Nelson Bay is a quintessential Australian beach town, 60km from Newcastle. With golden sand that stretches on for miles, panoramic lookouts over Port Stephens and a prominent seafood culture, you won’t be disappointed in this holiday destination made for families and lovers of the outdoors. All year round, visitors flock to Nelson Bay, but you can easily retain the impression of seclusion by spending some time in the region’s parks, heritage listed headlands and lesser-known beaches. Holiday rentals are scattered in and around town, ensuring there’s a house or apartment to suit your needs.
Many visitors to Nelson Bay and Port Stephens are primarily attracted to the region by the promise of pristine beaches, both large and small. One Mile Beach is the best place for a swim or a surf lesson, thanks to waters than are neither too placid nor too agitated.
Families with small children may prefer Little Beach. This quiet alternative features calm waters and plenty of shade. Visitors seeking more excitement and adventure can head to Birubi, split into two beaches over a total of 32km. With the famous Stockton Sand Dunes as a backdrop and plenty of space to spread out, guests can fly kites or take part in various water sports.
Nelson Bay is home to iconic Australian species as well as favourite marine mammals. Indeed, approximately 160 bottlenose dolphins permanently live in the waters around Nelson Bay. Several tour companies offer 1.5 to 2-hour journeys into the waters of Port Stephens, where dolphin sightings are assured at 99%.
In addition, whales migrating for the winter take up residence around Port Stephens from May to August. Moonshadow Cruises specialise in dolphin and whale watching and conveniently depart from Nelson Bay, combining sightings with buffet lunches onboard sleek yachts with open decks. This company offers a free cruise guarantee if no whales are seen. However, chances are you won’t disembark disappointed, with a 98% success rate.
Once you’re ready to leave the water for a little while, head to Tilligerry Habitat, a lush koala sanctuary. A half-hour drive from Nelson Bay, this State Reserve is threaded with forest and wetland trails that visitors can navigate on their own or as part of a guided tour. Koalas are a prominent species in the park, but you’ll also find a number of different birds and frogs.
To take in Nelson Bay’s natural beauty, several lookout points have been erected, two of which are located in the Tomaree National Park. Generally, guests must hike up to these lookouts but the trek isn’t difficult and the views from the top are simply breathtaking. If you only have time for one walk, climb the paved path to the Tomaree Head Summit, from which you can admire sprawling views of the coastline, Port Stephens, Nelson Bay and the islands of Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah.
Also in Tomaree National Park is the famous Point Stephens Lighthouse, built in 1862. This unique construction is an essential part of Nelson Bay’s heritage. Today, visitors can see the ruins of the light keeper’s cottage and take part in a guided tour to learn more about Port Stephens’ maritime history. Of course, you’ll also benefit from exceptional coastal views.
Gan Gan Lookout is a popular alternative to Tomaree Head and the Lighthouse. Known as the easiest hike in the Port Stephens area, visitors only need to climb 160 metres to witness coastal and hinterland views all the way to Newcastle. The best time of day to visit Gan Gan is at dusk to take advantage of glorious sunsets.
Nelson Bay is known far and wide for its fresh seafood. The best restaurant to sample the catch of the day is the Rock Lobster, an award-winning venue on the marina. If you’re seeking a more casual atmosphere, Stockton and Donald Streets are lined with cafes. Finally, locals and visitors alike often take advantage of the beautiful weather to have a picnic at Dutchies Beach, a calm nook within easy walking distance of the town centre. The grassy area surrounding this quiet beach ensures a relaxing environment and kids will love the playground, considered the best in Port Stephens.
The waters around Nelson Bay get too cold for swimmers at the end of March and whale season begins in May, creating two distinct waves of travellers. However, even in the heart of winter, Nelson Bay remains an attractive option for those wishing to hike, cycle or take part in scenic walks. To truly experience everything that Nelson Bay has to offer, there’s always the option of a second visit!