Spread Your Wings a Little At Port Stephens
There’s nothing quite like the depths of Winter, and months of COVID-enforced travel restrictions, to have you dreaming of a blue water paradise escape. But whether you’re planning a blissed-out weekend of rest and relaxation, or an adrenaline-filled adventure to remember, you can find everything you’re looking for and so much more amongst the spectacular surrounds of Port Stephens.
There’s no need to spend wasted hours on the road heading to a distant coastal hamlet when you’re lucky enough to have such a diverse range of lush landscapes and exhilarating experiences right on your doorstep.
If you’re coming from Newcastle or Lake Macquarie, it will take a little under an hour to hit the heartland of Port Stephens, making it the perfect day trip destination.
But if you really want to make the most of your visit – and the staggering array of activities on offer – linger a little longer with a two or three-night stay at one of Port Stephens’ various accommodation options, guaranteed to suit every taste and budget.
To help put the region on the bucket lists of travellers from across the Hunter and further afield, Destination Port Stephens has launched its biggest brand campaign, in partnership with Destination NSW, Port Stephens Council and industry partners.
Utilising the tagline ‘Incredible by Nature’, the campaign is designed to encourage overnight visitation and build a strong sense of local pride in order to re-boot the vital visitor economy.
While it may not exactly be a first-time destination for travel-loving locals, Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer said there was no better time to enjoy a ‘staycation’ and explore what’s on offer closer to home.
“Our local community, like many others across Australia, is still dealing with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“Now is the ideal time to launch a campaign like this to put Port Stephens top-of-mind for travellers and re-boot the visitor economy that our local community thrives on.
“The people who live here and the visitors who return year after year know just how incredible this place is by its very nature, from the many one-of-a-kind natural assets to our welcoming locals.
“The campaign is designed to engage the local business community and people of Port Stephens as a whole, bringing to life the incredible nature of Port Stephens.”
Cr Palmer said the campaign was designed not only to attract return visitation but inspire more people to travel to Port Stephens for the first time, which will drive economic growth and support local jobs.
“We have been working closely with our tourism and business operators to make sure Port Stephens is ready to reopen, with a focus on keeping our community and visitors as safe as possible.”
“With international borders still closed and the recent easing of travel restrictions across the country now is the perfect time to encourage Aussies to explore their backyard, and this campaign perfectly captures what locals love about Port Stephens.”
There’s no doubt the visitor economy is vital for Port Stephens, which benefits from an annual tourism expenditure of $621 million.
Almost 900,000 domestic visitors took a day trip to Port Stephens in the 12 months to June 2020, while domestic overnight travellers stayed for a combined total of 2.6 million nights during the same period. But with COVID-19 travel restrictions putting a temporary end to the influx of overseas visitors, which in the last year included 300,000 day-trippers and 165,000 overnight stays, the region needs to ensure it becomes the destination of choice for even more local travellers.
Destination Port Stephens successfully applied for matched dollar-for-dollar funding from Destination NSW under the Regional Tourism Fund (RTF) Marketing Program to create and implement the new brand and marketing campaign.
Destination Port Stephens CEO Eileen Gilliland said it was essential in the current, highly competitive local travel landscape to differentiate Port Stephens from other coastal regions and holiday options, making it become a ‘must-do’ destination experience during, as well as outside of, the peak Summer season.
The distinctive new brand identifies with the region’s unique combination of incredible nature and humble, coastal town soul, using aspirational local experiences to motivate travellers to explore what’s on offer.
“The whole community can feel proud of this campaign, which conveys, in a very authentic way, the incredible natural assets, awesome experiences and wonderful people that make Port Stephens such a special place to visit,” Ms Gilliland said.
“The abundant natural beauty of Port Stephens is the backdrop for exhilarating experiences that simply can’t be found anywhere else - from riding a camel on a beach at sunset and sandboarding or quad biking the largest sand dunes in the southern hemisphere, to swimming with wild dolphins and hiking through bushland to the top of Mount Tomaree.
“While being just a short drive from Newcastle you can visit for the day, however taking a short break for two to three nights is ideal, offering you time to explore, experience and to head home revitalised.”
Ms Gilliland said Port Stephens brings together the best of mother nature and human nature, with the new branding showcasing not only its incredible experiences but the unique stories of the local residents, including the traditional owners of Port Stephens land, the Worimi people.
“The campaign celebrates not only the amazing natural environment unique to Port Stephens but the laidback lifestyle and warm, friendly nature of the people who live here,” she said.
“My favourite experience is that I now get to live here … moving from Sydney two-and-a-half years ago I now get to call this incredible place home. Taking our two Boston terriers to Bagnall Beach for a stroll at sunset – I get to relax and take in the amazing views, and they get a run!”
‘Incredible By Nature’ is aimed at inspiring young (and young-at-heart), active visitors to the region by putting the natural wonders of Port Stephens front and centre.
Set against the idyllic backdrop of the region’s seascapes and landscapes, the Port Stephens campaign focusses on an array of incredible experiences grouped around the three key themes of water, sand and land.
Water Wonderland With a 98,000-hectare marine park and a bay twice the size of Sydney Harbour, it’s little wonder that water-based activities play such an important role in the everyday life and tourism experience of Port Stephens.
At this time of year, the number one experience on the water is focussed on the abundance of activity happening in the water, with more than 35,000 humpback whales making their way along Australia’s eastern coastline as part of their annual migration.
The whale watching season stretches from May to November each year, transforming Port Stephens’ picturesque waters into a virtual “humpback highway” as the majestic creatures make the 10,000km journey from the freezing waters of Antarctica.
