Port Stephens NSW is a stunning coastal region just a 2.5 hour drive from Sydney, making it a popular weekend and holiday destination for Sydney locals.
There are more than 25 Port Stephens beaches to enjoy here. Here you can take surf lessons, go paddle boarding and kayaking, or of course kick back and enjoy the view of the ocean.
But there are even more things to do in Port Stephens besides the beach. The area is also home to the largest moving coastal sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere.
Running 32km from Birubi Point at Anna Bay all the way along Stockton Beach to Newcastle, these dunes tower up as high as 40m in some places, making them the ideal place for some fun adrenaline inducing Port Stephens activities.
Below we highlight sandboarding, quad biking and camel riding as some of the fun things you can do in the sand dunes. Beyond that there are also wildlife parks, spectacular walks, dolphin and whale watching cruises and even a toboggan park to discover.
Read on for all our favourite Port Stephens things to do. At the bottom of the article you will also find information on the best Port Stephens restaurants, places to stay in Port Stephens and how to get to Port Stephens Australia.
You may also like to read: Fun Things to do in Sydney with Kids.
Quick note: Nelson Bay is part of the wider Port Stephens area, and these two are often used interchangeably. So if you are looking for things to do in Nelson Bay, then this article is for you too!
Take a Quad Bike tour on the Sand Dunes
Quad biking the Port Stephens dunes is one of the most fun activities we’ve ever done as a family.
And not only is it super fun but the scenery and views are just stunning.
This Port Stephens quad bike tour lasts an hour and you are guided through the sand duens in a follow-the-leader manner. It is super fun going up and down the dunes and you can get up a pretty good speed.
Kids aged 7 and up can ride their own mini-bike, which my daughter did and she had the best time! Because she was riding her own bike, we chose the ‘slow tour’, which goes on lower dunes and at a slower pace.
Kids aged 5 and up can ride on the back of an adults bike on either the slow or main tour.
Go Sandboarding on the Port Stephens Sand Dunes
Another really fun way to make the most of those amazing Anna Bay sand dunes is to try your hand at sandboarding or sandsurfing. Kind of like snow boarding – but on sand!
The sandboarding companies all set off from Birubi Beach, where you are transported by a 4WD bus through the dunes.
We started off with sitting down, and then once we built up our confidence we progressed to standing. Lots of laughs guaranteed!
The only problem with this Port Stephens activity is there is no lift to take you back up the dune, so it is pretty exhausting. Good for tiring out the kids though!
One word of warning – be prepared to find sand in all sorts of unmentionable places and find it all over your car/house for at least a week afterwards!
Go Whale Watching or take a Dolphin cruise in Nelson Bay
Port Stephens is the dolphin capital of Australia and it is also a popular location for whale watching.
The resident bottlenose dolphins are around all year round, while whale watching in Nelson Bay is on offer during migration season, with cruises running from mid May to early November.
Head out from the Port Stephens marina to for a chance of a close up look at the magnificent humpback whale as they migrate up and down the coast. Whale watching cruises last around 2.5 – 3 hours.
There are a few of these Port Stephens cruises to choose from throughout the day, with more added during NSW school holidays. The Port Stephens dolphin cruise runs every day except Christmas Day and lasts around 1.5 hours.
As there are so many resident Port Stephens dolphins, these cruises have a 99% success rate of spotting them.
For added fun, during the summer months (November – April) you can join the splash & slide cruise that includes boomnet rides and a waterslide for sliding into the sea and swimming around the boat.
Take a Camel Ride along the beach
Did you know that Australia has the world’s largest population of feral camels? And you can meet some of them right here in Port Stephens at Oakfield Ranch.
To join a Port Stephens camel riding tour, head down to Birubi Beach between 10am and 3.30pm. You can’t book ahead so just turn up and queue and you’ll get your turn.
Each camel ride takes around 20 minutes, with around 10 camels at a time. With most camels taking two people at a time, you shouldn’t have to wait too long.
The Port Stephens camel ride takes you out through the lower dunes, along the beach and even into the sea! It’s very sedate, but the kids loved it.
They also offer a 1-hour sunset camel tour, but you need to book ahead. Click here for more information.
