By Emma Moylan
September 10, 2020 | 5 minute read
Trips to the coast with the family can be amazing —but how well they work can have a lot to do with the destination. A holiday is a lot more enjoyable for everyone when the words “do we have to?” aren’t part of anyone's vocabulary. One of the most kid-friendly vacation spots in Australia is Port Stephens.
An easy 2.5-hour drive from Sydney, this seaside region answers the call for those looking for natural beauty and outdoor fun with stunning beaches, pristine bushland and an ample array of activities to entertain all ages. Here are just six of the best things to do in the region that the entire family will enjoy …
* At the time of writing, activities and places mentioned in this guide are at varying stages of recovery from COVID-19. Please check government and business websites for specific details on opening times and any restrictions before you travel.
Safe, beautiful beaches
With dozens of white beaches, pretty blue bays and panoramic views, the stunning shores of Port Stephens are the perfect spot for a pleasure-packed weekend of seaside fun. On top of being one of the prettiest coastal regions in the country, the area’s foreshores are also among some of the most child-friendly. The local waters boast gentle waves and many of the beaches are patrolled.
Little Beach is ideal for young children with both small waves and a playground nearby. This spot is also popular as a place to say hello to and feed its pelican visitors. One Mile Beach is another spot with a great play area as well as a refreshment kiosk and amenities, which makes it easy to while away a whole day here with the family. Salamander Bay is a small enclosed beach well suited for a family picnic and for paddling. Stockton Beach has ample space to fly a kite, play games and has its own skateboard park.
Dolphin and whale watching
Regarded as the dolphin watching capital of Australia, Port Stephens is home to over 140 bottlenose dolphins. These company-loving locals can often be seen from shore, or you can go on a dolphin watching cruise. For a low-cost option, take an original timber ferry across to Tea Gardens for the day and look out for dolphins playing off the bow of the boat. Whale watching is also popular, and you can witness these awe-inspiring creatures as they pass along the coast.
From May to September, over 22,000 humpback whales travel north to give birth, and in June and July they migrate back south with their young. A whale watching cruise is an unforgettable experience, or try your luck at vantage points such as the dedicated whale watching platform at Barry Park in Fingal Bay.
Tomaree Head Summit Walk
Nature walks are a year-round pastime, and the Tomaree Summit Walk
in Tomaree National Park is a hike well worth the effort. With sweeping views of Shoal Bay, Boat Harbour, Anna Bay, and even as far as Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah Islands, the stunning panorama from the top overlooking all of Port Stephens is truly breathtaking. It’s approximately a 2.2-kilometre return walk, so allow 1.5 hours to complete it at a steady pace with pint-sized hikers.
Get the kids to keep on the lookout for koalas dozing high in the trees, colourful lorikeets, and white-bellied sea eagles, which return each year to the same nest to breed. When you reach the summit, enjoy a family picnic by the lookout. If you’re interested in Australian military history, include the short walk to Fort Tomaree where the World War II gun emplacements played an important part in Australia’s east coast defence system.
Go bike riding
A wonderful way to explore the area, Port Stephens is great for bike riding with kid-friendly bike paths, scenic views, and very little traffic. You can cycle from Salamander Bay right through to Fingal Bay with plenty of amazing ocean views as you pass through bush, reserves and plenty of parks, playgrounds and fab cafes along the way. If there’s no room in the car for your family’s own bikes, you can hire easy-to-ride bikes locally.
Feeling sporty? The aqua waters of Port Stephens are a marine park where you can snorkel, kayak, jet ski, paddleboard or learn to surf. Snorkelling is a favourite activity for all ages, and even younger children will enjoy snorkelling off any of the kid-friendly bays in the district. Wade out around the famous Fly Point, situated between Little Beach and Nelson Bay beach, and discover a spectacular underwater world.
Guided kayak tour the calm waters, or jet ski hire is available for children over the age of 8 if you ride tandem with them—you never know when the friendly resident dolphins might show up to say hello. Boogie board at one of the many patrolled surf beaches or participate in the family-fun experience of surf or paddleboard lessons.
Do your kids love to climb, swing and slide? There are loads of playgrounds situated all around Port Stephens, often with water views and cafes or kiosks nearby. Our family favourites are located at Little Beach, Dutchman’s Beach and Fingal Bay, which has a flying fox and an extra-long paved bath for bike and scooter riding if your little ones have any energy left!
A very popular playground can also be found at Henderson Park on the foreshore of Lemon Tree Passage, which is also the venue for the annual week-long Tilligerry Festival held in November. An active family is a happy family! With plenty of fun activities for all ages, it’s little wonder generations of families have been visiting the region for the perfect holiday or weekend getaway. So start counting the sleeps until you can pack up your car and go and discover the natural beauty, crystal-clear waters and simple pleasures found at this coastal gem.
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