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Port Stephens, NSW: An aquatic playground and holiday haven

Port Stephens, NSW: An aquatic playground and holiday haven

Ben Mack Bannisters Port Stephens 17

Accommodation by Bannisters Port Stephens

Bannisters Port Stephens
Bannisters Port Stephens Image by Ben Mack

A holiday in Port Stephens is all about the sea and sand, wading in the clear waters and sand boarding down the Stockton Sand Dunes. With golden beaches, a vast sparkling bay and exciting water and shore-based activities, Port Stephens is an idyllic beach getaway and the dolphin capital of NSW. Here’s our guide to the ultimate holiday in Port Stephens.

Port Stephens, NSW: How to get there

Port Stephens is a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Sydney and a 30-minute drive from Newcastle Airport.

Bannisters hotel Port Stephens poolside
Bannisters Port Stephens Image by Ben Mack

Rick Stein’s restaurant at Bannisters

Port Stephens has a range of acclaimed waterfront restaurants, hip cafes and impressive wineries and breweries to visit. From macadamias, avocados and grape vines that thrive in the rich soils, this region is renowned for its exceptional produce. 

If you’re looking for a stunning seaside dining experience, Little Beach Boathouse offers beautifully cooked local produce in a magnificent beachside setting. The menu is fresh modern Australian cuisine and the coastal decor, combined with the spectacular ocean views make it a popular destination among visitors and locals.

On Soldiers Point Peninsula, visit the award-winning Rick Stein restaurant at Bannisters . The focus is on locally sourced produce — the restaurant serves up simple dishes, which are cooked to perfection and bursting with flavour.

The Galley Kitchen at The Anchorage is an all-day diner offering a seasonal menu featuring local produce, seafood and share platters. Bright and breezy, this impressive restaurant showcases the region’s growing culinary reputation and incredible produce. The Anchorage is also home to the decadent High Tea by The Sea. Treat yourself to bottomless bubbles, delicate finger sandwiches, petite pastries and delicious sweets, while overlooking the picturesque Port Stephens marina.

For a more low-key brunch, local favourite The Little Nel Café in Nelson Bay serves breakfast and lunch on a sun-drenched deck overlooking the bay. At Shoal Bay Country Club you can savour the water views with multiple bars and restaurants spread across the chic beachfront venue.

Try the Port Stephens’ local wine, craft beer and produce

Known for producing full-flavoured beers, Murray’s Craft Brewing Company pushes the boundaries for brewing, offering a range of quirky craft beers. Angry Man, Whale Ale, XPA and East Coast Lager are all good places to begin training your palate before unleashing the flavour tsunami found in next-level beers like Spartacus, Wild Thing, Heart of Darkness or Punk Monk.

Known as the food bowl of the peninsula, The Salt Ash and Bobs Farm neighbourhood offer working farms and vineyards, where food lovers can sample farm-gate fresh produce. Pack your picnic basket with local delicacies: avocados, figs, macadamias or olives.

Dolphins swimming in Shoal Bay, Port Stephens
Dolphins swimming in Shoal Bay, Port Stephens. Image by Destination NSW

See dolphins and whales in the wild

With approximately 150-200 bottlenose dolphins inhabiting the waters of Nelson Bay, Port Stephens is known as the dolphin capital of NSW. For many, swimming with wild dolphins is a ‘bucket list’ experience and with Dolphin Swim Australia you can swim in the open ocean next to these amazing marine mammals. Moonshadow TQC Cruises also offers options for cruising with the bay’s resident dolphins and whales. Watch in awe as you witness these extraordinary animals show you a display of pectoral slaps and body rolls.

Alternatively, set sail aboard a 16-metre-long catamaran with Imagine Cruises. Witness the whales as they migrate past the islands of the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and flocks of oceanic sea birds. Departing daily from Nelson Bay, Imagine Cruises also offer a 90-minute whale-watch express tour.

Port Stephens Surf Breaks and Port Stephens Surf School

Port Stephens is renowned for its amazing surf breaks — the superb swell makes the conditions favourable for both experienced and novice surfers who love to lap up the waves at the pristine beaches and bays. Learn to surf with Port Stephens Surf School — the region’s premier surf teachers — or if you’re a skilled surfer in search of that perfect wave, try the legendary breaks at One Mile, Zenith Beach, Fingal Bay Beach or Birubi Beach.

Stockton Sand Dunes
Stockton Sand Dunes Image by Ben Mack

Stockton Sand Dunes

Set among a backdrop of rolling sand dunes, Port Stephens is home to the largest moving coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, the Stockton Sand Dunes and Worimi Conservation Lands. More than 40,000 years old, this spectacular landscape stretches 32 kilometres to Newcastle, an Instagram-worthy sight reminiscent of one gigantic sandpit nestled alongside the spectacular coastline. Towering as high as 40 metres, the steep sandy slopes cover 2500 hectares and can be explored by foot, quad bike or 4WD. Discover the endless dunes and experience the thrill of quad biking with Indigenous-owned tour company Sand Dune Adventures. Guests traverse the majestic landscape of the dunes on a 400cc quad bike, as well as a hands-on introduction to the local Aboriginal culture and history. Port Stephens 4WD Tours operates 4WD eco-tours of the dunes and the opportunity for sand boarding thrills and adventure for the whole family.

Hiking at Tomaree Head

A heart-pumping hike to the summit of Tomaree Head is a must. As you hike the track, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of Port Stephens and its coastline. From the top, you can see Yacaaba Headland, Cabbage Tree, Broughton Islands, Fingal Island and Point Stephens Lighthouse, which was built in 1862.

Where to Stay? Bannisters of course!

Luxury Bannisters Port Stephens, NSW
Bannisters Port Stephens Image by Ben Mack

Bannisters Port Stephens arrived onto the luxury accommodation scene three years ago. It’s sister property in Mollymook is virtually an Australian icon of luxury so it made sense to dot another piece of paradise north of Sydney for those devotees who wanted a change of scenery. This northern paradise is laid back with dogs and children welcome. There are six luxury suites and a spacious penthouse for those who prefer a bit more space. The suites have shutters by the bath perfect for a salty sea breeze while you marinate in a bath filled with Apotheke bubbles and sip your mini bar Veuve.

Karuah River views

Views are either the meditative Karuah River or the greenery from the forest and bushland and the alarm clock is courtesy of the local kookaburras. The infinity pool looks out to vistas of treetops and bay views.

Of course there’s a Rick Stein restaurant for guests but make sure you book before you arrive as it is incredibly popular.

Ariel view of Bannisters Luxury Hotel Port Stephens
Bannisters Port Stephens Image by Ben Mack

If you’re the sort of glam Sydneysider who enjoys a funky hotel with retro nostalgia and a nod to Palm Springs, Bannisters Port Stephens is for you. Just twenty minutes from Newcastle airport or a two and a half hour drive from Sydney.

For more personalised information tips and advice, or to book an incredible holiday contact your local TravelManagers’ personal travel manager here.

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