the tag “blue water paradise” comes naturally for NSW’s Port Stephens. Port Stephens may well be a small dot on the global tourism map, but the bay is six times the size of Sydney’s more illustrious harbour, which is home to the most distinctive Australian landmark, the Sydney Opera House. In comparison, you’d be surprised at how many nature-based things to do in Port Stephens you’ll find.
When you have a few inquisitive dolphins popping up while you take a dip, and a flock of pelicans gathering nearby to greet the homecoming trawlers, it’s not just us human beings who have a liking for these coastal surrounds, a two-hour 30-minute drive north of Sydney.
While the seagulls, lorikeets, kookaburras and pelicans are abundant in numbers, this hot spot is not just for the birds.
There are beaches to suit all ages, whale- and dolphin-watching to experience, sand dune bugging to be tried, not forgetting the fishing and the many Port Stephens restaurants to dine on the fresh seafood.
The Nelson Bay weather and the sun-drenched days that seemingly outnumber the grey days is a plus. And yes, there is a number of koala colonies nestled within the woods of the Tomaree National Park, surely another selling point for those seeking to entertain – and educate – young city slickers.
- Port Stephens, NSW
- 15 Incredible Things To Do In Port Stephens
- 1- Have breakfast by the ocean
- 2- Visit Tomaree Headland
- 3- Explore Fighter World
- 4- Discover Oakvale Farm and Fauna World
- 5- Go Whale Watching in Nelson Bay
- 6- Climb the Sand Dunes of Port Stephens
- 7- Drink beer at Murray’s Brewery and wine at Port Stephens Winery
- 8- Dine at Little Beach Nelson Bay
- 9- Go On A Hot Air Balloon Flight Over The Hunter Valley
- 10- Get An Adrenalin Rush Go Karting In Nelson Bay
- 11- Visit The Beautiful Botanic Gardens
- 12- Take A Scenic Helicopter Flight
- 13- Ride A Camel On Stockton Beach
- 14- Swim In Stunning Shoal Bay
- 15- Go Dolphin Spotting
- 16- Glamp At The Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary
- Where to stay in Port Stephens
- 15 Incredible Things To Do In Port Stephens
Port Stephens, NSW
15 Incredible Things To Do In Port Stephens
Here are reasons to visit and a multitude of things to do in Port Stephens to keep the whole family happy.
1- Have breakfast by the ocean
As the fishing trawlers return after a night at sea, the sun’s early morning rays are met with a chorus of bird calls, joggers, swimmers and the overwhelming scent of bacon and eggs.
And one ideal spot to dine on the traditional breakfast (or even lunch) is Brad and Sarah Smith’s Crest cafe, next door to the Birubi Beach Surf Club, where the view of the ocean, surfers and passing humpback whales are as much sought-after as the tasty eggs Benedict, double bacon and egg rolls, smashed avocado, bubble and squeak or anything else on the breakfast menu.
Prepare for a wow factor as you gaze south across the undulating sands of Stockton Bight, the view matched by the roars of fighter jets as they pass over on training missions from nearby Williamtown (Newcastle Airport).
2- Visit Tomaree Headland
If you think the birds have it good around Port Stephens, you too can climb, drive or cycle to great heights for a panoramic view.
Instead of donning a pair of wings though you can lace up the walking shoes and challenge the 2km hike of Tomaree Headland to take in the vista.
The walk is arduous in parts but worth the effort as you are rewarded with a 360-degree panorama.
For a less-strenuous way to reach a vantage point, Fingal Bay has a platform for spotting whales, and Boat Harbour, near Anna Bay, has a headland where a sighting of 12 whales was met in five minutes.
And to snack on scones and tea while looking across the Pacific, the historic Inner Light Tearooms, Little Beach, is worth a visit, its maritime museum a bonus for a gold coin donation.
The station was established in 1872 and, unlike traditional lighthouses, had no tower.
The light from kerosene lamps was shone through the window of a room and was later mounted outside.
A steep twisting road will also take you to Gan Gan Hill lookout, a peak popular for an overall view of Port Stephens – and inland.
For more things to do in NSW read:
3- Explore Fighter World
Near Newcastle Airport (direct flights from Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast) is Fighter World with its display of RAAF aircraft, run by volunteers such as Les “Grumpy” Bowden and former school principal Kerry Ross, housed in two hangars.
Here you will see some lovingly restored and preserved aircraft from World War II and beyond, along with detailed replicas, among them a Fokker DR-1 triplane.
Even if you’re not a fan of aircraft, you’ll find this museum of interest for the opportunity to get up close to a variety of historical airplanes.
