It’s great when a reader’s questions prompts a huge and useful blog post. I recently had this email:
We are visiting Nelson Bay at Port Stephens in December with kids for the first time. I was wondering if you have any suggestions what to do there with kids. Is there anything that’s a must see?
I love you review of things to do at Jervis Bay with kids and would love to see something similar on Port Stephens?
Keep up the good work, love all your posts.
Well, I don’t know Port Stephens and Nelsons Bay well myself, but I have a writer friend who does. So I commissioned this post for you Sanja!
Linda Zanella was brought up on the Central Coast and spent many holidays herself at Port Stephens. She’s visited with her own son more recently so she knows all the best places to go.
Here’s Linda’s list, with photographs kindly supplied by the Port Stephens Visitors Information Centre. N.B. You can print this out, without the photos, using the ‘Print’ button at the bottom of the post.
At the end of the post, you’ll find a list of family-friendly places to stay at Port Stephens too.
Port Stephens With Kids
Port Stephens has something for everyone. It has a magnificent harbour twice the size of Sydney harbour and the biggest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere.
Port Stephens is a marine park where you can swim, surf and snorkel at beautiful beaches, go whale or dolphin watching, and cycle or hike. It’s a mecca for boating and fishing enthusiasts.
There’s lots of family fun to be had, from organised activities to simply relaxing on a beach.
Port Stephens is an easy 2 ½ drive from Sydney. Nature is the amazing draw card here, and despite some inevitable development over the last 30 years or so, it’s still beautiful.
I’ve been holidaying at Port Stephens since I was a child. We used to camp with the family and friends and my Dad, an avid fisherman, loved to fish. From the moment we hit the turn off into Port Stephens and drove along the forested road, we’d be excited.
Sometimes we camped at Shoal Bay or Fingal Bay with friends, but the most uncomplicated fun to be had was taking the beach buggy onto the beach at Anna Bay. Dad had converted a VW ‘bug’ into a beach buggy with welded doors, no roof and roll bars!
We’d drive through the forest and tomato plantations on black dirt. (Most of the plantations have gone, but you can still buy some delicious Anna Bay tomatoes.)
An eccentric old man housed our beach buggy in his garage. He shared his old beach cottage with more than 50 cats. Both he and the cats were a bit scary for my two sisters and I, as the cats took over the whole house and slept on every surface.
Mum would pack everything into the beach buggy, including our sausage dog, Fritzy, and we’d drive down the bush track towards the headland. The path from there was steep and rocky, with fabulous views across Birubi Point and miles of Stockton Beach.
In fact, the path was so steep that on the return journey us kids, complaining, had to climb back while Dad, Mum and the dog drove up in comfort.
Once we hit the beach there was wind in our hair and all the fun of riding on a truck tyre attached to the back of the buggy. Dad would swerve in and out of the surf, for an exhilarating ride. We also took makeshift cardboard “boards” to surf down the huge sand dunes, or simply had races, rolling down until we were covered with sand.
Afterwards there was fishing along the Stockton’s 32 kilometre beach, digging for fresh water in the dunes, picnics, looking for sea life in the rock pools beneath the headland and camping under a million stars. Ah, what memories…
From Birubi Point at the Southern end of Port Stephens there is now a paved road down to the beach. Although you’ll need a permit to drive on the beach, available from NPWS. The magnificent Stockton Beach Sand Dunes are part of the Worimi Conservation lands.
Top 15 things to do with kids at Port Stephens
- Go dolphin or whale watching.
Port Stephens is known as the dolphin watching capital of Australia. Over 140 bottlenosed dolphins live in the area, and you can book a cruise to get closer to them. Bring your swimmers and have fun in the boom net attached to the boat.
These friendly locals can often to be seen from shore.
From May to September the magnificent humpback whales migrate north along the coast. You can watch these awe-inspiring creatures from a boat or try your luck at vantage points along the coast.
- Kayak or splash
There are lots of child-friendly beaches in Port Stephens.
Hire a kayak and paddle along calm waters or simply wade in from shore.
- The aqua waters and white sand of Shoal Bay has gentle waves, with a stunning view across the harbour to Tomaree and Yacaaba Heads.
- Little Beach is great for younger children and has a wharf and playground nearby. There’s a café nearby in the camp ground.
