Approximately 30 minutes from Newcastle Airport, Port Stephens is the perfect place for a mini family vacation and can be enjoyed in both winter and summer alike.
We chose to fly with Jetstar Australia from Melbourne. As we were only staying for three nights, we chose to just take carry on luggage – however, be mindful that Jetstar now weigh your carry on items at the gate and it’s a $60 fee for any item over weight that then needs to be checked in rather than carrying on board.
Once arriving at Newcastle Airport, we picked up our hire car from EuropCar. While a bus transfer is available to Port Stephens, we preferred the flexibility that having a car with us provides – especially with unpredictable winter weather.
We stayed at in a two bedroom apartment at Ramada Resort in Shoal Bay. While we chose to try some of the local restaurants and cafes, the apartment rooms enable cost effective family vacations with a small kitchen that included an oven, cook top, microwave and full-size fridge.
Resort amenities include an outdoor pool (including children’s pools), indoor health centre with small gymnasium, heated lap pool and three spas.
More information on the resort can be accessed via the Wyndham Group website.
We decided to try the local restaurants rather than self catering.
Shoal Bay Country Club
This is a venue that is likely to see most of the action over the peak summer months. Bistro style, you order at the bar, but unlike most venues we’ve eaten at, you also collect your own meals from the counter.
While the venue is beautifully appointed, the staff could do with a little training around their customer service skills – the manager on the night was so casually dressed that we didn’t know who he was when he escorted us to our table, he and the kitchen staff were also unable to name the cakes they were serving for dessert. We’d probably give it another try if we were to visit Port Stephens, but it’s unlikely to be the first restaurant we rush to.
Cost for dinner: $110
More information: http://www.shoalbaycountryclub.com.au/
Mermaids at Shoal Bay Country Club
I described this on Instagram as ‘good food, ok coffee”. I know we are spoiled in Melbourne for good coffee, but I’d have to call the coffee we had as average. Coming under the Country Club banner, Mermaids is again beautifully appointed and the attention to detail in the decor means that even the takeaway coffee cups match the design colour scheme.
Unfortunately Mermaids do not cater for children, limiting the options available for younger guests.
Cost for breakfast: $74
More information: http://www.shoalbaycountryclub.com.au/
Nelson Bay Inner Lighthouse Tea Rooms
If you’re looking for a great view and great scones, then Inner Light Tea Rooms in Nelson Bay is the perfect location.
Situated at the site of a former lighthouse, World War II bunkers and now the Marine Rescue Communications Centre, the tea rooms have a range of breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon tea items that can be enjoyed in or outside, making the most of the view over the water ways.
Watch out for the resident lorikeets who are also likely to join you for scones.
Cost for afternoon tea: $43, cost for breakfast: $65
More information: https://innerlighttearooms.com.au/
Gianni’s Italian Restaurant
Gianni’s is a small, family owned Italian restaurant a few doors up from Ramada Resort. Busy, even mid-week in the middle of winter, Gianni’s has a great selection of menu items, including a small range of children’s meals; a good wine range and a dessert menu that includes some amazing cannoli
Gianni’s is well worth visiting when in the Port Stephens area, especially if you are looking for an authentic Italian meal, and we can’t wait to visit again sometime soon.
Cost for dinner: $105
La Dolce Vita
Next door to Gianni’s is La Dolce Vita, a small Italian influenced cafe that caters for breakfast and lunch.
Offering a reasonable selection, La Dolce Vita was an easy choice for breakfast – while there was no specific menu for children, the size (and price) of the meals made it a little more family friendly than Mermaids.
Cost for breakfast: $46
After watching some whales out at sea while on a walk around Fingal Bay, we decided to book a whale watching tour. We chose to book with with Moonshadow – TQC – this 3 hour cruise includes dolphin and seal watching, with a guarantee to book you on another tour if whales are unable to be spotted. Complimentary tea and coffee is provided, with a full service bar and snacks available for purchase on board.
While we didn’t see any major activity from the whales, we certainly weren’t disappointed with what we did see. The excitement from everyone when we saw our first whale surface stuck with us for the whole trip. A couple of sleeping seals catching the winter sun on Cabbage Tree Island and a couple of dolphins who joined us on our trip back into the harbour only added to the excitement.
A whale watching cruise is certainly a must for families visiting Port Stephens from May to November.
Cost: $153 for a family – 2 adults and 2 children
More information: https://moonshadow-tqc.com.au/
With time between hotel checkout and our flight back to Melbourne, we headed into Newcastle (approximately an hour from Port Stephens) for a little exploring.
After ice-cream at Nobby’s Beach and a walk along the river towards the lighthouse, we headed to the Newcastle Museum.
Highlighting not only the impact that businesses like BHP have had on the sustainability and development of both the city and people of Newcastle, but also showcasing the sporting achievements, historical fashion, and other items of significance that define the culture of Newcastle, the museum offers an interactive experience for visitors of all ages.
With access to permanent exhibits free, Newcastle Museum is well worth adding to your Newcastle itinerary.
For more information: https://www.newcastlemuseum.com.au/Home