Port Stephens is renowned for its sweeping coastline, awe-inspiring sand dunes, wildlife encounters, and stylish accommodation offerings, but that barely scratches the surface. The region is comprised of a collection of relaxed coastal neighbourhoods – including Nelson Bay, Anna Bay, Shoal Bay, Fingal Bay, and more – with each offering something a little different.
There is a long, enticing list of things to do in Port Stephens, with something to satisfy every traveller: thrill-seekers can opt to quad bike over the largest moving coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere; nature-lovers can head to the water to scuba dive with grey nurse sharks, brush up against majestic humpback whales and swim with the resident bottlenose dolphin population. Those accustomed to a more leisurely pace can tour wineries, dine alfresco on freshly-caught seafood and locally-grown produce. Or simply spend long, hot summer days lazing on one – or all – of the 26 picture-perfect beaches on offer.
There is all this and more to discover below in our Port Stephens travel guide.
Drive north of Sydney for 2.5 hours or north of Newcastle for 1 hour to arrive in the New South Wales coastal region of Port Stephens. If you’re travelling from further afield, catch a domestic flight to Newcastle Airport and travel the further 25 minutes by rental car or taxi to Port Stephens.
On the doorstep of Stockton Beach within the Worimi Conservation Lands, a place of cultural significance to the Worimi Aboriginal people, you will find 32 kilometres of moving sand dunes to explore. Not only are they the longest of their kind in the Southern Hemisphere, they can also reach heights of over 30 metres and slopes of up to 60 degrees.
Fishing, sandboarding, 4WD, quad biking, horse riding and camel riding are just some of the ways you can experience the sand dunes. The shifting sands often reveal and conceal ancient Aboriginal cultural sites, which is why one of the most popular ways to visit is to join a Sand Dune Adventure Tour. The Aboriginal-guided quad bike tour will teach you about Aboriginal culture and history, local bush foods, medicines and more.
The 140-plus bottlenose dolphins that call the expansive blue bay and scenic inlets of Port Stephens home are a major tourist attraction. Visitors flock to the region all year round to swim with the dolphins, but it is during the whale-watching season that Port Stephens really comes into its own.
The season is from May through to November when the humpback and southern right whales migrate north from Antarctica to breed and give birth in warmer waters and then pass the coast again on their return journey south. Book one of the many cruise operators offering dolphin and whale-watching tours during your visit (see the Tours & Packages Port Stephens section below).
The Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary is at the top of the list of things to do in Port Stephens but the region is also well known as an aquatic playground – from scuba diving to its many sites and snorkelling its gentle bays to diving with a grey nurse shark colony off Broughton Island. Then you can take your pick of beaches to visit: Shoal Bay, One Mile Beach, Fingal Bay and Birubi Beach are popular with families, while the swell at Wreck, Box, Samurai and Zenith beaches attract the surfers.
Hike Tomaree Head Summit Walk to the top of Mount Tomaree for epic views of Port Stephens. The trail begins at Zenith Beach carpark and while it is only 2.2 kilometres return, it is a steep ascent to the top, so prepare for a challenging 1.5 to 2 hour return hike. Admire the flora and fauna at Tilligerry Habitat Reserve. Not only is it one of the best places to see koalas in the wild, but you’re also likely to spot black cockatoos, tawny frogmouths, bearded dragons and more as you walk past towering eucalypts, banksia trees, yellow wattle and native flannel flowers. Pick up a pocket guide from the information centre or join a guided tour.
Alternatively, interact with the many Australian native, domestic farm and exotic animals at Oakvale Wildlife Park. Set on over 25 acres of natural bushland, the park also features a water activity area with spray tunnels, water cannons and super soaker bucket – so pack swimmers.
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From camping to glamping, hotels, motels, Airbnbs and luxury beach resorts, there’s plenty on offer when searching for the perfect Port Stephens accommodation.
Bannisters Port Stephens boasts boutique accommodation that is as chic as it is luxurious. The restored waterside property features three room types to choose from – Paperbark, Ocean Deck and Studio – or you can splurge on the Luxury Villa or Penthouse. Enjoy long seafood lunches with stunning views of the bay at Rick Stein at Bannisters onsite restaurant and cool off in the infinity pool.
The Anchorage Hotel & Spa brings a taste of the Hamptons to Port Stephens with its impeccably-styled mezzanine loft suites and exclusive villas. Add to that the serene views of the marina afforded by its absolute waterfront location, highly-regarded Spa Lucca and the multiple dining options – including The Galley Kitchen, The Wild Herring as well as Moby’s Bar.
