Port Macquarie, with its magic mix of sun, sand and surf, along with a generous serving of great food and wine and lush rainforest, has long been a favourite summer holiday destination. And now that a dual-lane highway has made it an easy four-hour drive from Sydney (or you can take a daily direct flight from Sydney or Brisbane), it’s also a perfect destination for a short break.
And with weather that is, according to the CSIRO, the best in Australia, with mild winters and gentle summers, it really doesn’t matter when you go: apart from a few weeks in the very depths of winter, the water’s warm enough to swim in almost all year. I’m lucky enough to live on the mid-north coast, so Port Macquarie’s beaches and hinterland hills are my permanent playground, but if I only had four days, this is what I’d do.
The Hastings River spills into the sea beside the Town Green in the centre of Port (if you want to sound like a local, drop the “Macquarie”). It’s a great spot to eat fish and chips or a gelato while strolling along the breakwall, and more often than not you’ll see dolphins in the river.
Town Beach is just around the corner, but on the off chance it’s not swimming weather, there’s always the option of a whale-watching cruise (whale season is May to November). If shopping’s more your thing, wander along Clarence and Horton Streets – For Good At Home (40 William Street) sells – appropriately – good homewares, while boutiques worth popping into include Meg & Me (14 Clarence Street) and The Shanti Butterfly (106 Horton Street).
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Check out the latest exhibitions at the regional art gallery in the Glasshouse (cnr Clarence & Hay Streets) and, whatever you do, don’t miss the free ‘Walk & Talk’ tours at Koala Hospital (3pm; cnr Roto Place & Lord Street) – it’s the only one of its kind in the state and the volunteers care for up 250 sick and injured koalas each year.
Nearby is Sea Acres Nature Reserve, the second-largest coastal rainforest reserve in New South Wales, where a 1.3 kilometre-long boardwalk lets you walk through the rainforest without harming the sensitive eco-systems. Afterwards, head back to one of the waterfront bars opposite the Town Green for sunset drinks.
Jump in the car and head for the hills, heading out to Wauchope and then up to Comboyne. Bago Vineyard, just south of Wauchope, has the largest hedge maze in New South Wales, made from native lilly pilly rainforest trees, while the cellar tasting room stocks a great assortment of local cheeses.
Shoppers will love the eclectic mix of boutiques and homeware stores on Wauchope’s High Street, including an authentic old-fashioned country department store. If it’s the fourth Saturday of the month, don’t miss the farmers’ markets in the Wauchope showgrounds – best buys are the melt-in-your-mouth Comboyne Culture soft-ripened cheeses, Ewetopia’s sheep cheeses, local smoked meats and choc-coated macadamia nuts, but there are also olives and oil, loads of fresh fruit and vegetables, handmade soaps, jams, pickles and sauces, and homemade cakes, slices and pies.
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Continue southwest through the village of Byabarra – Blue Poles café and art gallery, open on weekends, has a killer view and is a lovely spot for coffee and cake or a long lunch – and wind up through the rainforest to the mountaintop village of Comboyne.
Boorgana Nature Reserve, signposted on the southern edge of town, is such a hidden gem that half the locals don’t know it’s there. Full of old growth cedar, lush rainforest and waterfalls, it’s a great place for a walk and a picnic. Continue down the road and you’ll come to Ellenborough Falls, one of the largest single-drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere.
Nothing’s more romantic than strolling along the beach, and you can make the moment really last on the nine kilometre coastal walk. It’s a three-hour amble from Port’s Town Beach to Lighthouse Beach, with timber walkways to help you get across the rocky headlands that separate five beautiful beaches, without a high-rise in sight. The headlands are great whale-watching spots in winter.
If that sounds a little too energetic, take the coast road down to Laurieton and the Camden Haven. It’s around a half-hour drive across heath-covered sand dunes, over headlands with views across endless stretches of beach, skirting the shores of Lake Cathie (pronounced “cateye”).
In spring, the bushland beside the road is carpeted in Christmas bells and flannel flowers. In Laurieton, the lookout at North Brother Mountain has good views over the Camden Haven and its expanse of waterways and beaches, and a nice little rainforest walking trail. If you’re in Laurieton on the third Sunday of the month don’t miss the Riverwalk Markets, with hundreds of local stallholders selling art, craft and local produce.
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Head to the riverside Fishermen’s Co-op at Laurieton (off Mill Street) for some takeaway fresh prawns or fish and chips, or pick up a dozen just-shucked oysters from the tin shed at Armstrong Oysters (1 Short Street) and take your pick of any number of shady picnic spots in the riverside parks or beaches.
Take the ferry across the Hastings River and visit Ricardoes Tomatoes (221 Blackmans Point Road). A tomato farm might sound like a strange place to head for morning tea or lunch, but they also grow strawberries here (you can pick your own to take home). The café (Cafe Red) serves Port Macquarie’s own locally roasted Peak coffee, plus a delicious range of strawberry goodies (think strawberry shortcake and scones with cream and strawberry jam) and tomato-inspired dishes (best spag bol on the coast!).
Need to know
Port Macquarie is 385km north of Sydney, via the M1 and Pacific Highway. Both Virgin and Qantas have regular daily flights to Port Macquarie from Sydney – Virgin also has direct flights from Brisbane.
Soak in the ocean views from your apartment balcony at The Observatory, overlooking Town Beach. Macquarie Waters Hotel and Apartments is home to one of the country’s only dive-in movie theatres, where you can watch the latest releases while sitting in the pool. For an upmarket hinterland escape head to Byabarra for a night or two in the studio apartment of Blue Poles Café and Gallery or stay in a rainforest cabin at Gypsy Falls Retreat near Lorne. For a back-to-nature experience try the treehouses at Diamond Waters, on the Camden Haven River near Laurieton. The cottages are three and a half metres above the ground and have a large deck overlooking the river – if you’re lucky you might see one of the resident koalas during your stay
Eat and drink
Good spots for lunch include Seasons Café-Restaurant overlooking the roses at Cassegrain Winery, or the charming Little Fish Café, under the jacaranda tree at Innes Lake Vineyard. The Corner Restaurant is good from breakfast through to dinner, while the Zebu Bar & Grill is a lovely spot for drinks (and steaks) overlooking the Hastings River. The Latin Loafer does great tapas, but the best place in town is the hatted Stunned Mullet opposite Town Beach.
Kick off summer in Port Macquarie at Tastings on Hastings from Friday 6th November to Sunday 8th November 2015. Celebrity chef Matt Moran will headline three days of foodie events, experience the inaugural Fire Water Festival and taste your way around 100 producers in this coastal paradise.
Fore more information, visit Port Macquarie's offical site.