If you thought you had to go all the way to Byron Bay or Noosa for a taste of that idyllic coastal life, think again. Port Stephens is one of our favourite weekend getaways with truly something for everyone. From it’s crystal clear waters to the stunning Stockton Sand Dunes — a wealth of adventure and experiences await you in this small coastal town of NSW. Located just about a two and a half hour drive from Sydney, this scenic town makes for the perfect getaway for families, adventure enthusiasts and water lovers. In this comprehensive Secret Sydney guide to Port Stephens, we’ve covered everything you should do, eat and visit in this lovely town. From hidden spots to picturesque beaches, adventure sports, lookouts and more — here are the best things to do in Port Stephens.
How to get to Port Stephens
Port Stephens is situated in close proximity to Sydney with a number of different options available to get there. Driving down is your best option although there’s ample public transport options available as well.
About 2.5 hours by road, you’ll encounter a number of lovely little spots en route. Grab a bite at the tranquil seaside village of Patonga or dip your toes in the gorgeous Ettalong Beach. Also on the way is the charming Avoca Beach Picture Theatre and the town of Terrigal.
Travelling via public transport can take anything between 4-6 hours with services provided all over NSW. Check your best route here.
Things to do in Port Stephens
1. Try sand boarding in the Stockton Sand Dunes
Sand boarding in the famed Stockton Sand Dunes is a true Australian bucket list experience: some of 1979’s Mad Max was filmed here. At the largest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll find a number of sandboarding tours to pick from. Once you get over your initial fear of gliding down the sand dunes, you won’t be able to stop. The spot is especially fascinating because of it’s unique location. It’s not everyday that you get to experience the sand dunes on one side and the beach on the other.
2. Enjoy all the views from from Tomaree Head
Tomaree Head Summit walk is a short hike at the end of which you’ll be met with sweeping views over Port Stephens and Fingal Island. The dramatic view from the top of Tomaree Mountain lookout is plastered all over social media but it’s still breathtaking to experience in person. The walk takes under an hour to complete.
3. Go on a whale watching tour
From May to November, you can see magnificent humpback whales in Port Stephens. The towns clear waters and vantage points make for an ideal spot for whale watching with Tomaree Head, Fishermans Bay foreshore and Yacaaba Headland walking track being some of the prime location to spot these glorious creatures. You can find a number of cruises here.
4. Ride a camel or go quad biking at Anna Bay
One of the most unique experiences that Port Stephens offers is camel riding — on the beach. It’s another oft seen image on Instagram and just as fun as it looks. Riding on a camel’s back or quad biking on the beach at sunset is not an experience you’ll easily forget. Pick from a variety of tours here.
5. Go swimming with dolphins
Much like whale watching, Port Stephens is a prime spot for watching dolphins. But you don’t just have to watch from a distance, you can join in on the fun by swimming with these glorious sea creatures. Port Stephens is also the only place in NSW where you can swim with dolphins. That alone is worth a trip down the coast.
6. Enjoy the sunset at Nelson Head Lighthouse
The Nelson Head Lighthouse is a lovely lookout over Port Stephens. At the The Inner Light Tearoom cafe on-site, you’ll find hearty treats and even better views to enjoy with your coffee. There are also some small tours and a cosy museum explaining the history of the lighthouse. The lighthouse on a sunny afternoon is the ideal place to unwind and refuel.
7. Find the stunning Champagne Spa in Boat Harbour
NSW is filled with secret spots and hidden gems. It’s almost hard to keep track of all this natural beauty we’re spoilt with. Port Stephens is no exception. But the uber popular rock pool dubbed ‘Champagne Spa’ easily takes the cake. The magical rock pool is a drive down Blanch Street in Boat Harbour and a sight for sore eyes. Sometimes water gushes directly into the rock pool from the ocean — it’s one of the town’s best kept secrets and worth the hike.
Please note that the hike down to the pool has been deemed unsuitable for children.
8. Head to the popular Gan Gan Lookout
The famed Gan Gan lookout is Port Stephen’s highest lookout spot sitting at a towering height of 160 meters. It’s also easily accessible by car and offers sweeping views of pretty much every corner of Port Stephens with stunning views of of the eastern beaches, Anna Bay and Stockton beach.
