Port Macquarie is famous for its beautiful coastline, year-round sunshine and waterfront accommodation, though locals know there’s more to this well-loved holiday spot than surf, sand and sun. If you can bear to turn your back on those wave-washed curves, you’ll discover that some of the best things to do in Port Macquarie are beyond the beach.
The best things to do
Take a walk
Practically all roads lead to water in Port (if you want to sound like a local, drop the Macquarie) but there aren’t many towns on NSW’s Mid North Coast where you can walk for three hours, beach to beach, with barely a building in sight. Five golden-sand strips are linked by wooden walkways over rocky headlands; the pathway starts at Lighthouse Beach and finishes at Town Beach. Here, you can stroll along the breakwall to the grassy park known as Town Green at the mouth of the Hastings River. Do it in the afternoon so you can time your arrival at The Beach House bar and diner for a cold beer or cocktail at an outdoor table as you watch the sun sink into the river.
Town Green is Port’s heart and soul. It’s where everyone eats their fish and chips, families dangle lines from the wharf and kids ride scooters and chase seagulls. It’s almost mandatory to lick ice-cream while perusing the breakwall graffiti.
Visit some cute creatures
Also worth a visit is the Koala Hospital, where volunteers care for sick and injured koalas. Book in a visit online before you go so you can check out the gronds and the marsupials in its care.
Head to the hills for food and shopping
Hire a car and head into the hills. Twenty kilometres west is Wauchope, a former tough-as-nails timber town that is emerging as a retail and food mecca. The old-fashioned Hastings Co-op Department Store – which sells everything from furniture and cosmetics to lingerie – is a one-stop shopping destination.
There’s also a growing number of good boutiques: Three Little Birds and Elements of Design stock a carefully curated range of fashion and homewares. The real reason to come to Wauchope, though, is the antique and second-hand shops. You can spend hours fossicking through the charity stores on Cameron Street for retro kitchenware and household items.
If it’s the fourth Saturday of the month, make your way to Wauchope Farmers Market, particularly if you’re self-catering at your accommodation. If you miss the market, you can buy directly from Ricardoes, only a 10-minute trip north of Port Macquarie. Cafe Red, inside the shed, serves diet-destroying homemade scones smothered in jam made from their own fruit.
Immerse yourself in nature
Drive about an hour south-west to Comboyne. Nearby is Boorganna Nature Reserve, one of the few places you can see rare stands of old-growth cedar. The five-kilometre walk to the plunge pool beneath Rawson Falls takes around two hours return.
Detour to Laurieton on the way back to Port. The beaches in and around this coastal town are usually deserted and the views from the top of North Brother Mountain are worth a look. The Art Deco Plaza Theatre shows art-house movies – Baz Luhrmann’s father was a projectionist here – and Armstrong Oysters sells fat, creamy oysters from a riverside shed. Ocean Drive hugs the coast for the entire 40-kilometre drive back to Port.
Top Port Macquarie restaurants
For seafood: There’s no shortage of fish-and-chip shops in town but the one to visit is Macquarie Seafoods on Clarence Street. While service can be a bit abrupt at times, the fish is fresh and you can opt for grilled rather than fried if that’s your thing. Take it away and find a shady spot with a water view at Town Green.
It might sound touristy but there’s nothing tacky about a plateful of fresh oysters slurped on the floating pontoon of The Big Oyster Seafood & Cafe on Hastings River Drive, especially if they’re washed down with a BYO bottle or two of the local Wicked Elf Pale Ale.
For coffee: If you can’t start your day without a decent cup of coffee, forgo the waterfront cafés and stop in at Social Grounds. There’s no view or fancy fit-out but the coffee is worth the trek. Casualties Espresso, in the old ambulance station on Clarence Street, and The Corner Restaurant (pictured) are both good choices in the heart of town for breakfast, brunch or a light lunch.
For lunch: For a cheap and cheerful lunch (or dinner) with a million-dollar view, you can’t go past the aforementioned Beach House on the edge of Town Green. It’s pretty simple pub grub – sliders, salads, schnitzels and steaks – but there’s nothing between you and the water except a few promenading pelicans. Be warned: it can be a hard place to leave when the sun is shining. Or, nibble on on veal paupiettes or escargot with garlic butter beneath the jacaranda at Little Fish Café & Vineyard and pretend you’re in France – until the kookaburras laugh, that is.
For pizza: Craving good Italian pizza? The classic Margherita and Capricciosa at Bar Florian are a cut above the average and the wine list is solid, too.
Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park, between Town Beach and the river, has one of the best locations in town. If you’re not up for camping, the self-contained cabins are great value for families or those wanting something a bit bigger than a hotel room. Most have balconies with water views.
In summer, Macquarie Waters Boutique Apartment Hotel is home to one of the country’s only “dive-in” movie theatres (where you can watch a film from the pool). Another hotel with a view, Rydges Port Macquarie is in a top spot at Town Green. Sister property Sails Resort Port Macquarie by Rydges is a short walk from the centre of town and it’s your best bet if quality pool time is high on your holiday wish list.
Almost all of the hotel rooms and apartments at Mantra the Observatory (pictured) – Port’s most luxurious accommodation – have ocean views. At Sandcastle Apartments, stay during winter and you’ll not only pick up a good deal but you may even see a whale from your balcony.
This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.
Top image credit: Port Macquarie Coastal Walk / Destination NSW