With scores of family-friendly holiday accommodation from holiday houses to hotels, it’s easier than ever to pack up the car and the kids for a weekend away just 2.5 hours drive north of Sydney.
Nestled on the picturesque shores of the Great Lakes, immerse the family in the tranquil surrounds of Port Stephens; a nature lover’s paradise full of family-friendly adventures, spectacular events and something for every budget. Add to this its perfect beaches, the range of activities for the adrenalin seekers and welcoming climate, and you have the perfect family holiday location.
Locally grown produce
When venturing into town, be sure to stop along the way at the roadside stalls and indulge the family with some locally grown produce and handmade products straight from the region’s farmers. Depending on the season, you can purchase freshly picked avocados, macadamias, berries, olives, figs and other tasty treats.
Spend the first day unwinding and taking the family ‘offline’ with a visit to Oakvale Farm and Fauna World on Nelson Bay Road. With all the sights, smells and sounds of farm life, it’s a great way to introduce younger children to animals, while the older ones enjoy the excitement of getting up close and personal with a menagerie of native animals including koalas, kangaroos, emus, dingoes just to name a few.
Children are encouraged to pat and feed the animals with pellets sold at entry or feeding displays throughout the farm. Whilst small enough to traverse on foot, even small feet, there’s also a fun, five minute guided tractor ride that loops around every few hours.
Rainy day activities
But if you wake to rain on the roof and the sound of rolling thunder don’t fret. The fun doesn’t have to stop with plenty of activities to keep the whole family occupied while waiting out the inclement weather.
Embrace your fears (or help the kids conquer theirs) with a hands-on experience at Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters the only place in Port Stephens where you can stand knee-deep in water with a group of sharks and hand feed them! Staff will tell you they’re cuddly, but when you feed a 2 metre long shark, you might think otherwise.
For an equally amazing experience, particularly if you have smaller children, you can opt to stay dry and feed from outside the water where the fish are conditioned to come to you for a pat and a meal.
Water views with lunch
After that experience it’s likely the family will be wanting a bite to eat themselves, so head to the award-winning Bub’s Fish and Chips located at the CO-OP (the big blue building) among the bustling theatre of the Nelson Bay waterfront. The kids can watch local trawlers unload the day’s catch directly through the back door before feasting on the Best Fish and Chips in NSW (they have the trophies to prove it).
Once the tummies are full, take a stroll along the beach at Fingal Head and explore the burnt out ruins of the outer lighthouse residence. Protected by the headland in the southern corner, this pristine beach is a well-kept local secret. Or if the kids are keen to spot a koala in the wild, enjoy a guided walk (10am and 2pm daily) at the Tilligerry Habitat Nature Reserve on Teramby Road in Nelson Bay.
With the great outdoors fantastic for tiring out the younger ones, it may be time for a little afternoon siesta before heading to dinner at The Point Restaurant in the Soldiers Point Marina. Food is cooked to order from a delicious a la carte menu that includes local seafood catches, while the “Frog in the Pond” children’s dessert gets the thumbs up for the littlies.
And to think that is just one day! But need more adventure for the kids?
Adventure for all ages
Whether it’s on wheels or foot, hanging from ropes or shooting down a sand dune, there’s no better place to get the spirits soaring than in Port Stephens – the home of adventure.
After a quick breakfast, venture ‘off-road’ and head to Anna Bay for an exhilarating exploration of the largest moving sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere – Stockton Beach & Sand Dunes. Suitable for ages 8 years and up, Quad Bike King offers a selection of sand dune adventures, each around an hour and a half long.
Starting with a 4WD transfer to a beach basecamp for a safety briefing and rider tuition, kids can push their riding skills to the limit in a four-wheel drift around a sand dune circuit. If the family is looking to explore a little further afield then the Shipwreck Quad Bike Adventure is ideal, with over 25 kilometres of beach terrain to tackle. Discover Aboriginal cultural sites, World War II relics and the Synga, a Norweigan freighter that lost its battle with the 1974 cyclone that hit the Newcastle coastline.
If the kids still want more adventure, then climb aboard one of the Quad Bike King’s 4WD buses and embrace the burn of sandboarding on coastal sand dunes as high as 30 metres. This is a fun activity for both the young and young at heart. Gentle 4WD tours to Tin City or the Sygna Shipwreck are also available. No riding experience is necessary but bookings are essential with adventures running 363 days per year at various session times throughout the day.
If the weather isn’t favourable then take-off to Fighter World in Williamstown and see Australia’s Top Guns in action. Dedicated to preserving the proud history of fighter aircraft operations in the Royal Australian Air Force, witness the various aircraft of the RAAF’s premier Fighter Squadrons as they take-off and land while listening to all the action on a live audio feed. Finish up with a coffee or snack from Café Fighter World before an afternoon game of tenpin bowling or Go-Kart racing.
Sun still shining? Then grab the camera, swimmers and towels, and jump aboard a Seascape Dolphin Cruise at Nelson Bay jetty. Family friendly and family affordable, a cruise through mesmerising blue waters is a great way to wrap up a family getaway.
Although the pods of local bottlenose dolphins are the primary focus of the cruise, keep a look out for little penguins, sea turtles, pelicans and sea eagles that all live in and around the port. If visiting Port Stephens between late May and November, you might just witness the awe-inspiring antics of the whales as they make their annual migration along the Humpback Highway.
So whether it’s a love of nature, a chance to discover unique wildlife with the family or just the need to escape from it all, Port Stephens is the ideal getaway for the whole family.