1. G’DAY FLIPPER
More than 140 bottlenose dolphins call Port Stephens home, so it’s little wonder it’s regarded as Australia’s dolphin capital. You’re almost guaranteed a sighting with Moonshadow Cruises (who boast a 99 per cent success rate in season). Sometimes the dolphins chase the boat, or swim off the bow. Cool off in the huge boom net, which is lowered into the water at the stern or watch the dolphins via an underwater video camera. Dolphin Swim Australia also offers a remarkable experience (an Australian first), which takes humans as close as possible to swimming with dolphins. The wild dolphin encounter sees swimmers attached to a cable between the twin bows of the catamaran, Imagine, as it sails along at a safe 5km/h, enabling participants to interact with these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
2. SURF THE DUNES
The largest moving coastal sand mass of its type in the southern hemisphere, the Worimi Conservation Lands (Stockton Bight Sand Dunes) – stretching 32 kilometres to Newcastle – are like one huge, fun sandpit. You can explore by foot, in your own 4WD, ride a quad bike or sand board down dunes towering 30-50 metres high. A Port Stephens 4WD sandboarding tour will have you whooping, as you rollercoaster your way out to the dunes – before flying downhill on a sandboard. Even small children can master the steep runs. Wear plenty of sunscreen in warmer weather, and keep an eye out for migrating whales along Stockton Beach.
3. TAKE A HIKE
Tackle the short (one hour tops), but steep walk up Tomaree? Headland near Shoal Bay, five minutes form Nelson Bay. Once you’ve reached the summit, panoramic vistas of the Port Stephens coastline and north coast lay on either side of the mountain. Zenith Beach, at the foot of Tomaree Head, is a beautiful, pristine stretch of sand where you can take a dip afterwards in the placid waters of Port Stephens. Another short walk is to the deserted ‘secret’ Wreck Beach, tucked away behind the houses at Shoal Bay and reached through lush coastal angophora forest. Or visit the recently renovated GanGan Lookout to learn about the local history and soak up the 360-degree views.
4. HEAD TO THE FARM
Pat a koala, hand feed free-range animals, see emus, dingoes, cassowaries, camels, ducks, deer, sheep and lambs, plus heaps of other native and farm friends. Oakvale Farm is a well-run park with a brand new koala enclosure. Kids can bottle feed goats, milk a cow or take a fun tractor ride.
5. SEAL OF APPROVAL
Take a day trip to Broughton Island or visit the local seal colony at Cabbage Tree Island. The reefs surrounding Broughton Island are famous for snapper and Jewfish, while Cabbage Tree Island, just north of the entrance to Port Stephens, it is home to both a seal colony and a rare species of petrel.
6. SITTING ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY
d’Albora Marinas Nelson Bay is situated in the middle of the Nelson Bay town centre and boasts a variety of dining and retail options alongside your berth. The marina is the perfect port of call and the ultimate waterfront entertainment destination, offering a great selection of retail outlets including giftware, boutique clothing, jewellery and accessories. If you prefer to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, why not try one of the marina’s many restaurants and eateries to tantalise your tastebuds.There is free live music each Sunday and during the summer months, as well as numerous festivals and activities such as New Year’s Eve celebrations and 9pm fireworks, Taste at the Bay, Food, Wine and Jazz Festivals and the popular Sail Port Stephens Regatta. This award winning marina is an experience not to be missed for the whole family and boating enthusiasts alike.
7. DIVE RIGHT IN
Fly Point Park, located on the headland between Nelson Bay and Little Beach, is renowned for its high degree of visibility and aqua coloured water that’s generally protected from winds. Considered one of Australia’s best shore dives, Fly Point offers a number of ledges and drop offs where schools of fish gather, while shallow sections of sea grass provide views of crustaceans, sponges and the occasional giant sea turtle. In deeper water Wobbegong sharks and soft corals can be found. There’s plenty of fun to be had in the shallows as well, with snorkellers able to hand feed the surprisingly tame fish.
8. WHET YOUR APPETITE
With a sparkling bay two and half times the size of Sydney Harbour, try parasailing, standup paddle boarding, diving, surfing or snorkelling, or simply go for a dip in the string of beautiful beaches like Zenith, Shoal Bay Beach and Fingal Bay.
9. ON YOUR BIKE
With rugged mountain biking along coastal tracks to family friendly cycle paths, Port Stephens is a terrific place to explore by bike. The majority of tracks make their way along the coast providing views of some of Port Stephens’ 26 plus individual beaches before heading into lush stretches of National Park. BYO bike, join an organised tour or hire one once you’re there.
10. HAVE AN ALE OR TWO
On the way to the bay proper, stop at Murray’s Brewery and Port Stephens Winery and taste your way through owner Murray Howe’s fantastic range of boutique brews. Settle on a favourite, team your choice with one of the delicious pizzas or beer scones, take a seat in the sun, and watch the kids play on the rolling green lawns. There’s an outdoor toy box, bocce, chickens and a bird aviary. Live music is held on weekends, while pub tours take place daily at 2.15pm.