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Top 10 THings to do in Port Stephens
Experience Oz + NZ Presents

Top 10 Things to do in

Port Stephens

by Matt Hobbs

The central coast of New South Wales remains a criminally underrated travel destination in Australia, boasting some truly beautiful stretches of coast and waterways without the crowds or over-commercialisation that many of the larger and more famous holiday spots encounter.

Perhaps chief amongst these is Port Stephens, which sits roughly 1 hour north-east of major city Newcastle and is a haven for beach-goers and marine enthusiasts as well as a quality getaway for families.

Renowned for its vast sand dunes and expansive main harbour/bay area brimming with marine life, the Port Stephens area hangs its hat on a combination of great overall weather and outdoor-oriented focus that make it an excellent choice for those looking to unwind from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Add to all of this the ability to indulge in numerous adventures both on and off the water – including high quality wineries inland, famously fresh and reasonably priced seafood, and a range of walks and drives that lead to wonderfully scenic outlooks comprising a myriad of colours – and you've got a spot that is just begging to be experienced before its popularity explodes.

To ensure you get the most out of your trip to this sunny spot on the NSW central coast, here's our list of the Top 10 Things to do in Port Stephens & surrounds.

10. Biking with Port Stephens Mountain Bike Adventures

Location: Salamander Bay

Port Stephens is very much a travel destination where getting out and enjoying the fresh air and scenery is a key focus, and there are few better and more natural ways to do so than by bike. The town is one of NSW's top spots for cyclists and is home to a range of varied cycling tracks that provide a number of outstanding viewpoints in return for relatively little effort.

While there are numerous smaller tracks on offer, the major routes that stretch between brief 2 kilometre offerings all the way up to more involved 28 kilometre treks are by far the most popular – and for first-time visitors guided tours with Port Stephens Mountain Bike adventures can provide a detailed look at all the key highlights of each as well as some insider knowledge and context to local landmarks and geography.

With riders of all experience levels welcome to join in, it's a great way to get a dose of a variety of scenery that provides a good cross-section of what Port Stephens' nature has to offer – beaches, hillsides, local suburbs and rocky tails are all covered here.

Riding tour options also vary in terms of time as well as scenery, with shorter tour options as minimal as 1 hour ranging through to more comprehensive 4 hour rides meaning that those who want to focus on scenery more than a physical challenge – as well as those looking to push themselves – are both catered for.

The riding tracks are all of relatively high quality and consistent surfacing, and the majority make their way along the coast providing views of some of Port Stephens' 26-some individual beaches before heading into lush stretches of National Park all while taking advantage of the town's overall lack of traffic.

Popular break points to enjoy a coffee and admire the views include Port Stephens' iconic lighthouse, Mt. Tomaree lookout and several other local essentials that can be customised upon request. Even locals of Port Stephens can take something away from these rides, with many of the pathways taken going down relatively hidden tracks and back passes that show the town and its surrounds from an alternative angle.

Regardless of if you're looking to take part in a guided tour or explore what Port Stephens has to offer by yourself, it's one of the top spots in Australia to get out and explore on two wheels, with the predictably good weather making biking a viable activity almost all-year-round.

9. Toboggan Hill Park

Location: 16 Aquatic Cl, Nelson Bay

The Port Stephens region isn't all beaches, sunshine and dolphins; those looking for a dose of family fun will also have plenty to do here, with one of the more unique child-oriented attractions the area has to offer its popular Toboggan Hill Park in Nelson Bay, located “across the bay” from Port Stephens. A kind of miniature amusement park, Toboggan Hill provides visitors with the chance to take part in a range of additional activities in addition to its signature toboggans themselves, although these remain the undoubted highlight of the attraction.

Toboggan Hill park is set within a section of wilderness typical of Aussie bush land, which makes for a peaceful and pleasantly cool backdrop for the fun to be had within. That fun all starts, obviously, with the toboggans themselves, and the attraction's main toboggan track stretches an impressive 1 kilometre long with numerous bends and turns along the way.

