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. If this is a pitstop on the legendary Pacific Coast Drive or you’re docking for the weekend, then follow our itinerary and scratch the sandy surface of what’s possible in Port Stephens.
Very early morning
Set your alarm for a 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. It’ll 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 or if you can’t make the 6am start, head out with Moonshadow Cruises. You can even go on a kayak tour for a more personal experience.
Grab a bite
Grab a substantial breakfast at one of the beachfront cafes. There are plenty of choices right on the beach, so soak in the views and recharge.
Hit the road
You can’t come to Port Stephens and not see the Stockton Sand Dunes, which are mostly 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 join a tour. Be a road warrior on a sandboard or quad bike, or go old school on a horse or camel.
Quick tip: You’ll need a beach vehicle permit to access the dunes. You can purchase your permit from numerous locations. Please check the NPWS alerts before you set off that the 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.
Walk the walk
Step back from the coastline for another equally epic perspective. The walks through Tomaree National Park have views out to the harbour perfect for a photo op: the 45-minute walk to the summit is steep but the view is worth the climb. If you’re too 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.
Did you know: Port Stephens is also known for its koalas, so don’t forget to look up the trees along the highways and in the bush. One, two, three, nawww!
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.
Sunset dinner and humpback whales
You’re starving by now, and Port Stephens is famously stocked with fresh seafood, so grab a table at a local restaurant for some rock oysters and freshly caught fish. Afterwards, cap off your trip with a well-earned beer or a Hunter Valley wine. While you’re at it, try some of the amazing regional produce such as cheese, chocolate, honey and olive oil.