Hotel Nelson is ideally situated in the heart of Nelson Bay within walking distance to the cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, marina, and multiple beaches. Rooms range from standard to larger-sized suites and family rooms with kitchenettes to cater to larger groups after a longer stay.
The Mantra Aqua Resort is set back from the marina in Nelson Bay. Stay in one of the 110 spacious self-contained two and three bedroom apartments and penthouses within the resort’s three buildings that wrap around the lagoon-style pool and spa. It also features two barbeque entertaining areas and a children’s water fountain.
There are a number of outstanding camping and caravan parks to choose from in Port Stephens thanks to its reputation as a quintessential summer holiday destination.
Fingal Bay Holiday Park is opposite the patrolled beach and surrounded by national park with a resort pool, playground and camp kitchen to accompany its en suite and powered tent, van, RV and drive-thru sites in addition to cabins, villas and self-contained Beach House accommodation.
Shoal Bay Holiday Park offers villas, beach houses, and powered sites for vans, tents, motorhomes and en suite sites, and the option to glamp in the safari tents. The park is situated across from Shoal Bay beach and is within walking distance to Shoal Bay village.
Stay in the glamping tents, cabins and villas or park your caravan or campervan on the powered sites at Thou Walla Sunset Retreat. Located at the tip of Soldiers Point and surrounded by nature – and the promise of picture-perfect sunsets.
Halifax holiday Park is located minutes from both Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay and surrounded by two calm swimming beaches. The park features a large well-equipped camp kitchen with dining and lounge seating, dedicated family bathroom facilities and a guest laundry. Accommodation options include powered sites that cater to large and standard sized motorhomes, as well as campervans and tents, and beachfront villas and cabins of various sizes.
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There is a number of standout cafés tucked in shopping strips, overlooking beaches, and nestled next to public parks all along the coast of Port Stephens worthy of your business.
Start in Fingal Bay at Longboat Café for farm fresh breakfast options – think apple and rhubarb porridge, buttermilk pancakes, handmade fermented crumpets with cultured butter and Fingal Bee Honey.
Head 5 minutes down the road to Nelson Bay for breakfast or lunch at The Little Nel. Just about everything on the seasonal menu is made from scratch and showcases the best local and interstate produce. Those in favour of a spicy-yet-savoury flavour bomb in the morning should opt for the Sambal Chilli Scrambled Eggs, while those with a sweet tooth should try the Wagon Wheel Waffles with vanilla bean ice cream and house made marshmallow.
Find Crest Birubi Beach in Anna Bay perched on a grassy headland overlooking Birubi Beach with views of Stockton Sand Dunes. The beachside café uses the best local produce to create its breakfast and lunch menu.
Indulge in a sun-soaked brunch combined with ocean views at the Shoal Bay Country Club’s Mermaid Café – try the House-made Buttermilk Waffles. Or opt for lunch in the club’s Kitchen & Patio areas for a hefty serving of the freshly-caught seafood Port Stephens is famous for. Order the Deluxe Seafood Platter to feast on lobster mornay, oysters, prawns, blue swimmer crab, kingfish ceviche, grilled barramundi, salt and pepper squid and chips.
Every trip to Port Stephens should include a meal at fine dining restaurant Rick Stein at Bannisters. Expect fresh, simply prepared seafood perfectly paired with great wine. Alternatively, head to the marina in Nelson Bay to dine at the Little Beach Boathouse, or Mavericks on the Bay for classic pub fare.
Enjoy a sunset drink at The Point Restaurant at Soldiers Point, or head back to the Shoal Bay Country Club to sample the extensive cocktail list – by the jug with your mates! While Murray’s Brewing Co. excels in creating a huge range of award-winning boutique beers – all of which are 100 percent natural and hand crafted.
Explore the famous sand dunes within Worimi Conservation Lands on a quad bike tour with Sand Dune Adventure Tours, on horseback with Sahara Trails, on a camel with Oakfield Ranch, try sandboarding with Sand Dune Safaris or take a 4WD tour with Port Stephens 4WD Tours. You can also visit Tin City – one of the filming locations for the Mad Max movie with 4WD Tours R Us.
Book a dolphin or whale-watching cruise with Moonshadow-TQC Cruises or Imagine Cruises. Learn to surf at One Mile Beach, Birubi Beach, Fingal Bay Beach or Dutchmans Beach with Port Stephens Surf School – they also hire out stand-up paddleboards and surfboards.
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