Port Macquarie is located along the country’s east coast in New South Wales, between Sydney and Brisbane. The town is surrounded by magnificent nature. Open sea in the east and lush national parks in the north, west and south. Port Macquarie was founded as a penal colony in 1821. Sixty prisoners who had not behaved since they arrived in the new country were sent here. They were immediately put to work, struggling to weed out trees and vegetation in order to cultivate the soil to become self-sufficient. A prisoner from the Caribbean sown what is believed to be Australia’s first sugarcane plant. A sugar mill was soon built. In the 1830s, immigrants started arriving to Port Macquarie and the town grew. In 1910, the coastal railroad was built which became the last nail in the coffin for the port’s freight traffic.
Today, Port Macquarie has around 45,000 inhabitants and is known as a quiet resort. The town, located on the river Hastings estuary, has not yet been exploited by tourism. It is mainly families with children and older Australians who come here, many backpackers instead choose only to make a short stop on their way up or down the east coast by bus. But here are some sights that are worth a longer stay. In Port Macquarie, you’ll find the world’s only koala hospital where injured and sick animals are cared for by a dedicated team of volunteers. As a visitor, you can apply to volunteer in the hospital, but the waiting time is several months long. Port Macquarie has seventeen beaches, many of which can be reached on foot from the city centre. The far-stretched beaches also contribute to the town’s quiet holiday feeling. Here, you have all the chances in the world to find your own favourite non-crowded spot. The ocean winds create good waves for surfers to enjoy. Some of the beaches are protected by large boulders, which makes the waves smaller and better suited for beginners or families. If you want to learn the basics of the sport, there is a surf school that can help you.
Inland, there are some vineyards worth visiting. Cassegrain is the oldest and the most popular and it has a nice restaurant. The owners organize an annual festival to celebrate oysters combined with wine. Around the town, there are several cosy cafes and restaurants that is kind to your budget. There are even a few bars worth a visit. Once you’ve had enough of town life, you can easily plan your escape to one of the national parks. Paddle a kayak, hike or try whale watching.
Sights and experiences
Port Macquarie is located next to the estuary of Hastings River and the sea. The town centre is best discovered on foot and if you stay locally, it is not far from one of the beaches. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants to go when hunger calls, and nature in all its splendour awaits in one of the national parks.
Take a refreshing walk along the coast and see more of the surrounding area. The Coastal Walk (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/port-macquarie-coastal-walk) is an eminent nine kilometre long trail along the sea. If that is a bit too far to walk, the trail can be divided into four sections. The Coastal Walk stretches between Town Beach in the north and Tacking Point’s lighthouse in the south. There are several beaches along the way, so pack your swimwear if you feel like a cool dip. Consider a stop at Sea Acres National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visitA-park/parks/sea-acres-national-park), which has a Visitor Information Centre where you can learn more about the rainforest and the Aboriginal people who lived in the area. A kilometre-long walkway runs through the forest, giving you a chance to spot birds and other wildlife.
South from the lighthouse at Tacking Point lies Lighthouse Beach. The beach stretches far, with winds that often blows strong, attracting local surfers. This is also a good place to scout for dolphins and humpbacks that sometimes are seen outside the coast. If you are looking for calmer bathing waters, Flynn’s Beach fits better.
A ferry can take you across the Hastings River (pmhc.nsw.gov.au/Services/Transport/Ferries) at a cost of around five dollars per car, single trip. Pedestrians and cyclists travel free of charge. Once on the north side, you can continue to Limeburners Creek National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/limeburners-creek-national-park) if your car is equipped with a four-wheel drive. Admission is around eight dollars. Northwards lies Goolawah National Park, which like Limeburners Creek, is a scenic experience. Campsites are located within both national parks.
