If it's been a long time since you've docked yourself at Port Macquarie, prepare to be surprised. The perfect climate and pristine beaches that gave this Mid North Coast beauty spot a name as a retiree haven and a great place to holiday with young children are still here. But there's definitely a Byron-type buzz happening here. The recent annual ArtWalk festival, the town's multi-million-dollar Glasshouse cultural centre, and innovative food and wine producers have stamped it as an arts and restaurant hub.
Port has great central beaches, cafes, shopping, art and culture and many good restaurants and these are all a walk from the this hotel, smack bang in the middle of Clarence Street. With its spacious rooms and well equipped kitchens and laundries, Macquarie Waters offers couples or families a perfect base to explore.
Art works produced for the annual ArtWalk festival are exhibited in the foyer during our stay, but a water feature, a wall full of pamphlets showcasing things to do and see, and helpful staff are here year round. The rooftop offers ocean views, deck chairs, barbecue and a hot tub for two, while the outside pool on a lower floor offers movie nights, where films are played on a big screen above the water. The five floors of rooms are accessed via lifts. The Corner Restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch or dinner, is next to the foyer. There is free undercover parking.
My self-contained apartment room has a full kitchen and laundry. There's a spacious bathroom with a deep spa bath and a wide balcony with table and chairs. There's a large wall TV with Foxtel and free Wi-Fi.
Did we mention the beaches? Port Macquarie is blessed in this department. Join pooch-wielding locals on the Coastal Walk where you can spend hours reading the graffiti-art rocks that line the foreshore, then continue on via Town Beach, Rocky Beach lookout, Nobby's and Harry's lookout over Shelly Beach. Lighthouse and Flynn's beaches must also make the list and keep an eye out for dolphins and whales. Later, shake the sand off your feet and visit the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, now world famous after the recent bushfires. Head to Sea Acres Rainforest Walk for some tranquil tree time (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au) or lose yourself in the amazing maze at Wauchope's Bago Maze and Winery (bago.com.au). As stunning as it is, Port Macquarie is not all about the natural world: catch a show or an exhibit at the Glasshouse arts centre (glasshouse.org.au) or take one of the popular art workshops that have popped up in and around town like ArtHouse Industries in Clarence Street (arthouseindustries.com.au) and The Art Sanctuary in Billabong Drive (viviannehazenveld.com). Or take a mosaic class amid stunning gardens at The Out There Collective in nearby Beechwood (theouttherecollective.com).
Cross the road for share plates, pizzas and cocktails at Bar Florian (barflorian.com.au), or head to Whalebone on the Wharf (whalebonewharf.com.au) for special occasion seafood and beach views. Drury Lane in Clarence Street offers a paddock to plate ethos and meaty substance (pate, brisket, slow-cooked lamb) with vegetable sides that will leave you talking (facebook.com/drurylaneeatery). For brekkie? Coast at Lighthouse Beach has whale spout views, smoothies and does amazing things with avocado on toast. Two tips: Try the oysters anywhere, and this being Port Macquarie, you have to have fish and chips by the water at least once.
Macquarie Waters, Boutique Apartment Hotel, 11 Clarence Street, Port Macquarie. From $160 a night, three-bedroom apartments from $350 per night. See macquariewaters.com.au
This is a comfortable and convenient port of call - storm or no storm.
Central location, helpful staff.
Outdoor areas could do with some more greenery.
Jane Richards was a guest of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, see portmacquarieinfo.com.au