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).
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 – more details below) – 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.
Continue southwest through the village of Byabarra – The Byabarra Cafe & Bar provides breathtaking hinterland views, a fully licensed bar, and delicious, satisfying food. Alan and Kerrin, the welcoming local owners, offer a relaxed dining experience with wheelchair accessibility and outdoor area.
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 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 or dinner include Bills Fishhouse + Bar offers a relaxed and modern dining experience. The menu focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients and simple preparations, with a particular emphasis on seafood. From delicious oysters to whole baked fish, the kitchen utilizes char-grilling techniques to bring out the flavors. The bar offers a selection of craft beer, cocktails, and a wine list featuring wines from New South Wales.
For a casual meal, head to the charming Little Fish Café, under the jacaranda tree at Innes Lake Vineyard. Zebu Bar & Grill is a lovely spot for drinks (and steaks) overlooking the Hastings River. One of the best places in town is the hatted Stunned Mullet opposite Town Beach.
A Snapshot: Must-See & Do Highlights in Port Macquarie
Wander hand-in-hand along the breakwall
The breakwall along the Town Green in Port Macquarie is a well-known landmark that has been featured on postcards for many years. Covered in colorful graffiti rocks, it serves as a unique gallery of messages, tributes, and memories from both visitors and locals. This iconic spot is also the starting point for a popular coastal walk that spans nine kilometers, leading to Tacking Point Lighthouse and Lighthouse Beach. Along the way, you can expect to see marine life, enjoy the stunning scenery, and have a friendly chat with the locals who are often found fishing along the breakwall.
Book a whale-watching cruise
If you want to witness the incredible sight of humpback whales migrating along the coast of NSW, Port Macquarie is the place to be. From May to November, you can book a whale-watching cruise and get an up-close and personal experience with these majestic creatures. If a cruise is not within your budget, there are also several popular whale-spotting sites along the coast, including the historic Tacking Point Lighthouse and various spots along the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk and Grants Beach.
Do the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk
If you’re up for a walk, we highly recommend the Port Macquarie coastal walk. You can take your time and go as far as you want. The walk is amazing and starts at Town Beach, leading all the way to Lighthouse Beach and the famous Tacking Point Lighthouse (or vice versa). You’ll walk across footpaths and beaches, passing by so many beautiful beaches like Town Beach, Oxley Beach, Flynn’s Beach, Shelly Beach, Miners Beach (FYI this one used to be an unofficial nude beach in Port Macquarie, but not anymore), Little Bay and finally Lighthouse Beach. Enjoy the views!
Visit the famous Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
When visiting Port Macquarie, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the renowned Koala Hospital. This facility plays a crucial role in rehabilitating and caring for local wildlife, particularly koalas, who have been affected by various challenges such as disease, habitat loss, and accidents. The dedicated team at the hospital works tirelessly to nurse these adorable creatures back to health and release them back into their natural habitat. It’s not only a heartwarming experience but also one of the top free attractions in Port Macquarie that you shouldn’t miss!