Here is how to hit the Stockton sand dunes in the Worimi Conservation Lands.
The Stockton Bight sand dunes stretch 32 kilometres between Birubi Beach and Stockton in Port Stephens and are recorded as the largest coastal sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. 4200 hectares of these seemingly endless, undulating sand dunes form what is known today as the Worimi Conservation Lands: a joint management arrangement between the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the local Aboriginal Owners, implemented to protect this culturally significant landscape. Three waves of sand dunes have created these magnificent dunes dating back as far as the Pleistocene era and there is more than one way for you to explore this moon-like landscape. Find our pick of the best ways to experience it below – whether you’re a nature lover or adventure lover, there is something for everyone.
NPWS Worimi Conservation Lands – An Indigenous perspective
The Worimi people welcome visitors to the Stockton sand dunes, located on Worimi Conservation Lands. There are many visible signs dotted around the dunes that demonstrate a connection to the Worimi Nation, which was made up of 18 clans. The Worimi were hunter-gatherers and there is evidence dotted all around the dunes that point to Indigenous occupation. Make sure you get your permit and follow the rules applied to land, so that you’re not impacting negatively on the land. “Leave footprints and take only memories,” says Worimi Aboriginal Land Council CEO, Andrew Smith.
GO Quad Biking with Sand Dune Adventures
Don a high-vis vest and helmet and head off on a tag-a-long guided tour with local Aboriginal people, who inspire unbridled awe with their knowledge of the landscape and Indigenous heritage, all the while riding through the ridged sand mountains. The Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council is behind the not-for-profit tourism enterprise that takes visitors on an exclusive access tour into their private lands and the most pristine untouched sand dunes on the Stockton Bight. Your Indigenous guide will point out middens, where Aboriginal people feasted on fish and shellfish, hammer stones used as tools, and teach you about bush food such as ninang (oysters) and makurr (fish) on a 1.5-hour Aboriginal Culture Sandboarding and Quad Bike tour.
Beach and dune driving is one of the most popular ways to explore the area around Stockton sand dunes. The park provides 4WD access to more than 22 kilometres of Stockton beachfront and more than 350 hectares of dunes to drive around in at the southern end of the park, making this one of the largest areas on offer in NSW for coastal dune driving. Entry to the dunes is via Lavis Lane at Williamtown in the southern end of the park, Gan Gan Road at Anna Bay at the northern end, or via the Fern Bay 4WD access track (4WD access only). Of course, if you don’t have a 4WD, you can get onboard Sand Dune Safaris, which has a fleet of Toyota LandCruisers.
4WD permit requirements
All vehicles entering the Worimi Conservation Lands must be registered and display a valid beach vehicle permit. Permits are available via the Port Stephens Visitor Information Centre. A three-day permit costs $33; an annual permit costs $88.
Sandboarding & dune surfing
Try sandboarding or surfing down the Stockton sand dunes
Try your luck at stand-up sandboarding with Sand Dune Safaris, which has been guiding tours of the Stockton sand dunes for more than 20 years. Travel across the sand dunes in a custom-built 4WD to a private sandboarding area in the heart of Stockton Bight where you can try your luck on a range of hand-crafted sandboards, including some built for stand-up styling. Keen snowboarders can also opt for a board with bindings, while couples can tackle the sand slopes in tandem. The Sand Dune Safaris depart at 9.30am during summer and 10am in winter and every 15 to 20 minutes after that for the remainder of the day so you can stay and play for as long as you like.
Visit Tin City on safari
The iron-roofed shacks that make up Tin City are steeped in history. And the tale behind it, which you will learn on a Sand Dune Safaris tour, is storybook stuff, dating back to the early 1900s when the ocean did its worst and wrecked a ship offshore. Tin City began to accommodate the shipwreck survivors and, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, expanded its ramshackle reach to include more than 36 huts. There are 11 of these huts still standing and the tin shanty town is the last legal squatter settlement in Australia. Highlights of a Tin City Tour with Sand Dune Safaris also includes catching pippis and visiting Second World War sites.
Camel & horse riding tours
Enjoy a camel ride in nearby Anna Bay
Hug the Hunter coast’s curves on a tour with Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides over the vast sand dunes of Birubi Beach, which is at the northern end of the sand dunes. The camel caravan route wends its way from bush to beach and encourages visitors to plod along at a slow pace along a river of sand that passes through great swathes of country home to the Worimi Nation, the traditional owners of the land. The best time to explore this area around Port Stephens is at dusk, when the sea resembles a piece of glittering tin foil. See large birds of prey wheeling in circles above while you bounce along with your guides, who look like beach boys from the ‘70s.
Sahara Trails Horse Riding
Budding equestrians who love wide, open spaces will love all that emptiness on offer on an intermediate beach ride at the base of the Stockton sand dunes. The friendly guides from Sahara Trails will lead the way while you sit back and relax in the saddle along the pristine coastline, which is an exhilarating antidote to your busy city life. Book a tour at dawn when the dunes are lit up in the early light and the beach is a paradise of crashing waves and salty air. Meander along the beach as it tapers north, take your trusty steed into the surf for a swim and take a moment to admire the patterns driven by wind into the sand, which is as corrugated as the sea that lies beyond.
Swimming at Stockton Beach
The beach within the park is not patrolled and the Worimi Conservation Lands Council advises against swimming at Stockton Beach. You are welcome to bring your dog to the Worimi Conservation Lands if it remains on the beachfront and on a leash at all times. You must also pick up after your dog. Leashed dogs are also permitted at beach campsites.
Camping near Stockton sand dunes
Ganyamalbaa means ‘place to camp’ in the local traditional Gathang language and this remote beach campsite is being trialled on Worimi Conservation Lands north of Newcastle to see if it can be managed in a sustainable way. Bookings are essential to book a spot at Ganyamalbaa Camping, which has just 15 sites suitable for tents and single axle camper trailers. This is a remote campground with no facilities so you will need to bring food and water, a portable camp toilet and take all waste and rubbish with you when you leave.
For more great travel tips on Port Stephens read our ultimate travel guide here.