Destination: Port Stephens
Port Stephens, NSW, is a boating and fishing holiday paradise. Our expert guide explains what to do, how to get there, and where to find accommodation.
Port Stephens, NSW, is one of Australia’s most popular boating destinations, located just a few hours north of Sydney Harbour. Yet this huge bay is twice the size of that famous waterway and consequently has plenty of room for visiting boaters.
Once you’ve sailed in through the tall headlands via Nelson Bay you find yourself in sheltered waters with dozens of anchorages and marinas to choose from.
As one of our best natural harbours it was chosen as a potential site for Australia’s new capital in 1899, before Canberra got the nod. But if it had gone ahead our politicians could have headed out for a quick stand-up battle with a marlin in their lunch break. The waters offshore are well fed from the south-running East Australian Current and home to some of the best gamefishing in the country.
Getting to Port Stephens
Interstate flights to Port Stephens land at nearby Newcastle, from where you can explore the region by car.
If you’re travelling to Port Stephens by sea, it’s a day’s sail north of Sydney for the increasing number of boaters who are realising the attractions of coastal cruising, both inside and offshore.
For this voyage, a westerly or southerly will push you along the coast comfortably, perhaps stopping off in accommodation at Newcastle Port (along with a night out), before sailing along the vast expanse of Stockton Beach. It’s at Stockton that four-wheel-drivers can surprisingly enjoy game fishing from the back of utes, before heading up toward the cone shaped Tomaree Head marking the entrance to Port Stephens.
Offshore is the famous Cabbage Tree Island, a rounding mark that yachties are pleased to spot on their way from Sydney during the race of that name. It’s also a good spot for snapper and bream fishing, as tall sides offer good shelter. Nearby are Little and Boondelbah Islands, the latter a popular spot for jewfish and kingfish.
Farther north along this coast lie wild beaches that stretch to Dark Point, a sacred Aboriginal area that lies opposite the Broughton Island Archipelago. This National Park-controlled island has good anchorages on both the north and south sides, and despite being surrounded by marine parks does have fantastic fishing with charter dayboats leaving regularly from the main town at Shoal Bay in Port Stephens.
Navigating Port Stephens Heads
The heads at Port Stephens, unlike Sydney Heads, does have shallows and while not a significant bar, the seas do break there on occasion. Avoiding wind against outgoing tide in smaller craft is a good idea, as is studying Chart AU209 and Alan Lucas’s detailed NSW cruising guide.
Inside the heads a vast waterway lies before you, with plenty of anchorages, three major marinas and gently sloping beaches for smaller craft to launch from. The tidal range of 1.86m is significant, so worth remembering when anchoring in some of the shallower bays, but there are plenty
to choose from. A favourite ramp of mine in the heart of the waterway is at Kangaroo Point in Salamander Bay where there’s parking beside the dinghy sailing club and the Ibis Hotel and bowling club are a short stroll away. Do your homework by getting the local boating map from a Whitworths store or at the helpful Shoal Bay tourist office.
For motorboaters, the winding voyage up the 22km of Myall River to the Great Lakes is a fantastic trip and one of my favourites in the entire region. It’s tidal so you have to watch the depth (1.5 to 2m) and closely stick to the cardinal marks, ideally on a flood tide that will sweep you gently past this wilderness of black cockatoos, cabbage tree palms and tall timber, interspersed by the occasional prawning shed.
I’ve even come across dolphins doing this trip, so it’s definitely a popular one for seagoing folk. Fuel up beforehand and spend the night at the Tea Gardens Boat Shed to soak in the river atmosphere and study the real fishermen – flotillas of majestic pelicans doing their thing.
Port Stephens Anchorage
On a recent visit I stayed beside Port Stephens Anchorage Marina at Corlette Point with a bunch of sailors who’d sailed from Sydney for a casual meet-up.
The stylish Anchorage Port Stephens accommodation resort complex has 80 rooms and suites overlooking a 100-boat marina and anchorage, making it an ideal place to watch the annual April Sail Port Stephens regatta.
Australia’s newest regatta, Sail Port Stephens, is run by the Corlette Point Sailing Association and attracts the top grand prix raceboats as well as cruiser-racers and multihulls. Sail Port Stephens is supported by every Port Stephens marina and the Anchorage has previously hosted the Australian-made McConaghy MC38 one-design fleet.
This anchorage in Port Stepehns is a Marinas Association Gold Anchor member and has a fuel dock, plus a sheltered 3.5m basin, so there was plenty of water for our flotilla of new Hanse, Dehler and Moody sailing yachts.
Located afloat, right in the middle of the basin, is manager Alistair Bailey’s office. This former charter boat skipper knows the area well and is always keen to help visiting boaters, which includes berthing for some newbie skippers.
"We’ve got really experienced dockmasters and we welcome everyone – from small cruisers to large yachts," said Bailey. And he recommends hanging around for a while.
"Really, a two-week visit to Port Stephens is best, because there’s plenty to do with daytrips to various places such as Broughton, North Arm Cove and places like Fame Cove, north of Soldiers Point," he adds.
Port Stephens holds a major gamefishing event in February – the Interclub tournament with strong local representation from experienced fishing legends. Lured by the possibility of catching all three species of billfish, hundreds of fishos flock to this event.
Trailerboat anglers also show up in March for the Port Stephens fishing tournament which attracts 1000 fishos and about 450 boats chasing $80,000 prizemoney.
The rich nutrients flowing offshore means there are many species to chase including snapper, yellowfin tuna and mahi mahi, while inshore the sandy spits are flathead and bream territory.
Gamefish abound including blue, black and striped marlin, swordfish and many varieties of shark.
Boat ramps in Port Stephens
Launching a boat is easy, with plentiful boat ramps in the bay and along the ocean beaches. Soldiers Point boat ramp is a family favourite for launching tinnies with a few pots to go crabbing for blue swimmers or those big tasty mud crabs. Little Beach boat ramp is the main one in the area and has all the usual facilities, including a specially designed jetty for disabled boaters.
Port Stephens activities
While in town, why not do a Port Stephens tour? Being a major tourist area most of the big supermarkets are present, plus restaurants including the Hard Rock Cafe with water views. Restaurants and bars also abound in Shoal Bay, but I prefer the quieter atmosphere of Soldiers Point.
Beach fishing on the oceanside is another attraction and the kids can enjoy safe swimming at Fingal Bay, nicely sheltered behind Fingal Island.
To the west is the township of Karuah where camping is done near the shore and a tasty fish supper can be had nearby.
Walking up the heads is a great way to work off a big lunch and from Tomaree Head you can see as far north as Sugar Loaf Point at Seal Rocks. Tomaree is also a great spot for whale watching during the winter migration. Across the entrance, Yacaaba Head is even more dramatic.
Jimmy’s Beach caravan park is one of the best spots in the bay – cast a line here for whiting, mullet and flathead.
- Port Stephens visitor information | portstephens.org.au
- More Port Stephens caravan parks | turu.com.au
- Anchorage Port Stephens | anchorageportstephens.com.au
- Marine rescue | marinerescueportstephens.com.au
- Sailing Port Stephens regatta | sailportstephens.com.au
- Newcastle & Port Stephens Game Fish Club | npsgfc.com
- Port Stephens Trailer Boat Fishing Tournament | tbft.com.au
- Comprehensive list of marinas in NSW | NSW marinas
See the full version of this review in Trade-A-Boat #473, on sale December 28, 2015. Why not subscribe today?
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