A well-known escape for those from Sydney and the Hunter Valley– Port Stephens is a tropical oasis about 2.5 hours north of Sydney. The Port Stephens region is a haven for local travels, but caters to the overseas visitors as well (ahem, me!).
I’ve been to Port Stephens, which includes the towns of Hawks Nest, Shoal Bay, Nelson Bay, and more, many times. I celebrated the New Year of 2001 on the curb in Shoal Bay, watching fireworks light up the sky, and Brian and I visited in
pre-kid 2006 when we took a dolphin watch tour. While much of visiting “The Bay” as the locals call it, revolves around the water, you can easily find things to do in the mild winter (as many of the things we’ve done can also be done in winter).
“The Bay” is actually 2.5 times the size of Sydney Harbour. It’s a much shallower harbour, though, so it’s perfect for dolphin-spotting and kayaking. You could easily visit for a long weekend, but one week would be even better.
Here are four things we did that would be perfect for your family, too:
Hike up Tomaree Head for a fantastic view of Port Stephens
If you want to do something that will not disappoint- hike up the Tomaree Head lookout. Now, I’ll be honest, we did not do this with our kids. The hike is STEEP. I think 5 and up could handle it but Jackson was happy to stay behind. So we headed out sans kids for a little quiet (and peace!).
The trail head is just south of Shoal Bay and will take you about 20 minutes to ascend if you’re going at a reasonable pace. My calves were BURNING and I asked my husband kindly to slow the heck down. 😉 The views at the top are really unbelievable. You’ll see this shot of Zenith Beach all over Pinterest (not mine, but in general) because well, it’s just that gorgeous. To the south you can also see Fingal Bay and the spit.
To the north is Hawks Nest and your view extends inland as well as out to the Pacific Ocean. You’ll also see lots and lots of spiders. These golden orbs aren’t poisonous, but they are everywhere. “Kindly” ask your husband to stop pointing them out. Ha!
Take a boat ride
There are many options for gliding across the pristine waters, most of them take off from the marina at Nelson Bay. Kayak rentals and tours are available, plus whale watching (May to Nov) and dolphin spotting (year round).
This past trip we took the ferry from Nelson Bay to Tea Gardens. This can also double as a dolphin-spotting trip although the region had just had lots of rain and the water was not ideal for them.
From Tea Gardens you can visit Hawks Nest (gorgeous beaches) or do like we did, and have lunch at the pub and turnaround! If the kids are along, the Tea Gardens Hotel has a courtyard with playground equipment. So order your food, let the kids play a little, and enjoy your stopover.
Visit Oakvale Farm
From floral and fauna to the FARM? Huh? That’s right. Oakvale Farm is located in Salt Ash, right at on the cusp of the Port Stephens region. I didn’t really know what to expect, and sadly, I wasn’t that excited because Newsflash: we have plenty of farms in Ohio! But I was pleasantly surprised because Oakvale Farm allows you to feed the kangaroos, pet a koala, and they also have reptile shows! It’s the perfect place to experience Australiana.
Our kids loved every minute- and the Thomas the Train- was like the icing on the cake.
Tip: Our friends had an Entertainment Book with a 25% off coupon. This saved us a substantial amount, so try to get your hands on one.
Beaches Beaches Beaches
It’s really a no-brainer, but throughout Port Stephens you’ll find plenty of perfect beaches for your family to put up the umbrella and then have a nice swim. The thing I love about the area is that so many of the beaches are sheltered, so with no waves to pummel them, they are perfect for swimming with kids.
Now that you’ve gotten a taste of Port Stephens, can you see why it’s my happy place?
Thanks again to Ron and Judy who took on our entire family at their beach house! xo We are so blessed with the best friends!
((I was not paid by anyone to blog about Port Stephens. Now, if someone would like to pay for me to visit again, I’d kindly oblige.))