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TRAVEL & LEISURE

Seven Fun Things to Do in Port Stephens That'll Take You Beyond the Beautiful Beaches

There's more to this region than its 26 beaches.
By Melanie Colwell and Hudson Brown
July 14, 2020
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Seven Fun Things to Do in Port Stephens That'll Take You Beyond the Beautiful Beaches

There's more to this region than its 26 beaches.
By Melanie Colwell and Hudson Brown
July 14, 2020
  shares

SEVEN FUN THINGS TO DO IN PORT STEPHENS THAT'LL TAKE YOU BEYOND THE BEAUTIFUL BEACHES

in partnership with

There's more to this region than its 26 beaches.

Given it has a whopping 26 beaches to its name, you'd be forgiven for thinking Port Stephens is a holiday destination reserved only for the warmer months. Yes, cooler weather may make a lazy day of sunbaking and snorkelling a little less inviting, but you don't need to wait for a heat wave to take that well-deserved break up north. The coastal region has plenty to offer outside of peak season, too. Here are a bunch of activities that'll convince you to visit Port Stephens at any time of year.

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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    Escape Trekking Adventures

    There are almost 700 recorded climbing routes across the Port Stephens region, and the majority of crags in this region are made of seaside granite. It’s a popular spot for keen bouldering and climbing enthusiasts.

    If you’re a novice, sign up to Escape Trekking Adventures’ dedicated tour. Specifically designed for beginners, this three-hour rock climbing course will show you how to navigate the sea cliffs with various footholds, handholds and abseiling techniques. All climbing equipment, including ropes, harnesses and helmets are included in the course price (from $120 per person). We know you’ll be concentrating, but do try to soak up the epic views while you’re hanging around — you can’t access the same vantage points any other way.

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    Picture this: you’re driving in a 4WD through a desert. There’s nothing but emptiness — just sky and sand — for as far as you can see. No signs of life. Then suddenly, something emerges in the distance like a mirage. It’s a collection of buildings that resembles a small village. If you think it sounds like a scene out of a movie, you’re on the right track. The place we’re talking about, Tin City, was actually used as a set in the legendary Australian film Mad Max (1979).

    The site is thought to date back to the early 20th century with two structures built for shipwrecked sailors to seek shelter in. It was expanded in the 1930s as a squatter settlement with over 36 huts and used primarily as a fishing village. Nowadays, the dunes fall under the remit of Worimi Conservation Lands so no more building can occur, while the remaining 11 huts, including the old pub, are ‘passed down’ through families and friends.

    You can visit Tin City with Port Stephens 4WD Tours (though they’re currently on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions). Across the two-hour tour, you’ll venture to the shantytown in its purpose-built 4WD buses, plus visit some important WWII sites and try a little snowboarding. The tour costs $55 per person.

    Image: Destination NSW

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    About a 25-minute drive out of Nelson Bay is Oakvale Wildlife Park, a farm and park filled with native Australian animals that you can interact with. The park was first established in November 1979 and remains a family owned and operated business to this day.

    You’ll need to reserve a good few hours to explore this 25-acre animal wonderland, which is filled with native species including kangaroos, dingos, koalas, quokkas and Tasmanian devils. There are exotic animals like llamas, highland cows, water buffalo and camels to see, too. If you’d like to get up close and personal with some of them, there are a few wildlife encounter packages available on top of the $29.50 entry fee (family passes available, too). You could have a ring-tailed lemur sit on your shoulder, feed a koala or meerkat or hold a reptile. Various shows and talks occur throughout the day, too, so you can go home having fed some baby farm animals and armed with facts on koala conservation and the cassowary.

    Image: Destination Port Stephens

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    If there was one reason to visit Port Stephens outside of peak season that trumps all others, it’s this: whales. From May to November, the stretch of coast that Port Stephens occupies is considered one of the best to spy humpback and southern right whales as they migrate up to warmer waters and then back down towards Antarctica. There are plenty of vantage points on land from which to spot these majestic creatures, but if you want to get up close and watch them play, jump aboard one of the Moonshadow-TQC Cruises. Lasting roughly three hours, the boat tours take you out into the bay to some of the coast’s outer islands to watch the whales showing off. You’ll probably get to see some of the region’s resident dolphins and seals, too.

    Moonshadow’s whale watching tour costs $65 and it offers a complimentary return cruise if you don’t see a whale. If you do happen to be visiting outside whale watching season, hop aboard one of its dolphin cruises instead, which costs $30 and includes a ride in the boom net. Family passes are available for both, too.

    Image: Destination NSW

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    About a 40-minute drive from Nelson Bay is Tilligerry Habitat, a nine-hectare reserve situated on the foreshore of Tanilba Bay. This area is open every day (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day) and free to visit — just grab a map from the Environment Office and set off exploring. Within the reserve, there are gravel tracks and boardwalks that’ll lead you through swamp mahogany paperbark forest and woodland and over freshwater streams.

    If you want to know what to keep an eye out for, the habitat’s website has guides to download on the birds and orchids that are often seen in the area. A reptile guide is coming soon, too, and there’s also a sensory guide that’ll help you identify the native flora to see, touch, smell and, in some cases, taste. You may also get to see some native fauna — echidnas, bandicoots and koalas are regularly spotted in the habitat. This website, which tracks recent koala sightings, will point you in the right direction.

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    Medowie Macadamias is a plantation based in the quiet town of Medowie. It has been around since 1980, and now has five varieties of macadamia trees planted across its 12 acres. If you’d like a tour of the farm, you’ll need to contact the owners in advance. If you just want to turn up, there are signs dotted around that explain the history of the farm and the production process, which you can read while you wait for your food from the onsite cafe. It serves breakfast and lunch, plus a selection of sweets and coffee.

    Take some time to browse the shop, too, which sells a range of macadamia-based products — from chilli-coated macadamia nuts and macadamia honey to 2.2-litre macadamia oil bottles and cosmetics.

    Image: Destination NSW

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    Spread out over 130 hectares, the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens is the place to come for a quiet stroll through nature and to see some endangered native flora. The gardens are open every day from 9am-4pm and entry is just $3. For a fiver, you can join a guided tour that’ll lead you through the history of the site and the themed gardens, plus there are a few walks throughout the garden’s bushland where you may see birds, goannas, possums, wallabies and koalas in their natural habitat. There are also some ongoing events, including an Artist in Residence Program, featuring music, weaving and Aboriginal art ($10 including entry). After you’ve finished exploring, head to the Kookaburra Cafe for Devonshire tea, sandwiches and cakes.

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Image: Destination Port Stephens

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