Can you do justice to this stunning region, just north of Newcastle, in a single day? Sure, but you’ll have to pick up the rental car the day before so you can leave Sydney early. It’s a three-hour drive to get there and you’ll want to leave plenty of hours to enjoy everything it has to offer.
National parks and marine parks protect the natural environment, and you can see that everywhere you go. The waters are crystal clear and home to a full complement of marine creatures, so it’s a hot spot for dolphin watching, snorkelling, and diving. There are great walks through Tomaree National Park, and the Worimi Conservation Lands, covering 4,200 hectares, including 32km of moving sand dunes – they’re the longest in the southern hemisphere.
Here are all the exciting attractions in Port Stephens you can see or do on a day trip or overnight break.
Some of them are 30m high and their slopes are a haven for all sorts of adventures. The dunes in the Worimi Conservation Lands are a significant site for the local Indigenous people and they run Sand Dune Adventures. Book for a 90-minute quad bike tour that includes an introduction to Aboriginal culture and the stories of the region as well as a session of sand boarding. Don’t worry if you’ve never piloted a quad bike before – there’s an instruction and safety session before you head off.
Make sure you put your mask, snorkel, and fins in the rental car because the protected waters are home to colourful fish, dolphins and turtles. At Fly Point, there are shipwrecks, underwater caves and sponge gardens, while Halifax Park is your best bet for observing wobbegong sharks and Little Beach is a great spot for turtles.
If you want to see dolphins in the wild – there are about a hundred that live permanently in waters around Port Stephens – you’ve got two choices. Join Dolphin Swim Australia and you’ll get in the water and be gently pulled along by the boat while the marine mammals swim and play alongside. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. If you’re less keen to get wet, Moonshadow-TCQ offers a cruise to see the dolphins.
The coastline around Port Stephens has picture-perfect beaches and bays best explored at a leisurely pace. Hire stand-up paddle boards or clear kayaks from Shoal Bay SUP and spend a couple of hours moving from one to the next and enjoying life by the ocean.
But if you’re simply looking for somewhere to walk along the sand, take a dip and relax for a while, head to Zenith Beach. At either end are the rugged Mount Tomaree and Stephens Peak giving it a feeling of drama. Plus, the headlands offer some protection, so the waves are rarely too big. You can sometimes spot dolphins swimming off the beach.
The most popular hike in the area is the Tomaree Head Summit Walk. It leads to a 161m peak above the mouth of the Karuah River with views of the coastline and nearby islands. In the winter, bring along a set of binoculars and look out to see if there are any migrating whales off the heads. Below the summit is the Fort Tomaree walk that goes to gun emplacements used during World War II. Elsewhere in Tomaree National Park, head to Fishermans Bay where you can explore the rockpools where there’s an astonishing array of sea life.
Climb aboard at Anna Bay. One of the most unique experiences in the region is riding an Oakfield Ranch camel along Birubi Beach and into the sand dunes. It’s definitely an experience your Insta followers will love.
Speaking of the ’gram, if images of people feeding stingrays or communing with sharks have ever piqued your interest, book an experience at Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters. In the lagoon, you can wade in and pat the rays or put on a wetsuit and snorkel with reef and zebra sharks.
All that sea air may make you want to tuck into some fresh prawns or a crayfish. At Nelson Bay, drop by Fishermen’s Wharf Seafood, where there’s a full selection of the best local seafood. If you want fish and chips, you can find that next door at Bub’s. There’s a spot where you can eat them just down the road at Nelson Bay Foreshore Reserve.
The Shoal Bay Diner brings a little bit of the US of A to the beach. Grab a table to order cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, loaded fries and more.
If you want a great view with your seafood plate or grilled field mushroom and haloumi burger, you’ll want to get in your rental car and head to Saltwater Restaurant. It’s upstairs from the Fingal Beach SLSC and the huge windows overlook Fingal Island.
Ready to explore Port Stephens and surrounds? Hire a rental car from Sydney and head off.