How to spend a day on and off the well-worn tourist path in the beautiful Mid-North Coast town.
Though Port Macquarie locals occasionally loath to admit such a thing, tourists are basically the wellspring of life that fuels the economy of this beautiful seaside town; and it is in light of this that I should begin by saying that the well-worn tourist path is not something which I speak of with disdain or distaste. I myself was once a foreigner in Port Macquarie, pronouncing Wauchope and Lake Cathie – as a simpleton would – exactly as they are spelled. And though I didn't live there long enough to be considered a local (apparently 20 years is the jackpot – 16 more years would have done me the trick), what I experienced was what I would consider to be a truly marvellous and blessed four years, full of exploration, adventure, cloudless skies, starry nights, waterfalls, swimming holes, a seemingly infinite number of beaches, incredible coffee, and a sense of community like no other.
There are so many beautiful things about this town and the surrounding areas which tourists and locals alike would agree are the places to be when you have a desire to truly experience Port Macquarie, most of which are either budget-friendly, or free. So I shall dally no further. Here, I begin the first of a multi-part series about Port Macquarie and surrounds.
If you are partial to an early start, I think that the most beautiful sunrise in Port Macquarie can be viewed from Tacking Point Lighthouse. That's really all I need to say about that; what a perfect way to start the day – second only to coffee.
Cost: aside from the sleep-in you forfeit, it's free!
Highlights: the warmth of the first rays of morning light, shining across the Pacific and onto your astonishingly good-looking face.
For those who are caffeine inclined, I have good news for you; Port knows it's coffee. So numerous are (legitimately) good coffee shops in Port Macquarie that it won't do any good to name them all, but I must make mention of one in particular. It is new to town, so the true locals may turn their noses up at it for another 18-or-so years until it becomes a local itself; but I know this café will prove worthy of its' place in the community time and time again.
Exalting themselves as the “finest coffee in all the land”, Social Grounds sat squarely in my Why I should NEVER leave Port Macquarie column. Never have I experienced such friendly customer service in my life as I have at Social Grounds, and I am sure I could be speaking on behalf of every customer who has walked through their front and back doors. To go to a café and leave feeling as if you've just been given the warmest hug in your life…well…it's like Christmas.
Just go. Thank me later.
Cost: a simple, steamy brew will set you back a mere $3 or a little more, depending on your level of lactose intolerance or other caffeinated beverage preferences (stronger, bigger, more sex-appeal, etc.); sweet snacks, breakfasts, lunches and dinners range from approximately $5-20.
Highlights: warm smiles that feel like hugs which feel like Christmas, coffee (duh), artwork by Sigh adorning the walls, ceilings, doors and take-away cups, all the food *drool* and the teaspoons.
For all you tea lovers out there, you can't go past Kerrie at World Par-Tea. Situated in the heart of Port Macquarie on Hay street, this beautiful, quirky tea shop is perfect for both the wisest tea connoisseur and blossoming tea lover alike. The business has been in the capable hands of Kerrie and her husband Rod for over seven years, and Kerrie knows her teas like the back of her hand. She will happily spend time educating any customer on the health benefits of every tea in her shop. Along with the fabulous collection of teas, World Par-Tea also sells tea-ware, gifts, and has a Tea Bar where you can grab a warm brew – any tea of your choice – to take-away! Perfection in one shop.
Cost: Tea, $7-12+, take-away teas $3-4, tea-ware and gifts range in price.
Highlights: Kerrie, Rod and the staff, funky tea pots, daily tea tastings (new teas every day) and the ½ hour tea appreciation course ($5pp).
Sun, Sand & Sea
The ocean, for many, is a major drawing point of Port Macquarie. With over seven swimming beaches to choose from (not to mention the countless beaches to it's north and south, and smaller coves dotted everywhere in between) Port caters to the beachy needs of all; families with small children, families with older children, sun-bakers, exhibitionists (see note below regarding Miners Beach), surf groms, seasoned surf junkies, and waveaphobes (like me). It's no wonder Port Macquarie is such a popular holiday destination when there are endless beaches to choose from, each possessing its own unique character and holding the favour of the people who frequent its shoreline. My personal favourite is Shelly Beach, where (above the appropriately-sized waves) you can recline in the shade of the pines and appreciate a wide coastal view, or (below the appropriately-sized waves) explore the hidden world of Port Macquarie's submarine life which can be easily accessed by divers and snorkellers.
