Craving a weekend away? Feel like soaking in dreamy beach scenes, a few day hikes, a bike ride or two and maybe a surf? Port Stephens has you covered, an idyllic coastal adventure playground just north of Sydney.
Growing up in the ‘burbs of Melbourne, our yearly camping trip to Port Stephens was everything a young adventurous soul could’ve asked for. The 11-hour road trip was long and hot, but us kids would stay chirpy because we knew what awaited us at the end – our north coast nature nirvana…
From roaring surf and dense, gum-filled bush, to exquisite bays and rock-strewn headlands, or even the calm quiet of the underwater world, Port Stephens is a must for adventurous souls.
Having visited the area for over 20 years, I couldn’t be more thrilled to share my ultimate weekend guide. Just 2.5 hours from Sydney, add this place to your bucket list, pack your togs, hiking boots, surfboard, bike and snorkel – you’re in for an amazing weekend!
Sunset – Stroll on One Mile Beach
Location: One Mile Beach
Time Taken: 40 minutes
Cue the deafening thrum of cicadas. Catch silhouettes of Salmon Gums as you coast along the Gan Gan Rd toward One Mile Beach Carpark. Scramble past Swell Kiosk and ascend your first sand dune for the weekend.
Take a moment to notice how goddamn fine the sand is between your toes, a tell-tale sign you’re on holiday!
An easy 4km stroll along the beach will take you north towards Fingal Head. Check out the rock pools and huge dunes at your turnaround point before coasting back towards the southern end. Dips along the way are encouraged!
Morning – Fingal Bike Ride & Swim
Location: Nelson Bay to Fingal Bay
Distance: 16km return
Time Taken: 2 hrs (ride + swimming and laxin)
Cut through the slightly busy marina in Nelson Bay as you head towards Shoal Bay and your final destination, Fingal Bay. You’ll cruise roadside with jaunts onto few gum-lined shared pathways.
It’s an 8km ride between the bays–enough time to take in each village’s unique personality and vistas! A cheeky ride is the perfect early morning activity to wake up and make your swim feel extra special. Once you arrive at Fingal Bay dive into the deep blue before grabbing a coffee at the kiosk!
Need a bike?
Arvo – Snorkel Fly Point
Time Taken: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate, strong swimmer
Because it’s a pristine marine sanctuary zone, there are too many underwater creatures at Fly Point for one set of eyeballs! Home to one of the East Coast’s most impressive sponge gardens, the headland attracts a huge variety of fish and marine life.
The best time to snorkel is at the peak of high tide. Park up in one of the spaces on Victoria Parade above the sanctuary and don your swimmers/mask. I’d also recommend bringing fins so you can take yourself on a longer snorkel journey around the headland.
Heading north towards Mt Tomaree, drift over popular dive sites where you might be lucky enough to spot wobbegongs, turtles, octopus, bream, butterfly fish (summer only) and if you’re really lucky, seahorses! One year we even encountered a playful pod of dolphins during our aquatic adventure.
Sunset Hike – Mt Tomaree
Best time to visit: May – October, the whales are migrating at this time!
Distance: 2.2km return (don’t let that fool you though there are a few steep sets of stairs involved)
Time Taken: 2 hours (the walk + decent time at the top to take in the views)
Difficulty: Easy, the paved areas can be slippery so don’t hike in thongs.
This speedy summit hike packs a punch. The track begins at the Zenith Beach car park; give yourself a moment to stretch those calves, the hike up is a burner!
Follow the track amongst gums and coastal thicket, where you’ll start to catch idyllic views as you wind your way to the top. If you feel like extending your trek, take the option to check out the historic World War II gun emplacements.
If the climb up doesn’t take your breath away, the views will. Expect a natural reality check, as you soak in the humbling 360 degree views of Port Stephens’s stunning coastline and beyond.
To the north you’ll see out to Cabbage Tree and Broughton Islands, whilst the south offers views of Wreck, Zenith and Box Beach. Head for the peak as the sun sets, a spectacular finale for your Saturday! Remember to bring a torch for the return hike.
Sunrise – Surf, One Mile Beach
Time Taken: Depends how good the waves are!
Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate Port Stephens Surf School also runs regular lessons if it’s your first time on the foam.
I learnt to surf at this beach and couldn’t think of a better place to watch the sunrise. Depending on what waves you prefer to ride, down the beach towards Fingal Head is usually better for shortboards, whilst the southern point can be a little more log-friendly.
During summer it’s best to get your surf in early before the northerly wind pick up, plus there’s the added bonus of avoiding the crowd! The sheltered location of One Mile means that the surf is never usually too wild, a gentle fun wave with enough banks to find your own!
Morning – Ride, Walk & Swim
Location: One Mile Beach – Boat Harbour
Time Taken: 2.5 hours
Head off from One Mile Beach Carpark and ride along the Gan Gan Road’s shared pathway towards Anna Bay. Take a left at the Blanch St roundabout and hike it up the hill towards Boat Harbour.
Coast down the hill and you’ll be rewarded by the quaint little bay at Boat Harbour. It’s protected by two rocky headlands, making it a great spot to cool off and snorkel!
At the southern end of the beach you can amble along the whale watching path to the headland. It’s one of the local’s favourite places to spot whales as they migrate up and down the coast from May to October.
If you want to keep exploring the area, check out Little Kingsley Beach, a secret beach with a jump rock that’s only accessible by foot. To get there, head back to the main road and follow signs to Fishermans Bay. To the east of the picnic area at Fishermans Bay you’ll find a short 0.5km track through coastal scrub that leads to your own private beach! Enjoy the serenity!
Arvo – Worimi Conservation Lands
Location: Anna Bay
Time Taken: 2 hours
The Worimi people are the Traditional Owners of the Port Stephens area and have called this incredible place home for tens of thousands of years. Sites of their living cultural history can be found across the region, from Little Beach to the middens found near Fingal Spit, Anna Bay, Snapper Point and Fishermans Bay.
The Conservation Lands (also known as Stockton Bight Sand Dunes) is one of the most powerful places to feel just how alive Worimi culture is. Stroll through, spend time soaking in this ever-changing and surreal landscape. The Worimi were able to sustain an abundant life here and a number of important natural and cultural sites demonstrate this.
Different clans would also use the 32km beach to travel between the north and south lands. The enormous dunes form the largest mobile coastal sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere.
Sunset – Gan Gan Hill
Location: Nelson Bay
Time Taken: 2 hours
It’d be rude not to! Enjoy your last Port Stephens sunset at Gan Gan Hill lookout. A short steep climb from the carpark takes you above the track-lining Gymea Lillies and onto the area’s highest lookout with awe-inspiring views that span across the entire Port Stephens region. Kick back and relax, it’s been a big, adventure-filled weekend!
Photos thanks to Destination NSW