Savour sea-to-plate fare while sipping champagne, then take a dip in an oceanside pool.
Boasting 1000 square-kilometres of diverse terrain — including secluded beaches, verdant forests and giant sand dunes — Port Stephens is the ideal place to shake off a chaotic workweek. On top of its incredible natural beauty, there's an abundance of human-made indulgences. From luxurious day spas and restaurants peddling premium produce to horse rides along rolling waves, this waterside area certainly knows how to take things up a notch.
We've compiled a list of ways you can make your oceanic escape extra indulgent, because we all need a weekend of unfettered opulence sometimes. The best part is, Port Stephens is only a 2.5-hour drive north of Sydney which means it's an easy getaway even when your schedule is hectic. So, go on, treat yourself.
SIP CHAMPAGNE BY THE WATER
When it comes to complete and utter relaxation, it's hard to go past an uncrowded, picture-perfect beach; the smell of salt in the air and the sound of the crashing waves is enough to put even the busiest of minds at ease. And Port Stephens has oodles of them — 26 to be precise. If you're looking for a sheltered spot, head to Bagnalls, where shallow and tranquil waters are backdropped by bushland. Continue east to reach Dutchmans, which gives you 400 metres of white sand for sunbathing, and, of course, building sandcastles. Meanwhile, around Soldiers Point are countless little bays, parklands and picnic spots, many of which escape the notice of crowds — if you're hoping to catch some of Port Stephens' famous sunrises or sunsets, this is the place. Arm yourself with a bottle of bubbly to make things extra fancy and raise a glass to the good life.
TREAT YOUR TASTEBUDS
Port Stephens' tranquil waters aren't just beautiful to look at, they're also a source of super-fresh seafood. Plenty of local restaurants, eateries and cafes take advantage of this and serve up scrumptious sea-to-plate fare. And by far the most indulgent eatery in the area has to be Rick Stein at Bannisters. Rick Stein, alongside head chef Mitchell Turner, has put together a decadent menu filled with local seafood. For the ultimate comfort food, start with the creamy black cuttlefish risotto, or let the freshness speak for itself with a selection of sashimi featuring Nelson Bay yellowfin tuna, Eden kingfish and Coffs Harbour bonito. The steamed whole fish with soy, ginger and Shaoxing wine is a stand-out main. And, if you can fit it in, dessert includes decadent chocolate fondant or sago pudding with ginger-spiced nashi pear. After dinner, pop across to the Terrace Bar. It's a design feat, all millennial pink, splashes of mint, white, grey and blond wood, and overlooks the hotel's infinity pool, out toward the tops of the surrounding gum trees and onto the water.
SEE THE SITES ON FOUR (TALL) LEGS
Port Stephens' Stockton Beach is the longest in New South Wales at 32 kilometres, stretching from Birubi Point in the north to the mouth of Newcastle's Hunter River in the south. There's bucketloads of room for surfing, swimming and, most importantly, horses and camels. For horses, get in touch with Sahara Trails, which will take you riding by the sea on a steed suited to your ability — whether you're a nervous newbie keen to stick to walking or an experienced rider ready to canter. For camels, contact Oakfield Ranch to book a romantic sunset stroll. Taking the time to enjoy a sunset is something special, doing so from atop a camel hump is truly indulgent. As Stockton Dunes, the largest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, rise up behind you, expect to feel like you're on an exotic escapade in some far-flung desert.
GET PAMPERED IN A RAINFOREST
No indulgent weekend is complete without an hour or two in a day spa. Wellness Centre Port Stephens — a five-acre haven of rainforest and landscaped gardens — opened with the goal of filling that pampering void. Nearly every treatment you can think of is available, from massages and reiki to aromatherapy and reflexology. It also has an infrared sauna and an oxygen bar, where you can receive concentrated oxygen infused with essential oils. Alternatively, you can unwind with a yoga or pilates class. Another spot to practice your shavasana is Yogasphere, where local Nikki Shilling teaches in her private beachside studio.
SPEND THE DAY WILDLIFE SPOTTING
While you could easily spend the whole weekend wining and dining, it's also possible to indulge your inner David Attenborough with some wildlife spotting. Begin with dolphins, the local community of bottlenoses numbers between 90 and 120, and animal lovers from all over the world travel to Port Stephens to meet them. Chances are you'll spy at least a few from the beach, but, for better views, jump aboard a boat. Moonshadow - TQC cruises offers three types of dolphin-watching cruises with prices ranging from $25–31 per person depending on the duration and departure time. No matter which option you select, you'll enjoy rides in the boom net, informative commentary about the local sea life and complimentary coffee and tea. Oh, and hopefully lots of up-close sightings of the sea mammals, too.
BOOK A STAY AT BANNISTERS
Of course, a weekend away in Port Stephens wouldn't be completely indulgent without a stay at Bannisters. 'Barefoot luxury' is the name of the game here. From the front, the hotel is reminiscent of those seaside hotels of yore with every room entry facing the hotel's entrance. Upon entering the rooms, you're hit with glittering views of the water or lively bushland where you'll be greeted with a few kookaburra giggles. With 78 rooms, four suites and a luxe penthouse, the hotel has encapsulated a little piece of The Hampton's in each room. All white, blond timber and large windows — there's no mistaking you're seaside here, even in a bush-facing room. When you're not taking in the sun on your room's balcony, a visit down to the infinity pool is a necessity. The poolside views are hard to beat, where you get the sea, the sky, the bush and the fresh design of the pretty hotel lobby. You can also grab a lawn chair in the garden below and feel as if you've found yourself a peaceful oasis in the bush, complete with birdsong.
Article written by Concrete Playground, July 2020