The whales travel north in search of warmer seas in which to breed, before returning south again in the second half of the season accompanied by their newborn calves.
A raft of whale watching cruises head out from D’Albora Marina at Nelson Bay throughout the season, with experienced local skippers with Moonshadow TQC Cruises or Imagine Cruises giving you a front-row seat to the offshore action.
Of course, there’s plenty more to see from the deck of the various vessels, with around 90 to120 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins living permanently within the Port Stephens – Great Lakes Marine Park, making it one of the most popular places in the world for dolphin watching.
A world-first concept on offer in Port Stephens lets you experience the local dolphins from a whole new perspective, with Dolphin Swim Australia offering NSW’s first and only permitted wild dolphin swim.
Participants hold onto a rope stretched between the two bows of a slow-moving catamaran, with a mask and snorkel giving them an underwater view of any of the graceful marine mammals that stop by.
For those seeking close encounters with a whole range of sea creatures, Port Stephens has some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving sites and a range of certified operators who offer guided shore snorkelling and snorkel boat trips, as well as shore and boat-based scuba dives throughout the marine park, visiting various local shipwreck sites and areas off Broughton Island.
The tranquil waters of Shoal Bay are ideal for stand-up paddleboarding, or you can hire a transparent Nude Kayak from Bagnalls Beach to spot a variety of marine life in the crystal clear waters beneath your feet, while chartering your own luxury vessel will allow you to explore the many magical coves or embark on a wild, offshore fishing adventure.
Where the waters meet the shore along the coastline of Port Stephens, you’ll find 26 beautiful beaches sporting popular surf breaks and long golden stretches of sand to explore. If you’re after something a little more active than simply soaking up the sun, a range of operators offer guided tours through the 2,500 hectares of sand dunes that make up Stockton Bight in the Worimi Conservation Lands.
The towering dunes – some as high as 30m, with slopes of up to 60 degrees – are the largest moving coastal sand dunes in the southern hemisphere, making for the perfect spot to indulge in an adrenaline-filled adventure.
You can sandboard and surf down the dunes, explore on your own quad bike, or relax on a fully guided tour in purpose-built 4WD vehicles as you take in the breathtaking scenery and historical landmarks such as “Tin City”, a cluster of fishing shacks made out of corrugated iron in the middle of the dunes.
Sand Dune Adventures, a business owned and operated by the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council, also offers an outstanding Indigenous tourism experience that gives an insight into traditional Aboriginal food, culture and history.
A quirkier way to explore the dunes around Anna Bay is from high on the back of a camel as it moseys along the sand at Birubi Beach, with sunset tours one of the most unforgettable experiences on offer.
Port Stephens is also home to an array of horse riding opportunities, with the boutique beach and dune extravaganza a memorable activity for the more adventurous.
Port Stephens is far more than just the sand and sea, with plenty of other inspiring natural landscapes to explore on foot or by bike.
Stretching along the coastline from the south head of Port Stephens (Tomaree Head) to Birubi Point, Tomaree National Park is a 2310-hectare area of dense bushland filled with walking trails and mountain biking tracks for all ages and fitness levels, while a wheelchair-accessible nature trail at Gan Gan Hill Lookout provides a stunning view of the enormous Gymea lilies that grow there in abundance.
One of the best nature trails to explore is the 2.2km return trek to the Tomaree Head Summit, which delivers panoramic views of Yacaaba Head, Cabbage Tree, Boondelbah and Broughton Islands from the north platform and Zenith, Wreck and Box Beaches, Fingal Island and Point Stephens Lighthouse to the south.
A detour along the Fort Tomaree walk on the return trip will also provide a military history lesson thanks to the World War Two gun emplacements, which were built in 1941. You can learn about Fort Tomaree from interpretive signs onsite, or take a guided discovery tour to immerse yourself in even greater detail.
With so much native bushland on offer, there are plenty of opportunities for a wild encounter with a resident, from colourful lorikeets and bold kangaroos to the occasional echidna or bandicoot, as well as the local koala population.
Tilligerry Habitat is a community-based ecotourism information centre in Tanilba Bay that offers guided walks including koala spotting, while other animals-based conservation destinations include Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters at Anna Bay and the Oakvale Wildlife Park at Salt Ash.
Beyond its natural beauty, Port Stephens is home to a cool collection of laidback coastal towns that are home to friendly locals, chic boutiques and first-class accommodation options that range from high rise hotels to quaint bed and breakfasts, and everything in between.
Indulge in resort-style luxury at The Anchorage or Bannisters Port Stephens, or get back to nature at one of the wide selection of holiday parks operated by Port Stephens Council. An abundance of well-appointed holiday apartment and family-friendly beach houses deliver an authentic local ambience, while later this year a new development will allow you to book onsite glamping at Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary and enjoy a treetops breakfast with the koalas.
Casual eateries and renowned restaurants provide a sophisticated dining mix to cater for every tastebud, with the flourishing local seafood industry ensuring the freshest menus that change to reflect the catch of the day. Foodie finds in the many quaint coastal towns of Port Stephens include a macadamia farm, artisan pasta makers, craft brewers and local oyster farms, where you can buy direct from family growers who have harvested the local waters for generations.
Every stop on your exploration of Port Stephen’s diverse collection of local communities has something unique to offer, ensuring you’ll discover something different each and every time you return to the region.
Check out www.portstephens.org.au to learn more about what’s on offer across Port Stephens and start planning your next visit today.
All images by Destination NSW.