Port Stephens is full of bays. Starting from Salamander, you can work around the clock: Nelson Bay, Shoal Bay, Fingal Bay, and Anna Bay, and there’s plenty to do in each.
You can ride camels, go sandboarding, take a dune safari, or encounter sharks (this is a planned experience) near Anna Bay. Likely the most popular spot is Nelson Bay, where you can swim with dolphins, visit fish and marine life sanctuaries, and attempt to sight whales. Besides nature, there’s also go-karting, toboggan rides, “hot ice skating”, rock climbing and a slew of other active things to do.
But what they don’t tell you is that you can also do nothing.
Nothing but enjoy being here.
At first, I was considering an Airbnb in Anna Bay so we could be close to the action for sandboarding and camel rides. However, when we found this cozy and affordable spot in Shoal Bay–which drew us in with the beautiful environment, idyllic waterfront, national park, and of course beaches–our decision was made.
As peaceful as this little haven may seem, we were pleasantly surprised to discover a bustling nightlife at the Shoal Bay Country Club (a five-minute walk from our Airbnb) when we went to explore the town after a late arrival from Sydney on Friday.
Right across the road from the Country Club, you’ll find a beach with a concrete wharf that juts out far enough for a casual 10-foot plummet into some piercingly cold water. If you’re hungover from the night before, this may help.
After a lazy morning in bed with a gorgeous view of Tomaree Mountain from our quaint attic window, a salt-water dip, and cold drinks to sip on the beachfront, we made up a meal at our Airbnb kitchen and spent the night chatting with a pair of medical students from Europe who had booked the room next to us.
The next day, we packed up our things and–now that we were finally ready for action–made the trek up to the Observation Post on Tomaree Mountain. The hike is only about a half-hour to an hour from the Shoal Bay Wharf, very doable–even for small children–and absolutely worth it.
After getting back on Shoal Bay Road, we still had time for a drink at the beach before catching a bus back to the Newcastle Interchange and another train-replacement bus from there to Sydney.
Typically, a single train and bus will get you from Central Station to any of the Port Stephens Bays in under five hours. Of course, you could rent a car using the Car Next Door app and get there in less, as our fellow Airbnbers did. However, there’s something quite enjoyable about heading out of the city without a car–I mean care.
And if one thing is cheap in Sydney, it’s the trains; gotta love ‘m!