Only 2 and a half hours north of Sydney, Port Stephens is an easy destination for people wanting to get away from the quick beat of city life. Our essential guide to Port Stephens has all you need to know about this unsung hero of the NSW coast.
Mrs Romance and I have been visiting Port Stephens for years. It’s close enough to Sydney that it’s an easy 2 ½-hour drive, but it’s far enough away to really give the feeling of being away from everyone.
In fact it features as one of our top 9 easy Sydney getaways. Its white sandy beaches, friendly seaside towns, and a wealth of eateries and things to do make Port Stephens an easy decision for when you just want to escape the city for a bit.
We’ve broken our guide down into 3 digestible sections with our real favourites leading each list.
1. Where to eat
2. What to do
Essential Guide to Port Stephens
1. Where to eat
Chips & gravy at the Corlette Store, 27 Sandy Point Rd, Corlette
Not only a local secret but a local favourite as well, the chips and gravy from the Corlette Store are superb. These guys don’t have a website and keep irregular hours, but they’re worth a look if you’re hungry!
Grab your chips and go relax on the sand at nearby Bagnalls Beach.
John Dory’s Seafood – Stockton St, Nelson Bay
With our favourite chippy Sandbar closing on the marina, John Dory’s is an easy substitute – and perhaps even an improvement.
A little way into Nelson Bay town, it’s only a short walk back to the water with your takeaway so you can sit at the marina and enjoy the view while you munch!
Murray’s Brewery – 3443 Nelson Bay Rd, Bobs Farm
On the way out of Port Stephens is this craft brewery. The craft beer they make and serve here is excellent and the food is too. In fact the burger is one of my all-time favourites. A big statement.
This spot has been renovated and styled beautifully and is the perfect spot for a relaxed lunch or dinner.
House Café in The Home Interior – 41 Donald Street, Nelson Bay
This café within a homewares store is incredibly yet unsurprisingly popular – especially at the weekend. But with the best coffee in town, it’s worth the wait. You can shop while you wait.
Seabreeze Hotel – 1 Stockton Street, Nelson Bay
The Seabreeze pub has the light, airy cheerfulness you’d expect in a seaside bistro. The food is on point and the service is professional. But if you want dinner – especially at the weekend – bookings are essential.
Port Stephens Game Fishing Club – 57 Shoal Bay Road, Shoal Bay
A little rough and ready, but with killer views out over the bay, The Game Fishing Club is actually a real diamond. If you want to feel like part of the community, you’ll get that here more than anywhere.
Just watch your timings for food; Salt Bistro’s kitchen fires 12pm-2pm for lunch and 6pm-8pm for dinner. No earlier, no later.
Crest Birubi Beach – 73 James Paterson Street, Anna Bay
Part of the Birubi Beach Surf Life Saving Club and open for breakfast and lunch 7 days a week, this is a café with the best views of the beach.
At the right time of year, you can even spot whales swimming by while you enjoy the excellent breakfasts they offer here.
A walk down on Birubi and Stockton Beaches, and a stroll through the incredible sand dunes post-feast is a must.
Red Ned’s Gourmet Pie Bar – Stockton Street, Nelson Bay
This little bakery has been going for years and boasts an impressive 50+ pie line-up. They offer everything from your classic chunky beef to more exotic options like smoked chicken and camembert.
It’s an easy place to spot – there’s a full-size mannequin of Ned Kelly out the front!
Little Beach Boathouse – Little Beach Marina, 4 Victoria Parade, Nelson Bay
Right on the water, this lunch and dinner restaurant is perfect for a special occasion meal and something a bit more romantic than a lot of other places in Port Stephens. The downstairs bar area is a fave spot any time of day.
Holbert’s Oyster Farm – 52 Diemars Road, Salamander Bay
If you’re looking for real-world priced wine and beer to go with the best local prawns and oysters in the area (plus amazing views over the bay or into the shucking shed), this 5-generation family-run business is hard to beat.
The picnic tables are pretty basic, but you can take them away to eat at your leisure. Either way, you won’t taste a fresher oyster.
Inner Light Tea Rooms – 5a Lighthouse Road Nelson Bay
Being part of the Nelson Bay lighthouse means this little breakfast-and-lunch café has views to die for. Its simple menus will keep you going while you take in the vistas over the bay.
The Little Nel Cafe – 3-7 Government Rd, Nelson Bay
This cafe has a delicious menu and excellent coffee too. Grab an outdoor table for views down over Nelson Bay or take your cup of joe down to the waterfront and enjoy the gently lapping waters of the marina close up.
2. What to do
Cycle or walk the cycle track
From Nelson Bay to Corlette is a track that dips and winds through bushland and beaches. It’s the perfect way to work up an appetite and to see the sights on offer from this beautiful peninsular.
Just so you know, Bagnalls Beach, which is in front of Corlette, is a real rarity. It’s an all-year-round off-leash dog beach.
