Port Stephens: A Trip to Nelson Bay
January 1, 1970
by Rebekah Groves
Out of all of the places that I love to go, one of my favourites is Nelson Bay. A short 1-hour drive North-East of Newcastle, it’s surrounded by beautiful beaches and views left, right and centre. Nelson Bay is a must-see for anyone wanting to travel the east coast of Australia (or the Newcastle area), though it is often missed due to the detour to get there. It’s a place that I had never even heard of before I travelled the east coast of Australia with my husband. Fortunately, since I’ve had family move there, we’ve been able to revisit this spectacular place and explore it ourselves. Not only is Nelson Bay family-friendly, there’s also something for everyone to do. There’s so much to see and do that I would recommend staying for at least a few days to really enjoy it. So, let me tell you what makes Nelson Bay so special for me.
Beaches and Lookouts
There are a number of beaches around Nelson Bay (and who doesn’t love beaches?), my favourite being Fingal Bay Beach (pictured above). We managed to walk the entire length of Fingal Bay Beach on our first visit to this breathtaking place and enjoyed a leisurely stroll and sand-castle building experience with our 2-year-old on our last visit. The beaches all have safe swimming areas and cafes nearby. It truly is perfect for the whole family, a romantic stroll with your loved one, or deep reflection by yourself. There’s almost nothing better than taking in the fresh sea air and feeling the sand between your toes. For something more, don’t forget to make your way up to Gan Gan Lookout for a beautiful panoramic view of Port Stephens.
If you’re a fan of finding shells or just simply looking at them, then Nelson Bay is perfect for this. Not only can you find your very own shells on the beaches (an enjoyable pass-time), but you can also view a large display of rare and beautiful shells at the Port Stephens Shell Museum (that’s right – a shell museum) and buy yourself a souvenir or a gift for someone special.
Places to See
There are so many things to see in and around Nelson Bay that it’s hard to know where to start. These are some popular and worthwhile things to see that could potentially be done on the same day (depending, of course, on how long you want to spend at each place):
- Make a timely trip out to Fingal Bay Beach and have a picnic at Point Stephen’s Lighthouse. It’s very important that you get the timing right for this one (preferably a fine day where the weather is nice) and know the times that the tide is going out and coming back in. To get there, take an invigorating walk across a long sandy path that connects the peninsula to the island where the lighthouse is. You can only do this when the tide is out and make sure you’re back well before the tide comes in or you may find that the sandy path is no longer there (i.e. the path is underwater).
- View the sunset (or sunrise) at Soldier’s Point Marina and enjoy the Sculpture Walk that features inspiring sculptures from Australian artists.
- Explore Fighterworld – a flight museum that features a number of aircraft and memorabilia. Although it’s a 30-minute drive outside of Nelson Bay (heading inland; it could be something to see on your way in or out of Nelson Bay), it’s worth the trip if you’re interested in aircraft.
Things to Do
Nelson Bay accommodates people with all interests – from the adrenaline-chasing adventurer to the more reserved, luxurious thrill-seeker.
- Explore the sand dunes in a 4WD or on a quad bike. Test your skills and enjoy the adrenaline rush of riding across the Southern Hemisphere’s largest moving coastal sand mass.
- Swim with the dolphins. Catch an early sunrise cruise and enjoy watching the sunrise fill the sky over the ocean as you make your way to the dolphin’s natural habitat. Observe the dolphins from the deck or choose to swim and interact with these incredible creatures. It’s an all-natural, approved and thrilling experience that you will always remember and just won’t be able to get enough of.
- Enjoy cruises and tours around Nelson Bay and the area. There are bike tours, horseback riding tours, sightseeing tours, tours of the infamous sand dunes, nature and wildlife tours, and more! The best way to find out about them is by going to TripAdvisor and looking at what they have available.
- Sailing/surfing/windsurfing/kitesurfing. These are things that can really be done at any beach, but Nelson Bay is a nice place to participate in these activities. It’s even just as relaxing to watch (if you’re as coordinated as I am!). We took a trip to Nelson Bay at the start of April 2016 and managed to be there at the same time as a sailing competition. It was quite nice and rejuvenating to see all the boats and take in the serenity of Nelson Bay.
With all of these activities and things to do in Nelson Bay, you would hope that they have at least a couple of places to eat, right? Even better. There are so many options to choose from when you’re looking for food. There are numerous cafes – both small businesses and franchises (e.g. Gloria Jeans) – and restaurants with delicious and intricate menus. You can dine in the town or overlooking the ocean (my preference for a nice meal where you can feel rejuvenated and peaceful from the sea breeze and the to-and-fro motion of the waves). Though, in my opinion, if you’re near the ocean, there is nothing better than enjoying the local fresh seafood from the fish markets.
Since Nelson Bay is such a beautiful place, you could expect that it may be expensive to stay there. However, it’s not impossible to find a nice place to stay for an affordable price. I recommend using booking.com to see what’s available. Alternatively, if you’re on a tight budget, you could book into the local backpacker’s accommodation or try couch-surfing.
In a nutshell, there is so much to see and do at Nelson Bay – there really is something for everyone. Whether you choose to do everything in one trip or spread it all out over multiple trips, it’s up to you. Even so, I hope that you can see why I love Nelson Bay – you may even be already planning your trip!