Shoal Bay was supposedly named by Governor Macquarie because of its sand shoals. There is a holiday park and you can hire catamarans, paddleboats, surf skis, sailboards, canoes and waterscooters on the beach (in season). Waterskiing and paragliding can be pursued and there is a game-fishing club which hosts one of the biggest gamefishing competitions in the southern hemisphere each February. The fishing from the headlands and beaches is generally rewarding.
At the easternmost edge of Shoal Bay is Tomaree Head (168 m). There is a car park and picnic area at the base of Tomaree Head. Opposite the car park is the start of a walking track to the summit where the views are breathtaking. There are several offshore islands: Boondelbah, 3 km to the north-east covers 9 ha. It is a nesting and breeding site for little penguins, white-faced storm petrels and a variety of shearwaters. Just to its north is Cabbage Tree Island (26 ha) named after the cabbage tree palms in the two gullies on the island's western side which are the only known nesting site of Goulds petrel. It is also, reputedly, the only island with a rainforest ecosystem in Southern Australia and was the first gazetted flora and fauna reserve in NSW.
Fort Tomaree was established on the head during World War II. Two large gun emplacements (sans guns) lie along the main track. If you wish to see the other relics walk beyond the initial path, past the hospital, to a secondary track. The visitors' centre in Nelson Bay has a booklet called "The Guns of Tomaree" if you wish to know more.
Tomaree Head lies at the northeastern tip of Tomaree National Park which covers 896 ha of the southern peninsula from the headland at the northeastern tip following a strip south and then west around the coast to Boat Harbour and Little Kingsley Beach. The beaches are attractive and ideal for swimming and fishing. The park is full of birdlife and, from July to February, wildflowers. In all, the bushland around Port Stephens supports considerable biological diversity: 230 bird species, 48 mammal species and 650 plant species.
Fingal Bay has a resort, a patrolled beach, a boat ramp and fishing from both the beach and from Fingal Head. Whales can sometimes be spotted offshore between September and November or, less frequently from late May to July. They like to rub their barnacles off on a reef 50 m offshore.Fingal Bay was originally known as False Bay as, in the 19th century, it was sometimes mistaken for the entrance to Port Stephens.
From the beach Point Stephens looms just to the north. The site of numerous shipwrecks a lighthouse was installed there in 1862. It was designed by colonial architect Alexander Dawson and made of Sydney sandstone. At that time the Point was joined to the mainland by a narrow spit - 200 m wide, 5 m above sea-level, covered with bushes and also, by the end of the 19th century, with telegraph poles. A gale washed most of the spit away in 1891. However, at low tide, the remaining sandbar can still be crossed. The cylindrical lighthouse is still operational and the vantage point is excellent.
The fit can actually walk to Fingal Bay from Box Beach. Walking tracks continue around the coastline to Samurai and One Mile Beaches, where there are more paths to explore. The former is an authorised nude bathing beach and the latter has a resort complex. The Nelson Bay visitors' centre has a booklet called "Bushwalks Around Port Stephens".
Stockton Beach is an unvegetated mass of mobile sand dunes which stretch westwards for 34 km, rising up to 30 m above sea-level. Each year the dunes creep a little further to the north. Used for horseracing by the early settlers Stockton Beach is now noted for its fishing, the wreck of the Sygna and a fenced off Aboriginal midden containing bones and shells which date back 1240 years. It is also known as the nesting site for one of Australia's most endangered birds, the little tern. Hundreds of mutton birds are washed ashore in September and October of each year after dropping dead from exhaustion during their lengthy migration flight. Horizon Safaris offer 6WD tours into the area (tel: 02-4982 6328 or 018-681600). You can also explore the beach by camel if you so desire with Walkabout Camel Adventures, tel: (02) 4964 8996, or by horse with Sahara Horse Trails, tel: 015-290340.
Soldiers Point was originally known as Friendship Point the name was probably changed owing to a small garrison of soldiers which was established here in 1826 to stop convict escapees from Port Macquarie making their way across the narrow stretch of water to the settlement further south.
Salt Ash was named after a town in Cornwall. It was first settled by Europeans in 1816 with the first land grant being issued in 1837. Attractions in the area include Oakvale Farm and Fauna World where there is an animal nursery, aviaries, a farm museum, native fauna, farm animals, pony rides, merry-go-rounds, a kiosk, barbecue areas and tractor rides. It is open from 10.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. daily with bottle feedings and nursing at 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m., and duck feeding at 1.00 p.m., tel: (02) 4982 6222.
Turn right into Lemon Tree Passage Rd which goes north-east to Tilligerry Peninsula. Containing a considerable diversity of native flora and birdlife, and one of the most significant koala colonies in the state, it is divided off from the rest of the southern peninsula by Tilligerry Creek which extends from Salt Ash into the waters of the Port. 'Telegherry', as it was formerly spelled, means pelican. There are several islands sandwiched between the banks. Early visitors used to travel by coach to the Salt Ash wharf at the western end of the creek and then proceed by boat to the scattered coastal settlements of the Port.