This fascinating museum also boasts a large display of wooden model aircraft put together and donated by local Norman Forrester – 300 created over 40 years.
Some hobby, we ask.
4- Discover Oakvale Farm and Fauna World
A five-minute drive past Fighter World is Oakvale Farm and Fauna World, where you can hand-feed a baby goat, pat a Shetland pony and sing in chorus with resident koalas (more like Rod Stewart than any artist).
There are many Australian animals such as possums, combats, emus, Tasmanian tigers, koalas, kangaroos, dingoes and cockatoos here along with donkeys, alpacas, camels, buffalo, and even American alligators.
There’s also a newly erected splash bay to cool off in on hot days along with undercover BBQ facilities for the sausages and steaks, an eatery and kiosk.
5- Go Whale Watching in Nelson Bay
Embark on a morning cruise from Nelson Bay and you can ensure you will see dolphins and at certain months of the year, there are the migrating humpback whales that are sighted in bigger numbers each year.
If you don’t have the time to make the trek up to Queensland’s whale watching capital (Hervey Bay) then Nelson Bay is a good option.
Among the companies to take nature lovers on a cruise are Moonshadow Cruises and Imagine Cruises.
6- Climb the Sand Dunes of Port Stephens
Rising 30 metres, the impressive windswept sand dunes Port Stephens of Stockton Bight have been seen in parts of the globe far beyond their natural home of Worimi Conservation Lands.
Film crews used this naturally formed scape as the set for shooting scenes for the 1979-made Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson.
With the wind in your hair, to ride across the top and down the steep slopes of the dunes on quad bikes or even on sand boards.
7- Drink beer at Murray’s Brewery and wine at Port Stephens Winery
If you want a big lunch, Murray’s Brewery and Port Stephens Winery, Bobs Farm, is the spot to visit.
The sizes of the portions – salt and pepper squid and chicken wings are two favourites – are generous, to say the least.
Best advice – share a dish with your partner.
The main purpose of visiting, however, is the sample the wine and ales.
As the slogan suggests, there’s nothing boring about the award-winning craft beer. Equally important are the daily brewery tours as well as the weekend entertainment.
Take time to sample the Whale ale, Angry Man Pale Ale and Angry Fred.
And at various times, the brewery has created a pumpkin pie beer, Kaiser style for Oktoberfest, seaweed beer and fruity summer beers, half prints $5 – $6.50, pints $9 to $10.
8- Dine at Little Beach Nelson Bay
If you love your seafood fresh, Port Stephens – and the Nelson Bay restaurants – presents a popular “catch of the day” dining spot.
Whether you choose to buy a dozen oysters from Holbert’s, locally caught prawns and fish from Nelson Bay Fish Market or dine at a restaurant, there’s more than enough options to satisfy the appetite.
Head to Little Beach Nelson Bay and the Little Beach Boathouse – extended recently to offer casual dining with drinks on the deck as well a la carte dining upstairs – is an ideal spot to enjoy a sunset while be entertained by a dolphin or two.
The Tempura whiting and salt and pepper squid are two choices worth sampling from the bar menu.
9- Go On A Hot Air Balloon Flight Over The Hunter Valley
Located less than two hours from Port Stephens, the Hunter Valley is Australia’s premier wine-growing region.
Renowned for its gourmet food and award-winning wines, what most people don’t realise is the Hunter Valley also has incredible scenery.
What better way to see it for yourself than on a scenic hot air balloon ride?
Beginning at sunrise, Hunter Valley Balloon flights will take you on a scenic journey over the stunning regions of Lovedale, Broke and Pokolbin.
Expect breathtaking views of vineyards, green pastures and rolling hills.
After your balloon ride, enjoy a gourmet champagne bacon and eggs breakfast at a winery.
A hot air balloon ride is a fantastic experience for couples and families.
10- Get An Adrenalin Rush Go Karting In Nelson Bay
For the ultimate adrenaline rush, Go Karts Go Nelson Bay is the place to visit on your next Port Stephens adventure.
With an exhilarating 350 m track, Go Karts Go Nelson Bay is the longest and quickest track in the Port Stephens region.
Hairpin turns, fast straights and winding bends will get your heart pumping on this excellent outdoor go-karting track.
There are plenty of slow corners for beginners to build confidence and skills.
Reaching speeds of up to 60km per hour, you’ll soon be zipping and zooming around the track like a real pro.
11- Visit The Beautiful Botanic Gardens
If you’re looking for a nature-filled and relaxing holiday activity, look no further than the gorgeous Hunter Region Botanic Gardens.
Spread over 130 ha of lush landscapes, the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens is the place to see a variety of Australian native flora and rare Australian species.