Soldier crabs at sunset
An amazing natural event every evening as the sun goes down sees thousands of soldier crabs – about the size of a ping pong ball – march in huge regiments across the hard sand at beaches all round Port Stephens.
These harmless crustaceans make for awesome photo opportunities as the sun dips below the horizon.
Snorkelling in the marine reserve – Little Nelson Bay
Off the beach at Fly Point Park are two dive sites – Seahorse Gardens and Fly Point. Fly Point is more protected, so snorkelling is easier here. Lots of fish and even turtles swim this section of the reserve.
Hike up headland and Mt Tomaree
The highest point in the area, Mount Tomaree was used as a lookout post and gun placement in WWII. You can still find vestiges of the military base here, and the views out from the top are breathtaking. It’s a pretty good hike too!
Get a round in at the Nelson Bay Golf Club
You’re spoilt for choice at this enormous 27-hole course and enjoy the spectators as they hop around the course with you – there are so many kangaroos here!
The 19th – or should that be 28th – hole is a pleasure too. Food served here is excellent and views out over the course from the clubhouse make for a perfect lunch venue while you’re in town.
Becoming evermore popular, SUP or – Stand Up Paddle-boarding – is perfect for the (usually) calm conditions and warmer waters of the bay.
The guys who operate Port Stephens Paddle Sports are friendly and accommodating. Give them a call and organise when you want to give it a go. Highly recommended!
Safe surf beaches
If surfing and a big wave is more your thing, One Mile Beach and Fingal Beach are both patrolled and save. They’re also both beautiful beaches well worth checking out even if you don’t fancy a dip.
Dolphin and whale watching
Incredibly popular from Port Stephens, the dolphin spotting cruises happen all year round. Humpback whales do a return-trip migration every year, going north in the winter and back south in the summer months.
There are so many companies to choose from. Our advice: go with the smallest boat possible and one with an open deck.
Sand dunes between Anna Bay and Stockton
If you’ve driven in from Sydney, you’ll have seen the sand dunes on your right on the road in. These sand dunes are part of the Woromi Conservation Lands and are the largest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere. There are lots of things you can do on the dunes, from 4×4 tours to sand boarding – or just pretending your Laurence of Arabia!
Saturday markets around Port Stephens
There are a variety of markets on every Saturday (and some Sundays) in the Port Stephens area. From Food to craft, there’s always something on at the weekend. Check the schedule in the link above to find out more.
Irukandji, Shark and Ray Encounters – 686 Marsh Rd, Bobs Farm
This entirely interactive experience is run by a young couple with conservation and education at the heart of what they do. Far from your average aquarium, this family-focused marine centre is all about showing people what the creatures of the blue are really like and to help us understand the impact we’re having on their environment.
Port Stephens ferry service – leaves from Victoria Parade Public Jetty Wharf
Catch a ferry to Tea Gardens to check out what’s going on across the bay. The service also does lunch cruises and dolphin cruises too. Just so you know, high winds and poor weather can cause cancelations to the service. Check the website for up-to-date times.
There’s so much to do here in Port Stephens – cinemas, shopping, diving, kayaking, jetskiing, fishing… the list goes on and on. More information is here in the local tourism guide.
3. Where to stay
Sea Urchin, Corlette – Sandy Point Road
There are literally hundreds of places to stay in Port Stephens, but whenever we go, we’re looking for homely comfort, space and a local feel. That’s why we always go for this cute holiday rental.
It’s on Sandy Point Road, so all you have to do is cross the street and you’re in the water. It’s perfect. Plus it’s just down the road from the Corlette Store and their legendary chips and gravy!
You’re also on the bus route in and out of Nelson Bay – and Sydney for that matter – and the track that takes you all the way to the marina starts here too. If you’ve got a boat, there’s a boat ramp at the end of the street too.
Bannisters Port Stephens – Soldiers Point Rd, Soldiers Point
The third property in the Bannisters empire, this Port Stephens venue is just as good – if not better – than the other two down in Mollymook.
It’s no accident that this place is equidistant from Sydney either – and the Rick Stein restaurant here puts the fresh local seafood and produce to good use.
We haven’t had a chance to stay at this Bannisters yet, but if it’s anywhere near as good as the original – you can see our full review here – it’s the best place to stay on the peninsula.
The Anchorage and Marina – Corlette
Also in Corlette, the Anchorage is luxurious living and perfect if you have your own boat. The restaurant here is said to be extremely good too.
Amarna Resort at Dutchies Beach
Boutique and very private, this small resort whispers romance. From its infinity pool overlooking the beach to its beautifully decked out serviced apartments, this 5 star accommodation shows the best of what Port Stephens has to offer.
Port Stephens really does have so much to offer. This pretty peninsular epitomises the Australian lifestyle people think we all have! But in spite of its ideal setting, it somehow gets overlooked as a destination.
I say, let’s take advantage of that while word’s still not quite out!
Have you ever been to Port Stephens? What’s your favourite thing about it? Are there any unsung hero destinations near where you live? Tell us everything in the comments below!
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