A freelance writer with an interest in just about everything.
Published May 25th 2011
When the pressures of city life start to get to you and you just need to get out of Sydney for a couple of days, head north up the F3 to beautiful Nelson Bay. This waterfront paradise has been Sydney's holiday playground for many a year - it's only a two-and-a-half hour drive away, but it might as well be a whole other world.
Several tour boat operators run dolpin-watching, whale-watching and fishing charters out of Nelson Bay.
Nelson Bay sits just inside the mouth of the large natural harbour that is Port Stephens. It's a peaceful little coastal town that offers a whole host of things to see and do.
The main attractions in the area are all based on or around the water. Port Stephens is promoted as the Dolphin Capital of Australia, so several tour operators offer dolphin-watching cruises. The area is home to some 150 Bottlenose Dolphins and, if you're lucky, you'll get to feel the splash from the acrobatic antics of these playful marine animals.
Humpback whales pass through these waters at certan times of the year, so there's no shortage of cruise operators happy to take you out in search of these graceful behemoths. You can also go on a yacht tour, deep sea fishing, scuba diving, or even catch a ferry across to Tea Gardens at the other side of the bay.
There are plenty of calm, sheltered beaches to choose from.
If you'd prefer to stay a little closer to the shore, Nelson Bay offers plenty of great spots to get wet. There are calm, sheltered beaches that are perfect for kids, along with plenty of pounding surf beaches just a short drive away. Nearby One Mile Beach is the perfect place for a waterfront stroll or to catch a wave or two.
And you don't have to go out on a boat to indulge your passion for fishing either; the water gets deep quickly, so there's an abundance of places where you can just cast out a line and put your feet up.
Just east of Nelson Bay, there's an aquatic reserve at Fly Point. Don a pair of goggles and a snorkel here to get up close and personal with some colourful marine life.
The other major attraction in the area is the largest coastal sand dune system in Australia at Stockton Beach. Stetching for some 32km south towards Newcastle, this amazing area can be explored by 4WD, on the back of a camel or on a quad bike. Kids will love sandboarding down some of these truly huge dunes, racing along with the wind in your hair and then often finishing up with a spectacular crash into the sand.
Back in the main part of town, all roads lead down to the marina. Wandering along the waterfront with an icecream in hand and gawking at some of the massive boats docked here is a fun way to spend a lazy half-hour. The marina is also home to several impressive restaurants, with seafood being a pretty common theme. Restaurants include Rock Lobster and The Wharf, but if you're after some more casual dining, pick up some take-away fish and chips and stuff your face on a sunny patch of grass in Halifax Park.
Being a holiday town, Nelson Bay is home to more accommodation options than you can poke a stick at, from resorts to caravan parks and everything in between. Head to the official tourism site for more details and start planning your relaxing weekend away from the city.