Read our writer's views on this property below
From headland to beach to bay, Daniel Fallon finds his family thrives on adventure.
We're standing near the summit of Tomaree Headland, looking south over a string of enticing beaches - Zenith, Wreck and Box. Aqua-blue water meets the clean sand as perfectly formed waves roll in towards Tomaree National Park. It's one of the most pristine views I've seen along the NSW coast.
"I like the look of the third beach," I say, catching my breath. My partner agrees. "Yep, that's a winner, let's go there next," she says.
We've just spent 45 minutes hauling our children up a trail that offers vantage points over Port Stephens. I can barely feel my arms after carrying our youngest child but the panoramic views are worth it. Photographs I'd seen on the walls of our accommodation had given me the idea of seeking this spot in the first place. The Shoal Bay Beach Club Apartments' interiors feature an assortment of framed photos of Port Stephens locations. It's a fine way to advertise just how scenic the area is and helps put you in a holiday mood on arrival. Our accommodation impresses from the start.
The three-storey rendered building sits at the west end of Shoal Bay, about 10 minutes' walk from the water. Our two-bedroom Sea Spray Studio has a clean, modern design. As well as a queen bed in the master bedroom, two single beds are tucked in clever nooks and the couch doubles as a fold-out. The living area also has a high-definition LCD TV and DVD player.
The kitchen includes an electric stovetop and oven, microwave and dishwasher. As well as a dining table, the apartment has a balcony (with walled railing, making it safe for our two-year-old climber) and outdoor table and chairs. A washing machine and dryer are behind a cupboard door; both are especially useful as a stay here includes having to bring your own towels.
The apartment complex has a small plunge pool, small gym with treadmill, walking machine and stationary bike and a Wii entertainment room that can be hired for $10 an hour (Eskies, beach towels, DVDs and PlayStations can also be rented). However, our family isn't interested in staying indoors. The weather is unusually sunny, so we kayak across Shoal Bay, snorkel at Fingal Bay and cuddle koalas and feed kangaroos at nearby Oakvale Farm.
Tomaree isn't the only vista we take in on this getaway. Nelson Head, between Nelson and Shoal Bay, is one of the highest points at Port Stephens and a vantage point for a command post of the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol.
A gold-coin donation gets us entry to the Lighthouse Cottage Museum, where we learn about the history of local waterways (including the region's role as a training ground for troops on amphibious craft during World War II).
Then we climb stairs next door and visit the Coastal Patrol centre. It's a 24-hour, seven-day operation and its volunteers maintain a constant radio watch for marine traffic, help co-ordinate sea rescues and run education classes in seamanship, navigation and meteorology. Volunteer Rod Reeson says crew radio in as their vessels pass through the heads and members undertake about 13 to 15 rescues a month. "We can do up to four in a day. It's for all manner of things - running out of fuel, medical emergencies, fires," he says.
"We have two boats that go out and locate [vessels] and often tow them back. We had this one group of guys, in a boat that was no bigger than five metres, go 34 miles out to sea. They couldn't start their engine and started drifting. They had no radio, or no radio that worked, no GPS beacon and no water or shade ... They had Optus, Vodafone and Telstra phones. The Telstra phone got some broken reception - just enough to get a message that they needed assistance. They were lucky," Reeson says.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
Shoal Bay Beach Club Apartments
Address 2 Shoal Bay Road, Shoal Bay.
The verdict Great position, modern design and all the necessary features for a comfortable family stay.
Price From $140 a night for a one-bedroom Starfish apartment; from $170 a night for a two-bedroom Sea Spray apartment.
Bookings Phone 4984 1117, see shoalbaybeachclub.com.au.
Getting there From Sydney it's a 220-kilometre, three-hour drive north. Take the F3 Freeway, then head for Taree on the Pacific Highway before turning right onto Tomago Road and then left onto Nelson Bay Road.
Wheelchair access Yes.
Perfect for A family stay of bush, beach and bays.
While you're there Try the grilled fish and chips from John Dory's Take Away in Nelson Bay; walk to the Tomaree Headland Lookout at the eastern end of Shoal Bay for terrific views across Port Stephens.