Category Archives: Port Stephens

— Port Stephens —

#80 – Fingal Bay barefoot beach break


  • See how Fingal Bay can match Nelson Bay, its more famous Port Stephens neighbour, number 80 on Australian Traveller’s ‘100 amazing places you haven’t been to yet‘. Nominated by Stephen Howard, director of PR at Amalgamated Holdings Limited

    Secret holiday spots are especially valuable if they’re within that imaginary two-hour travel circle around a city. Fingal Bay, two hours north of Sydney along the southern coast of Port Stephens, holds its own compared to its more famous neighbour of Nelson Bay, yet feels like you’re well off the beaten track – a rare jewel indeed.

    “The thing about Fingal Bay,” says Stephen Howard, the director of public relations for AHL (the hotelier company responsible for the likes of the Art Series and QT hotel chains), “is that it feels like you’re remote but you’re still close to society. You drive through bushland to get there.”

    “People say good morning on their morning walks and walk barefoot everywhere, sometimes even to dinner. There are still lots of old beach shacks, and the beach has a great little left to right break at its southern end.”

    Don’t let this humble description fool you though; Fingal Bay has the goods. “The beach was included in Brad Farmer’s book on the top 101 beaches of Australia,” Howard admits. (And there are 10,685 beaches around the country, according to the Coastal Studies Unit at the University of Sydney, so that’s saying something.)

    Port Stephens’ famous dolphins pass straight through Fingal Bay, making them a year-round feature, and you can watch their antics while you eat real, traditional fish and chips, wrapped in paper from the shop in town.

    “The water is crystal-clear,” says Howard. “You can go out on a boat, or just off the pier at Shoal Bay. Or you can fish directly off the beach at Fingal Bay and collect pipis off the beach as well. At low tide you can walk across the sand bank to Shark Island, which has some old ruins of the lighthouse keepers’ quarters on it.”

    Being five minutes away from the tourist hub of Nelson Bay, too, means that the best of local attractions are available when you’re up for some fun. Go snail’s pace or hell-for-leather at Toboggan Hill Park or grab some just-off-the-boat lunch at the fresh seafood co-op.

    The local golf course is a 27-hole championship course and one of the best public courses in Australia (, says Howard. “There are kangaroos and kookaburras all over the course, just running wild.”

    Meanwhile, in Fingal Bay itself there’s a new little café next to the surf lifesaving club, overlooking that pretty beach, and a new restaurant right inside the club too (“very exciting stuff,” Howard observes with a grin).

    He suggests you sit on the deck and watch the sun set over the beach while you indulge in a cheap beer or two. “And if you really want to get fancy,” he adds, “you can put shoes on.” Sounds like heaven to us.


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    Australian Traveller Issue 62

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    — Port Stephens —

    Mini breaks on mini budgets: Port Stephens


    Looking for a short holiday that won’t liquidate the credit card? Quentin Long focuses on Port Stephens, NSW, finding plenty of bargain highlights for couples and families.

    There are loads of great value destinations in NSW, but I have gone for Port Stephens (over Gerringong, Blue Mountains and Central Coast) because, being that little further out of Sydney means prices are a little cheaper.

    To do

    Go fishing in the port.

    Amazing dolphin viewing tours – family of four about $75

    Hire bikes and ride along the port.

    Stocktonsand dunes – for sandboarding or a camel ride.

    Shark and Ray centre (blows the budget by $95 for a family) – an aquarium with crazy sharks – you can feed them.

    Go Karts with two seats – $45

    To eat – families
    Great fish and chips at the Co-op – legendary.

    Love Murray’s Brewery for a lunch on a Sunday arvo with live music and awesome pizzas, Beers pretty fantastic too. Even better Thai restaurant – just a hidden regional gem Mod Thai for a bit of takeaway.

    To do/eat – couples
    Walk to the top of Tomaree Head. Beautiful views down to the port and the beaches. Try fantastic romantic restaurants: Zest (1 Hat) or Sandpipers


    Oaks Pacific Blue: Awesome apartments with this crazy pool that goes all the way around the apartment. About $200 a night but self-catering for a two-bed apartment. Or, Shoal Bay Holiday Park: Great location across the road from the beach and easy reach of the smallShoalBay shops. There are deals, but is about $160 a night in a two-bed stay.

    The Anchorage: Superb recently refurbished hotel. Great location on the point, around the corner from the main town. Romantic and value deals from $199.



    Port Stephens in depth

    — Port Stephens —

    Out and About Port Stephens


    In any other country Port Stephens would be a national icon. But here in Australia, writes Quentin Long, the gorgeous bay and its beaches with thousands of things to do fly relatively under the radar. Lucky you.