Rides take place on Tuesdays, Thursday, Saturdays and Sunday during NSW term time, and every day during school holidays (except Christmas Eve & Christmas Day). Children aged 2 and up can join in the fun.
Discover the Port Stephens Beaches
There are 26 beaches in Port Stephens to explore. You have your choice of sheltered beaches with calm shallow water perfect for little kids, or those with more surf for some fun in the waves for adults and older kids.
Two of our favourites we discovered were Zenith Beach (pictured above) and One Mile Beach. Both of these are renowned as two of the best surfing beaches in Port Stephens (see more below about taking a surf lesson at One Mile Beach).
Another favourite is Shoal Bay Beach. This Nelson Bay beach has a sweeping beachfront and calm shallow water, making it perfect for families. It also has picnic and barbecue facilities and lots of shops, takeaways and amenities just across the road. Fingal Bay just a short drive away is another winner.
Meet the Animals at Oakvale Farm
The Oakvale Wildlife Park has a range of resident animals to meet, including koalas, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, goats, sheep, rabbits and ostriches.
There are free ranging animals that kids can feed (you can buy feed from the kiosk) as well as feeding shows and keeper talks throughout the day. Other fun activiites include bottle feeding baby cows and a tractor trailer ride.
Other animal encounters give kids the chance to have their photo taken with a koala, lemur or reptile.
Away from the animals, there are also two playgrounds, electric BBQ facilities, a café and even a splash pad for cooling off in the summer months.
Go Kayaking or Paddle Boarding at Shoal Bay Beach
Shoal Bay Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Port Stephens, and within reason. The beach here curves for 2.5km from Nelson Head to Tomaree Head, and has calm waters making it one of the best beaches in Port Stephens for kayaking and paddle boarding.
If you want to do some Port Stephens kayaking or paddleboarding, you can hire both along the main strip here. If you’re lucky, you might spot a bottlenose dolphin while you are out padding about!
Enjoy the view from Gan Gan Lookout
For the best views in Port Stephens, head up to Gan Gan Lookout. As one of the highest points in area, you can get sweeping panoramic views from here – south along the Stockton Beach dunes to Newcastle and north to Hawks Nest.
The lookout is just a short walk from the car park, making for an easy viewing platform to get to. It is also wheelchair/stroller friendly.
For a more strenuous walk, check out the Tomaree Head Summit Walk. Start the walk in the car park at the end of Shoal Bay and head straight up the hill for around 160 metres. This walk is pretty steep and strenuous, and not really suitable for young kids.
Take a Surf Lesson at One Mile Beach
Also known as Anna Bay, One Mile Beach is a beautiful 1.3km beach backed by sand dunes.
The beach is popular with surfers thanks to its wide surf zone and you can take lessons here too. The Port Stephens surf school offers both group and private lessons here, to get you out on the water and enjoying the waves.
If you are visiting Port Stephens with kids, head to the southern end of the beach, which is patrolled by lifeguards in the summer. There is also one of the more popular Port Stephens caravan parks here, plus a picnic area and kiosk.
Whizz down the hill at the Toboggan Hill Park
Located amongst natural bushland in Nelson Bay, the Toboggan Hill Park is a fun place to head to for the whole family.
The toboggan track is the main attraction, with its 1km track that winds its way through the trees around 11 bends. Children under age 8 must ride with an adult.
Also within this fun adventure park you will find an outdoor maze, a tractor train, mini golf, and a fun water balloon launch game perfect for hot summer days.
If you’re looking for ideas of what to do in Port Stephens on a rainy day, you can head indoors for bouncy castles, rock climbing, ice skating and more. For food and snacks there is a kiosk here, or bring your own picnic.
You can buy tickets for individual activities, or buy a pass for multiple activities, depending on how much time and energy you have.
Port Stephens Map
This map of Port Stephens shows you where all these Port Stephens attractions are in relation to one another. As an example, to drive from the Nelson Bay marina to the quad biking (the furthest two apart from each other) is around a 30-minute drive.
