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A review of Port Stephens, Australia as a holiday destination

Updated on January 3, 2016

Holiday in the 'dolphin capital' of Australia

The waterways at Port Stephens, New South Wales, are blessed with a huge variety of marine life. Known as the ‘dolphin capital’ of Australia, around 200 dolphins are said to make their homes within the bay at Port Stephens. Large schools of fish, little penguins, sea eagles, turtles, seals and other marine life are also found in the bays and estuaries of Port Stephens.

Port Stephens also has beautiful sandy beaches, and vast expanses of bush and heathlands. These are populated with kangaroos, koalas and other Australian native flora and fauna.

The best part is that there are plenty of opportunities for holiday makers to enjoy all of these natural wonders. Port Stephens is just two and a half hours drive north of Sydney, Australia’s most populous city. It has many accommodation options and due to its mild winters, the outdoors can be enjoyed all year round.

Dolphin sightseeing cruises in the bay are extremely popular and run throughout the year. Additionally, from June to early November visitors can also witness the annual migration of humpback whales. The whales can be seen in the waters of Port Stephens as they migrate northwards towards the warmer waters of Queensland. The whales do not come into the bay, but whale watching cruises, which depart from the marina at Nelson Bay, the main town at Port Stephens, allow viewers to get up close to them in the open ocean.

Both whale watching and dolphin cruises can be booked at the marina in Nelson Bay, at the Visitor Information Centre or directly with the various tour operators. The cruises leave from the marina which is in easy walking access from the shops and main tourist strip of Nelson Bay. It is a family friendly area, with a playground, sandy beach, restaurants and ice cream shops nearby.

Moonshadow Cruises boasts that they are the longest and most experienced dolphin and whale cruise operators in the local industry. Certainly the staff are very friendly and particularly accommodating to children. When our family went on a dolphin cruise the children were even invited to have a visit to the wheelhouse to meet the captain. It’s also possible to book cruises that incorporate buffet lunches and twilight dinner cruises with them. Of course, there are also a series of other tour operators to choose from, with varying lengths of cruise times and prices.

Snorkelling, parasailing, kayaking, surfing and fishing can also be enjoyed on the water and booked with the tour operators directly or the tourist information centre.

Whales can also be sighted from the Tomaree Headland a lookout which has wide ranging and spectacular views of the bay and offshore. A paved walkway and series of staircases winds their way up from the beach car park at Tomaree Head to the summit of Tomaree Headland. The walk is steep and takes approximately half an hour. However, it is well worth the effort for the spectacular panorama of Port Stephens and the open ocean approximately 160 metres below. The view also takes in two lighthouses, various islands, Nelson Bay and the infamous Fingal Spit.

Fingal Spit is a beautiful, but narrow stretch of beach that connects to Fingal Head, a tiny thread of land which hosts the outer lighthouse. Please take care if attempting to cross the Spit, as it is notoriously dangerous to cross during high tides. Crossings should only be attempted at low tide. As an added bonus, Tomaree Headland lookout hosts the historic remains of torpedo tubes and a radar station built as part of Australia’s defence network during World War 2. Tomaree Headland is situated in Tomaree National Park which covers over 2,000 hectares of coastal bushland and offers a wide variety of walks.

Another impressive lookout is called Gan Gan lookout, just out of Nelson Bay. It can be accessed by car and offers a 360 degree panorama of Port Stephens. As an added bonus the lookout is surrounded by natural scrub which includes two metre high giant Gymea lilies and wild orchids.

There are 26 beaches in the Port Stephens area, and most of them are very beautiful and family friendly. The shores are wide and open with sparkling sands bordering the shoreline. The beaches are great for family activities such as kite flying and sand castle building. Many of the beaches are patrolled by surf lifesavers during the summer months. Further information about patrolled beaches and surf beaches can be found at the Tourist Information Centre at Port Stephens.

Giant sand dunes

The white shimmering sands of the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes undulate over 32 kilometres. They are the largest dune system in Australia, with the biggest dune being over 40 metres high. Tourist operators offer sandboarding, 4 wheel drive and quad bike tours of the dunes. Various films have been made on the dunes and generally the tours also provide information about the making of these films. Of course the dunes can also be explored in your own 4 wheel drive vehicle. It is not recommended to explore the dunes on foot, as it is too difficult to get around to a large extent.

There are various islands that can be enjoyed at Port Stephens. The two main islands are Cabbage Tree Island and Broughton Island. There is a local seal colony at Cabbage Tree Island. Broughton Island is surrounded by reefs and is known for its wide range of marine life.

With so much marine life, Port Stephens also hosts many fabulous fishing spots. Stockton and Fingal beaches are the most popular fishing beaches. You can also hire a boat to take along the estuaries or even a deep sea fishing charter boat. Fishing licences are required and can be obtained from fishing stores in the local area.

Port Stephens

Port Stephens, NSW, Australia
Port Stephens, NSW, Australia | Source


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