Cost: absolutely nada.
Highlights: so many beaches to choose from, minimal crowds, shady areas, delicious surf.
Walking & Whales
Imagine you are seated in a comfy, reclining cinema chair, munching on disconcertingly yellow popcorn (is it just me who thinks “why, oh why is it SO yellow?”), watching a high definition film which showcases the vast and vibrant expanse that is the East Australian coastline. Suddenly, on the screen in front of you jumps a whale from somewhere in the deep blue below, then off in the distance, you see a pod of dolphins that dances about the gracefully rolling waves which eventually crash upon the rocky shoreline beneath your feet. You look around; there's a wooden railing in front of you…trees surrounding you, rustling as they blow in the gentle breeze…tiny birds serenading you…and you realise something…you are not in a cinema at all! You are on the Doctor's Walk. How did that happen?
Okay, so it's not really like being in a cinema at all, and there's no popcorn (unless you want there to be), but the Doctor's Walk can be likened to a brilliant cinematic, interactive coastal experience. A mix of paved and dirt tracks hug the scenic coastline, and can be followed from the middle of town all the way to Tacking Point Lighthouse. The whole walk could take the better part of a day, so if you're not feeling particularly active, many sections of the walk can be accessed from different points along Pacific Drive and other coastal roads in the area. I can't promise whales or dolphins, but there are plenty of vista points along the way which are designated whale-watching spots which is an indication of the frequency of sightings. You can hop on and off the track as you please, popping into shops along the way to purchase sustenance or fridge magnets, or you can do a beach crawl and have a cheeky dip in the waves at every beach along the way. I cannot recommend this walk more; it is truly stunning.
FYI: Along the Doctor's Walk, you may be fortunate enough to venture past a few beaches which necessitate a mention. One of those beaches is Miners Beach; it is a nude beach. Although this is well-known to most locals, I don't believe it's signposted anywhere to give tourists forewarning. But, “suns out, buns out” rings ever so true on Miners Beach, and on a nice sunny day, nudies adorn the shoreline like shells. If that's your thing, strip down and enjoy the sunshine and waves in all your glory. If nude isn't really your cup of tea though, avert your eyes or forever hold your peace. Another beach you will come across on the coastal walk is Nobby's Beach; known to many as the “Dog Beach”, pooches can roam (and poop) free and wild along the sand and in the water here. Needless to say, you may be fortunate enough to come across the odd floater or stealthy sand ninja on your walk along Nobby's. A beautiful beach, nonetheless, and dog owners are generally quite religious about cleaning up after their canine companions. Still, it can't hurt to keep your shoes on and your eyes open.
Highlights: naturally sensational, whale and dolphin spotting, easily accessible, well-maintained trail, walk as much or as little as you like.
Port is reasonably well-known for it's Koala population (even Wikipedia says so!), and the Koala Hospital is a great organisation near Flynn's Beach which rescues injured koalas, rehabilitates and re-releases them back into their natural habitat. You can visit the Koala Hospital every day of the year between 8am and 4:30pm and see the koalas in care. There is also a free tour of the facility every day at 3pm.
Cost: zero dollars, but donations are always welcome and go towards continuing the good work of the hospital.
Highlights: some very cute (often sleeping) koalas hugging trees, heart-warming rescue stories, public window into the hospital treatment room to allow visitors to view procedures.
At the end of the day, this article is in no way a complete index of every wonderful thing to do and see in Port Macquarie, but to finish off this particular day-long tour, fill your belly at one of many delicious eats in town (my personal favourite is Burger Rebellion), recline on a picnic rug at Town Green, and enjoy the sun as it sets over the wharf, which will undoubtedly be heavy-laden with fishermen, patiently anticipating the catch of the day.