    Why come here?

    Port Stephens is the goldilocks of holiday spots – nothing is too big, nothing is too small, it’s all just right.

    The development has been mostly very careful and therefore gives the place enough to do without being either brash or boring. Oh yeah, and it just happens to be a gobsmackingly beautiful part of the world, with a superb kiddie-friendly beach at Shoal Bay and some supremely gorgeous surf beaches at Zenith and Wreck Beach. And that’s just the beaches…

    What’s it known for?

    Dolphins, fishing, dolphins, the Stockton Sand Dunes, dolphins and Tomaree Headland.

    The area is by far one of the most naturally gifted and understated places for a summer holiday. Half the other coastal destinations across Australia (and the world) envy the very natural talents of Port Stephens. Photos of the area are gorgeous, but just don’t do the place justice. This is a destination that over-delivers.

    Things to do in Port Stephens

    Port Stephens is a very large area, more than double Sydney Harbour and therefore incorporates a huge range of landscapes and towns. Each town has a slightly different character despite almost all being on a series of consecutive bays.

    There is the somnambulist Tanilba Bay, elegant Soldiers Point, family-friendly Salamander Bay and upmarket Shoal Bay. The most well known is, of course, buzzy Nelson Bay, where the majority of shops and facilities are.

    Some intriguing tidbits: escaped convicts were found living with the local Worrimi People in 1795; North Arm was set to become a great city in 1918 when Walter Burley Griffin drew up a city plan for the town to become the main deep seaport of NSW; Tea Gardens was so named because Chinese immigrants tried growing tea there in about 1860. There’s no tea there now.

    How to get there

    Nelson Bay is 210 kilometres north of Sydney and about a three-hour drive. Most places around Port Stephens are about 10–20 minutes from Nelson Bay, except for Tea Gardens which is on the other side of the port.

    What to do

    What’s there not to do? Beaches are seriously great and can have anyone from kidlets to nannas in raptures. For the former, the pick has to be genteel Shoal Bay, which has a fairly narrow stretch of sand – so it’s not a long walk to the water or car.

    For more wave-hungry beach bums, nothing beats Zenith Beach, the first of the three beautifully scythed stretches of sand south of Tomaree Head (the southern headland of the Port). All three are stunning and relatively underpopulated.

    As there are more than 200 dolphins in the port area, there is a lively trade in dolphin (and whale, when in season) watching tours. For a simple one-and-a-half hour mosey around with likely sightings, try Moonshadow Cruises. They also have a cool boom net and waterslide feature. The slide deposits riders onto a boom net that is lowered into the water so you get dragged along after a slide.

    Occasionally you can be lucky enough to have dolphins swim along with the boom net as well – pretty cool. But don’t opt for the lunch or dinner option; let’s just say the food is best left to the tourists.
    (Moonshadow Cruises Dolphin Cruise: Adult $20.80, Child $10.80 Family $65.50, 02 4984 9388,

    For a more energetic and closer view of the port (and hopefully dolphins), jump in a kayak. If you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll have a dolphin actually swim right up under your paddle.
    (Port Stephens Eco Sports Tours 2.5 Hour Discovery Tour: Adults $45, Children 9-14 year $35, 0405 033 518,

    The whole port area offers the best diving within three hours of Sydney. The Broughton Island dive is generally considered the pick of the bunch, particularly at the Shark Gutters where you’re bound to get up close and personal with Grey Nurse sharks.
    (Feet First Dive, 02 4984 2092,

    Fantastic snorkelling is found off Fly Point. Loads of fish, soft coral sponges and even turtles hang out in this marine life sanctuary. It’s dead easy to get to, too – park in the last spaces on Victoria Parade (the main road along the waterfront at Nelson Bay) past the turn off up to Shoal Bay. Then walk to the point and jump in.

    If the dolphins, fish and turtles are the most attractive things in the water, then the Stockton Sand Dunes are the most attractive thing above it. They are not only huge and majestic, but hugely fun. A three-hour zoom around on a quad bike is awesome.
    (Quad Bike King, 02 4919 0088,

    Alternatively, a 90-minute 4WD tour of the dunes is a must. You’ll visit the wreck of the Sygna, which crash-landed in 1974 and was never able to be completely removed, so now sits corroding on the shore. You’ll also see the kooky ‘Tin City’ – a collection of 11 shacks originally built to house shipwrecked sailors, which are now slowly being covered by the dunes.

