Port Stephens is located just over 200 kilometres (a 2.5 hour drive) north of Sydney and 50 kilometres (45 minutes drive) north of Newcastle. A deepwater harbour, it is 2.5 times the size of Sydney Harbour, and extends over 20 kilometres inland. Port Stephens has remained relatively unspoilt, avoiding the high-rise rush adopted by other areas along the NSW coast. The clear, unpolluted waters of the bay are fringed by white, sandy beaches and natural bushland.
Note that Port Stephens is not a town, it is a tourism sub-region. Nelson Bay
, on the southern shore of Port Stephens, is the major town in this holiday area. Other towns on the southern side include Shoal Bay
, Anna Bay
, Fingal Bay, Corlette
, Salamander Bay, Lemon Tree Passage
and Soldiers Point
. On the northern shore, you'll find Hawks Nest
and Tea Gardens
, and at the western end of the harbour is Karuah
It should come as no surprise that there is a wealth of aquatic activities on offer around Port Stephens. Many types of water craft can be hired, from jet skis to catamarans, from power boats to windsurfers. Or you can bring your own - there are plenty of public launching facilities.
Fishing is enormously popular around the bay, whether you drop a line in from a beach, jetty or boat, or take a deep water fishing charter. Scuba diving and swimming can also be enjoyed in the waters of Port Stephens. The ocean beaches outside the port are great for surfing.
The harbour is home to a resident pod of bottle-nosed dolphins. To see these delightful creatures, you can take a dolphin-watching cruise, which may include boom-netting for an even closer view. Alternatively, you could take the ferry ride from Nelson Bay to Tea Gardens. The return trip is a great way to see the harbour and dolphins are sighted on most trips. Between the end of May and the end of August humpback, southern right and minke whales, and on rare occasions pods of killer whales, pass close by the coast heading north, returning south between mid-October until the end of December. There are a number of whale and dolphin watch cruise companies operating in the area.
The southern side of the entrance to Port Stephens is dominated by Tomaree National Park, stretching from Shoal Bay to Anna Bay. The park features over 2,000 hectares of coastal bushland, 20 kilometres of rocky coastline, beaches, volcanic hills, rocky bays, chasms, pillars and caves. Take the walk up to Tomaree Headland, and be rewarded with spectacular views of the bay and offshore islands.
In spring, the bushland areas of Port Stephens are bright with wildflowers. Visit the Native Flora Reserve at Little Beach for the best display.
Just south of Port Stephens lies Stockton Beach sand dunes, the largest coastal sand dune system in Australia. Enjoy the thrills (and spills!) of riding down the dunes on a sandboard, take a 4WD tour or perhaps you'd prefer a camel ride or horse trek through the dunes.
To the north of Port Stephens lies the Myall Lakes, an intricate network of waterways and lakes. The largest coastal lake system in NSW and a major waterbird habitat, it is protected by Myall Lakes National Park. One of the best ways to explore this area is to hire a canoe and paddle the lakes and waterways.
Other activities on offer around Port Stephens are golf, 4WD tours and horseriding. Toboggan Hill Park features a hair-raising toboggan run, while Oakvale Farm and Fauna World has a range of native and farm animals. There are plenty of popular restaurants, many of which feature the region's wonderful range of fresh seafood. Oyster lovers should not miss a visit to the oyster farms near Karuah. The wineries of the area are gaining an ever-growing reputation for their wines. And of course, the wineries of the Hunter Valley are just a short drive away, perfect for a day trip.
Things to do:
Water sports - boating, fishing, swimming, surfing, diving
Dolphin and whale watching
Tomaree National Park - walks, views, beaches
Wildflowers - Native Flora Reserve
Food and wine - restaurants, oyster farms, wineries
Toboggan Hill Park
Oakvale Farm and Fauna World
In the area:
Stockton Beach sand dunes - sandboarding, 4WD tours, camel ride, horse trek
Myall Lakes National Park - waterbird habitat, walks, canoeing
Hunter Valley - wineries