Novocastrians don’t have to travel far to enjoy a weekend away. Not with Stockton Beach and the annual whale migration right on our doorstep.
Less than an hour’s drive north from Newcastle is an ideal base from which to explore our diverse coastal backyard. The Retreat Port Stephens.
The property is just 10 minutes south of Nelson Bay and backs on to the Stockton dunes. Put it this way – it is a two-minute walk from your accommodation to the sand.
The Retreat is ideal for families, groups or schools, offering self-contained cabins and bungalows accommodating up to six people. There is also The Ranch which sleeps 10.
The private, leafy 1.6-hectare property has campfires with free wood, covered barbecue areas, a pool, games room, DVD library and a playground area. Keep an eye out for the resident possums – they appear as soon as a packet of marshmallows is opened. They’re not shy, either.
We stayed in a bungalow and it had everything we needed – fridge, crockery and utensils, television and more. There was even a reverse-cycle air conditioner. Linen is provided and the beds were ready made, and there are indoor and outdoor dining areas as well as a carport.
The kids will love the games room overlooking the pool where you can play table soccer, table tennis and pool. The playground is great too.
There is still time to watch the whales head north on their annual migration and the family-owned and operated Moonshadow – TQC Cruises is a good place to start. We hopped on board at Nelson Bay marina for a three-hour whale watching cruise and loved every second.
They don’t call it the Humpback Highway for nothing. An estimated 27,000 whales are anticipated to make the journey this year.
The captain’s commentary was informative and helpful and time was taken to ensure we got to see dolphins playing in the waves and seals relaxing on the rocks at the base of the Tomaree and Yacaaba headlands.
Also, morning tea was provided. Go online to moonshadow.com.au to check out the different cruising experiences on offer.
Breakfast at Crest Birubi Beach is a great way to start your day exploring Stockton Bight. It’s right on the beach and we spotted several whales in the distance while tucking in to our bacon and eggs. If coffee is all you need, there is a “hole in the wall” as well. The cafe can get busy, though, so bookings are advised.
Then it was a short drive down the hill to the sand and our Port Stephens 4WD Sand Boarding Tour. Buckle up when you board the impressive All Terrain Warrior or you might find yourself airborne when it takes on some steep jumps and bumps at speed.
You can sand board for as long as you like and then jump on the next shuttle available to take you back to the car park departure point. Be prepared to laugh – a lot – as you people watch. It’s great fun for all the family.
The dunes themselves, though, really do have to be seen to be believed. It is quite surreal watching camels walking in single file along the sand in the distance.
In addition to sand boarding Port Stephens 4WD also offer beach and dune tours to Tin City, a shipwreck tour and educational tours for school students. For more information visit portstephens4wd.com.au.
The walk up Tomaree Headland near Shoal Bay is a must. It’s steep but relatively short (one hour return) and has stunning views of the ocean and beaches on either side of the mountain. Zenith Beach at the foot of Tomaree Head and Wreck Beach are also worth a visit.
And then there’s the nearby Murray’s Brewery, Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters, Toboggan Hill Park, Oakvale Farm & Fauna World, dining experiences at places like Little Beach Boathouse and The Anchorage, markets, the Love Seafood festival … the list goes on. And on.
And it’s all in our backyard.
The writer was a guest of The Retreat Port Stephens at Anna Bay. For details or to book, go online to theretreatportstephens.com.au.