Riders hop on their own individual toboggan (which can be shared between a parent and their child) and make their way down the track at speeds of their choosing – sit upright and you'll go slowly and be able to take in the scenery; lie flat on your back and speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour are achievable!

Once you've had your fill of toboganning goodness, there's a fair amount of alternative fun to be had at Toboggan Hill Park, too depending on how much you're looking to pay. As pricing here is charged on a per-activity basis, you'll have your choice of which of the activities interest you and be able to customise your length of stay and entertainment choices accordingly.

Miniature / putt putt golf – always a favourite – can provide good bang for the buck depending on how you pace yourself (and your level of putting skill!), while more energetic options such as skating on a rink (not made of ice – it's dubbed “hot” ice skating which uses synthetic surfaces to achieve the same effect), wall rock climbing, and an outdoor maze all provide their own individual charm. Train rides are also on offer which take you on a relaxed pace through the scenery, while those wanting to travel on foot can enjoy a bush walk instead.

One thing to note is that there are no real options for proper food here, so be sure to either bring some along for the trip or grab a bite to eat at Nelson's Bay beforehand (or travel before/after lunch time). Toboggan Hill Park is a great choice of entertainment options for cooler weather periods and on those times when you don't feel like hitting the beach, and it stands out as one of the best ways to spend 2 – 3 hours if you're travelling to the Port Stephens region with kids. They'll no doubt want to ride the toboggan more than once!

8. Oakfield Ranch Camel Tours

Oakfield Ranch Camel Tours

Location: Birubi Point Public Carpark, James Paterson St, Anna Bay

There is a wide range of options for enjoying the lovely beachfront stretches that Port Stephens have to offer, and one of the most unique is by one of the oldest methods of transport available to man – the humble camel. While it might be a sight more typically associated with Western Australia's Broome, Port Stephens' camel rides are a fun sightseeing adventure in their own right, and the large amount and size of the region's sand dunes are the perfect environment for camels to show off their skills.

Operated by Oakfield Ranch – family-run business who are experts in all-things-camel – these tours provide a unique spin on the standard look-and-see tour experience, and can be done as both a brief sightseeing trip or an extended, 1 hour ride to soak in the area's characteristically beautiful sunsets right on the water.

During the rides, camels are ridden in 2-person-per-camel denominations and the camels themselves are calm and very docile so that first-time riders don't have to be overly concerned about safety, with helmets also provided for an extra dose of reassurance.

Throughout the ride, you'll encounter the beautiful sand dunes that are characteristic of the Port Stephens region, venturing into the heart of them – to the point that it gives the impression of being isolated in the desert rather than being near a major settlement of civilisation.

The rides come with a generally positive, joking and upbeat attitude from the staff, who serve as knowledgeable and friendly guides who provide plenty of information on the local area as well as the habits of the attitudes of the camels themselves. Despite the brevity of the journey, you'll no doubt form a kinship with the camel you get assigned to as their generally laid-back natures make them highly approachable creatures.

The shorter ride choice travels from the initial carpark departure point, to the sand dunes, along to the beachfront and back to the carpark again, and feels much more epic than the actual distance covered. Along the way, riders are also given plenty of time and opportunities to dismount and take photos with the camels and of the surrounding scenery, while the staff are always willing to take pictures for you – so be sure to bring your own camera along for the trip!

In all, camel rides are a great value and distinctive way to do some sightseeing in the Port Stephens region that will make for some great photo opportunities to show your friends and family afterwards.

Browse Tour

7. Fighter World

Fighter World

Location: 49 Medowie Rd, Williamtown

One of the sites of major significance in the Port Stephens region is its Royal Australian Air Force base which serves as a significant strategic base for the air force. While it's not accessible to the public, the neighbouring Fighter World attraction has been set up to serve as a hybrid entertainment/educational facility both for those with a passion for aviation or who just want to see some truly impressive aircraft up close.

Fighter World is an attraction centred around two large hangers that are spacious and contain plenty of history within, boasting an extensive collection of fighter aircraft from various periods of history.

