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Port Stephens Sand and sea adventures

By Jennifer Ennion

Slide down sand dunes, swim with dolphins and learn to surf – Port Stephens, in New South Wales, is an aquatic playground with an impressive 26 beaches. Adventurous travellers will thrive on the opportunity to scuba dive with grey nurse sharks, go horse riding beside crashing waves and tackle a challenging coastal hike. Families will love snorkelling in the gentle bays, swimming with wild dolphins and searching for koalas. There really is something for everyone.

Map of Port Stephens, New South Wales

Find fun on the sand dunes 

As one of the most popular coastal regions in New South Wales, there are plenty of beaches to explore in Port Stephens. Among the most stunning is windswept Zenith Beach, somewhat hidden behind the more well-known and family-friendly Shoal Bay. Experienced surfers are attracted to the wild waves at Zenith, as well as Wreck, Box and Samurai beaches. There are plenty of beaches for families, too, such as One Mile Beach, Fingal Bay and Birubi Beach. You can hire a surfboard or stand-up paddleboard from Port Stephens Surf School, or sign up for a surfing lesson. Other seaside activities include sunset camel rideshorse riding in Anna Bay, and sandboarding down Stockton Bight sand dunes

Hike Mount Tomaree

It's a steep hike to the top of Mount Tomaree, in Tomaree National Park, but well worth the effort for the views of Port Stephens alone. Tomaree Head Summit Walk is only one kilometre (0.62 miles) each way, but it is a challenging trail so allow up to two hours return. You will find the trailhead at Zenith Beach carpark. Don't forget to take a camera and binoculars – the summit is an ideal spot to watch migrating humpback whales between May and October.

Bask in barefoot luxury

Stay a few nights at Bannisters Port Stephens to enjoy endless ocean views, a collection of signature cocktails and incredible seafood. Built within the existing structure of an iconic retro motel, Bannisters Port Stephens is a vibrant four-star hotel that's a destination in its own right. Surrounded by water and a koala habitat, come to Bannisters to unwind, relax and reconnect. Dine at Rick Stein at Bannisters for the freshest seafood, indulge in cocktails and a Mediterranean-Australian menu at the Terrace Bar, or enjoy a casual meal at the relaxed and family-friendly Bannisters Tavern.

Say hello to the marine life

Swimming with dolphins is a major attraction in Port Stephens, with more than 140 bottlenose dolphins living in the area. There are a number of companies offering dolphin, as well as whale-watching, cruises including Moonshadow-TQC Cruises and Imagine Cruises. The best time to see migrating humpback whales is between May and November. Port Stephens also has great scuba diving sites suitable for all experience levels. If you're adventurous, dive with a grey nurse shark colony off Broughton Island, or, if you prefer to stay close to shore, dive among small colonies of nudibranchs and seahorses.

Look for wild koalas

One of the best places to see a koala in the wild is at Tilligerry Habitat Reserve, at Tanilba Bay. Koalas are known to feed and rest in the reserve, where eucalypts tower over native flannel flowers, banksia trees and yellow wattle. Other wildlife you can expect to see are black cockatoos, tawny frogmouths, bearded dragons and lace monitors. Pick up a guide to some of the plant life and birds from the information centre, and either go for a self-guided walk along the raised timber boardwalk or join a guided interpretive tour (1.5 to 2 hours).  

Eat out

The location doesn't get much better than at Crest Birubi Beach at Anna Bay, a modern café that sits on a grassy headland with beautiful views of Birubi Beach. Surfers parade past as you join locals dining on freshly caught seafood. In Nelson Bay, considered the hub of the Port Stephens region, there is a great range of dining choices in town and at the marina. For fine dining head to the waterfront restaurant Little Beach Boathouse, or for a mix of seafood and classic pub fare book a table at Mavericks on the Bay, at the marina.  

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