    And then for the real highlight – a good session of sand boarding. How the legs burn, getting back to the top of the dune.
    (Port Stephens 4WD Tours: Adults $49, Kids, $29, Family $127, (02) 4984 4760,

    For more exhilaration (minus the thigh burn) try Toboggan Hill Park, a mini-mini theme park with an indoor climbing wall, maze and other little activities – along with tobogganing. Try not to get too frustrated by the confusing pricing: the entrance fee is $8 per adult, $5 per kid and then an additional spend per activity.
    (Toboggan Hill Park, 02 4984 1022,

    Australian Shark and Ray Centre is another great one for getting young’uns out of the sun – kids get to play, feed and touch sharks and rays. Great fun for the under 10s.
    (Australian Shark and Ray Centre: Adults $29.50 Kids $19.50 Family $95, 02 4982 2476,

    Head up the Tomaree Headland for a walk/climb to one of the most gorgeous vistas in the world. Better still, you can also push a pram along the track, all the way to the old gun emplacements on the headland. It’s a lovely way to work up an appetite for the gorgeous meals you’re about to devour…

    Where to eat

    The eating options in Port Stephens punch way above the small population’s weight. The best local tip is Murray’s Craft Brewery. Easily overlooked because it’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it on the road in from the highway, Murray’s offers a huge range of boutique beers – eight of which have been included in Australia’s Top 100.

    Beer nerds from all over have been known to make a beeline here, in order to smack down a whole $5 for the brewery tour where they can ask such startling questions as “At what temperature do you brew your pilsener?”

    Then there’s the crowd-pulling pizzas. The seafood pizza is the best in the country, in our opinion; topped with exquisitely tender morsels from the sea and a soupcon of cheese. There’s a great beer garden under the gums with live acoustic music, too.
    (Murray’s Craft Brewing, 3443 Nelson Bay Rd, Bobs Farm, 02 4982 6411)

    Bub’s Fish & Chips is another award-winning joint (although perhaps not the best in the state, as some have declared). Pick the sensible option and get your food to go – eating in offers views of the car park or an unattractive wharf.

    Sit on the beach at Nelson Bay with steaming hot chips and any manner of fish fried in batter, crumbed or grilled. Or grab the Fishermans Basket for $15.90. Just be aware of a little trick Bub’s have going on – they only accept cash. You can get cash out at the Fish Co-Op ATM, which they also happen to own, which adds an irritating$2.50 charge no matter which bank.
    (Bub’s Fish & Chips, 1 Teramby St, Nelson Bay)

    Dinners can be as cheap or expensive as you like. The options are plenty but stick to these winners as the failures can be, well disasters.

    For a great eat-in or take-out Thai you can’t beat Mod Thai in Nelson Bay. There are two Thai places on the same street – Mod Thai is in the same complex as the cinema. It’s classic Thai with some authenticity – simple, affordable, fresh and well done.

    A favourite is the Nam Prig Pow: chilli jam with mushrooms, capsicums and shallots. If you want to eat in, make a booking.
    (Mod Thai: E $7.20-$8.90, M $13.50-$18.90, Shop 12/25 Stockton St, Nelson Bay, 02 4984 4222,

    Around the corner from our favourite Thai, Sandpipers on Magnus St do a more upmarket dinner and lunch. The menu is an interesting modern seafood Australian mix (plus a kids’ menu). The soft shell crab with a pineapple-and-mint salsa is worth a taste – a relaxed, unstuffy meal in a simple restaurant.
    (Sandpipers Restaurant, Tues-Sat lunch and dinner: E $17-$19, M $26-$33, 81 Magnus St, Nelson Bay, 02 4984 9990,

    The standout restaurant in the area has to be the hatted Zest Restaurant, less than a block from both Sandpipers and Mod Thai.

    Chef and owner Glen Thompson has created an institution of elegant food in a sophisticated restaurant. The menu is fairly European with meat and sauces dominating. It’s great food, and the staff are excellent. Our only disappointment was the wine list – it’s a little light, particularly on good bubbles by the glass. But we are being fussy.
    (Zest Restaurant: E $15, M $35, 16 Stockton Street Nelson Bay, 02 4984 2211)

    As you would expect in a seaside town, there are loads of cafes. Right next door to Sandpipers is Baroque. Great pastries and decent coffee, the service needs work but the fitout is great. Grand opulent chandeliers, black and white décor… it’s a Parisian riot in Nelson Bay.
    (Baroque Coffee House, 77 Magnus St, Nelson Bay, 02 4981 1159)