These aircraft feature everything from full-sized planes all the way down to intricately-crafted model replicas, and the attraction follows an approach that is surprisingly hands-on as opposed to your traditional standard “museum” experience.

Visitors are given the chance to sit inside some of the aircraft – great for kids and fighter-pilots-at-heat, and something which also provides an appreciation for the complexity of instruments that the pilots had to deal with – and even shoot one of the guns! Suffice to say that history and war buffs will be in their element here, as there's an extensive amount of both planes and memorabilia to take in.

Each aircraft is also very well curated with sufficient signage detailing their uses and involvement, while the highly knowledgeable staff on hand are always willing to share information on both their aircraft and their respective historical periods. Seeing the likes of Mirages and the F-111 in person is impressive due to both the aircraft's craftsmanship and their scale, and it doesn't take a particular passion for aviation in order to come away impressed by the attraction.

Fighter World is also gradually evolving to integrate more technology and interactivity into the proceedings to help augment the otherwise static exhibits; touch screens allow for personalised information and content so that you can choose to focus on that which interests.

Fighter World's proximity to the RAAF base also provides viewing opportunities for active aircraft. The attraction has a dedicated observation deck that visitors can use as a viewing point to see the military aircraft take off and land at the neighbouring base – a favourite activity for young boys in particular. It's incredibly loud, but in an entirely good way!

Lastly, no mention of Fighter World would be complete without a tip of the cap to their excellent on-site cafe – it's a favourite stop of those making the trip up from Sydney due to their surprisingly good food and drink, with their milkshakes being an oft-mentioned standout. If you're looking for a dose of aviation history – or simply something unique to get up close with and learn about during days of shaky weather – Fighter World is well worth the visit.

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6. Go Quad Biking with Sand Dune Adventures

Go Quad Biking with Sand Dune Adventures

Location: 2163 Nelson Bay Rd, Williamtown

Camels are far from the only way to explore those massive sand dunes that the Port Stephens region is famous for – if you're looking to kick things up a notch speed-wise, ATV/Quad Bikes provide a much more high-octane way to do so. Local operator Sand Dune Adventures run quad bike tours that allow for a far less strenuous way to reach the top of the dunes, with the vehicles great at navigating soft sand – a notoriously difficult type of terrain – at high speeds and are renowned for their level of stability.

These tours provide access to the largest and most open part of Port Stephens' dunes at Nelson's Bay and have become one of the region's most easily-identifiable adventures and a true must-do due to their blend of sightseeing, thrills, group-oriented nature and local insight.

The height of some of the dunes encountered along the way is truly impressive – during the journey you'll both ascend and descend their expanses, with a number of steep drops that are a rush and provide great thrills; you'll come across drops as high as 30 metres to plummet down at some points!

At the peak of the dunes, you'll be able to soak in outstanding 360 degree views of the surrounding area, which brings even more of a sense of scale to how big they truly are. Sightseeing isn't the only focus of these tours, however; there's also a great deal of emphasis given to local history.

This historical aspect includes a deal of respectful insight into local Aboriginal inhabitants as well as European aspects, with stops made along the way to visit a number of historic sites where ancient tools and even burial spots can be spotted. Depending on the speed of your quad bike group, you may also have the opportunity to get hands-on with these sites and try your hand at digging for fresh water in the “desert” surrounds, and learning about tradition uses of bush medicines and tucker.

Of course, many participants along for the ride will be first-time quad bike riders or children, and the Sand Dune Adventures staff truly understand this; they're both very friendly and patient with beginners. The tours are typically broken up into two separate groups so that more experienced riders cam enjoy the trip at a faster pace, while those who prefer to take it slow can still enjoy their experience while feeling safe at the same time.

Thorough safety briefings and top-notch equipment make for a sense of security throughout even on the relatively uneven sand surface, and even kids as young as 9 years old can enjoy the rush of piloting their own personal vehicle.

Documenting the journey is also welcome here, and bringing your camera – regular or video – is highly recommended as staff will be more than willing to take pictures for you along the way. In all, it's a fun way to get off road while taking advantage of technology to enjoy one of Port Stephens' most renowned natural icons, so if you're up for a dose of adventure quad biking comes highly recommended.

