Traci Ayris sails from QLD to NSW and shares the must see Port Stephens.
Where to go? Port Stephens!
Don’t look for the town of Port Stephens on your chart or Google map, it’s not there. Rather, it’s the name given to a local government area that encompasses a broad waterway with a multitude of towns, beaches, bays and headlands. A haven along the rugged Pacific coastline, it offers much to the cruising sailor. With no less than 26 named beaches, a wide tranquil bay and nearby islands for day trip adventures, the Port Stephens region is a blue-water paradise that should be a mandatory stop for any cruising boat making passage between NSW and QLD.
The natural harbour offers plenty of good protection from prevailing winds and cosy places like Fame Cove to tuck into and shelter from a strengthening breeze. Many bays have public mooring balls for 24hr use and anchoring is permitted with care and attention to restricted zones and existing private moorings.
Prefer to splurge on a marina? Choose from d’Albora, Soldiers Point, Lemon Tree Passage and Anchorage marinas for short and long-term stays. Great restaurants and shopping can be found in the main town of Nelson Bay. Chandleries, electronics, hardware stores and major supermarkets are all a short walk or taxi ride from Nelson or Salamander Bays. Explore the smaller bayside villages by dinghy to discover café’s, grocery stores and liquor outlets when it’s time to top up supplies.
Consider spending a night or two in the main bay areas and experience something different in each. The main township of Nelson Bay offers transport options to Newcastle Airport for easy crew exchanges, to the east, the stunning white beach of Fingal Bay is a popular stop and, just to port on entry, Shoal Bay is a jump-off point for the Tomaree Head Hike and a perfect location for lazy sundowner sessions. Further along, Salamander, Soldiers Point and Lemon Tree Passage also offer great opportunities to stop and explore.
The Port Stephens region is a mecca for outdoor water activities. Those who like to surf, kayak, fish, SUP, snorkel or swim when cruising will find plenty of opportunities to get wet. Like to stretch those sea legs and explore on land? Head to the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes, Australia’s largest moving coastal dune area where you can absorb cultural stories while taking in the sights and sounds at Birubi and Stockton Beaches. Just outside the bay, Broughton Island is a favourite with Port Stephens locals. Stunning clear water and beautiful protected anchorages make it a dream location for cruisers, kayakers and snorkellers. Nature lovers exploring the island on foot are quite likely to encounter nesting seabirds and little penguins, while scuba divers should make a note to check out sheer walls, caves and overhangs at the Looking Glass dive site.
Those making passage between May and November should keep a good lookout as thousands of Humpback and Southern Right whales pass by Port Stephens on their migratory journey along the East coast. If you’re anchored, swimming or snorkelling within the sheltered bay, don’t be surprised if a resident pod of friendly bottlenose dolphins decides to pay a visit.
No matter what time of year, Port Stephens will reward the cruising sailor who takes a turn into the wide and welcoming bay. Accessible facilities, calm anchorages and unforgettable experiences on land and water make it almost a crime to sail on by.