Best Port Stephens Restaurants
Food is always a highlight of any holiday for me and so I have researched this thoroughly and tried out quite a few places to eat in Port Stephens. Here are my favourites:
Rick Stein @ Bannisters
Rick Stein at Bannisters hotel is a great option for a special occasion or just a fun and relaxed meal with family and friends.
The focus is on seafood, with tandoori prawns, Spring Bay mussels and Singapore chilli blue swimmer crab all on the menu when we visited.
Although renowned as one of the best restaurants in Port Stephens, the atmosphere is fun and informal and they have a kids menu.
Little Beach Boathouse
Located right on the waters edge at Little Beach Port Stephens, this lovely restaurant has gorgeous sea views.
The food is fabulous. With a strong focus on seafood, you can tuck into scallops, oysters and mussels as you look out for dolphins as you dine. Non-seafood options are also available and there is a kids menu.
The bar downstairs has a more casual, cheaper menu and an outdoor decking over the water.
Shoal Bay Country Club
Ideally located across the road from the beach, the Shoal Bay Country Club is the perfect place for a relaxing lunch with sea views.
A good choice of bar meals, wood fired pizzas, steaks, salads and seafood are all on offer, as well as an extensive cocktail menu.
They have a kids menu and colouring/activity book, and even put on activities for the kids on a Sunday.
Crest at Birubi Beach
This casual Birubi Beach café has a great location right on the beach looking out to sea (the image at the top of this post was taken from here). It is a good option for a coffee and bite to eat before or after sandboarding or camel riding as they both set off from here.
This would be my pick for breakfast in Port Stephens, where you can tuck into eggs benedict or huevos rancheros as the ocean breeze blows through your hair. Lunch is an interesting mix of curries, burgers and salads – and of course fish & chips. There is also a kids menu.
Port Stephens Accommodation
There are plenty of options for Port Stephens hotels as well as holiday rentals and Port Stephens camping sites. Here we highlight some of the best places to stay in Port Stephens.
Bannisters Port Stephens
If you are looking for Port Stephens luxury accommodation, we stayed at Bannisters and loved it.
It is super chic and stylish and has great options for families. We stayed in a one of their two-bedroom family rooms that had a large living area, two bathrooms and a balcony.
This Port Stephens resort has a gorgeous swimming pool with a bar deck and choice of two restaurants – the casual terrace by the pool or Rick Stein at Bannisters mentioned above.
If you’re looking for pet friendly accommodation in Port Stephens, Bannisters has two dog friendly rooms with garden access.
Anchorage Port Stephens
Offering Hamptons-style luxury chic, the Anchorage offers absolute waterfront accommodation. Many of the rooms here will sleep three people, with the family rooms, two-bedroom loft rooms and villas perfect for larger families.
It has a choice of restaurants, a gorgeous pool overlooking the marina and is its spa is renowned for being the best in Port Stephens.
Salt at Shoal Bay
If you prefer some more space and privacy, Salt at Shoal Bay offers gorgeous Port Stephens holiday accommodation.
Located just across the road from the beach and walking distance to the amenities of Shoal Bay, this modern Port Stephens holiday house has been divided into 2 self-contained levels plus a free-standing beach cottage.
With each unit sleeping between 6 and 11 people, this is a great option for families and/or groups of friends holidaying together. Each unit also has full kitchens, laundries and barbecue facilities.
Port Stephens Campsites & Holiday Parks
There are several Port Stephens holiday parks to choose from. A popular one is the Soldiers Point caravan park. This Big4 holiday park has a choice of cabins or powered camping and caravan sites. Onsite facilities include a playground, swimming pool, tennis courts and games room.
Another popular option is Shoal Bay Holiday Park, which includes options for glamping as well as cabins and powered campsites. Just a short walk from the beach, it also has a kids club during school holidays.
Getting to Port Stephens from Sydney
The Port Stephens to Sydney drive up the M1 takes around 2.5 – 3 hours depending on time of day and traffic (try to avoid Friday afternoons leaving the city if possible).
If you need to get here via public transport, you can take a train to Hamilton (2.5 hours) and then pick up a Port Stephens bus from here to Nelson Bay. However, I definitely recommend bringing our car or hiring a car so that you can easily get around all of the above Nelson Bay attractions.
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