Recently I went up to Port Stephens for the first time in a long time. It’s one of those places I had forgotten is a complete gem. Located 3 hours north of Sydney, it’s just an hour’s drive from the city of Newcastle. I only went up there for the day but after doing a little bit of research, I started to find out that there’s actually loads to do in the area. Port Stephens would make a fantastic weekend away with the family, or with a special someone or friends. So, I’m going to talk about everything I’ve experienced in the area and all of the activities I would do if I were to go up there again.
Let’s start with how to get there: If you’re driving it’s just a 3 hour drive north of Sydney. If you need to take public transport then it will take bit longer. You’ll need to catch the train from Central Station in Sydney to Hamilton (2.5hr), then a bus from Hamilton to Shoal Bay Road in Nelson Bay (1.5hr) here.
Here’s a map of the location. Did you know Port Stephens is more than 2 times bigger than Sydney harbour? I’ve been up to Port Stephens a few times before for the day and once for a long weekend. That weekend I stayed over at a backpackers with some friends. Although it was a nice backpackers hostel, you have to expect the behaviour from backpackers as we didn’t get a lot of sleep during that time. There is a lot of hotels to choose from in Port Stephens including the 5 Star beautiful Aqua Resort.
1. Dolphin and Whale Watching
If you’re like me, and the thought of seeing dolphins in the water brings you a lot of happiness, then you’ve come to the right place. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see dolphins in the harbour, and every single time I’ve been to Port Stephens, I’ve seen some as there’s around 165 that live there permanently.
2. Hire Your Own Boat
Hire a tinnie from Nelson Bay Boat Hire
And the best way to see the dolphins is by hiring your own boat or in proper Aussie slang, a tinnie from Nelson Bay Boat Hire. I’ve done this on three separate occasions that I’ve been in the area and absolutely loved it. Before going vegan, we’ve taken fishing rods with us and done a bit of fishing, jumped off the boat into the beautiful harbour and saw loads of dolphins come right up to our boat – it’s freedom at it’s best. And best of all, it’s really cheap to hire the boat. You don’t need a boat licence and it’s only $85 for 2 hours or $100 for 3 hours. I would say 3 hours is more than enough time to hire it out and it will take up to 6 people. Take some drinks, and some nibbles and you’re sorted.
If hiring your own boat isn’t your thing, there are plenty of boat cruises to choose from.
3. Hiking up to Mount Tomaree
At the top of Mount Tomaree
The view of all views is located at the top of Mount Tomaree in Shoal Bay. When you drive around the corner from Nelson Bay into Shoal Bay, it’s like you’ve literally time travelled to Thailand. The water is completely flat and you’ll see the beautiful islands out in the distance. This place has serious holiday vibes written all over it.
To hike up to the top of the mountain is actually quite easy although it looks like a complete monster to tackle. As a hiker myself, I didn’t even wear hiking boots or active wear and just walked up in my skirt and sandals. I timed it as well on my Garmin 235 watch, and it took me 15 minutes as it’s around 1KM. It’s very easy to navigate and it’s a good path. I even saw small children walking up. It’s a steady path until you reach the stair cases. Obviously not advisable for the elderly or toddlers but should be OK for everyone else.
Here’s a video I made of our day hiking up to the mountain!
The view up the top is breath taking. You’ll be able to see loads of beautiful beaches and you’ll feel like you’ve made it to an utter paradise of a place. It was a stunning day when I went up and all I could think was, “This is only 3 hours from Sydney??? Wow!”
4. The Beaches
The first beach next to the Mount Tomaree is Zenith beach which is easy to get to and it’s stunning.
A few years ago on Zenith Beach
This time we went up to the mountain, I noticed a sand bar out in the distance so naturally I made a beeline for it. It’s located at Fingal Bay (a 4 minute drive from Mount Tomaree), over at Fingal Spit and wow, what a beach it is. Because we arrived late in the afternoon, the light was absolutely beautiful and completely romantic. Best of all, there was hardly anyone else around. This is what an Australian beach of dreams is made of!! I wouldn’t recommend walking over the sandbar though as it’s not safe at all. Just go to Fingal Bay to enjoy the beautiful beach!
Fingal Bay, Port Stephens
There are so many beaches in the area, like 26 to explore, it’s crazy! I’ve also been to One Mile Beach which is a busy one for the holiday park there and also Kingsley Beach as well which was stunning. One thing I learnt about Port Stephens is; you can watch the sun set over the ocean! This is a complete novelty as you’ll never see it anywhere in NSW. When I was there last weekend, I pulled over and managed to get a quick shot of the sun setting over the water, it was magical!
