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. 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 2-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.
Things to do in Port Stephens
Here are eight reasons to visit and a multitude of things to do in Port Stephens to keep the whole family happy.
1- Good Morning Port Stephens
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- Tomaree Headland and other vantage points
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.
3- Fighter World Aircraft
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.
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- 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 undercover BBQ facilities for the sausages and steaks, an eatery and kiosk.
5- Nelson Bay Whale Watching
What to do 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.
Among the companies to take nature lovers on a cruise are Moonshadow Cruises and Imagine Cruises. They offer experiences from the many things to do in Port Stephens.
6- Sand Dunes 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- Murray’s Brewery and 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- 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 Holberts, 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.
Michale Smith was a guest of Marty’s at Little Beach.
Discover 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”.
One Australian city that has grown a lot over the last few years is Nrewcastle. Here are some things to do in Newcastle NSW.