From sublime natural beauty to freshly caught seafood, Port Stephens is a wonderful beach escape on a sparkling blue bay. Relax on beautiful sandy beaches, meet the resident bottlenose dolphins, enjoy fun water sports, explore giant sand dunes and savour delicious waterfront places to eat.
Home to more than 100 dolphins, the pristine inlet in the vast Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park is twice the size of Sydney Harbour. For spectacular panoramas of the azure waters and beyond there are two excellent vantage points, the Tomaree Head summit and the Gan Gan Hill lookout.
Dolphin-watching cruises depart from Nelson Bay, the main town, which is 2h 30min drive north of Sydney and half an hour from Newcastle Airport. Whale watching is popular between May and November, when thousands of humpback and other whales migrate through the marine park.
Dotted along the southern bay shoreline are restaurants serving succulent local prawns, oysters, crabs and lobsters. There are vineyards and a craft beer brewery nearby. Places to stay suit various budgets, from island camping and holiday parks to holiday houses, apartments and stylish resorts.
There are 26 lovely beaches, from sheltered bayside beaches perfect for families with young children to ocean beaches. The Port Stephens Surf School offers surfing lessons at several beaches. At pretty Shoal Bay is a majestic 2.5km beach where kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available for hire.
A splendid backdrop to Shoal Bay is the Tomaree National Park, where you’ll find the summit walk, military heritage and koalas in the wild. You can also spot koalas in the enchanting Tilligerry Habitat, a nature reserve. Or get up close to koalas and other native animals at the Oakvale Wildlife Park.
Just east of Oakvale are the largest moving coastal sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere and the longest beach in NSW, both in the Worimi Conservation Lands. There are fun adventure tours of the towering Stockton Bight sand dunes, and four-wheel driving and fishing are popular on the beach.
For a memorable aquatic experience, step into the water with sharks and stingrays at the Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters, an amazing interactive aquarium. There are also scuba diving tours in the marine park, including to Cabbage Tree Island’s shipwreck and Broughton Island’s grey nurse sharks.