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5. Try your hand at Surfing with Port Stephens Surf School

Location: Hannah Parade, One Mile

The easy access that Port Stephens' many beaches grant to the water coupled with its generally sheltered nature make for a great destination to try your hand at one of Australia's most popular national pastimes – surfing. Home to over 30 kilometres worth of beachfront that offers the potential for some surf adventures, and this number of spots to choose from comes with a range of difficulty levels to appease surfers of all kinds.

Regardless of if you're looking to take your first steps to acquiring this enjoyable life-long skill or are a more seasoned surfer looking to refine your abilities further, Port Stephens Surf School offers a high standard of lessons across the board that all ages are welcome to participate in.

Group lessons here are divided up into adults and kids classes – with private lessons also available for that extra personal touch – with the initial aim of the friendly instructors to instil a sense of confidents in all participants, no matter their age given some people's understandable initial fear of the ocean.

Lessons are conducted at four different beaches throughout Port Stephens including One Mile Beach (located just 400m from Wanderer's retreat and widely acclaimed as the region's best surf beach that comes with spectacular views to boot), Birubi Beach, Dutman's Beach and Fingal Bay Beach with first-timers starting off in shallow water and learning a beginner-friendly technique to master the art of standing up.

Safety here is also paramount, and plenty of advice and guidance is given on how to read the waves and recognise rips and other potential hazards on the water, with substantial personal attention given to each student even during busier group lessons. All surf boards and wetsuits – provided as part of the free – from Port Stephens Surf School are in top-notch, near new condition, reflective of the pride taken in providing the best possible service.

You'll initially start out on a more stable longboard and stick to the whitewash which will allow confidence to build before branching further afield and heading “out the back” once a sufficient level of skill has been achieved, but there's never any pressure or rush put on by the patient staff.

One of the purest and simply enjoyable ways to take advantage of Port Stephens' wonderful marine aspect, surfing is a skill that will stay with you for life and can soon become an entirely healthy addiction – and there are few better and more scenic places to do just that than such an idyllic region.

4. Snorkelling at Fly Point with Let's Go Adventures

Location: 8 Teramby Rd, Nelson Bay

While surfing allows you to enjoy Port Stephens on top of the water, an additional layer of beauty can be found awaiting underneath. While there are multiple spots in the region to do so, none is perhaps so accessible and enjoyable than Fly Point in the Halifax Park Aquatic Reserve between Little Beach and Nelson Bay.

Renowned for its great degree of visibility and clear blue/aqua coloured water that's general protected from winds, Fly Point offers calm waters even on blustery days that snorkellers and divers even of younger ages can enjoy, and Let's Go Adventures provide a solid guided overview of the area ideal for newcomers.

As part of an aquatic reserve, fishing is banned at Fly Point which leads to an uninhibited array of fish and other marine life that is dazzling to behold; all it requires is a minimum of effort and you'll soon encounter the likes of multicoloured sponges and corals blanketed by schools of fish – and even the occasional giant sea turtle if you're lucky!

Easy access to this range of sea life just off shore makes this a great spot for snorkellers, while those wanting to take the experience a step further will find quality diving on offer as well. Snorkelling can be done at Fly Point even at low tide, although high tide obviously provides the best overall conditions. Be sure to wear protective footwear or solid flippers, however as the area can be quite rocky underfoot.

The diving on offer here, meanwhile, is quite extensive, with a number of ledges and drop offs where schools of fish gather, while shallow sections of sea grass provide views of crustaceans and sponges. The average depth for quality viewing here hovers between the 7 – 12 metre mark although drop offs to 24m where Wobbegong sharks and soft corals can be frequently found. As far as shore dives go, this is one of Australia's best and is a massive time-saver rather than having to travel further out into open waters.

Kids will also enjoy their time at Fly Point as there is plenty of fun to be had in the shallows, as well – a range of rockpools make for explorative fun without having to head into deep waters, and even in the shallows there's plenty of marine life to interact with.

