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One of the most picturesque corners of New South Wales, Port Stephens is a popular weekend getaway from Sydney, 215 kilometres to the south. A large, natural harbour fringed by protected bays, small villages, and rainforest-covered hills, Port Stephens is a natural playground where you could spend a morning swimming in clear waters and an afternoon quad biking amongst giant sand dunes, topped off with an elegant waterfront meal. Or perhaps you’d prefer to explore the region’s surf beaches, hit the walking trails in Tomaree National Park, or enjoy a sunset boat ride.
There’s also good snorkelling and scuba diving at Fly Point on the eastern fringe of Nelson Bay, the region’s hub. You’ll find the widest selection of dining options in Nelson Bay, but there are more culinary gems to be found in Soldiers Point to the west, and Shoal Bay to the east, which has a calm, family-friendly beach.
Port Stephens is less than three hours’ drive north of central Sydney. You could alternatively opt to take the Newcastle & Central Coast Line train to Newcastle and hire a car from there for the hour-long drive onward to Port Stephens. There’s also a daily coach service to Nelson Bay from Sydney, as well as bus links from Newcastle. With local bus services connecting the towns of Port Stephens, a car is not essential for getting around — though if you’re keen to explore the region in more depth you may prefer to have your own wheels, especially if you’re staying outside Nelson Bay.
Port Stephens has a comfortably mild climate around the calendar. The warmest months, from December through February, are ideal for exploring the region’s 26 beaches, while the cooler autumn and spring are more pleasant for outdoor activities such as hiking, sailing, fishing, and sand-dune adventures. Late May through August is peak whale-watching season, with the lookout at Tomaree Head an excellent vantage point to observe the annual migration. Port Stephens swells with yachties in April for the annual Sail Port Stephens regatta at Nelson Bay’s marina, while August attracts seafood lovers for the region’s Love Sea Food festival, a month-long celebration of coastal cuisine highlighting local seafood as well as local producers and chefs.
The southern entrance to Port Stephens is home to the most spectacular section of Tomaree National Park. Rising 162 metres above the sea, Tomaree Head boasts some of New South Wales’ most superb coastal views. Enjoy them on the 2.2-kilometre-return Tomaree Head Summit Walk. You can also check out the headland’s World War II gun emplacements on the 2.5-kilometre-return Fort Tomaree Walk, which also forms part of the national park. Keep your eyes peeled for koalas dozing in the treetops.
The pristine blue waters of the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park are home to more than 100 dolphins, with dolphin-watching cruises departing throughout the year from Nelson Bay’s d’Albora Marina.
Stretching south from the southern fringe of Port Stephens to Newcastle, Stockton Beach’s sand dunes are the longest moving coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. This otherworldly landscape is part of the Worimi Conservation Lands and culturally significant to the Worimi people, which you can learn more about on an Aboriginal-guided tour. Four-wheel driving, fishing, and sand-boarding adventures are also popular at Stockton Beach.