- Fingal Bay often has gentle surf, is a patrolled beach, and has a kiosk and playground.
- Salamander Bay is also good for paddling.
- Surf’s up
Port Stephens has many beautiful surfing beaches, from Birubi and One Mile beach in the south, to the bigger surf at Zenith and Box Beach. Bring your boards or take a surf lesson and learn beach safety tips.
- Get on your bike
There are some wonderful family -friendly bike paths for exploring Port Stephens. With very little traffic, you can cycle from Salamander Bay around to Fingal Bay. Bring your own or hire from Shoal Bay bike hire. Stop for a picnic, at a café or playground on the way.
Our family favourite bike rides include:
- Shoal Bay to Fingal Bay: a gently undulating path, often tree-shaded.
- Nelson Bay to Shoal Bay.
- Around Dutchies Beach.
- Go for a hike
Walk to the Top of Tomaree Headland lookout and enjoy the stunning panorama of offshore islands, harbour and beaches. The walk is medium steepness and takes about 30 minutes to the summit. From May to September you may see migrating Humpback Whales.
One-Mile Beach also has a beautiful walk along the beach and around the headland.
Fly Point Headland, between Little Beach and Nelson Bay beach, has lovely tree- shaded paths on a hot day. The National Trust Inner Light Tearoom (housed in an old lighthouse) is open daily from 10am-4pm.
- Visit an animal sanctuary
At Tiligerry Habitat, go on a guided walk to find koalas and kangaroos.
The kids can bottle-feed baby farm animals at Oakvale Farm.
- Sand dune fun
Sand board down the highest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere! They are 30 metres high in some places. The Worimi conservation lands behind Stockton beach contain culturally significant sites of the traditional owners: burial grounds, camp sites and middens.
You can take your own 4WD (permits required), or go on a guided 4WD tour, and sand board or quad bike on the dunes. Or even ride a camel!
Snorkel around the the famous Fly Point, situated between Little Beach and Nelson Bay beach. Wade out and discover an amazing underwater world.
- Go Fish
From ocean beaches to quiet bays or from the back of a boat, there’s plenty of places to drop a line.
- Mini Golf
Putt Putt offers a 20 hole course fully undercover and lit for night golf, a 260m driving range and par 3 golf course and an outdoor baseball pitching machine. Great fun for all the family!
You can hire all the equipment and BBQ facilities are available.
- Toboggan Ride Adrenaline rush.
Toboggan Hill Park offers serious fun for all ages, all year and all weather. Control the speed on the l km Toboggan Run, climb the Indoor Rock Wall, skate on Hot Ice.
- Irukanji Shark and Ray Centre
Feed playful sharks and stingrays. The more adventurous can swim or wade with a 300kg ray or shark. It’s also a conservation and information centre.
- Kid friendly Eats
Most places in Port Stephens are kid-friendly.
Some family favourites are:
West Nelson Bay Diggers Club
Shoal Bay Village – lots of cafes and restaurants.
Nelson Bay Marina
Take away fish and chips, and/or ice cream, and sit out on the marina or on the beach nearby.
- Playground fun.
Port Stephens has lots of playgrounds, often set amongst lovely scenery. Here are just a few that we like:
Nelson Bay Marina and Beach
- Get on a boat
Hire a boat, go on a cruise, or bring your own.
Port Stephens is a boating heaven. There are hundreds of bays and beaches to explore.
Visit Fingal island, and walk to the old lighthouse.
Go on a tour to Broughton Island and visit the little penguins
For a relaxing and low-cost option, catch an original timber ferry across to Tea Gardens for the day. Lookout for dolphins along the way.
Where To Stay at Port Stephens with Kids
For houses, rooms and apartments, check out Stayz.com.au and AirBnB and search Port Stephens.
Here are some apartments, hotels and resorts which have been highly recommended to Linda and to myself (Seana) by friends, family and colleagues.
The Ramada Resort Shoal Bay has good rooms and apartments for families, great pools and gym, a kids club and is very well positioned on the beach.
The Mantra Aqua is an apartment hotel, always so handy to have a kitchenette when with kids. It’s also got great pools and its own gold course too.
For much more information on this amazing destination, visit The Port Stephens Visitors Information Centre.
These are just some of our favourite things to do at Port Stephens.
What are yours?