A humpback whale breaches, pirouettes in the air and then splashes back in. A koala rises from its lazy slumber to pose for your camera. The pelicans put on a show for you as you wonder at their huge feet and massive bills.
These and more are the experiences that await you at the small town of Port Macquarie, four hours’ drive north of Sydney.
Traditionally regarded as a convenient stopover between Sydney and Brisbane, the region is now a stunning destination in its own right, luring retirees, families, couples and those looking for a nature-based holiday with serious gourmet credibility. Blessed with sparkling beaches lined with pockets of rainforest, the area is also a significant habitat for koalas, with the world-famous Koala Hospital caring for the lovable endangered creatures.
A getaway in the Port Macquarie area means getting outside and enjoying the bounty of nature. From spotting dolphins from the painted breakwall on the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk, to whale watching cruises or strolling the boardwalk of the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre, the unspoiled beauty of the region will dazzle. Further inland, hike the Laurieton track or visit World Heritage-listed Willi Willi National Park.
Watch the whales breach
Currently, Port Macquarie is playing host to migrating whales – humpback and other species.
Every year, around 30,000 humpback whales make the longest mammal migration in the world, travelling around 5,000km from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the sub-tropical waters of Queensland where they breed, before returning again at a more leisurely pace during spring, with their calves at foot.
Following a migration channel close to shore, they can be spotted any time between May and November, with the blue waters of Port Macquarie one of the best places along the coast for reliable sightings. From a viewing perspective, humpbacks are the stars of the whale-watching season, because they breach – rise and break through the surface of the water – and turn while in the air.
Keep an eye out, too, for the rarer southern right whales, which have two blowholes that exhale a distinctive V-shaped plume up to five metres. The southern right whale is known for swimming into shallow bays.
You might see southern rights and humpbacks spy-hopping, when they raise their heads out of the water and hold in a vertical position for a moment as they look around. Tail slapping is another striking display: it’s when a whale lifts its fluke – tail – out of the water and then slaps it against the water.
You’ll find plenty of on-land vantage points for a close-up view of these magnificent giants at play – from a heritage-listed lighthouse and beach headlands to lookouts in the Kattang Nature Reserve and the Crowdy Bay National Park, near Laurieton and North Haven.
Or you could opt for a cruise. Port Jet Cruise Adventures in Port Macquarie run whale watching cruises from May to November, with two different experiences: one on the speedy Waverider, and the other on the new Essence catamaran with three viewing decks and underwater viewing windows. Spotters direct the boats to the best sightings, allowing passengers optimum viewing time on the water.
For a birds-eye view of the action, take to the air in Port Macquarie’s only seaplane with Port Macquarie Adventure Flights.
Look out also for bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the Hastings River estuary and chasing fish in the waters just off the sandy beaches that hug the curves of the Greater Port Macquarie coast.
Say hi to the koalas
The Koala Hospital, located on the grounds of historic Roto House, is dedicated to the care of koalas. The hospital is open to visitors everyday between 8-4:30 and guided tours take place at 3pm. Meet the resident koalas, see the afternoon feeding and learn about koala conservation at the free-to-enter facility. Perhaps you’ll be tempted to adopt a koala!
Ride a camel
Head to Lighthouse Beach for a unique experience with Port Macquarie Camel Safaris. Whilst you’re led along the sands by expert cameleers, you’ll learn the history behind Australia’s camels and interesting facts about the incredible animals. Keep an eye on the ocean as you go, as it’s common to see dolphins and even whales during the migration season.
Choose a family-friendly activity
This is also one of the best spots in NSW to take to the water: try a surfing lesson, snorkel in a protected bay, or hire a stand-up paddle board, kayak or boat.
With a reputation for fresh, local produce, the Port Macquarie region is increasingly a lure for food and wine lovers. The town of Port Macquarie is jam-packed with cool cafes, restaurants and bars, from the cute tiki-style Little Shack cafe to the chef’s hatted The Stunned Mullet; while you can purchase fresh oysters directly from growers in Laurieton and North Haven.
What are you waiting for? Plan a weekend getaway to Port Macquarie now, and experience these delights of nature!