9. Head to the popular Murray’s Brewery
Port Stephens is blessed with a number of excellent breweries and wine tasting spots. Murray’s is a popular spot for both locals and out of towners and best known for its Whale Ale and Middle Man Golden Ale. They also have a public brewery tour daily if you’re keen to learn more about their overall process. They also have excellent ciders and wines so you’ll have plenty to choose from.
10. Experience Fighter World
For something a little off the beaten track, head to Fighter World — an aviation museum dedicated to preserving RAAF fighter aircraft and a must-visit for anyone interested in aviation. It’s located 30 minutes from Nelson Bay and promises a hands on experience to visitors. You’ll find yourself up close with outstanding planes operated by the Royal Australian Air Force. There are also souvenir shops and cafes at the venue.
11. Go beach hopping
Beach hopping in any town or city in NSW is a rite of passage. Most places are blessed with incredible beaches rife with turquoise waters and bright white sands. The most popular beaches in Port Stephens include Zenith Beach, Shoal Bay, One Mile Beach and Birubi Beach. Fingal Spit on Fingal Bay beach is a popular spot in Port Stephens along with Samurai Beach. Sunset Beach as the name suggests is a great spot to catch the rays while Birubi Beach is also a prime spot for camel riding.
Where to eat
Port Stephens is chock full of beachfront cafes, seafood restaurants and lush eateries spread throughout town. Check out some of our favourites:
1. Crest Birubi Beach
This bistro in Anna Bay located right at the beach is popular for it’s fresh seasonal produce, excellent views and all the good, beachy vibes. It’s also vegan and vegetarian friendly and an especially cosy spot on a cold winter’s day.
2. Little Beach Boathouse
For something a bit more on the fine dining scale, you’ll want to make your way to Little Beach Boathouse. With lovely bay views, al fresco dining and modern Australian cuisine, it’s the perfect spot for a romantic dinner.
3. Cheeky Dog
This family-friendly pub, with a bistro, beer garden and a sports bar is the perfect spot for a catch up over drinks. On the menu you’ll find everything from cheesy burgers to pizza, pasta and salads.
4. The Point Restaurant
Grab amazing seafood and enjoy stunning sea views at The Point Restaurant. This award-winning restaurant offers an amazing ambience with 180 degree views of the water and an extensive wine list. It’s also worth getting there early just to experience the beautiful sunset with a drink in hand.
5. Shoal Bay Country Club
Another waterside spot with bay views, outdoor seats and seafood galore the Shoal Bay Country Club also comes with a pool and live music to top your feet to. It’s minimalist and neat decor adds to the overall atmosphere of the place.
6. Little Nel Cafe
Little Nel Cafe is a popular breakfast spot with an outdoor terrace and amazing coffee. It’s fast become a favourite haunt for residents and travellers. Menu offerings include breakfast specials like smashed avo, acai bowls, poached eggs and hot cakes. The lunch menu includes burgers, nasi goreng, seafood specials and gnocchi.
7. Holberts Oyster Farm
Get your fill of fresh and perfect oysters from Holbert Oyster Farm. With outdoor seating, vast variety of freshly shucked oysters and other local seafood it’s a Port Stephens staple. With a lovely seaside setting and reasonable prices, it’s the spot to hit for oyster lovers.
There are also a number of dinner cruises if you’re planning a special date, plus artisan products and wineries in Port Stephens. It’s a food lover’s haven. Check out more about the food and dining options here.
Best time to visit
Port Stephens is a superb escape all-year round but if you’re looking for specific activities, it’s best to time your visit. The coldest and wettest month is June which might prohibit a lot of your outdoor activities. Between May and November is when you can spot whales migrating in abundance with November being peak season for whale watching. The spring months from September to November are an ideal time to head down to the coastal town with chill, balmy evenings and overall milder weather. Summer is also a great time to visit although you’ll want to be prepared for sunburns during the day. Activities like sandboarding can also be a bit taxing in extreme heat.
There are adventures on the water, on land and amazing dining experiences in Port Stephens making it the ideal weekend escape from Sydney. With it’s close proximity to the city, adventure activities, coastal lookouts and more you’re in for some seriously good fun at this wonderful coastal town.