Port Stephens has always been a summer holiday favourite for Sydneysiders, I’ve been taking the kids there since they were little. Our first ever camping experience was at Anna Bay and my first girls’ spa/pampering weekend away was to Shoal Bay Resort (now the Ramada Shoal Bay).
On one camping trip to Anna Bay, we were woken by excited kids (at 5am) who had found a koala outside the tent, another, my crawling toddler managed to find a sliver of chilli on the ground from dinner the night before (her head almost exploded on impact) and on another, my accident-prone son scalped his knee-cap while scootering over a pot-holed street.
It’s still a firm favourite – and winter is possibly a better time to visit than summer – it’s still fairly warm, you can beat the madding crowds and there’s a great mix of good food, adrenalin hits and winter-exclusive experiences.
1. Whale Watching. You can’t come to Port Stephens in winter and NOT go whale watching – that would be madness. Between May and September the operators here pretty much guarantee that you’ll see whales. Envision Cruises provide a more intimate experience with small, high speed craft to get you out to the action fast, without crowds.
2. Quad biking on the sand dunes. Winter is in fact the best time to go quad-biking, when the dunes are more compacted after rain so you can tackle the steeper drop offs without fear of getting bogged.
3. Tomaree Head. Get up early and hike up to Tomaree Head, for incredible views of the wild coastline stretching north and south.
4. Tea & Scones. Formerly a light house, the Inner Light Tea Rooms is a great little café with sweeping views of the bay. Go for the scones with jam and a mountain of whipped cream.
5. On Your Bike. There are fantastic bike paths that run the whole stretch of the Port Stephens coastline from Salamander Bay right through to Fingal Bay, with plenty of parks and picnic areas to stop at along the way. Bring your own or hire from Bay Bike Hire at The Nelson Resort.
6. Little Beach Boathouse. This little gem is the perfect spot for lunch. Overlooking the beach in a repurposed boathouse, the food is great – local produce including Hunter Valley wines and beers from Murrays.
7. Horse riding on the beach. What could be more romantic than cantering along a seemingly endless beach? Sahara Horse Trails depart from Birubi Beach several times a day for a guided ride along the beach. (NB: not suitable for absolute beginners).
8. Sand Surfing. Grab a board and see just how fast you can surf down the enormous sand dunes at Stockton Beach.
9. Burgers on Birubi Beach. While you’re at Birubi Beach, grab a burger at Crest, within the Birubi Beach Surf Life Saving Club, with sweeping views of the Stockton Sand Dunes and beyond.
10. Sunset at The Point. Located on the Soldiers Point Marina, this restaurant has panoramic views of the bay and is the best place in Port Stephens to watch the sunset.
Where to stay. The Ramada Resort Shoal Bay is located on Port Stephen’s prettiest beach. It’s within walking distance to Tomaree Headland and near a great selection of cafes and restaurants. The resort has range of room types, from one to 3-bedroom apartments, three swimming pools and great views of the bay.
More information: www.portstephens.org.au