Less than three hours’ drive north of Sydney, you’ll find 26 beaches, charming marinas and portside villages, diverse marine life, great wining and dining, and myriad of activities and experiences set against the backdrop of a spectacular national park. There’s no doubt Port Stephens packs a punch, so here’s our guide to making the most of your seaside getaway.
There are a number of great family-friendly accommodation options in Port Stephens and Mantra Aqua is an excellent choice if you’re seeking space, relaxed comfort, and value. Located centrally in Nelson Bay, this resort-style accommodation is comprised of fully self-contained two- and three-bedroom apartments around a central outdoor entertainment area featuring pool and spa, BBQ area and kids’ water fountain, and is within walking distance to shops, cafes and d’Albora Marinas.
Head to Anna Bay where you’ll find Stockton Beach—the largest moving coastal sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere. Surrounded by sky, sand and sea, its enormous sand dunes are more like mountains, giving the place its other-worldly look. Get amongst them by sandboarding, quad biking, and four-wheel driving, or try Sand Dune Safaris to find the biggest and best dunes. You can also explore the remote fishing village “Tin City”, WWII sites, and the Sygna Shipwreck, which stranded in 1974.
At the northernmost point of Stockton Beach is Birubi Beach—a picturesque 400-metre long stretch of golden sandy beach and a great place for surfing, fishing, walking and picnicking, as well as horse and camel riding. Oakfield Ranch runs camel riding tours along the beach every half an hour on weekends, school and public holidays, and offers a unique way to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Afterwards, head to Crest Birubi Beach Café at nearby Birubi Point for delicious food, excellent coffee and uninterrupted beach views where migrating whales can often be spotted. Specialising in share plates, this modern bistro is open every day for breakfast and lunch and has a takeaway kiosk, ideal for grabbing fish and chips to enjoy on the beach.
For a change of scenery, take a drive all the way up Lily Hill Road to Gan Gan Lookout for some of the most spectacular views on the coast, or get the heart pumping and take the bracing 45-minute Tomaree Head Summit walk to the top of Mount Tomaree in Shoal Bay. During your hike, you’ll be treated to incredible panoramic views so don’t forget your camera and binoculars for whale spotting. Another option is the easier Fort Tomaree walk, which explores WWII gun emplacements.
Known as Australia’s blue water paradise, Port Stephens boasts a bay more than twice as big as Sydney harbour. It is part of the Great Lakes Marine Park, the largest marine park in New South Wales and home to an abundant variety of marine life including seals, dolphins and whales, which migrate through these waters from the end of May to mid-November.
Go whale watching with Imagine Cruises for an experience you’ll never forget. The three-hour long tour takes place on board a sailing catamaran which leaves from d’Albora Marinas and is skippered and guided by knowledgeable experts in whale watching and conservation. There is also a great chance you’ll encounter pods of dolphins along the way, as well as other marine creatures, and if you don’t see any whales on your visit, you can come back for another try free of charge.
As the sun sets, there’s no better place to enjoy it than Little Beach Boathouse and Bar. Sitting right on the shore, the recently opened downstairs bar area has a wide open deck affording beautiful sunset views over Little Beach and if you’re lucky, you can also spot dolphins. There’s a great range of fresh cocktails, local and international wines, ciders and beers on tap, including Port Stephen’s own Murray's Brewery Beers. After enjoying a couple of sundowners, head upstairs to the restaurant for dinner. The cuisine is modern Australian, with a strong focus on fresh, local seafood and produce.
If you’re looking for something a little different, try Evivva Café. This funky, spacious restaurant, café and bar is right in the heart of Nelson Bay village centre and besides offering a great menu of internationally-inspired dishes and an impressive wine list, you can also book whisky, sake and cognac tastings. There’s a great outdoor courtyard area, which is perfect for families and groups of friends, and while its speciality is mainly breakfast, brunch, and lunch, its open late for tapas on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Before leaving Port Stephens, make a stop at Holberts Oyster Farm. Family owned and operated for five generations, its Port Stephens' leading oyster growing and processing business, and you can snap up the freshest oysters and other seafood right here at a great price. The waterfront factory outlet sits right on the shore of Cromarty Bay and you can watch oyster shuckers at work before enjoying your Oysters alfresco at the picnic table outside. Match them with your favourite BYO wine or choose from Holberts’ collection, and you’re all set.