Port Stephens

national parks, Sydney Weekend trips 1 Reply
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Inspired by a three-day weekend, we strolled out of town three hours north to the seaside town of Port Stephens, which is one of those sweet, touristy areas that excels in laid-back ease and attractive, accessible scenery. The area encompasses several smaller townships which are connected by a series of bays with particularly English sounding names (Anna Bay, Nelson Bay, Tea Gardens. Even the strangely sounding Salamander Bay received its name from the first British ship to land there). Much of the area is also designated land of Tomaree National Park.

 

We arrived too late on Saturday to do much more than enjoy the hot tub at our beautiful lodgings, the Samurai Beach Resort, and take in a good-but-not-great seafood dinner (not enhanced by a surly waitress that we nicknamed “The Warden”) at a restaurant in town that shall remain unnamed.

 

The rest of the weekend brought a spate of bad weather, so we hibernated more than planned, and I did not get to practice surfing, but we did eventually manage to fit in most of the area’s highlights. Late Sunday, after watching several hours of ANZAC Day parades and ceremonies on television in our room, the rain broke and we were greeted by a kookaburra outside the door. We don’t see them at our place in Sydney, so this visitor was a treat.

 

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With a couple hours of sunlight to play with, we went to Tomaree Lookout. It is a moderately easy 30-minute uphill climb that awards hikers with some incredible views of the signature volcanic formations and local beaches. This was the highlight of the trip.

 

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Mother Nature granted us just enough clear weather to grill a dinner of steak and shrimp (prawns to Australians) before the rain returned and chased us back to our room for the rest of the evening.
Monday was windy, cold, and presented the first signs that fall had arrived. I am still wrapping my mind around the idea that May = Fall. Give me a couple more years …
But, there were sights to be seen before we went home, so we intrepid travelers would not be deterred!

 

First up was the strangest and most unexpected formation for a waterfront locale – sand dunes. Just steps from the beach is a desert that, for me, evoked visions of Clint Eastwood suffering dehydration in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

 

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As a matter of tourist kitsch, a company even offers camel rides through the dunes, which provides a paradoxically funny image.

 

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Whipping winds are not the ideal conditions for enjoying sand dunes, so our visit was short, and we skipped the camel rides.

 

From there, we attempted a walk across the Fingal Spit, which is a part of Fingal Bay that is only passable during low tide when this particular strip of land is exposed. The tourist information clerk ominously advised us about the dangers of attempting passage at any time other than low tide, including warnings of potential death and the suggestion that if the water began to rise before we returned to mainland, we’d best stay put for the next twelve hours. We arrived at the advised time, but found the unpleasant wind a continued deterrence. We trudged to the middle of the spit, which looked in no way dramatic or life endangering.

 

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My partner had enthusiastically imagined a more “walk on water” miraculous sort of experience, so this walk seemed a bit anticlimactic (and cold). If gold and treasure awaited on the other side, I cannot say, because we opted for warmth over adventure, and went back to the car.

 

One more view awaited, the Gan Gan Lookout, which is thankfully accessible by car. Surprisingly, we had the view to ourselves and we indulged in a good share of “oohs” and “aahs” from this beautiful spot.

 

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We had one more important stop to make before heading home, and that was the picturesque fishing wharf at Nelson Bay, where we at an enormous lunch of fish and chips at Bub’s Fish and Chips. This seafood was so fresh and well prepared – it was heads and tails (fins and tails?) above our recent lunch at the Sydney Fish Market. Scallops, calamari, and shrimp were easily identifiable, but we weren’t sure what the delicious, buttery whitefish we were eating was. “Shark,” replied the saucy, no-nonsense counter attendant, in a tone that assured she was definitely not joking. Good catch, Bub’s.

 

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From there, we contentedly idled home, wind-whipped and full of batter fried shark.

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