Port Stephens

Ultimate guide to things to do in Port Stephens with kids

Port Stephens, an easy drive north from Sydney, is a watery paradise with plenty to keep the family entertained. Whether you are into boating, fishing, scuba or snorkeling, you can do it in the whopping 98,000-hectare Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park. 

The region also lays claim to the title ‘Dolphin Capital of Australia’ with Nelson Bay’s waterways home to more than 100 bottlenose dolphins and the top spot in NSW for humpback whale watching during the annual migration season from May to November. For up-close and personal experiences, you can even jump in with them on a Wild Dolphin Swimming Experience.

Camel rides Port Stephens. Credit: Destination NSW

If you prefer your creatures more on the cuddly side, get hands on with the animals at Oakvale Farm and Fauna World or take a guided koala-spotting walk in the Tilligerry Habitat State Reserve in Tanilba.

Adventure seekers can learn to surf on one of Port Stephens many glorious beaches, scuba dive or snorkel around its islands, or kayak, paddle board or boat along its rivers and lakes. Or take a hike along one of Tomaree National Park’s many walking trails including coastal tracks where you can soak up the amazing views of Port Stephens and the offshore islands.  Not to be missed is a visit to Stockton Beach, south of Port Stephens, which is home to the largest coastal sand dune system in Australia, and adventure central! Rev up a quad bike, ride on a horse or camel, or grab a sand board to explore the epic dunes.

Top things to do in Port Stephens

With an incredible variety of activities on offer both on and off the water, here are a few of our favourite Port Stephens experiences for families.

  1. Surf the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes, the largest of their kind in the southern hemisphere. 
  2. Explore the area by bike, either mountain biking along coastal tracks or along the easy cycle paths.
  3. Go Koala spotting at Tilligerry Habitat.
  4. Take a surfing lesson at one of Port Stephens’ renowned surf beaches.
  5. Get up-close with the animals at Oakvale Farm & Fauna World. 
  6. Ride a camel along Stockton Beach.
  7. Spot migrating humpback whales from May to November.
  8. Take a hike to the top of Tomaree Headland to soak up the epic views of Port Stephens and the offshore islands. 
  9. Hire a kayak to explore the rivers.
  10. Swim with the dolphins in Nelson Bay.

Things to do in Port Stephens with…

There’s plenty of fun to be found in Port Stephens for littlies.  For marine life encounters with a difference, head to Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters where the kids can get hands on with fascinating sea life and learn all about the natural world.

If your kids prefer their critters cuddly, head to Tilligerry Habitat State Reserve in Tanilba to take a guided koala-spotting tour in their natural environment.

And at Oakvale Farm and Fauna World, kids will adore the up-close animal encounters. Here you’ll find a variety of domestic farm animals just waiting to be petted, as well as native and exotic animal species, many of which you can feed and interact with. After all that animal fun head to Oakvale’s Splash Bay, an innovative water play area where the kids can cool off under water cannons, spray tunnels and a tipping bucket.

Port Stephens is home to as many as 120 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, making it one of the most popular places in the world for dolphin watching. From May to November it is also a fantastic place to spot humpback whales as they make their annual migration, and there are some great kid friendly tours to watch them.

Enjoy the sun and sand at one of the area’s kid-friendly patrolled beaches. And if you’re beached out, Tomaree Aquatic Centre has a heated kids pool, shaded wading pool, spiral waterslide and a 50-metre outdoor heated pool.

Above the water, a visit to Toboggan Hill Park is a must. The Toboggans are suitable for all ages as each is equipped with a brake to control the speed, so you can go as slow or fast as you like. Along with the Toboggans, there’s also a maze, tractor rides and plenty of indoor fun including Kiddi Karz, indoor rock climbing and plaster painting.

Hire a kayak to paddle on a lazy tour spotting wildlife, including dolphins, and enjoying the tranquility of the mangroves along the Myall River. Or for something out of the ordinary, try paddling in the pristine blue waters of Port Stephens in a completely transparent kayak. 

