Port Stephens is the ideal destination for a long-weekend getaway from Sydney. I happened upon it by accident, after browsing the destinations of YHA hostels for inspiration, and took a risk based on a few impressive-looking google images. For some reason this place is not advertised in the travel books. But I guarantee it is a must-see.
The journey from Sydney is a little bit excessive, which is probably why more people don’t consider it as an easy weekend-getaway. You start by catching the train up to Newcastle, which takes about 3 hours. The trains are great, though, and it’s a pretty relaxing trip. From Newcastle, it’s about an hour and a half on the bus to get up to Port Stephens, as it’s quite remote. The times didn’t line up perfectly for me, but I spend a nice few hours in Newcastle; there were some great little lunch spots.
I arrived at my hostel mid-day and it felt like paradise. I was staying at the YHA Samurai Beach Bungalow, which, despite not really being on the beach, was jungle paradise. The grounds were gorgeous, complete with a nice little pool and a beautiful wet kitchen. I was in a five person cabin, and I got there early so I was lucky to get the single bed. This was my first time outside the city in Australia for any extended periods of time, so I had a bit of a shock with all the giant insects both inside and outside the cabin, but it was a small price to pay for the paradise that the hostel was.
There’s so many things to do in Port Stephens. Once I got settled I had most of the evening so I caught the bus up to the Birubi sand dunes. Port Stephens is known for its sand dunes and they are spectacular. I’ve seen a lot of sand dunes but these ones are right up along the coast, which makes it feel like a massive extended beach. The beach itself was packed, but it extends so far so if you wander down a little ways it really clears out. There are camel tours and off-roading options, but I just had a lot of fun climbing over the dunes and watching the sun set over the ocean – it was especially beautiful with all the shadows over the dunes.
I woke up early the next morning to make the most of the day. Busses run pretty infrequently, especially on the long weekend, so you have to time it right to get into Nelson Bay, which is where most of the action happens. Once there I got a quick breakfast and set out to explore. There’s amazing beaches all around the bay; I made the mistake of assuming I could access each one from the next. That lead to scaling the side of a cliff around Nelson Bay lighthouse with the help of another friendly tourist caught in the same trap. It was totally worth it, though, the beach around the corner was incredible. The best part, I think, was all the amazing islands scattered throughout the bay. The water was also incredibly warm.
Around the end of Shoal Bay is Mount Tomaree, where this picture was taken. It’s quite the hike on a hot day, but absolutely worth it for the views from the top. The colour of the water was insane – I’ve never seen anything like it – and the white beaches looked incredible too. You can see all along the different beaches and bays. It really gives you an idea how big the whole area is. It’s an absolute must-see.
On my last day I opted for one of the dolphin cruises with some other people from my hostel. There’s tons of water activities that can be done in Nelson Bay, including parasailing, sea-doing, and different boat rides, but the dolphin cruise made sense with the amount of time we had. The bay is packed with wild dolphins, which was so cool to see. They also had a massive net they could lower off the side of the boat so that you could swim with the dolphins if they were nearby. It was pretty corny and a total tourist trap, but it was still a lot of fun.
Altogether an amazing weekend; I cannot wait to go back. Port Stephens was so much better than I anticipated, and definitely worth the trip.