Together with a range of themed gardens including exotics, orchids, succulents, cacti and shrubs, there is so much natural beauty to discover.
With over eight kilometres of scenic walking tracks, there’s an abundance of wildlife to discover including ringtail possums, goannas, wallabies, sugar gliders, bats and cuddly koalas.
There is also a visitors centre, gift shop, plant stall and delicious cafe offering a selection of handmade dishes and sweet treats like Devonshire scones.
Alternatively, bring along a picnic to share in the gardens.
12- Take A Scenic Helicopter Flight
Take to the skies and get ready to experience some of NSW’s top natural beauty on a scenic helicopter flight.
Soaring over the Port Stephens and Newcastle region, these scenic helicopter flights provide panoramic views of the Stockton dunes, Anna Bay, Mount Tomaree National park, Fingal lighthouse, Hawks Nest and Newcastle city.
The helicopter cruises high above the ground and there are plenty of opportunities for marine life spotting, so keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins and great white sharks lurking beneath the waters.
A helicopter flight over the Port Stephens coast is a bucket list holiday activity where you can enjoy coastal views of this stunning region.
13- Ride A Camel On Stockton Beach
An absolute must-do for anyone visiting Port Stephens, camel riding is one of the best holiday activities in the region.
Located on Stockton Beach, The Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides has been operating for many years and is the only place to ride camels in Port Stephens.
The perfect experience for the whole family, camel rides are suitable for kids aged two years and over.
Whether you want to learn more about these unique animals or experience the scenic beauty of the Port Stephens region, camel rides offer something for all to enjoy.
The perfect holiday experience is riding a camel into the sunset while watching the sky turn pink over Anna Bay.
Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides is open every weekend and each day throughout the school holidays from 10 am to 5 pm. Bookings are essential.
14- Swim In Stunning Shoal Bay
With endless white sand and glittering turquoise waters, Shoal Bay draws in travellers from all over the world and is an undeniable natural wonder.
Curving 2.5 km from Nelson Headland to Tomaree Headland, Shoal Bay’s gentle waters and fantastic year-round weather makes this a perfect destination for swimming, boating, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Plus, there’s a range of bbq facilities nearby in the beachside reserve.
Spend your day soaking up the sunshine, swimming in the crystal waters and creating holiday memories in this beautiful part of the world.
15- Go Dolphin Spotting
With its pristine waters and range of spectacular beaches, Port Stephens is one of Australia’s best places to go dolphin spotting, which is why it’s known as the dolphin capital of Australia.
Renowned for their intelligence and inquisitive personalities, dolphins are one of the most fascinating animals to witness in the wild.
Home to over 200 bottlenose dolphins, Port Stephens, is a great place to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures.
Experience these amazing animals on a thrilling dolphin watching tour, which takes you around the Port Stephens area by boat cruise.
Alternatively, take part in the ultimate bucket list experience and swim with the dolphins. Learn about these amazing animals and experience an adventure like no other.
16- Glamp At The Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary
The Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary is an initiative of the Port Stephens Council and set up to care for injured, sick and orphaned koalas.
The habitats emulate natural bush settings and there’s the unique opportunity to stay on the grounds in a glamping tent.
If you’re just passing through, take the Sanctuary Story Walk and explore the pathway’s artistic sculptures, educational displays and don’t miss the Newcastle Airport SKYwalk viewing platform for treetop views of the natural habitat of the koalas.
The Koala Centre and Koala Hospital are also worth spending time. Wildlife lovers and families will want to spend a few hours at the sanctuary. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $14 for kids.
Where to stay in Port Stephens
Accommodation in Nelson Bay
While accommodation in Nelson Bay and Port Stephens are plentiful, there’s one highly popular spot which goes by the name of Marty’s.
Ideally positioned a four-minute walk from Little Beach and the boathouse, Marty’s at Little Beach, is a popular spot for families and couples, its low-rise and immaculately clean one and two-bedroom self-contained apartments nestled in quiet surrounds.
Complementing the Nelson Bay accommodation is an inviting swimming pool, undercover BBQ facilities for the catch of the day, and a well-equipped young children’s play area.
With exception of the retreat’s King motel room, all have a balcony or courtyard with outdoor table and chairs.
And if you wish to head to nearby Shoal Bay Beach, it’s only a five-minute walk away.
Marty’s at Little Beach is one of a host of accommodation options, including holiday parks, B&Bs, villas and larger apartments.
Prepare for a warm and friendly reception, as you do in much of the “blue water paradise”.
Port Stephens text and photos for items 1 to 8 by Michael Smith, text for items 9 to 15 by Brittany Balcomb.