    For a relaxed summer morning coffee, head to Shoal Bay Resort and the Sandyfoot Café & Bar. Simple café breakfast with a lovely view across the bay.
    (Sandyfoot Café & Bar at Shoal Bay Resort and Spa, Shoal Bay Rd, Shoal Bay, 02 4981 1555)

    Around the corner in a piazza between resort buildings, there are a couple more worthy cafes. The zany Gilligans bakery is decked out with Gilligan’s Island motifs and a TV that plays episodes all day, every day… And a menu of great classic café food.
    (Gilligan’s Beachside Café, Shop 23/51 Shoal Bay Rd, Shoal Bay, 02 4981 4884)

    Where to drink

    If there is one weakness in Port Stephens, it is the lack of a great bar. However, aside from Murray’s, our pick is Shoal Bay’s Sandyfoot Café & Bar. It’s a great spot to spend a sunset.

    Port Stephens Accommodation

    Peppers Anchorage: Right on the point at the Corlette between Salamander Bay and Nelson Bay, the resort has its own marina. The gardens are manicured, the bars and public spaces are like a private club and the rooms have sumptuous romantic views of the water, with the bush acting as a protective barrier from the world.

    Food is incredibly good and with decent spa facilities it is the quietest and most sophisticated resort in Port Stephens.
    (Peppers Anchorage, Corlette Point Road Corlette (02) 4984 2555

    Oaks Pacific Blue Salamander Bay: Ridiculously good value apartment resort in Salamander Bay. The big wow feature here is the lagoon pool, which circulates around the entire resort with apartments on either side. Most apartments have access to the pool from the room deck, so kids will be beside themselves with joy.

    Families (and gaggles of girls with plastic wine glasses and a floating ice bucket) spend much of the afternoon wandering around and around and around. Incredible value for multi-generational holidays or big family trips.
    (Oaks Pacific Blue, 265 Sandy Point Road, Salamander Bay, 02 4916 1200,

    Shoal Bay Resort Right on the beach, get a room with a fab view over the bay and you’ll be set for the entire holiday. You can spend the entire time not moving more than 50 metres; wandering from breakfast to the beach, to lunch, to the spa, to a snooze and back to the bar for a drink and dinner….. But back to you.

    It’s a great possie for families with the Kids Club kicking in on school holidays; circus classes, kids bingo, face painting – all the great stuff that let parents reintroduce themselves to each other. More active? Grab a bike and do some great rides to the surf beaches or do the Tomaree Headland walk. One downside is Shoal Bay was the first resort built in the area but the old girl still delivers.
    (Shoal Bay Resort, 35-45 Shoal Bay Road, Shoal Bay, 02 4981 1555,

    Jack’s Place Sometimes the best thing about a beach holiday is a beach shack and Jack’s Place is exactly that. Jack has given his shack a lick of paint, a tidy up, some of his favourite toys and nice landscaping.

    The two-bedroom shack is mostly airy with a huuuuge TV that would make lazing around watching anything a delight… even the cricket. And being a seven-minute walk to the northern part of Shoal Bay, it’s a great spot. (Jack’s Place, 18 Achilles St Nelson Bay, 0404 582 751,



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    — Port Stephens —

    Oaks Pacific Blue in Port Stephens


    Natalie Bray dips into one of the best hotel pools in Oz – at Oaks Pacific Blue in Port Stephens, NSW. Continue reading

    — Port Stephens —

    Soldiers Point Caravan Park – Affordable Beach Breaks


    NSW’s Affordable Accommodation – Caravan Park Continue reading


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    — Port Stephens —

    Surf alongside wild dolphins


    These friendly mammals don’t mind us joining them for surf and that’s why the NSW Marine Parks Authority has given Dolphin Swim Australia a special three year permit to run these one of a kind encounters.

    Frank Future from Dolphin swim Australia says “trials of the in-water dolphin encounters have shown that these types of dolphins just love to ride the waves with us and come right alongside our guests in the water”.

    This experience is the first of its kind in all of Australia. Upon arrival at Nelson Bay Marina in Port Stephens, you’ll be thoroughly briefed before they let you into the water. Once on the boat, four people at a time will be donned in protective wetsuits, snorkel gear and safety harnesses before entering the pristine waters to swim with those wonderful and highly intelligent creatures.

    While in the water you’ll be securely attached on a cable between the twin bows of your catamaran, which will glide along at a pleasant 5 kilometers an hour to ensure an uninterrupted in-water interaction.

    These friendly common dolphins get excited when they see humans, especially when we swim along at the same speed as them. This gives you the opportunity to have a more in-depth experience than any other way.

