Port Stephens, NSW things to do: Nine highlights


Bannisters have both ends of the NSW coast well and truly covered nowadays with this Mid North Coast hotel a spinoff of the brand's Mollymook, South Coast, property. The Port Stephens branch, slap bang in the village of Soldiers Point, is, like the Mollymook original, a skillfully-converted motel with benefits. If you can manage it, do book an upper-level balcony room adjacent to bushland where koalas, kookaburras and rainbow lorikeets can often be spotted and enjoyed. Oh, and the water views or glimpses ain't half bad from either. See bannisters.com.au


For a touch of Byron Bay-style cool when you're not having Byron Bay, head to Little Nels, a cafe attached to the Hotel Nelson, another motel conversion, at Nelson Bay. The cafe, a popular haunt for locals, is expertly staffed and has top-notch comfort foods and coffee. But be aware: it can get a little frenetic on weekends, particularly in these pandemic-constrained times, with people spilling out onto the footpath awaiting a COVID-safe table. See littlenel.com.au


Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary is almost finished being built. 16th July 2020. Photo: Zoe Lonergan

Photo: Zoe Lonergan

With abundant native bushland, Port Stephens is one of Australia's most important koala habitats. Sadly many of the beloved marsupials perished in last summer's bushfires, but there's some good news. A brand new sanctuary, including a fully-equipped veterinary hospital, has been built at One Mile for the survivors. It's due to open on September 26. Humans will be afforded their own enclosures in the form of luxury glamping tents for overnight stays. See portstephenskoalasanctuary.com.au

See also: After the bushfires, struggling koalas get a new home


Much loved chef Rick Stein has formed a wildly fruitful relationship with Bannisters. A visit to his crowd-pleasing seafood-focused restaurants is an essential part of a stay or visit to Port Stephens. The dishes on the eclectically fishy menu, including fish and shellfish soup and salmon masala curry, reflects the chef's wanderlust. It's all well-documented in his enjoyable TV series and his cookbooks with the full library of tomes of the great man are available for purchase at the reception. See bannisters.com.au


Just a few moments at Gan Gan Lookout and it's hard to understand why Port Stephens isn't even more popular. From the Gymea lily-studded hillside off the road leading down to Nelson Bay, there are panoramic views of the surrounding Port Stephens waterways and the ocean beyond, as well as the Yacaaba and Tomaree headlands and magnificent protected virgin bushland. See visitnsw.com


Couple enjoying the coastal views along Tomaree Head Summit Walk, Port Stephens. Supplied PR image for Traveller. Destination NSW images of Port Stephens

The short Tomaree Head Summit Walk is a great way to take in views of Port Stephens. Photo: Destination NSW

Although development has encroached on too many parts of Port Stephens, the area is at least ringed by native forest with the coast-hugging Tomaree National Park comprising a large proportion of it. The short Tomaree Head Summit Walk is a great way to take in views of Port Stephens as well as vistas straight up the north coast. The park is also a great whale-watching and koala spotting perch as well as a swimming, snorkelling and fishing haven. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au



If there are better situated tearooms anywhere in the country do let us know. Meanwhile be delighted with the Inner Light Tearooms at the Nelson Head Lighthouse (also known as the Nelson Head Inner Light). Sit at al fresco tables to enjoy glorious ocean and beach outlooks, beyond the lawn and white picket fence of the lighthouse. Be warned: rainbow lorikeets, as well as other avian species, have as much an affection for the tearooms' supersized scones and jam and cream as the human patrons. See innerlighttearooms.com.au


Unless we missed something Port Stephens doesn't seem to have a surfeit of conventional pubs but, then again, if you're staying at Bannisters, you're in luck. It's home to the Cheeky Dog, a cavernous family-friendly inn with an easy going and affordable menu (a perfect dining and imbibing option after you're smashed the budget at Rick's place). See cheekydogbar.com


So you can't quite make it to Dubai this year? Fear not - there's always the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes. Part of the Worimi Conservation Lands, this remarkable 4300-hectare "sandscape" is the most extensive of its kind in the southern hemisphere. There are four-wheel drive, quad-biking and sand-boarding tours or for a more subdued experience, try horse and camel rides. See portstephens.org.au

See also: Hidden gem: The spectacular dunes of Port Stephens


Unsurprisingly. Port Stephens can be packed with visitors and its road clogged at weekends, especially when the weather warms up. Do yourself and everyone else a favour by visiting during the week if you can.

The writer was a guest of Bannisters Port Stephens.