Port Stephens has as much turf as it does surf. Drive two-and-a-half hours’ north of Sydney and you might recognise those hefty sand dunes: some of 1979’s Mad Max was filmed here, and you can get in on the action. With so much to do, here are our picks for what you won’t want to miss.
Bucket List: Swim with the dolphins
Hopefully you’re feeling fresh enough for an early one, because the most bucket-list-worthy of all activities in Port Stephens is swimming with the dolphins. This is the only permitted wild dolphin swim in New South Wales, that will take up four hours of your morning, so allow for that, but since there are more than 140 bottlenose dolphins in the area, it might be your best shot at replicating your favourite scene from Flipper. Head to d’Albora Marinas, Nelson Bay, and hook up with Dolphin Swim Australia. If swimming is not your thing – there’s also the option to join a dolphin-watching tour.
Can’t get up that early? Join an unforgettable whale-watching tour with a NSW National Parks ranger from the beautiful shoreline.
Dunes for Days
You can’t come to Port Stephens and not see the Stockton Sand Dunes, which are within Worimi Conservation Lands. You probably didn’t realise the largest moving coastal sand dunes in the southern hemisphere were this close to Sydney. They stretch for 32km right up to Birubi Beach, with steep slopes rising to 40m. Hire a 4WD with a group of mates or better still join a tour – where you can be a road warrior on a sandboard or quad bike or go old school on a camel.
Quick tip: You’ll need a beach vehicle permit to access the dunes. You can purchase your permit from numerous locations. Find out where you can drive your vehicle in Worimi Conservation Lands. Please check the NPWS alerts before you set off that there aren’t any temporary closures in place.
Next head over to Tin City, the 11-shack village built on the sand in the late 1800s. It’s only a 25-minute drive but it’s as off-the-grid as they come: this is a pocket of country with no power, no water, and no sewerage. And it looks exactly like something out of Mad Max with good reason: part of the ‘79 original was filmed here. Note: admire Tin City from a distance as this is private property.
Did you know? The Worimi Conservation Lands are owned and co-managed by the local Worimi Aboriginal community in partnership with NSW National Parks.
Walk the walk
Step back from the coastline for another equally epic perspective. The walks throughout Tomaree National Park have views out to the harbour perfect for a photo op: The 45-minute walk to the Tomaree Head Summit walk is steep but the view is worth the climb. While you’re at the top you can watch the journey of the Gould’s petrel through our augmented reality immersive story.
Pooped from the morning’s adventuring? Wreck Beach walk is a more relaxing option. If you’re there from May to November, keep an eye out over the water for migrating humpback whales. Connect with Fort Tomaree walk on your way back down the summit to see the military relics. It’s hard to imagine now, but during World War II Fort Tomaree was occupied by searchlight stations, radar tower, torpedo tubes, barracks, and hundreds of soldiers.
Hot on everyone’s lips is the Tomaree Coastal Walk (including the Tomaree Head Summit) this epic 27km walk on Worimi Country winds through ancient volcanic landscapes, beneath shaded canopies of gum and she-oaks, to secluded coves and beaches. Try the multi-day 2 or 3-day itineraries, or do it your way and explore a section or sections of theTomaree Coastal Walk.
We know it will be pretty hard to resist a swim: many of our parks beaches are unpatrolled or or seasonally patrolled swimming areas – find out your nearest patrolled beach here. Please keep you and your companions safe in the water with our beach safety tips.