Are you staying or living in Sydney and want to escape for the weekend, but don't want to go too far? Then why not drive 2.5 hours north and completely unwind in the tropical Nelson Bay, Port Stephens! It is an easy drive up the highway, past the turn-off to Newcastle and then you can start to slow down and relax on your way to this coastal, tourist town. Roll down your windows and hear the iconic sound of summer as cicadas deafen your ears and you breathe in the sweet, salty smell of the sea. Nothing beats that summer holiday feeling!
During the summer months and school holidays, it can get quite busy so ensure you book as early as you can at a hotel or holiday park - preferably with a pool! Our family have enjoyed staying at Mantra Nelson Bay as it was walking distance to the Nelson Bay Foreshore and Big 4 Soldiers Point, for kids activities and trampolines. Whatever you are looking for, you will find it all in the scenic Nelson Bay. Here are 5 reasons to take the trip this weekend...
Little Nelson Bay - just one of the 26 bays in the scenic Port Stephens
When you arrive at Nelson Bay, each bay that you drive past has a strip of bright white sand and clear, teal-coloured water that ripples in the sunlight. It feels as though you have just landed in The Whitsundays - not driven a short drive from Sydney! If you chat to the locals they all have a favourite place to swim, however some of the more popular bays include Shoal Bay, Little Beach, Dutchmans Beach, Bagnalls Beach, Corlette Beach and Nelson Bay itself. All of them are family friendly and have no waves, so you can simply float on your back and let the stresses of city life just wash away. If that sounds too tame, then take a short drive to the coast and check out some of the surf beaches in the area, for some fun in the surf.
Calm waters, which is perfect for kids, at the bays around Nelson Bay
Have you ever heard of the Stockton Sand Dunes, or seen it advertised as a tourist attraction near Sydney? The sand dunes are the largest moving sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere and they stretch for 32 kilometres between Stockton Beach in Newcastle, all the way up to Birubi Beach in Port Stephens. All year around, tourists flock to the beach to immerse themselves in this natural phenomenon, with tourist companies that organise sandboarding down the dunes, quad bike tours, camel rides through the sand hills, horse riding along the beach and 4WD tours through the sand wilderness. See here for details.
Tour operators (and camels!) at Birubi Beach, Anna Bay
Summer in Nelson Bay is all about the kids, with the Nelson Bay Family Carnival set up at Neil Carroll Park between Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay each summer school holidays. This touring carnival began in 1951 and is back every summer for the kids to try their luck on the clowns and ride the Sizzler until they feel sick! There is also a blow-up inflatable water park on the Nelson Bay Foreshore (as well as another one at Salt Ash) and a whole host of family activities to do all around the region - see here for a full list.
If you stay for New Year's Eve, then get down to the d'Albora Marinas for the family 9pm fireworks, with entertainment along the foreshore all afternoon. The summer school holidays are the best time to visit Nelson Bay and the Port Stephens region - you will make memories that your kids will never forget.
This uphill walk is popular with tourists who visit the region, as the view from the top is one of the most spectacular views that you will ever see. It is sure to take your breath away - in more ways than one! It isn't an easy walk up, so ensure you take plenty of water and wear shoes with a lot of grip, as it can be a little slippery on the way down. There are also a number of steep stairs, so if you have issues with your knees, just take it slow. When you get to the top, it is worth every bead of sweat. See here for more details.
Walk to the summit of Tomaree Head, above the scenic Shoal Bay
If you're going to visit Nelson Bay in summer, then the best way to experience the beauty and sheer blue-ness of the bay, is to be right out on it! Depending on how adventurous you are, there are a number of choices to consider. You could SUP at Shoal Bay, kayak off Bagnalls Beach, hire a jet ski off Nelson Bay wharf, hire a boat from Soldiers Point, go on a Dolphin Watch Cruise from Nelson Bay, catch the ferry to Tea Gardens, have a surfing lesson at One Mile Beach or go snorkelling with your own gear off Fly Point. The water in Port Stephens is particularly clear due to the exceptionally fine, white sand underneath, so when you get out on the water you won't want to leave!
Go snorkelling off Fly Point, with excellent visibility
Although this list stops at 5 reasons to visit Nelson Bay, you will soon discover many more reasons to stay when you get here. If you love seafood, then you will enjoy the smorgasbord of fresh seafood that comes out of the bay and is served at the local restaurants, fish and chip shops and can be bought from the seafood outlets. The seafood is so impressive that UK Celebrity Chef Rick Stein opened up a seafood restaurant at Bannisters Hotel at Soldiers Point, to take advantage of the range of seafood off the Port Stephens coastline.
Although Sydney has a lot to offer in terms of beaches, restaurants and things to do each summer, it is also enjoyable to just pack up, hit the road and explore somewhere new. The best part about visiting Nelson Bay is that you don't have to say a sad goodbye at the end of your holiday...