It was time for a much-needed girls’ weekend away, so my 10-year-old daughter Savannah and I hopped in the car for an easy two-and-a-half hour drive north from Sydney to the dolphin capital of Australia – Port Stephens.
In at the deep end
Home to hundreds of bottlenose dolphins, you can also spot whales from here between May and June. But the bay is not just about dolphins and whales – this is also a great place to come if you want to swim with the sharks! At the Australian Shark and Ray Centre you can do just that. Savannah I donned wetties and went in the deep end hand-feeding the 100 kilogram (and more!) giant ray named Rasputia. Because of her size she is a bit daunting at first as she wraps herself around you in a cuddle, but don’t worry she is a gentle giant and all of the rays are de-barbed. We fed small sharks and rays and went in a tank with sharks nearly two and a half metres long! If you’re not brave enough to go in the water, no problem - you can hand feed from the side.
After an invigorating start to our three-day break, we check into a beautiful two-bedroom cabin at BIG4 Soldiers Point Holiday Park. This is truly a haven for families, with so much to do just in the park. Savannah’s favorite activity was hiring the go karts (lucky for me she wanted to do all the peddling!) They have a fantastic indoor play area for under-fives - the worst part for parents is trying to coral their little ones to leave when it closes at the end of the day. On Saturdays and during school holidays Akela’s Kids Club offers stimulating activities with family interaction. However with so much to see and do in Port Stephens we set off the next morning for yet another action-packed day of adventure (after another go kart ride of course).
More marine magic
We choose Moonshdow Cruise’s dolphin watch and boom net rides for a taste of the bay which is two and a half times larger than Sydney Harbour and home to a resident population of 140 bottlenose dolphins. Luck is on our side as we easily spot dolphins, after all Port Stephens lays claim to the title of Dolphin Capital of Australia. After the excitement of the dolphins who would believe there could be more, but the crew opened up the giant water slide where you land in the boom net to the squeals and excitement of all the kids on board (whether they had swimmers or were fully clothed).
No trip to Port Stephens is complete without experiencing Worimi Conservation Lands and the majestic sand dunes of Stockton Beach – the largest moving coastal sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere. You can discover this coastal desert wilderness by horse, camel, four-wheel drive, quad bike or simply on foot. Uncover the remains of the Sygna shipwreck that was wrecked off the coast in 1974 and ‘tin city’ made up of several tin squatters’ huts located in the dunes and owned by weekend fisherman.
We’re here for adventure, so opt for sand-boarding down the massive dunes with Port Stephens 4WD Tours. With dunes 30 meters high this proves to be an experience to remember for both of us. You can skip your daily work out too as the walk back up the dunes will do the trick. Luckily as we were leaving we spotted camel rides on the beach and were able to hop aboard one of these amazing ships of the desert for a magical ride across the dunes and back along the beach. I was told repeatedly by Savannah, “You’re the best mummy ever”. That’s pretty magical too (if only I could take a camel home with me).
On our last day we head for the small coastal town of Nelson Bay, offering restaurants and boutique shopping - something both us girls enjoy. We opt for a bite to eat at Hogs Breath Café with an excellent kids menu and beautiful view of the bay. Then we’re off to pretty Fingal Bay for a swim, play and walk across Fingal Spit where the views are magnificent. Be sure to check the tides before you go and cross at low tide as not all tides offer a safe crossing.
Then it’s time to head South, with a vow to return again. Port Stephens is one of our favourite spots in the world and we can’t wait to go back!
See playful dolphins on a cruise of Nelson bay
Feed baby animals at Oakvale Farm & Fauna World in Salt Ash
Have a splash at Little Beach or Fingal Bay
Head to Dizzyland in Salt Ash for all the fun of the fair
Spot koalas at One Mile Beach
Go sand-boarding on the dunes at Stockton Beach
Ride a camel along the beach with Oakfield Ranch
Sail and splash with a Moonshadow Cruise boom net ride and slide
Take a toboggan ride at Toboggan Hill Park
Hand-feed sharks at the Australian Shark and Ray Centre
Try a tandem parasail with Port Stephens Parasailing
Go quad biking on the dunes with Quad Bike King
Saddle up for a bush and beach horse trek with Sahara Trails
Learn to surf with Anna Bay Surf School
Dive in with Pro Dive or Feet First Dive
Swim with wild dolphins with Dolphin Swim Australia
BIG4 Soldiers Point Holiday Park
Family fun is the name of the game at BIG4 Soldiers Point Holiday Park. With a purpose-built ‘little explorers’ bike track and a new indoor adventure pool (just one of two wonderful swimming pools), this holiday park is an adventure playground for kids. There’s a playground, trampolines, pedal karts, giant chess and tennis courts so you never have to hear “I’m bored”. There is accommodation to suit all budgets, from self-contained cabins to powered and powered en-suite sites. Organised kids club activities run every weekend and every day throughout school holidays and there are big screen movies every weekend. 122 Soldiers Point Road, Soldiers Point. www.big4soldierspoint.com.au
Soldiers Point Holiday Park
Soldiers Point Holiday Park - 10 minutes from Nelson Bay is a completely refurbished park with 45 camp sites offering water views from all of the tent sites and a choice of headland or water views from one of the 33 luxury self-contained villas. With a resort-style pool and toddler wader pool, plus the Sandicoots kids club during holidays there’s plenty to keep kids entertained. There is a children’s playground next to the park and barbecues and picnic areas on-site for a family lunch or dinner. Soldier’s Point Holiday Park prides itself on offering a quiet relaxing atmosphere for that perfect family getaway. Ridgeway Avenue, Soldiers Point. www.beachsideholidays.com.au
When to go
Year round, with whale watching season running from late May to November.
Port Stephens is an easy two-and-a-half hour drive North from Sydney.
To help plan your perfect holiday, call Harvey World Travel 132 757 or visit www.harveyworld.com.au