An idyllic natural estuary two and a half hours north of Sydney and less than an hour from the Hunter Valley, Port Stephens is a picturesque area with sandy beaches and bush walking tracks. Nelson Bay is the main ‘hub’, where trips depart to see the resident bottlenose dolphin population, as well as humpback whales from May to October. Koalas are also often spotted here. Port Stephens is also home to the Stockton Bight: 30km of huge sand dunes. Take the Tomaree Head Summit walk for spectacular panoramic views.
A coastal town off the Pacific Highway – closer to Brisbane than Sydney – Byron Bay is popular with backpackers, holidaymakers and locals alike. People flock here for the beaches, the surf, and the arts and café culture. Byron Main is the busiest beach, with The Pass being a favourite with surfers. Clarkes Beach is ideal for windsurfing and paragliding, while sheltered Watego’s Beach has free electric barbecues and is a perfect picnic spot. Walk up to the Cape Byron Lighthouse for lovely views.
A good stopping point between Port Macquarie and Byron Bay, this coastal city sits at the point where the Great Dividing Range meets the Pacific Ocean. The main attractions here are the beaches, the Big Banana theme park and its great water-based activities, ranging from sailing and stand-up paddleboarding to snorkelling and whale-watching tours. The start of the sub-tropical northern coast of New South Wales, this is an area rich in wildlife. Offshore you’ll find the Solitary Islands Marine Park, a diver’s paradise of gorgeous coral reefs and tropical marine life, while in the hinterland behind the city is the nature-rich Dorrigo National Park, a combination of World Heritage-listed rainforests, stunning waterfalls and a skywalk platform that overlooks the canopies and coast.