Set just two-and-a-half hours north of Sydney, Shoal Bay is a popular, easily accessible holiday destination in the easternmost subdivision of the Port Stephens area. Shoal Bay has a small year-round population of under 2,000; however, during the summer months, the town’s population increases greatly. Blue waters and golden sandy beaches make up the coastline, creating a picture-perfect backdrop against which adventurers and thrill-seekers can conquer the waves, sail off to discover uninhabited islands and even ride camels! With a great variety of rental properties, ranging from luxurious spa retreats to comfortable private villas, it won’t be difficult to find a home for your group of friends or energetic family.
While visiting the many beaches in the Shoal Bay area, of course you have the option to sunbathe on the golden shoreline or to splash around in the water, but the fun does not end there. Visitors can hire the services of a catamaran, canoe, Jet Ski or even a paddleboat and explore their coastal surrounds without getting too wet. Sailboards, water scooters and water skis are also available and allow you to get an adrenaline rush a little closer to the waves. Alternately, if you’re a fishing enthusiast, head over to the Game Fishing Club and catch your own dinner. Conveniently, Shoal Bay’s main beach harbours a jetty and a boat ramp.
A portion of Tomaree National Park rests within Shoal Bay, and one of the most visited attractions within the reserve is Tomaree Head, a summit offering panoramic vistas over the ocean and coastline. Bring your hiking boots along and make the challenging trek to the top, well worth it for the sumptuous views. Once there, break out your binoculars and watch the dolphins and whales swim by in the distant waters.
If you’re up for a local history lesson, spend some time at Point Stephens Lighthouse, also within Tomaree National Park. The lighthouse was constructed in 1862 and enjoys prime water views. Travellers can see the ruins of the light keeper’s original cottage and participate in a guided tour of the attraction, where they’ll learn all about the region’s maritime history.
When visiting Tomaree National Park, bring along a hamper of food, as there is plenty of space for a picnic and for the kids to run around and play. Ample onsite parking is available.
Travellers interested in native flora and fauna can make a short trip off the coast to discover local species in their natural habitat. Just 3km from Shoal Bay, you’ll find the almost treeless Boondelbah Island, home to a colony of Little Blue Penguins. While at the nature reserve, you’ll be able to spot white-faced storm petrels and shearwaters, as well. For a change of scenery, dock at Cabbage Tree Island, a bit further north, which boasts a lush rainforest that is uninhabited (at least by humans!). A number of other islands just off the coast are easily accessible by boat. Rent a vessel for the day or bring your own and immerse yourself in a world untouched by the human hand.
There’s always an adventure to go on in Shoal Bay or off the coast. Scuba diving sites abound and rental equipment is available to view colourful reefs and abundant marine life up close. Alternately, leave the water behind and visit the Stockton Sand Dunes. You can take a camel or horseback ride to the top of the dunes and look down at the oceanfront. For that extra rush of adrenaline, try a quad bike or four-wheel drive tour through the sands. If you’d rather sit back and learn about past adventures, visit Fort Tomaree, where you can see World War II gun emplacements along the main path and other war relics on throughout the fort.
While adventure seekers can always come up with something new to try, Shoal Bay has also made some room for R & R, with plenty of retail shops and fine dining options. After spending the day jet skiing, bush walking or speeding through sand dunes, enjoy a quiet evening in town, where you can refuel for your next adventure.