Port Stephens is not the Gold Coast. It’s not Disney World either. The area is not a man-made fun park. The main drawcard is the port itself and activities on the water or the beach.
What the Port does have in common with those holiday destinations is an abundance of accommodation to meet the needs of a diverse tourism market.
Oaks Pacific Blue Resort at Salamander Bay, part of the Oaks Hotels & Resorts Group, holds a rare position in Port Stephens: it is a destination itself. A family or couple could easily book a weekend within the property, and find themselves spending the majority of their time at the resort.
The reason is unescapable: the 486-metre long lagoon pool is a playground that suits young, old and everything in between. With more than 200 rooms across a wide variety of configurations, there are tempting options for big families or couples seeking a romantic adventure.
The pool may be unheated, but it’s a tropical treat in every way. Surrounded by lush greenery and landscaping, it contains shallow wading pools and two adjacent outdoor spas.
With average depth of just under a metre, the lagoon is family-friendly for those who can swim. Swimming against the water flow is harder work, but the atmosphere is so pleasant you may not even notice it.
The room options include studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom swimouts, meaning you can literally walk off your back deck into the lagoon. Even more to the point, the circular shape of the resort means you can drive to the door of your unit, walk in, change gear and slide off the back deck straight into the lagoon.
Further from the water, there are a handful of three-bedroom units with their own plunge pool, in case you that’s your style.
The resort also has a gymnasium, steam room and lap pool for those who want more serious options.
The on-premises restaurant, Splash, is adequate, but not flashy. You can get a cup of coffee, a cocktail or a reasonably-priced meal, and there’s outdoor seating if you can’t soak up enough of the lagoon’s atmosphere without lounging in it.
Should you desire to venture out, it’s a short walk to the Salamander Bay shopping centre and the the famous yellow arches beacon of a McDonald’s Restaurant is not far away.
Of course, it’s only a couple of minutes by vehicle to the nearest beach (Bagnalls Beach or Dutchmans Beach).
Or fresh oysters – we always make a pilgrimage to Holberts Oysters on Diemars Road, Salamander Bay. Sixteen dollars (price on the day, in January) for a dozen fresh Pacific oysters, which you can eat, if you want, on their grassy yard looking west over Cromartys Bay, with your own beverages or a cold one from Holberts. It’s hard to beat, and instantly puts you in holiday mode if you aren’t already.
After our stay, we enjoy a late breakfast at Crest restaurant at the Birubi Beach surf club. The breakfast specials are awesome, the coffee strong and the outlook spectacular.
We grab a bagful of fresh tomatoes and assorted vegetables at a roadside stall at Bobs Farm on the way home, taking a little bit of the holiday spirit with us.
The writer was a guest of Oaks Pacific Blue Resort.