A family weekend in Port Stephens proves to be a step back in time, in the best way possible. By Lizzy Perks.
An easy two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Sydney, Port Stephens offers a harbour twice the size of Sydney’s, the largest sand dunes in the southern hemisphere and a plethora of beaches, waterways and national parks. It has long been a popular destination for family holidaymakers, and deservedly so – it’s impossible for kids to be bored here. Unlike many other beach-vacation destinations, where constant activity and sun-hungry hordes can mar that relaxed feeling, there are still spaces in Port Stephens that take you straight back to the beach holidays of yesteryear.
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Walking along the deserted beaches around Port Stephens delivers a hefty dose of nostalgia for parents and a chance at discovery for children. There are whalebone graveyards here and no shortage of shells and rocks to pitch at the water. Set up the beach umbrella on sands where only locals and the odd tourist meander. And back in town, you’ll be relieved to know that the trip down memory lane doesn’t extend to drinking the kind of coffee one would have expected in 1990….
The Little Nel Cafe
This relaxed verandah cafe is a local favourite for its excellent locally-roasted coffee, kid-friendly attitude and a menu that covers the gamut of breakfast needs from French Champagne to superfood smoothies. Gluten- and dairy-free options are available as well as a dedicated kids’ menu. For a spicy kick to start your day try the Chak Chouka – eggs baked in a chorizo, tomato, capsicum and paprika sauce.
3-7 Government Road, Nelson Bay; (02) 4916 4600
Cookabarra Restaurant at Tailor Made Fish Farm
If you’ve ever ordered barramundi in Sydney, chances are it came from the Tailor Made fish farms. While you could simply enjoy a delightful meal of some of the freshest fish you may ever eat on the peaceful verandah here, we recommend taking time to tour the commercial fish farm. Kids will love seeing the baby barra in the nursery, feeding the big fish, Big Barry, and learning everything there is to know about the mighty ‘mundi.
476c Marsh Road, Bob’s Farm; (02) 4982 6740
Little Beach Boathouse
Perched above the water on Little Beach, Little Beach Boathouse is exactly how a beachside restaurant should be. The service is charming, the menu is proudly local and if you get really lucky you might see a pod of dolphins splashing in the harbour out front. Try the Port Stephens Rock Oysters caught in Salamander Bay, and the Boathouse ‘3 Pigs’ – with prosciutto, chorizo and pork belly – for a porcine feast.
4 Victoria Road, Nelson Bay; (02) 4984 9420
Slide the dunes
Take a 4WD up to the top of the largest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere and marvel at just how peaceful it is to be surrounded by sand on all sides. Next step: slide down the dunes on a piece of perspex no bigger than a snowboard. Suitable for all ages and types; our group included a buck’s crew, honeymooners and a family with four-year-old child.
Birubi Point, James Patterson Drive, Anna Bay; 0425 213 096
Ride the camels
Rumour has it they spit and don’t like to be touched, but Brian of Oakfield Ranch will convince you they are merely misunderstood as he guides you on to the back of a camel for a ride along the sand. Peaceful and ambling with a captivating view, you will love it.
Birubi Point, James Patterson Street, Anna Bay; 0429 664 172
Feed the animals
At Oakdale Farm and Fauna World children have the opportunity to feed baby farm animals, milk a cow, wander among ducks, geese and chickens and learn about Australia’s native fauna. If it is late in the day and emotions are frayed, observing the eerie stillness of the American alligators will silence adults and infants alike!
3 Oakdale Drive, Salt Ash; (02) 4982 6222
See the dolphins
Take a Moonshadow Cruise to observe dolphin pods in the waters off Port Stephens. The Moonshadow staff are impressively knowledgeable about individual dolphins known to the area and make an effort to cause minimal disruption to these beautiful creatures.
Dock C, d’Albora Marina; (02) 4984 9388
Amble the beaches
There are so many beaches around Port Stephens: surf beaches, family-friendly beaches and secret beaches. Try Wreck Beach or Zenith Beach for a solitary experience; the beach at Anna Bay in front of the dunes is busier but also lovely. Around Shoal Bay the waters are placid and kid-friendly.
Ramada Resort Shoal Bay
If your intention is to swim in the beautiful waters of Shoal Bay, beach-comb the sands or hike up to beautiful Tomaree Head Summit, the Ramada Shoal Bay is the perfect spot to stay. It also works if you just want to sit on a balcony and watch the waves roll in. The Ramada offers studio-style hotel rooms through to fully functional apartments suitable for large families. Post hike or camel ride, the Ramada’s three mineral spas are the perfect place to soothe aching muscles.
35/45 Shoal Bay Rd, Shoal Bay Port Stephens NSW 2315; (02) 4984 8100
The writer was a guest of Destination Port Stephens.
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