The mission statement was a romantic getaway to mark a special occasion. The challenge, as always, was where?
We had an overnight window, and although time-poor we quickly realised Nelson Bay – right under our noses – was rich with opportunity.
Scenically stunning, things to do, fantastic food scene, and so easy to get to. Particularly from Newcastle, a short 45-minute drive north. Anywhere, really, given the proximity to Williamtown airport.
We based ourselves at Mantra Acqua in the heart of the Bay. Apartment accommodation close to the action. Just wander down and back at our leisure. Perfect.
As with all destinations, never ignore the journey. Particularly when the road to Port Stephens takes you past Murray’s Brewery – an award-winning Australian craft beer pioneer which has risen from the ashes of a devastating fire last year with new facilities well worth checking out.
It’s clear Murray’s is taking their passion for grain and grape to a new level with the restaurant, smokehouse, tasting bars, wood-fired pizza oven, stage and huge indoor/outdoor eating areas. Lounging under the gums taking in the relaxing layout, it was easy to see the potential for fun and functions at many levels. With a taster pack under arm, having enjoyed a quality burger washed down with some signature brews, we continued on to Acqua.
Like Murray’s, we easily settled in here too, taking in the view from our balcony over the pool and across the bay. But as dusk descended we did likewise, to Evviva’s, Wine and Tapas Bar – a short stroll to an opulent nook in the centre of town.
Co-owner Tammy Kelly, who trained with Simon Yardley and Jean Marc at Peppers Anchorage, has brought a stylish European vibe to the bay offering quality coffee and cafe fare by day, laid back unctuous tapas bar every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. The former Zest and Watercress site stretches deceptively deep from the street, moulding effortlessly to your needs, be it cool bar setting, intimate table rendezvous or private room function.
The cocktails are out of this world, and the tapas heavenly, offering a mouthwatering mix of vegetarian, seafood and traditional European small plates nuanced with Euroasian flavours. Our prawn and scallop sliders on brioche buns were a standout, along with the char-grilled calamari and roasted camembert platter; rivalled perhaps only by the warm hospitality of Tammy and her staff and the understated attention to service and detail. It might mean “hurrah” in Italian but it certainly won’t be our last at Evviva’s.
Next morning we ventured down to Little Nel’s for breakfast – another five minute meander from our apartment. The place was pumping with locals alive to knowledge that this place serves one of the best breakfasts in town and walk-up queues planning to book next time. There could be no faulting our orders which were prompt, lush and abundant, washed down with great coffee.
Such a cruisy way to start the day and a perfect springboard for our next venture with Imagine Dolphin Cruises, another five-minute stroll away. You can’t go to the bay and not get out on it, and Imagine turns dreams into reality. The day was glorious, the bay resplendent and the dolphins out in numbers, luxuriating like the rest of us in what is truly one of Australia’s great picture postcard destinations.
“Could it get any better than that,” skipper Frank Future asked as he hoisted sail home having frollicked with the bottlenecks for two hours. And to be frank, we thought it would take some beating.
Until settling in for lunch overlooking the bay at the iconic Boathouse Restaurant at Little Beach, winner of Best Seafood Restaurant in Regional NSW last year.
Right on the water boasting amazing views over the bay, we went with the specials of the day courtesy of Ben Way, former head chef at Muse Restaurant in the Hunter Valley – tuna ceviche, grilled scallops and jew fish seared and finished in the oven, served on Israeli cous cous with rich red roasted capsicum sauce. Absolutely outstanding and the perfect accompaniment for the vista outside.
In fact, there remained only one thing to do after that – immerse ourselves in the vista with a swim at Shoal Beach, basking on the golden sands beneath Fly Point, gazing out through the heads of Tomaree and Yacaaba.
The perfect way to soak it all in.
As the sun set on our short romantic getaway at the bay, we agreed the experiences and memories would linger long.