The first known inhabitants of Port Stephens were the aborigine Worimi tribe. This tribe had some strange customs, for example all women of the tribe had the first joint of their little finger removed, which was then dropped in local fishing waters, in the belief that fish would be attracted to the hand of those whose fingers it belonged to!!! Interestingly, the first Europeans to live amongst the tribe were 5 escaped convicts in the late 1800s. The Worimi tribe befriended the convicts and offered them wives, by whom some had children, a far cry from the dismal life the convicts would otherwise have faced!!
On the East Coast and about 2 and a half hours north of Sydney, Port Stephens is more than a stop over, it is a first class destination in its own rights. Port Stephens has its finger on the pulse, but in a more laid back way than its more crowded neighbour Sydney. The only essentials to pack for a trip here are your sunnies, thongs and a pair of fins for snorkelling or diving.
What to do in Port Stephens
Beaches: With over 19 miles of pristine sandy beaches, you’d be forgiven for doing nothing more than settling down for a day on the beach, reading this summer’s bestseller and placing a ‘do not disturb’ sign next to your beach towel. If you’re really ready to let it all hang loose, you could pop over to have a swim at the local nudist beach!
Dune boarding and quad bikes: Stockton Beach has sand dunes over 30 metres high! Just imagine the blood pumping through your veins as you hurtle down them at breakneck speed with nothing but a sand board between you and the dunes. This is so much fun it should be illegal! Never fear, this is one place you’re guaranteed a soft landing!! Local operators also hire out quad bikes and sand buggies to climb the giant dunes.
Camel Treks: If you’d rather sit back and view the scenic vistas in a relaxing way, then a ship of the desert is just the thing for you. Camel treks are available from local tour operators, ask at the visitor information. The only dilemma you’ll need to think about is ‘one hump or two?!’
Dolphin and Whale Watching: Port Stephens is known as the dolphin capital of Australia. There are between 150 to 200 resident bottlenose dolphins in the bay and they’re even friendlier than the locals! You are almost guaranteed to see them and many take a dip in the warm waters with them. As if that wasn’t enough, over 500 humpback whales swim through the area on their annual migrations, providing ample opportunity to observe these graceful giants of the sea. Organised whale watching tours operate throughout the migration seasons, usually May to July and September to November.
Australian Shark and Ray Centre: A once in a lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal with sharks and rays. Don a wetsuit and snorkel amongst Port Jackson sharks or swim amongst the rays that seem to glide effortlessly around you. The resident Tawny Nurse shark is likely to check you out, but only to see if you’re up for a friendly pat! Time your visit for ‘Feeding Frenzy’ and you’ll be sharing the water with large numbers of sharks and rays all looking to pick up a tasty morsel – but don’t worry, you’re not on the menu!
Wildlife: In addition to the wonderful sea life, Port Stephens is home to a large number of different animal and bird species that you’ll be pushed to find elsewhere. This is an animal lover’s paradise. As you walk, keep one eye on the ground to spot the mouse sized Brown Antechinus. You’ll be hard pushed to spot one in winter time though, as the male of the species die in mid-August, after a mating frenzy! Other amazing animal facts include the Northern Brown Bandicoot, also found in Port Stephens, which has the shortest gestation period of any mammal in the world, their young are born just 12 days after conception!
Keen bird watchers could also be in for a treat, as the rare and endangered Peregrine Falcons live and hunt around the region. Just as rare are the Goulds Petrels, who can be found on Cabbage Tree Island, the only place in the Southern Hemisphere where these birds nest. Other nesting birds in the area are the Mutton birds, which congregate on Broughton Island in their hundreds in November, where each year they choose the same partner to mate with and lay their eggs in the same burrow as previous years! Also breeding on Broughton Island are the Fairy Penguins, although they can be seen throughout the year in other coastal areas within the region.
Galleries and Museums: There are a host of local galleries and museums, including Port Stephens Shell Museum which holds a fascinating array of rare and exotic shells.
Walking: This is a wonderful way to get around the region. Choose from coastal walks around the bay, bush walks through the national parks, or best of all take a ‘koala walk’ through Mallabula to see these iconic cute and cuddly creatures in their natural habitat. If you want to exert yourself a bit more, try walking up Gan Gan Hill, Port Stephen’s highest lookout, for stunning views right across the region. There are numerous scenic walks in and around Port Stephens, some are heritage trails that will educate you in local history as you walk between historical sites (try the Nelson Bay Heritage Trail), or take a walk to the lighthouse at Nelson Head, where you can explore the walls within and then settle in with a cup of cha with views overlooking the bay.
Native Flora: Port Stephens is blooming with different flora in beauty and abundance! For example, did you know that the area has 45 species of known native orchids? At certain times of year the Pixie cap orchid covers the ground in some areas in thousands. You will see native wild flowers in most bush and coastal areas of Port Stephens, but to really focus on them, what better way than to take a trip out to the Native Flora Gardens at the crest of Fly Point Park, take a walk round, breathing deeply to take in the scent of your beautiful surroundings, alive with native flora.
Whether you choose to laze on the beach, hurtle down the sand dunes, or take it easy in the local cafes, Port Stephens offers a beautiful serene backdrop and a year round temperate climate to explore all the possibilities. It’s no wonder it’s such a favourite amongst residents of Sydney who travel here on holidays to escape the crowds of their home town.