Go sandboarding, whale watching and swim with dolphins just a short drive from Sydney on the NSW north coast
It’s hard to believe this patch of paradise is just 2.5 hours’ drive north of Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, and around 30 minutes from Newcastle. Home to a beautiful bay twice the size of Sydney Harbour, the Port Stephens region encompasses towns such as Nelson Bay, Anna Bay and Shoal Bay. Swim in crystal clear water at one of Port Stephens’ 26 beaches, go sandboarding down the largest dunes in the southern hemisphere, or book a cruise to swim with wild dolphins or go whale watching during winter. Peruse the clothing boutiques before indulging in a seafood feast at a waterfront restaurant at sunset, or relax with a picnic on the grass along the foreshore.
For a fun day out, head to Stockton Beach for a spot of fishing or to explore its famous sand dunes. Book a tour to go sandboarding, 4WDing, quad biking or horseback riding along the dunes, which stretch for more than 30km and reach heights of more than 30m.
Take in the area’s natural beauty with a climb to Barry Park Lookout at Fingal Bay, which offers magnificent views of white sand beaches and Fingal Spit, which connects the mainland to Fingal Island. You can also book a cruise to the island and embark on a guided nature walk visiting an Aboriginal fish trap lagoon, Point Stephens Lighthouse and the ruins of the caretaker’s cottage, learning about the area’s fascinating history.
Neighbouring Tomaree National Park is the only place in NSW where you can see outcrops of the acid volcanic rock rhyodacite and is a great place to spot koalas in the wild. It has a range of scenic walks, including the short Wreck Beach walk through coastal angophora forest and the longer Morna Point walk that comes alive with wildflowers in spring. The Tomaree Head Summit walk offers views over the coast and out to Broughton, Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah islands. Check out the historic gun emplacements at Fort Tomaree, which was built during World War II in 1941.
Home to many species of dolphins, turtles and fish, Port Stephens Great Lake Marine Park stretches from Birubi Beach Life Saving Club at the northern end of Stockton Beach all the way north to Cape Hawke Surf Life Saving Club near Forster. You can book a cruise from Nelson Bay to go swimming with dolphins or whale watching from June to October, during their annual migration. Or cruise to Broughton Island in Myall Lakes National Park to go snorkelling or swimming in secluded coves and walk amongst a breeding colony of wedge tailed shearwaters. Other places to check out include the quiet seaside town of Hawks Nest, which lies between the Myall River and Hawks Nest Beach, Lemon Tree Passage on Port Stephens' western edge, and Soldiers Point.