Fish here are surprisingly tame due in large part to their frequent exposure to humans, and it's possible to hand-feed them without much effort as they'll often come directly to you. Couple this with a calm and easily swimmable beach and children can safely enjoy the a day in the water at Fly Point.

Perhaps the only downside is that, due to the area's large degree of popularity, it's subject to overcrowding during busier times; as a result it's best to try and avoid school holiday periods as this can ruin the otherwise serene atmosphere. Plus, while there's plenty of parking on hand, this also fills up quickly during holiday season, particularly at high tide when conditions are at their best.

There's a lot to see and do at Fly Point, and given that it can all be experienced entirely for free, it's one of Port Stephens' best outdoor days out.

3. Dolphin Cruises and Swims

Dolphin Cruises and Swims

Location: 3/35 Stockton St, Nelson Bay

Being a port town, it might seem obvious that aquatic adventures would play a large part in what there is to do in Port Stephens, but what most who haven't visit don't expect is just how beautiful the waters of this part of central NSW truly are.

This is one of the main drawcards for those relocating to Port Stephens from various other parts of the country – the lack of overpopulation and pollution make the waters around Port Stephens some of mainland Australia's prettiest, and there are numerous ways to get out and enjoy their clarity and cleanliness from kayaking, to jet boating, to diving or simply having a swim. Combine this with the quantity of marine life that can be found within easy reach of the shore, and the aquatic sightseeing options are numerous here.

In particular, Port Stephens is renowned Australia-wide for its dolphins, boasting one of Australia's highest populations of resident Bottlenose dolphins numbering roughly 140 and giving the region the de-facto title of “Australia's Dolphin Capital”.

Visitors to Port Stephens wanting to get up close with these intelligent and beautiful creatures thus have a variety of choices for getting an encounter – both on top of, and in, the water. Your choice of which option you take will likely depend on two main factors: the amount of energy you are looking to expend, and how confident a swimmer you are in the water.

The first and easiest for most visitors are Dolphin Watching cruises conducted by local operator MoonShadow Cruises, which provide dry-decked way to see the dolphins that comes with a host of extra benefits thrown in. These dolphin watch tours are conducted aboard a spacious and stable vessel with well-sized viewing decks in order to provide the best possible views of the dolphins, and it's not uncommon to see dolphins riding in the boat's wake along the way. The large quantity of dolphins in the area makes for a 99% dolphin sightseeing rate, and for extra peace of mind a free return trip is offered on those rare occasions where none are spotted.

The vessel also comes equipped with a waterslide that leads directly into a boom net for guests to sit in the water and get up closer, while also being a welcome relief on hotter days. This cruise option lasts for 90 minutes and includes an on-board bar as well as optional buffet lunch at a reasonable price.

The second choice for those wanting to brave the waters and get truly “within arm's reach” of Port Stephens' dolphins is with Dolphin Swim Australia, who offer New South Wales' only permitted dolphin swim experience. Dubbed by many to be one of life's true “bucket list” items, swimming with dolphins takes advantage of the animals' inherently inquisitive nature to make for a unique and rare interaction with these wild creatures.

As they're wild animals and need to be respected, it's up to the dolphins whether they want to approach the vessel; once they decide it's time for socialising, participants are equipped with wetsuits, harnesses and snorkel/mask combos then descend into the water attached to a rope between the hulls accompanied by a dive master.

It's an incredible feeling to be able to stick your head under the water and be surrounded by a pod of these beautiful mammals, and while the trip is much harder work than an on-board cruise, it's well worth the effort albeit at an increased price.

Regardless of your choice of methods, it's hard not to come away entranced by the character and liveliness of the dolphins of Port Stephens, making an encounter with them a true must-do on any itinerary in the region.

Browse Cruise

2. Go Sand Boarding with Port Stephens 4WD Tours

Go Sand Boarding with Port Stephens 4WD Tours

Location: James Paterson St, Anna Bay

If there's any single activity that sums up typical Port Stephens family fun, sandboarding would likely be it. A staple activity of youths growing up in the region, it's one of the simplest joys and also one of the best – all it takes is a board (or, improvising on a budget, a sturdy piece of cardboard) and a decent sized sand hill, and you've got yourself a makeshift natural theme park ride – without the painful queues.

