Port Macquarie has long moved on from just being an old fashioned beach-side camping holiday destination. Port, as the locals refer to it, is a growing city of some 40, 000 inhabitants. It has suburbs, traffic snarls and parking problems but also has a sophisticated arts centre, boutique resorts and fine dining.
Vestiges of 'old' Port however still abound. Even in the centre of town, old fashion motels, pubs and fish and chip shops survive surrounded by large multi story resorts and your favourite fast food franchises.
Port, in fact, has probably never looked better. There are good stretches of well maintained beaches and foreshore. There's family friendly boating, fishing and a good range of nearby activities. The shopping and dining options are exhausting.
Whale watching, fishing trips and assorted river cruises leave from the wharf near the centre of town. Long popular with tri-athletes, cycling is trending at Port. There's no shortage of markets in the area. The Foreshore Market (2nd Saturday of the month) sprawls along the river and has a vibrant village atmosphere with fresh produce, food stalls, bric-a-brac entertainment, community bands and on and on it goes.
If you demand more than just relaxing laying on the beach eating fish and chips, then the old remnants of Port's convict history might interest you. Founded in 1821 as a penal colony for repeat offender convicts, the remains of convict Port are thin on the ground but are well presented by enthusiastic 'friends' groups who are keen to tell the story of Port's harsh convict beginnings.
You can easily spend a few hours at the Historical Museum's large display while the old court house across the road is also worth a quick pop in. The convict built church of St Thomas is unmissable at the top of the hill and is the fifth oldest church in Australia. Its box pews are a feature and a clamber up the rickety ladders to the top of the clock tower is rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views.
Port is proud of its koala population, both real and replica. Visitors will quickly pick up on the Koala Sculpture Trail. Some 50 colourfully themed metre high koalas dot Port's streets, restaurants and hotels. The Koala Hospital cares for injured and sick koalas and a free tour at 3.00 pm each day by the volunteers here is an excellent insight into the nature of their work. The nearby Roto House is also worth a visit. It is staffed by knowledgeable 'friends' who provide free tours of this lovingly restored and furnished house that has an intriguing local history association.
The surprisingly popular Ricardo's Tomato and Strawberries Farm just out of town is well worth a visit. Try and tee it up with a free tour. Picking your own strawberries is a must do and the restaurant and shop deserves your time.
Timbertown is a fascinating, if a little rundown, theme park just outside Port nearby Wauchope. This sprawling re-creation 19th century timbertown village includes a rail line with train rides, many a recreated period shop, a relocated church, winery and restaurant.
No, Port is no longer a sleepy coastal village but its not exactly the sophisticated big smoke either. Dining in at the Port Bowling Club, I ask what house wines were on offer. "Moselle or Riesling" were the choices. I get the impression that Port prides itself on being a unique regional centre with a unique history and a unique balance between the city and the country, the past and the future.
Port is 390 kilometres north of Sydney. You can choose between flying, train or driving to Port. Flights with Qantaslink can be had for around $119.00 and takes less than an hour. Train services with Trainlink takes approximately six hours while a non stop drive will take a little over four hours.