If you have access to a car, don’t miss the North Brother Mountain for the best view in the area (visitnsw.com/destinations/north-coast/port-macquarie-area/laurieton/attractions/north-brother-mountain). From the top of the mountain you will get a panoramic view over the forest and the glistening coastline. In 1973, what is now called Koala Hospital (koalahospital.org.au) was formed at Lord Street. Here, injured and sick koalas are treated by veterinarians. The animals are rehabilitated to be released back into the wild. Research is conducted in collaboration with several universities to better understand what makes the animals sick. The koala hospital is open to visitors every day between 08:00-16:30. The koalas are fed daily at 08:00 and 15:00. A guided tour is arranged at 15:00. The entrance is free, but you can donate a golden coin or two. The money ultimately supports the animals.
There are fresh tomatoes in plentiful at Ricardo’s Tomatoes at 221 Blackmans Point Road. But there is also a lot of fresh strawberries. Pick as much as you want and pay per kilo. The berries are grown under roofs all year round. Different kinds of jams and chutneys are available for purchase. You will also find a nice café in the area. Every fourth Sunday, the Artist Market is held at the Maritime Museum in Port Macquarie (visitnsw.com/destinations/north-coast/port-macquarie-area/port-macquarie/events/the-artist-market). You will find an eclectic mix of artists who sell their works in the form of clothes, jewellery and paintings. But food and drinks are also available for purchase.
Social Grounds, 151 Gorden Street, is an excellent stop for breakfast, coffee or lunch. Or even a glass of wine in the evening. Here you can find exciting food full of flavour. The interior is dark but illuminated by colourful murals. If you are near Lighthouse Beach, stop by at Bittersweet Café, 48 Watonga Street. Take a coffee break and enjoy their large selection of desserts and pastries.
About 10 km inland from the town centre lies family-run Cassegrain Wines (cassegrainwines.com.au) at 764 Fernbank Creek Road. Their history began in 1643 when relatives of the current family worked at a French vineyard. In the 1980s, Cassegrain Wines was founded just outside Port Macquarie and a few years later the vineyard opened for the public. Here you can sample wines, go on a guided tour or enjoy an outdoor meal matched with their own drinks.
Several festivals are held in Port Macquarie. Two of them are Tastings on Hastings (tastingsonhastings.com.au), a culinary and cultural celebration that started in 2002 and is held in October, as well as Oysters in the Vines (cassegrainwines.com.au) organised in January. The latter of the two is a tribute to the sea where shellfish, mainly oysters, are in focus, along with good wines. The festival takes place at Cassegrains Vineyard. Local produce, exciting dishes and live music are plentiful during the festival days, which attract visitors from all over the state.
Planning and preparation
Visit Port Macquarie’s website (portmacquarieinfo.com.au) to find out more about the area and what’s happening. You can also stop by their premises on the corner of Clarence and Hay Street. The Visitor Information Centre is in the curved glass house (glasshouse.org.au/Home). The same building also features an art gallery and a theatre. If you hope to see whales along the coast, plan your visit between May and November when the chances to see them are at its best.
Port Macquarie is a common stop along the east coast, especially for the thousands of young backpackers who travel up and down the coast by bus. The city is 384 km north of Sydney and the journey takes just over four hours. To Brisbane it is slightly longer, 548 km which takes around six and a half hours to drive. Most buses stop at the bus stop at 28 Hayward Street. The bus companies Greyhound (greyhound.com.au) and Premier (premierms.com.au/newhome/home.asp) serves the east coast and stops at Port Macquarie. Both have daily departures.
Once you are in the town centre, you can travel by foot or discover the area on two wheels. Bicycles can be rented from Boomerang Bike Hire (portmacquarie.boomerangbikes.com.au). Pay by card and pick up your bike. Then return it in the same place. Helmet locks and maps can be borrowed for free at selected stations. Prices vary depending on how long you want to rent but cost from 14 dollars and up. Pick-up stations are scattered throughout the area.
Virgin (virginaustralia.com/au/en) and Qantas (qantas.com) flies from Port Macquarie to Sydney and Brisbane. The airport (portmacquarieairport.com.au/Home) is located four kilometres west of the town centre.
