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TRAVEL & LEISURE

Eight Things You Didn't Realise You Could Do in Port Stephens

Animal encounters and adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities await.
By Melanie Colwell and Hudson Brown
July 06, 2020
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Eight Things You Didn't Realise You Could Do in Port Stephens

Animal encounters and adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities await.
By Melanie Colwell and Hudson Brown
July 06, 2020
  shares

EIGHT THINGS YOU DIDN'T REALISE YOU COULD DO IN PORT STEPHENS

in partnership with

Animal encounters and adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities await.

Sometimes holidays are all about kicking back and relaxing — think leisurely swims, afternoon naps and finally finishing that book you've been trying to read since Christmas. But when you spend most days stuck at the same desk, counter or job site, you may be seeking something a little more exhilarating. You already know Port Stephens can deliver on your R&R quota, thanks to its luxury resorts and stunning patches of sand that you can lay on all day. But the region offers plenty in the adventure department, too. Whether it's riding your very own camel down the beach or sailing over the largest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere on a quad bike, Port Stephens is the place to go for left-of-centre, blood-pumping experiences. Here are our picks of the bunch.

While regional holidays within NSW are now allowed, some of the places mentioned below may be operating differently due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please check websites before making any plans.

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    Part of the historical Worimi Conservation Lands, the Stockton Sand Dunes are considered the largest coastal moving sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere. And the best way to explore the 32 kilometres of sand is on four wheels with Sand Dune Adventures. The company, which is owned and operated by the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council, offers a special experience that combines insights into the rich cultural heritage of the area with adrenaline-pumping quad biking action.

    On the 1.5-hour Aboriginal Culture Quad Bike Tour, you’ll ride from the bush to the beach as your Aboriginal guide explains the traditional uses and care of the land you’re on, including pointing out some freshwater lagoons and burial sites. You’ll also get information on traditional Aboriginal food, culture and history. The tour is suitable for all experience levels, and the bikes have automatic thumb throttle so, after a quick safety tutorial on riding techniques, you should get the hang of things quickly.

    Images: Destination NSW

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  • 7

    It’s hard to truly appreciate the sheer size of the Stockton Sand Dunes until you hop on a sandboard and start sliding down one of the hills — and you just keep sliding. There are a few companies that offer sandboarding experiences in the Port Stephens region, but Sand Dune Safaris is our pick for a couple of reasons. It’s a family owned and operated business, and the team is able to offer a more intimate experience — and this includes allowing you to stand on the board and ‘surf’ down the dune if you’re game. You’ll also get to travel to Sand Dune Safaris’ spot on the dunes in 4WDs which, they say, is “half the fun”.

    Normally, the company has a continuous shuttle service heading out to the dunes and back every 15 minutes, so you can stay and play as long as you please. There’s also a shaded picnic area out on the dune, so you can take along an esky with drinks and snacks when you need to rest. Also be sure to pack sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat as the sand is extremely reflective due to its high silica content, so it can get mighty toasty out there. Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, Sand Dune Safaris is now running six two-hour sessions per day. Bookings are essential with a limit of nine people per group. Sessions are subject to change as restrictions are lifted so keep checking the website for the latest info.

    Image: Destination NSW

    READ MORE Book Now
  • 6

    You live in Sydney, so walks on the beach probably aren’t that out of the ordinary. But one that involves riding on top of a camel? Now we’re talking. Oakfield Ranch runs camel rides on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends throughout the year that start from Birubi Point, the northernmost point of Stockton Beach.

    No bookings are required for the standard 20-minute day rides, which cost a very reasonable $35 per person. But if you’d really like to lean into the experience, make a booking for one of the 60-minute sunset treks for $90 each. As you stroll along the water’s edge with views out to the ocean on one side and the monstrous sand dunes on the other, you’ll feel much further away from home than you actually are.

