Port Macquarie, NSW, travel guide and things to do: Nine must-do highlights

1. THE ONE BREAKFAST

Coast and toast go together like – well, toast and Vegemite. And that great Australian yeast extract does make an ingenious appearance at the idyllic Coast café at Lighthouse Beach (see its Facebook page). It is infused in puffed tapioca which gives avocado and fetta on sourdough a delicious salty crunch. But the main attraction at Coast, a tiny café with huge flavours, is its location under trees and fringed umbrellas directly across from the water. Prepare to yell "whale" between bites during humpback season, or dip a cheesy and leg-hammy croque monsieur into a choc peanut butter smoothie every time you spot a dolphin. Owner Brad Hodge is also the force behind local brewery Moorebeer. 40 Matthew Flinders Drive. See moorebeer.com.au

2. THE ONE WILDLIFE EXPERIENCE

Once international borders open, don't be surprised if the hottest ticket in town for overseas visitors will be Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. The plight of its patients was beamed around the world after last summer's devastating bushfires and thanks to an off-the-charts GoFundMe campaign, the hospital now has almost $8 million to put toward koala care, drinking stations and habitat protection.

Pop in to see how the patients are progressing. You'll learn that each koala has a distinct personality and while this is endearing, it's important to treat them as wild animals so they can be successfully returned to the bush. Later, explore historic Roto House on the grounds or grab a coffee at Round & Round – a caffeine carrying vintage caravan whose Melbourne owners chose Port Macquarie as their port of choice (storm or no storm) after time on the road. See koalahospital.org.au roundandround.com.au

3. THE ONE BOATSHED

DUNBOGAN BOATSHED

slmacquarie Remy Brand

Photo: Remy Brand

The 1940s Dunbogan Boatshed on the shores of the Camden-Haven River, 30 minutes' south of Port Macquarie, offers boat hire, kayaks, fishing and fish feeding from the deck (even at night thanks to an underwater light system), coffee and cakes and an onsite ice-cream parlour. What more could you want? Well, how about a vintage caravan selling crepes out the front and champagne and oyster cruises aboard a vintage trawler? Owner Damien Lay, a one-time documentary filmmaker, is keen to make both happen soon. See dunboganboatshed.com

4. THE ONE ART CLASS

Third generation Port Macquarie resident Skye Petho has two unique talents. She is an award-winning glass artist and also has that rare ability to nurture and teach art - even to the artistically challenged. Her long-running business, Arthouse Industries in Murray Street, is a haven for a growing cohort of artists and offers one-off artwork, clothing, jewellery and art classes and workshops that are increasingly popular with visiting groups of friends. Our class is shown how to splatter paint, then form shapes using a straw technique. It's relaxing, fun, and results in work good enough to frame. And there's wine. See arthouseindustries.com.au

5. THE ONE WINERY

Remy Brand satoct24port

Bago Winery at Wauchope, 20-minutes' from Port Macquarie, is home to one of the world's biggest hedge mazes. Two-metre high walls of red-tinged Lilly Pilly combine and confuse to create a masterful 2000-metre puzzle that would not be out of place beside a French castle. Maze designer Ian Mobbs, whose family owns and runs the winery, begs to differ. A French castle maze, he says, would technically be called a labyrinth. This adherence to detail is what maketh a maze master. Parents sit on lawn hillsides to watch offspring become lost and found in endless dead ends.The wines here are also masterful (try their blueberry range). Bago Winery also houses the BabaLila handmade Russian chocolate workshop. See bago.com.au babalila.com.au

6. THE ONE RETREAT

Paul and Helen Mansfield come from large families so they know how hard it can be to find somewhere where everyone can get away to relax without annoying others. In fact their unique 2.5 hectare eco-retreat has largely been used as a family escape of their own. But now others can share in this private haven with native bushland, ocean views, a pool, gourmet kitchen, fire pit and pizza oven, access to Queens Lake, koala habitats, open fields and even an indoor basketball court. Super comfy shipping container accommodation includes ensuite bathrooms and relaxing verandas and means family members or friends can have their own rooms or share. The best bit? Big groups have the whole place to themselves. It's like being handed the keys to your own family hotel. Perfect for wedding or reunions. See mansfieldestate.com.au

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7. THE ONE CULTURAL EXPERIENCE

There's a reason why the Sydney Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare and Opera Australia love coming to Port Macquarie. It's because they know they will not have to compromise on the quality of their productions thanks to Glasshouse – the multi-million dollar cultural centre, which includes a 594-seat theatre and an acclaimed art gallery. Up until COVID descended, the Glasshouse was attracting more than 250,000 visitors a year. Drop in to the gallery (exhibitions are now back up and running), grab a ticket to a show or take a backstage tour to see what everyone is raving about. See glasshouse.org.au

8. THE ONE RESTAURANT

At first glance, this restaurant seems to be all about rich meaty flavours: slow-braised brisket with Lyonnaise onions, chicken pate, pulled lamb with green lentils. They are all as good as they sound but it's the incredible and inventive array of vegetables that keep us talking long after leaving: those braised leeks, those roasted dutch carrots with dukkah, the Fernbank white turnip and potato galette. Dru and Kate McCarron-Woolnough source all their produce locally and make everything from scratch in this cute little outdoor eatery in the Glasshouse forecourt. The menu changes regularly but try not to miss the choc chip cookie ice-cream sandwich. See facebook.com/drurylaneeatery

9. THE ONE WALK

Nope. You haven't really been to Port Macquarie until you've inspected the rows of painted and graffitied rocks on the town's Coastal Walk. The rocks that line the foreshore have created a rich spontaneous art work and it's easy to lose hours in their engrossing jumble. Some of the painted rocks mark decades-long pilgrimages families have made to Port Macquarie which are updated each year; others are more poignant, asking questions that may never be answered or remembering those who have gone. And a couple – well, they could do with a wee bit more creativity. Beer label man, we're talking to you. You will see dolphins – watch carefully – and to start your walk, grab a bite at Little Shack, a cute café on the foreshore that's recently removed nanny-state fencing to create a beachy ambience.

10. ONE MORE THING

A perfect climate. Bushland. Beaches. Koalas. The beauty of this area has long attracted holidaying families and retirees. But there's a new buzz in town, led by artists, boutique business and inventive farmers who have injected a much appreciated burst of creative energy. You can see it in the queues for Glasshouse, the (socially-distanced) crowds at the annual ArtWalk festival and on your plate at a local restaurant. See portmacquarieinfo.com.au

Jane Richards was a guest of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.

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