Port Macquarie Hotel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Port_Macquarie_Hotel.htm) is probably best known for its popular pub which by the locals goes by the name the Macca. The hotel is conveniently located near the centre at 8 Horton Street. The accommodation is in budget class and certainly it can be a bit noisy in the pub. The rooms are slightly antiquated but clean. A double room with shared bathroom costs from 65 dollars. If you want a private bathroom, it is at least 90 dollars for the night.
Hastings Valley Motel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Hastings_Valley_Motel.htm) at 64 Burrawan Street is an affordable budget accommodation. A room costs from 90 dollars depending on the season. Each room has an equipped kitchen and a private bathroom. Air conditioning or ceiling fans are included. There are possibilities to wash clothes and park the car.
Hostels & Camping
Beachside Backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Beachside_Backpackers.htm) is a welcoming hostel run by young and social types who love to travel. Located at 40 Church Street, the property is within walking distance of beaches, supermarket and the koala hospital. Please contact them in advance and they will pick you up from the bus. The accommodation is colourful, cosy but quite noisy. It attracts younger people who are happy to stay up late. Stay longer and get a discount, otherwise a bed cost around 30 dollars.
There are many campsites to choose from around Port Macquarie. Not least in the national parks Limeburners Creek and Goolawah. However, if you want to stay a little closer to supermarkets and restaurants, Flynn’s Beach Caravan Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Flynns_Beach_Caravan_Park.htm) is a good alternative. Located on 22 Ocean Street, the camping complex is a short walk from both Flynn’s Beach and Nobby’s Beach. There are also cabins to rent if you do not have your own tent. A camp site costs from 28 dollars per night.
A full day in Port Macquarie
08.00 – Social start
Up you go, get ready for a new day. Everyone knows that starting with a sturdy breakfast is the key, so load up with tons of energy at Social Grounds at 151 Gordon Street. Indulge in frothy coffee, fresh fruit, pancakes and poached eggs. Sit inside under the roof that lets light through, so you stay dry if it decides to rain.
09.30 – Lace-up your shoes
Fill a bottle of water, change into comfortable clothes and lace-up a pair of sturdy shoes. Pack your swimwear to cool off along the way. Take a stroll to Town Beach where you begin the hike along the coast. Don’t miss the view from Harry’s Lookout and the Tacking Point Lighthouse. Why not look for humpbacks and dolphins followed by a dip in the sea whenever the feeling comes upon you.
12.00 – Rest your feet
If the hunger gets to strong, get a bite at Bittersweet, 42 Watonga Street. There are lots to choose from here if you are looking for a snack. If your feet are sore, take the bus 322 from the corner of Matthew Flinders Drive and Watonga Street. Hop off at Pacific Drive, just before Flinders Street.
15.00 – Koala stop
The bus stop is a short walk from the Koala Hospital. Be sure to show up just before three o’clock when a guided tour starts. You also get to see the animals getting fed by a keeper at this time. Donate a golden coin that goes towards the care of the sick koalas.
17.00 – Surfing or relaxing
Head to Flynn’s Beach. Read a book, listen to a podcast, or take a nap. If you want to be a little more active, you can rent a board or take a surf lesson from Port Macquarie Surf School (portmacquariesurfschool.rezgo.com). The beach is almost 500 meters long and the winds that blow in are slightly weaker which suits a beginner. If you bathe, be sure to stay between the flags.
20.00 – The last stop of the day
The Beach House (thebeachhouse.net.au) is located on the waterfront at 1 Horton Street. It is relaxed and welcoming with a warm atmosphere. They serve tasty drinks and cold beer to enjoy with coastal views. Many people find their way here for an evening. Just a little further up at 6-14 Clarence Street, is Bar Florian which attracts a slightly older clientele with a taste for good wine and classic drinks. The menu also has tasty pizzas, snacks and desserts.