Discover Port Stephens’ rich marine life and meet the bay’s friendly Bottlenose Dolphins before sailing out to the offshore islands to snorkel alongside an experienced snorkel guide who’ll point out some of the fish, sea urchins, soft corals and rays that call the waterway home. 

There’s plenty of fun to be found above the water. Fancy a hole or 20 of putt putt golf? David Graham’s Golf Comp offers fully covered mini golf, a 260-metre driving range, laser tag, an outdoor baseball pitching machine and a par 3 Golf Course for everyone from the beginner to the experienced golfer.

Port Stephens is adventure central for teens. Whether its diving, swimming, sea kayaking, paddleboarding or surfing that floats your boat, you’ll find plenty of ways to get wet in Port Stephens. Head to Anna Bay and Port Stephens Surf School to learn to ride the waves or hone existing skills.

Visit Halifax Sanctuary for some of the best snorkelling and diving on the coast. Or head out on a dolphin or whale watching trip. For a truly unforgettable experience, why not jump in with them on a Wild Dolphin Swimming Experience in Nelson Bay. 

Of course, the main attraction for adrenalin seekers is the Stockton Sand Dunes, just south of Port Stephens. The largest coastal sand dune system in Australia at 32-kilometres long, here you can try your hand at sand-boarding, take on the dunes by quad-bike, or even ride or horse ride through the shifting sands.

As well as Friesians, you can see Jerseys, Scottish Highlander cows and Texas Longhorn cows at Oakvale Farm and Fauna World. Credit: Bound Round

Best time to visit Port Stephens as a family

Port Stephens lies in a temperate zone with mild and comfortable weather year-round. Winter runs from June to August and daytime temperatures fall so you’ll need to rug up. The warmest time to visit is from December to February, but cool sea breezes keep temperatures mild. These months coincide with the NSW summer school holidays which can see an increase in crowds and pricing, so you’ll want to book ahead. 

It’s worth considering visiting outside of peak holiday seasons, including Easter, NSW school holidays and the Christmas and New Year period, for more affordable accommodation. 

Spring is a wonderful time to visit with lovely warm weather and an abundance of native wildflowers adding an additional splash of colour to the area. May to November is the best time for whale watching as it is the peak of the season with thousands of migrating whales passing through Port Stephens.

A whale of a time in Port Stephens

Family-friendly places to eat in Port Stephens

With the best of everything fresh from the farm gate, including avocados, stone fruit, vegetables and nuts and seafood straight off the local fishing trawlers, Port Stephens is a hot destination for food lovers. Whether it is a fine dining experience or fish and chips on the beach you seek, you can be sure of a great meal inspired by the fresh, local, seasonal produce. 

You’ll find a huge choice of waterfront cafes, tasty takeaways and gourmet restaurants for every budget, plus kid friendly pubs and club bistros with activities and play areas. There’s even a selection of kid friendly vineyards and boutique breweries.

The Hog’s Breath in Nelson’s Bay is a popular spot for families and if you’re after the best fish in chips, don’t miss iconic Bub’s Fish & Chips at Nelson Bay. Or for flavours fresh from the farm, visit Medowie Macadamias for a selection of Macadamia inspired treats.

One Mile Beach at Sunrise. Picture: Alison Godfrey

Things to do for free in Port Stephens

  • The gentle waters of Boat Harbour and Little Beach are ideal for younger children. Shoal Bay and Fingal Bay offer gentle patrolled waves perfect for swimming and bodyboarding. Surfers will prefer the breaks at One Mile Beach, Birubi Beach, Zenith Beach, Box Beach and Samurai Beach.
  • Stroll along the kilometres of stunning coastline for land based whale watching from June to November, spot the local dolphins at the Marina and off the beaches of Nelson Bay, or snorkel with the variety of marine life in the Halifax Marine Park. Or pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the many pretty foreshore parks.
  • If you’re feeling energetic, take a hike along the Tomaree Headland for 360 degree views of Port Stephens or head up the Gan Gan Lookout, a 160-metre high viewing area on the outskirts of Nelson Bay offering views as far as Newcastle.
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