Port Stephens' Stockton Sand Dunes are the site where this activity is conducted, having featured prominently on this list, and with good cause; they're the largest moving dunes in the Southern Hemisphere and are thus a paradise for sandboarders and fun seekers from all over.

Those with their own 4WD vehicles can attempt to make the journey themselves provided they have the proper dunes access license, however given this requirement the majority of trips out to the dunes for sandboarding purposes for visitors are conducted by Port Stephens 4WD Tours via sturdy 4WD vehicles and make for a ride in and of themselves; the undulating nature of the terrain makes for many bumpy ups-and-downs, which are all taken in good fun.

Once at the dunes, you'll first be given a full safety briefing and then be able to stay there as long as you like; the tour operator runs return trips back out of the dunes at regular intervals while overseeing and supervising the sandboarders at the site for safety purposes. The combined spectacle of the massive dunes themselves as well as great sea views in the distance and over the greater Port Stephens area make the pure location of the activity half the draw; however it's the thrill of sandboarding itself which steals the show.

Zipping down the sides of dunes ranging between 30 and 40 metres high is something that never gets old – perhaps the only downsides to the activity is that it can eventually get tiring walking back up the hills, and that you're going to end up with sand absolutely everywhere by the end; but it's nothing a solid shower won't fix! It's also worth holding out towards the end of the day in order to be able to stay for sunset – the glow of the setting sun over the dunes and the surrounding areas is magical and a wonderful way to cap off a day of outdoor fun.

Simply put, you haven't truly “done” Port Stephens until you've gone sandboarding, and it's something you're never too old to try or get enjoyment out of.

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1. Gan Gan Lookout

Location: Lily Hill Rd, Nelson Bay

Nearly every region in Australia has its own iconic lookout point – whether it be a tower, hillside or viewing platform – and Port Stephens' own wonderful answer to this is Gan Gan Lookout, a 160m-high viewing area on the outskirts of Nelson's Bay that offers a commanding panorama of Port Stephens itself all the way through to Newcastle.

Gan Gan Lookout makes for an ideal first port of call for first-time visitors to Port Stephens as it provides a wonderful overview of the region's overall layout, which can help visitors to get their bearings on where each significant surrounding point is located.

Accessed at the end of Lily Hill Road reached via a short diversion off the main road to Nelson's Bay, the ability to drive up to the top of Gan Gan Lookout makes it highly accessible as long as you've got your own private transport – although the drive up the hill is quite steep and tight.

The lookout has been recently renovated to provide wheelchair accessibility, while having plaques added that detail the history of both the lookout and Port Stephens as a whole, which helps add some extra context to the area for first-timers. A second viewing platform was also added, which is a credit to the great work by volunteers from local clubs to keep the lookout in top condition while operating with limited resources.

The spectacle awaiting at the top is well worth the minimal effort to get there; the aqua-blue waters of the bay as well as the various islands dotting the waters look truly spectacular on days with good weather, and photographic enthusiasts will be hard-pressed to find a spot that produces better snapshots.

Late afternoon is perhaps the best time of the day to visit for photography, and during the Spring time the local flora and fauna are at their peak and add both an extra dose of colour and life to the backdrop. Gymea lilies feature prominently here, and their bright red-pink colouring helps to add more dashes of brightness to the thick greenery.

If you're planning to visit Gan Gan Lookout, it's ideally best to go during the week as on weekends it gets quite crowded and the viewing platforms are of limited size. Time your visit just right, and you'll have the lookout – and all the best spots for photos – to yourself. Port Stephens' first and best experience also comes with the benefit of being absolutely free, so if you're visiting the area there's no reason NOT to pay a visit to lovely Gan Gan Lookout.

In addition, if you're looking for more things to do in Port Stephens, including some of the best tours, attractions and activities, be sure to check out our main region section to browse for more information online.

Browse All Port Stephens Experiences