    Images: Destination NSW

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  • 5
    Wild Dolphin Swim

    The high dolphin population is a huge drawcard for visitors to Port Stephens, and there are plenty of companies offering the opportunity to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. But this experience takes things to the next level by letting you jump in the ocean and splash around with them.

    Dolphin Swim Australia has offered this up close and personal experience — the only one of its kind in NSW — since 2010. The four-hour tour (which generally runs from late September to late April) takes place on a 52-foot catamaran and sets off from Nelson Bay’s D’Albora Marina at 5am (if ever there were a reason to get up before sunrise, this is it). When the crew comes across a pod, six guests at a time will don masks and snorkels and be attached to a rope strung between the bows of the catamaran. As the boat moves through the water, the dolphins will glide alongside the group, occasionally darting in between people. They respond positively to sound, so you’re encouraged to sing out to get them to show off a little. The species most commonly seen is the patterned common dolphin, though you may also get to see common bottlenose dolphins.

    Image: Destination NSW

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  • 4
    Shoal Bay SUP

    If you think you need to travel all the way to Far North Queensland to paddleboard across crystal clear waters, think again. The aqua blue waters of Shoal Bay provide the same relaxing and aesthetically pleasing experience without the pricey airfare. Shoal Bay SUP is based right on the beach at Shoal Bay about 100 metres from the boat ramp. Hire costs $25 for an hour and includes a quick lesson before you set out to leisurely explore the bay. This section of the bay is quite shallow — between four and eight metres — so keep an eye out for marine life.

    Shoal Bay SUP also runs early morning guided tours at 7.45am. An instructor will either take you west towards Halifax Park or east towards Tomaree Headland depending on weather conditions. The tour costs $35 per person and runs for about an hour.

    Image: Destination NSW

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  • 3
    Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters

    Given that Port Stephens is the access point to the 980-square-kilometre Port Stephens – Great Lakes Marine Park, it seems pretty likely that you’ll spy some sea life no matter what time of year you visit. But to get up close and personal with some of the more misunderstood creatures of the big blue, make tracks to Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters in Anna Bay. Here, you’ll get to learn about, pet and feed rays, zebra sharks and tawny sharks. You have the opportunity to snorkel with some of the tropical creatures, too.

    As well as spreading important messages about marine life and ocean conservation, Irukandji also donates five percent of annual profits to research and assists nearby Newcastle University with ocean-related projects.

    READ MORE Book Now
  • 2
    Fly Point Aquatic Reserve

    Snorkelling expeditions are part and parcel with coastal holidays, and Port Stephens delivers the goods year-round (if you can brave the chillier temps in winter, that is). One of the most accessible spots is Fly Point Aquatic Reserve, an idyllic inlet positioned between Nelson Bay and Little Beach that extends 500 metres off-shore. This area is completely protected — no fishing allowed — making it a popular spot for snorkelling and shore scuba diving.

    You can expect sponge and kelp gardens that wobbegong sharks, nudibranchs, blue gropers, pineapple fish and the occasional seahorse call home. If you’re lucky, you may even spy a turtle. Keep an eye out for butterfly fish, butterfly cod and damselfish during the warmer months, too. Don’t have snorkelling gear with you? You can hire some from Let’s Go Adventures in Nelson Bay.

    Image: John Turnbull via Flickr

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  • 1
    Blue Water Sailing

    Suffice to say, there are plenty of high adrenaline activities to fill your itinerary with in Port Stephens. But as a day of jam-packed fun comes to end, you’ll want to wind down with something more relaxing — but still a little extra (after all, you’re on holidays). Blue Water Sailing offers this in the form of its Sunset Sail, a two-hour cruise around the Port Stephens waterways as the sun goes to bed.

    Snuggle up to your favourite person and feast on freshly shucked oysters, a cheese platter and local wine as you watch the sky put on a golden- and pink-hued show. Tickets cost $149 and can be booked here. The company also offers sailing lessons and full-day private tours to Broughton Island if you’re keen to do a little more exploring.

    READ MORE Book Now

Top image: Sand Dune Adventures via Destination NSW

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