'Tanilba' is said to mean 'place of white flowers', presumably a reference to the flannel flowers which formerly thrived in the area. The centrepiece of this small township is Tanilba House: a beautiful and elegant home which is one of Australia's oldest historical buildings.
Tanilba House was built for Lieutenant Caswell, a naval officer. He and his family emigrated in 1828. Caswell established farm sites at Seaham (23 km north) and Salt Ash and opted to build his homestead on the 50 acres he received at Tanilba. Utilising convict labour he started with a slab hut in 1829, expanding to a cottage in 1831, and laid the foundations of Tanilba House in 1837, built of quartz porphyry stone which was quarried nearby. The mortar came from lime produced by burning oysters. Vineyards, gardens and a dairy were established.
The growing family were on good terms with the local Aborigines whose children played with their own. However, there numbers soon diminished as they did throughout the colony. Emily Caswell wrote in 1841:
When we first came here all around we saw nothing but the blacks' fires and canoes, but now only a dozen are left of our tribes...they bring fish and oysters for flour...our blacks are harmless inoffensive people...their children are stout and spend half their day in the sea...each tribe had land allotted...they used to fight among themselves very often and had 'corroborys' - jumping up and down; and mourning by smearing themselves with white clay, saying [enigmatically] "Die - jump up white man".
The Caswells lived at Tanilba for fifteen years. The family house was sold in 1886 and stood derelict until 1897. Rather than being a museum piece Tanilba House, for all of its elegance, has a very comfortable, casual, rustic and lived-in feel to it. Indeed it is still lived in - by Helen Taylor who has a homely range of dogs, doves and domesticated fowl. For a small entry fee she will give you a brief tour of the house, a freshly brewed cup of coffee and, for an additional fee, a devonshire tea.
The views out across the front lawn and the bay are excellent. Offshore lies Snapper Island, a nature reserve dominated by a huge Morton Bay fig. The exterior facade is very attractive. The rooms are large with high ceilings and walls a half-metre thick - to cool the house in summer and retain heat in winter. There is a small gaol and an exterior kitchen: reminders of the days of convicts and servants. The house has numerous and genuinely interesting historic displays. There are letters written by the Caswells, dressmaker's dummies adorned with delicate dresses and underwear from the late nineteenth century, old newspapers and crockery, antique furnishings and presses, a remarkable book collection with items dating back to the 17th century, and other memorabilia. The house is open for inspections Wednesdays, weekends, and every day during school and public holidays, tel: (02) 4982 4866.
Also in town is Tilligerry Habitat, a volunteer and charitable organisation formed in 1993 to try and reverse the severe degradation of the ecology, and hence the koala habitat, caused by sand mining. An ongoing and, to date, highly fruitful rehabilitation endeavour ensued. They offer guided interpretive walks which take in the area's ecology, koala habitats, heritage (Aboriginal and European), bush tucker and birds and come highly recommended. They have a pamphlet outlining the 1.7-km Dundulla Track down at the Tanilba waterfront which leads through bushland identifying various plants and their usages within Worimi culture.
Tilligerry Habitat also have arts and crafts displays and sales, and books on the area's ecology and history. The shop is open from 10.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. daily and is located at the Tilligerry Plaza in President Wilson Walk. tel: (02) 4984 5677.
Lemon Tree Passage
Lemon Tree Passage was originally called Kooindah (meaning 'clear water'). It is a leafy, tranquil and attractive retirement centre only subdivided in 1962 (there were just 30 residents in 1931). There are several theories concerning the origins of the town's name. It is said that lemon trees were mysteriously found growing on the point by early settlers (possibly washed ashore from other settlements). Another is that they were in fact a native plant called cheesebush which is similar in appearance. A third concerns a lemon tree orchard grown by a resident.
A particularly enjoyable thing to do is inspect the native flora reserve in Helen Ave. Another two walks - the Mangrove Board Walk and the Lilli Pilli Walk - are located at the tip of the peninsula in Koala Park. Lemon Tree Coffee and Crafts provide tourist information from 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. daily, tel: (02) 4984 5433. There is a marina with boats for hire and a holiday resort.
Tours and Tickets
There are a number of ways to get around Port Stephens: the Bay Explorer Ticket facilitates exploration on the local bus service, there is a network of cycleways, and a regular ferry service runs across to Tea Gardens on the northern shore. Horizon Safaris offer 6WD excursions around the area, tel: (02) 4982 6328, as do Sand Safaris Active Adventure Tours (tel: 02 4965 0215 or email@example.com). Larkwood Tours provide mini-bus treks about Port Stephens, tel: (02) 4982 4656 or 0417-254 791. The visitors' centre also has an access guide for those with mobility restrictions.