    While in the water you’ll be securely attached on a cable between the twin bows of your catamaran, which will glide along at a pleasant 5 kilometers an hour to ensure an uninterrupted in-water interaction.

    “It’s an intense and moving experience that takes you right into the dolphins’ world, where you can hear and feel their vocalizations,” Future says.

    If however, you aren’t that keen on the refreshing waters of the pacific ocean, you can also enjoy the dolphin experience from a safe distance on the catamaran as an observer.

    Apart from having a great time and seeing dolphins up close, you’ll also have the opportunity to learn more about them. On each trip, staff conducts scientific research to find out more about the movement and numbers of common dolphins and they also want to make sure that this interactive activity doesn’t have a negative impact on the species.

    So, make sure you don’t miss out, because tours are limited to 20 swimmers and 20 observers at a time. The Ride with the Dolphin Pod experience launches every Saturday and Sunday at 7.15am from the Nelson Bay marina.

    Details //  Ride with the dolphin pod experience
    Where //  Nelson Bay marina, 2.5 hours north of Sydney
    When //  Every Saturday and Sunday from 7.15am (4 hours duration)
    How much //  $AUD 229 for swimmers (including wetsuit and snorkel hire) $AUD60 for observers
    Contact //

    — Port Stephens —

    Ocean Muse Holiday House – Port Stephens


    Australian Traveller Magazine’s 100 Great Australian Holiday Homes Continue reading


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    — Port Stephens —

    100 Best Towns In Australia #26 Nelson Bay, NSW


    Looking in every direction, it’s impossible not to be taken aback by the endless panoramic views of the beaches that border this NSW north coastal town. Part of Port Stephens, Nelson Bay is the largest town in the “Blue Water Paradise”.

    More than 160 bottlenose dolphins have made it their permanent home, and it’s the port-in-passing to over 3000 migrating whales each year. Rows of bobbing boats line the shores, some private charters, others just private luxuries.

    Moving with the times is the Nelson Head Inner Lighthouse that has been operating since 1872; previously lit by a kerosene lamp, nowadays it runs on solar energy.

    “Shades of the Whitsundays a couple of hours from Sydney.” – Matt Cleary

    Littered with an abundance of Gymea Lilies, the Gan Gan Lookout in nearby Tomaree NP is the area’s highest and most accessible lookout point, while other must-dos include tobogganing down the dunes of Stockton Beach, eating some of the state’s best fish and chips in the harbour, swimming, surfing and snorkelling the crystal clear waters, settling in for afternoon coffees at the marina, and cycling along the tidy beachside bike paths.

    Where? // 207km (3hrs) north of Sydney.

    Did you know? // The native Gymea Lily flowers twice a year, coinciding with whale migration to the area. The first time it flowers, whales pass by to the north; on the second flowering, they head back south.


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    — Port Stephens —

    Peaceful Paradise Nelson Bay

    WRITTEN BY ADMIN • JULY 15, 2008

    21-year-old AT Reader Lahnee Thomas takes time out at the NSW resort town of Nelson Bay, where coastlines are endless and relaxation is second nature. Continue reading


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    — Port Stephens —

    Peppers Anchorage


    Drifting Away 

    Peppers Anchorage, Port Stephens NSW

    Gracing the shores of idyllic Port Stephens, Peppers Anchorage is nestled between rugged bush and a sparkling indigo blue sea.

    This intimate retreat has a distinctly nautical feel designed to enchant and enthrall guests with its absolute waterfront location. The package includes:

    Overnight accommodation for 2 people.
    Full Buffet breakfast each morning.
    Complimentary upgrade to suite (subject to availability on check in).
    Bottle of sparkling wine.
    Cost: $284 per night

    Click here for more info, or to book, phone +61 2 4984 2555 or email  

    Valid Sunday to Friday nights between March 4 and June 1, 2008 (excluding Easter & Anzac Day long weekends). Subject to availability.


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    — Port Stephens —

    Taking refuge at Fingal Heads


    My absolute all time favourite weekend spot is where the 1872 lighthouse at Fingal Heads in Northern NSW stands. Each day at around noon pods of dolphins frolic in the breakers between the heads and Cook Island. The dolphins take great delight in surfing the breakers and quite regularly join in with the human surfers. Very few people take the lighthouse trek (most are happy to enjoy the beaches either side), and as such it’s always very peaceful to take shelter under the Pandanus trees on the rocky outcrops and partake of a picnic lunch.” AT reader Susan Smith, Happy Valley SA

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