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

Located halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, Port Macquarie is repositioning itself from a convenient stopover to a destination in its own right. And with a bounty of natural assets, some furry superstars and a friendly, relaxed vibe, there's no better place to recharge your COVID-weary soul than this charming, waterfront town.

THE ONE WALK

On a balmy Sunday afternoon, it seems everyone in Port Macquarie has the same idea: strolling along the Hastings River Breakwall path, watching dolphins frolic near the sandbar, dodging intrepid teenagers as they zoom down the skate bowl on scooters, chatting with fishermen hauling their catch and snapping Insta-happy selfies on the colourful breakwall rocks, individually painted by locals since the outdoor art gallery was initiated in 1995. Continue on to Town Beach for a barefoot moment of introspection.

THE ONE HOTEL

Located conveniently in the centre of town on the riverfront, the Mid Pacific belies its retro 1970s block-like exterior with comfortable, recently-upgraded rooms. There's great dolphin and people-watching from the small balconies, while a saltwater outdoor pool and two indoor Jacuzzis with park and river views top off this family-friendly accommodation. See themidpacific.com

THE ONE NATIONAL PARK

The tiny but important Sea Acres National Park protects a remnant of coastal rainforest that runs all the way to the beach. From the delightful Sea Acres Rainforest Centre – featuring a café, gift store and downstairs exhibition space focusing on the Birapai indigenous culture – a 1.3 kilometre boardwalk loops through the forest, allowing you to commune with canopy-dwelling birds whilst gazing down on monstrous goannas skulking along the forest floor. Access to the boardwalk costs $9 for adults, with volunteer guides available for a more interpretative experience. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

THE ONE FAMILY ATTRACTION

My five-year-old granddaughter is entranced with Billabong Zoo Koala & Wildlife Park's animal encounters, including patting a dingo, being draped with a python and stroking a koala. Half-hourly keeper talks are engaging and informative, with Billabong keepers having rare access privileges allowing interaction with their pride of lions. Watching adorable meerkats dive into a ballpit to retreat treats was also a highlight. See billabongzoo.com.au

THE ONE FARM EXPERIENCE

Colour it red at Ricardoes, a tomato and strawberry farm where produce is plucked straight from the vine for direct sale to the public, with second-grade fruit crushed into delicious preserves and sauces ensuring there is zero wastage. Grab a bucket to pick strawberries growing on vertical lattice walls, chow down on delicious scones with homemade jam or suck down a strawberry milkshake in the onsite café. Great fun for the kids and a way of showing them where real food is produced. See ricardoes.com

THE ONE BEACH

Pick a beach, any beach, on the Port Macquarie coastline, and you'll find some aspect you'll adore. Choosing where to lay your towel is the challenge - whether it's the convenience of Town Beach, dog-friendly Nobby's Beach, the wild isolation and plodding camels of Lighthouse Beach or the point breaks of Rainbow Beach, there's a patch of sand and swell for every sun-worshipper. Nestled between twin headlands and protected from winds, 500 metre-long patrolled Flynns Beach is perhaps the most family friendly.

THE ONE CAFE

Kick off your shoes and get your caffeine hit in the coolest cafe in Port, Little Shack. Located on the riverfront walk, with a sandy outdoor seating area and an open-sided awning posing as "indoors", this cute little cafe has a tiki bar, Hawaiian islands vibe, with rustic signage and thatched umbrellas. It does a roaring breakfast trade, with good coffee, cold pressed juices, brekky burgers, breakfast tacos and toasties. See littleshack.com.au

THE ONE WATER ACTIVITY

Port Macquarie's dolphins are a gregarious bunch, and love to play in the wake of cruise boats that set off from the Port Jet marina, right next door to the Mid Pacific Hotel. There are several cruises available – currently operating under physical distancing requirements - from sedate morning tea cruises up the Hastings River to an adrenaline pumping Ocean Blast excursion on a Wave Rider. All cruises offer a great chance of seeing dolphins in the wild, as well as pelicans and sea-eagles roosting by the shore. See portjet.com.au

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THE ONE QUIET ACHIEVER

Port Macquarie's Koala Hospital has skyrocketed in profile since bushfires first hit Port Macquarie in November, with the plight of koalas and the potential decimation of the species hitting the headlines world over. After setting a humble Go Fund Me target of $25,000 to assist in the care of new patients, the Koala Hospital has since raised $7.5 million, and can now start a wild breeding program as well as continue their work rescuing and rehabilitating injured koalas. The hospital is in the bucolic grounds of historic Roto House – look up, and you might just see some wild koalas nestled in tree branches. The facility is currently running six one-hour visiting sessions each day, pre-booked only online and with limited numbers due to COVID restrictions. See koalahospital.org.au

ONE MORE THING

For a dramatic Port Macquarie spectacle, gaze into the sky at dusk; for as night descends over the town, so the horizon blackens with the silhouettes of thousands of flying foxes, setting off to forage from their daytime roost at Kooloonbung Creek.

See portmacquarieinfo.com.au

Julie Miller travelled as a guest of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.

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