Watch the sunset over the water in Port Stephens
Scuba diving with Let’s Go Adventures
If you’ve ever wanted to try scuba diving or do a course then Let’s Go Adventures offers it all. Also, there’s so many ship wrecks just off the beaches so I can imagine it’s a total haven for the divers out there.
6. Horse Riding or Camel Rides
Horse riding with Sahara Trails
Ever wanted to ride a horse on the beach? Well Sahara Trails do exactly that, as well as bush trails and sand dune trails starting at a friendly $55pp.
Camel rides with Oakfield Ranch
Always thought riding a camel would never be possible in NSW? Think again. At Oakfield Ranch, they offer camel rides for around 20 minutes along the sand dunes and a nice 1 hour sunset ride as well. You’ll think you could be in the desert on this fun activity!
7. Sand Dunes
Quad biking with Sand Dune Adventures
With the mention of sand dunes, yes that’s right – there are sand dunes in Port Stephens and they are the largest sand dunes on the coast in Australia! There are a few activities to be had here with Sand Dune Adventures such as quad biking or for the tamer crowd there’s sand dunes tours on a huge hummer. Quad biking tours start from $65 for Children (7-13) and $110 for adults for 1hr and hummer tours start from $35 for kids and $55 per adult for 1.5 hour tour. Expect to do some sliding down on the dunes as well!
8. See the Koalas
See the koalas with Tilligerry Habitat Association Inc
Port Stephens really does have it all. With the Tilligerry Habitat Association Inc, you can go on a guided tour to spot the koalas in the wild right in the middle of Port Stephens for just $16.50 per person!
9. Water Sports
If you’re up for an adventure, there are loads of water sports to try out. Port Stephens Paddle Sports have a guided kayak tour and a new paddle board (SUP) tour as well. At rates starting at just $30 for kids for 1.5 tour, you can go for a sunset kayak, day time kayak or a stand up paddle board (SUP) session. Just note that they are closed in winter and open up again from September onwards.
10. Hire a bike
Hire a bike from Nelson Bay Bike Hire
Did you know there’s over 50KM of cycleways in Port Stephens? If you’re like me and love the freedom cycling gives you, then from just $20 for 2 hours for an adults mountain bike, this is surely one of the best cheap activities in the area? Head over to Nelson Bay Bike Hire for more details.
11. Toboggan Hill Park
Fun for all at Toboggan Hill Park
I went on my first ever toboggan ride in Jamberoo a few years back and had a 6 year old tell me I went too slow (seriously, what??) but I loved it. You knew there’s a Toboggan Hill Park right in the middle of Nelson Bay? Prices start from just $5 and it would be a great place for kids birthday parties. I found this video below you can check out.
12. Where To Eat
The Little Nel Cafe, Nelson Bay
Expect loads of holiday makers food in the area like fish&chips but the main cafe that stood out for me was The Little Nel Cafe in Nelson Bay. They serve local produce that’s healthy and rivals any decent healthy cafe in Sydney. See their breakfast and lunch menus.
I had planned to take The Aussie’s mum to the Inner Light Tearooms for Mother’s Day this year but it unfortunately rained so we didn’t go in the end. Imagine having Afternoon Tea with some of the best views of Port Stephens? This is where it’s at!The Inner Light Tearooms, Nelson Bay
Another place I’ve found out about whilst researching for this post is the Little Beach Boathouse. Located again in Nelson Bay right on the water is a magical looking restaurant. This would be the perfect spot for lunch or a romantic dinner. Expect to pay $30+ for an evening meal here.
Little Beach Boathouse, Nelson Bay
13. Swim With Sharks and Stingrays
Swim with stingrays and sharks at Irukandji Shark and Ray Centre
Ever wanted to swim with sharks and rays? Here at the Irukandji Shark and Ray Centre, at Bob’s Farm in Port Stephens, you’ll find a unique and interactive aquriam that allows visitors to interact with ocean life in the water. It’s really affordable too starting at just $19.50 for kids. This is another great activity for a family or for anyone interested in marine life.
So that’s my 13 top things to do in Port Stephens. Here’s to your next weekend away out of Sydney!
Is there anywhere I’ve missed off this list? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading this post!
If you liked this post, you might be interested in some of my other posts below: