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Port Stephens Destination Guide

Pelicans, Port StephensCREDIT: Alesha Bradford

Pelicans at Nelson Bay, Port Stephens.

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Port Stephens
Destination Guide

Pelicans, Port Stephens CREDIT: Alesha Bradford

Pelicans at Nelson Bay, Port Stephens.

#lovensw #newsouthwales

Hashtags #lovensw #newsouthwales

Known as the dolphin capital of Australia for its pod of resident bottlenoses (it’s also a haven for whale watching during migration), the Port Stephens coastline is truly captivating. But this region, a 2.5-hour drive north of Sydney, offers visitors much more than surf, sand across 26 beaches and sunshine. From world-class golf courses to deluxe dining, trendy bars and educational wildlife activities, here are just some of the activities and adventures that await.  

Highlights: 

  • Ocean-fresh seafood from the Nelson Bay Fish Market
  • Hiking through Tomaree National Park 
  • Quad biking on the Stockton Sand Dunes 

Where to eat and drink 

Vintners, brewers, growers and artisanal purveyors... Port Stephens is blessed with a bounty of forward-thinking gourmands. Begin your day at The Little Nel café overlooking the bay, where seasonal indulgences include wagyu waffles and wood-roasted smoked-salmon croquettes.  

From plump oysters grown and harvested just offshore to juicy prawns, crabs, tuna and trevally, there’s great seafood in this region. Go straight to the source on the wharf at Nelson Bay Fish Market, in Nelson Bay, where trawlers deposit all of the above on a daily basis. Next door at Bub’s Fish and Chips you can buy cold and hot seafood, including indulgent platters and what many regard as the tastiest fish and chips in town. 

And a short drive away at family owned Holberts Oyster (growing and shucking for five generations), you can take away a platter of molluscs, or order a bottle of wine and enjoy an alfresco feast overlooking the waters of Cromarty Bay.  

For a more formal meal, head to nautically themed Little Beach Boathouse in Nelson Bay for a waterside setting that is almost as good as the fresh fare. Rick Stein’s restaurant at Bannisters Port Stephens is also worth lingering in, with the celebrity chef delivering lip-smacking oysters on ice, Nelson Bay tuna sashimi, blue swimmer crab with Singapore-style chilli sauce and shellfish soup. For a lofty perspective, it’s hard to look past the legendary Shoal Bay Country Club. The establishment is open early, but come for lunch or dinner to relax on the patio overlooking the water, with a side of beer-battered fish and chips or the bulging deluxe seafood platter.  

Where to see wildlife 

Any trip to Port Stephens should include a visit to Shoal Bay Beach, the area’s most legendary stretch of sand, curving 2.5km from Nelson Head to Tomaree Head, and with sweeping views over the inlet. You can also hike to the summit through Tomaree National Park, with fields of wildflowers and large numbers of koalas competing for your attention with the views of the scenic villages of Nelson Bay, Shoal Bay, Fingal Bay and Boat Harbour.  

During the migration season (May through November), you can spot humpback and southern right whales here, breaching out to sea in the 98,000-hectare Port Stephens and Great Lakes Marine Park, the largest of its kind in the state.  

You can also cruise out to see these enormous marine mammals on a whale-watching expedition from Nelson Bay marina with Moonshadow-TQC Cruises or Imagine Cruises. Keep your eyes peeled for flocks of oceanic birds and the fur seals lolling about on Cabbage Tree Island. 

Port Stephens Highlights CREDIT: Destination NSW

Postcard footage of Port Stephens

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Port Stephens Highlights CREDIT: Destination NSW

Postcard footage of Port Stephens

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Little Beach Boathouse, Nelson Bay CREDIT: Destination NSW

Fresh local oysters available at Little Beach Boathouse, Nelson Bay.

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Little Beach Boathouse, Nelson Bay CREDIT: Destination NSW

Fresh local oysters available at Little Beach Boathouse, Nelson Bay.

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Nelson Bay, Port Stephens CREDIT: Destination NSW

Luxury private chartered yacht experience with Blue Water Sailing in Shoal Bay, Port Stephens.

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Nelson Bay, Port Stephens CREDIT: Destination NSW

Luxury private chartered yacht experience with Blue Water Sailing in Shoal Bay, Port Stephens.

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Where to play 

Port Stephens has long been the tee-off destination of choice for avid golfers. Located on the edge of the Tomaree National Park is Nelson Bay Golf Club, a 27-hole championship course set over 70 wildlife-rich hectares — look out for kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and native birds. Just a short drive west in Salamander Bay is Horizons Golf Resort, a scenic 18-hole championship course with manicured greens and an intricate lakes system. Yet another 18-hole championship course awaits at Pacific Dunes, which regularly takes home awards for its challenging fairways.  

Family fun begins at Nelson Bay’s Splash Waterpark, a wonderland on the sea packed with inflatable toys for thrill-seekers of all ages to jump off, slide down and fall onto. If you prefer to stay dry, visit Toboggan Hill Park, a fun, adventure-filled activity zone in Nelson Bay. Surrounded by native bush, the site features a toboggan track, mini golf, giant maze, tractor rides and indoor rock climbing. 

Animal lovers will enjoy getting up close and personal with the native and domestic farm animals at Oakvale Wildlife Park. Set over 10 hectares of native forest, it protects all manner of fauna — and visitors can get involved, helping feed baby farm animals and learn more about ducklings, sheep and horses as well as koalas, kangaroos and wombats.  

Native animals are also a focus at the Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary, where you can spot these marsupials in their natural habitat and discover what the centre is doing to help protect and care for them — there’s an on-site hospital for injured animals — as well as the environment they call home. 

Then discover the longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere: the Stockton Sand Dunes reach heights of more than 40 metres, their steep sides often hitting an incline of 60 degrees. Speed freaks will want to sign up for dune surfing or quad-bike tours with Sand Dune Adventures and sandboarding with 4WD Tours R US. For a more leisurely way to explore the area, try a camel ride with Oakfield Ranch.  

Where to sleep 

If you’re planning on dining at Rick Stein’s restaurant at Bannisters Port Stephens, you can also check in to one of the 80 barefoot-luxe rooms and suites done up in a coastal palette of blue and white. Slide into the infinity pool overlooking the glittering bay, explore the national parkland, or spend the afternoon relaxing at the luxurious Spa Bannisters, where you can choose from a range of therapeutic options, and deluxe body and facial treatments. 

Or end your day within the Hamptons-chic haven of the Anchorage Hotel & Spa, where Moby’s Bar is a perfect perch to sample a selection of the world's finest whiskies and wines while looking out over the marina. Pair your beverage of choice with a platter of antipasti or Sydney rock oysters, then retire to your room suite or villa, most with private water-view patios.  

Stockton Sand Dunes, Port Stephens CREDIT: Destination NSW

Quad biking experience on the Stockton Sand Dunes in the Worimi Conservation Lands, Port Stephens.

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Stockton Sand Dunes, Port Stephens CREDIT: Destination NSW

Quad biking experience on the Stockton Sand Dunes in the Worimi Conservation Lands, Port Stephens.

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The Anchorage Hotel and Spa, Port Stephens CREDIT: Destination NSW

Accommodation at The Anchorage Hotel and Spa, Port Stephens.

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The Anchorage Hotel and Spa, Port Stephens CREDIT: Destination NSW

Accommodation at The Anchorage Hotel and Spa, Port Stephens.

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