In­sider’s Guide 42

There’s a lot hap­pen­ing in this NSW coastal town where the river meets the sea. Lee Atkin­son takes a walk on Port Mac­quarie’s other side. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Ali­cia Tay­lor.

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How to make the most of a visit to Port Mac­quarie

PORT MAC­QUARIE is fa­mous for its beau­ti­ful coast­line, year-round sun­shine and wa­ter­front ac­com­mo­da­tion, though lo­cals know there’s more to this well-loved hol­i­day spot than surf, sand and sun. If you can bear to turn your back on those wave-washed curves, you’ll dis­cover that some of the sea­side town’s best bits are beyond the beach.

You need to do this...

Prac­ti­cally all roads lead to wa­ter in Port (if you want to sound like a lo­cal, drop the Mac­quarie) but there aren’t many towns on NSW’s Mid North Coast where you can walk for three hours, beach to beach, with barely a build­ing in sight.

Five golden-sand strips are linked by wooden walk­ways over rocky head­lands; the path­way starts at Light­house Beach and fin­ishes at Town Beach. Here, you can stroll along the break­wall to the grassy park known as Town Green at the mouth of the Hast­ings River. Do it in the af­ter­noon so you can time your ar­rival at The Beach House bar and diner (the­beach­house.net.au) for a cold beer or cock­tail at an out­door ta­ble as you watch the sun sink into the river.

Town Green is Port’s heart and soul. It’s where ev­ery­one eats their fish and chips, fam­i­lies dan­gle lines from the wharf and kids ride scoot­ers and chase seag­ulls. It’s al­most manda­tory to lick ice-cream while pe­rus­ing the break­wall graf­fiti.

Bil­l­abong Zoo (bil­l­abongkoala.com. au) is an­other pop­u­lar at­trac­tion but an even bet­ter op­tion is the Koala Hos­pi­tal (koala­hos­pi­tal.org.au), where vol­un­teers care for up to 250 sick and in­jured koalas each year. Wan­der the grounds and check out the mar­su­pi­als in its care or join the free tour at 3pm.

Hire a car and head into the hills. Twenty kilo­me­tres west is Wau­chope, a former tough-as-nails tim­ber town that is emerg­ing as a re­tail and food mecca. The old-fash­ioned Hast­ings Co-op Depart­ment Store (hast­ingscoop. com.au) – which sells ev­ery­thing from fur­ni­ture and cos­met­ics to lin­gerie – is a one-stop shop­ping des­ti­na­tion.

There’s also a grow­ing num­ber of good bou­tiques: Three Lit­tle Birds (02 6585 1994) and El­e­ments of De­sign (02 6586 0900), both on High Street, stock a care­fully cu­rated range of fash­ion and home­wares. The real rea­son to come to Wau­chope, though, is the an­tique and sec­ond-hand shops. You can spend hours fos­sick­ing through the char­ity stores on Cameron Street for retro kitchen­ware and house­hold items. Saved by Grace has vin­tage clothes and col­lecta­bles, while Out­lier (out­lier.com.au) serves up quirky an­tiques and fab­u­lous home­made cakes.

If it’s the fourth Sat­ur­day of the month, make your way to Wau­chope Farm­ers Mar­ket (wau­chope­farm­ers­mar­ket.com. au), par­tic­u­larly if you’re self-cater­ing. Seek out Com­boyne Cul­ture’s washed rind cheese, Ewe­topia sheep’s yo­ghurt and Ri­car­does straw­ber­ries and toma­toes, which taste the way they should. If you miss the mar­ket, you can buy di­rectly from Ri­car­does (ri­car­does.com), only a 10-minute trip north of Port Mac­quarie – Cafe Red, in­side the shed, serves di­et­de­stroy­ing home­made scones smoth­ered in jam made from their own fruit.

Drive about an hour south-west to Com­boyne. Nearby is Boor­ganna Na­ture Re­serve (na­tion­al­parks.nsw.gov.au), one of the few places you can see rare stands of old-growth cedar. The five-kilo­me­tre walk to the plunge pool be­neath Raw­son Falls takes two to three hours re­turn.

De­tour to Lau­ri­eton on the way back to Port. The beaches in and around this coastal town are usu­ally de­serted and the views from the top of North Brother Moun­tain (na­tion­al­parks.nsw.gov.au) are worth a look. The Fish­er­men’s Co-op, in Mill Street, in­vari­ably has a queue of hun­gry lo­cals out the front; the Art Deco cinema (plazathe­atre.com.au) shows art­house movies – Baz Luhrmann’s fa­ther was a pro­jec­tion­ist here – and Arm­strong Oys­ters (arm­stron­goys­ters.com.au) sells fat, creamy oys­ters from a river­side shed. Ocean Drive hugs the coast for the en­tire 40-kilo­me­tre drive back to Port.

You’ll want to eat here...

$ There’s no shortage of fish-and-chip shops in town but the one to visit is Mac­quarie Seafoods (02 6583 8476) on Clarence Street. While ser­vice can be a bit abrupt at times, the fish is fresh and you can opt for grilled rather than fried if that’s your thing. Take it away and find a shady spot with a wa­ter view at Town Green.

If you can’t start your day with­out a de­cent cup of cof­fee, forgo the wa­ter­front cafés and stop in at So­cial Grounds (0423 240 635) op­po­site the Grow­ers Mar­ket on Gor­don Street (the road that links to the high­way). There’s no view or fancy fit-out but the cof­fee is worth the trek. If that’s too far to go on an empty stom­ach, Ca­su­al­ties Espresso, in the old am­bu­lance sta­tion on Clarence Street, and The Cor­ner Res­tau­rant (cor­nerrestau­rant.com.au) are both good choices in the heart of town for break­fast, brunch or a light lunch. The Cor­ner is also a pleas­ant spot for din­ner, even though the prices go more up­mar­ket af­ter dark.

It might sound touristy but there’s noth­ing tacky about a plate­ful of fresh oys­ters slurped on the float­ing pon­toon of The Big Oys­ter Seafood & Cafe (02 6584 3803), es­pe­cially if they’re washed down with a BYO bot­tle or two of the lo­cal Wicked Elf Pale Ale (the­lit­tle­brew­ing­com­pany.com.au).

For a cheap and cheer­ful lunch (or din­ner) with a mil­lion-dol­lar view, you can’t go past the afore­men­tioned Beach House on the edge of Town Green. It’s pretty sim­ple pub grub – slid­ers, sal­ads, schnitzels and steaks – but there’s noth­ing be­tween you and the wa­ter ex­cept a few prom­e­nad­ing pel­i­cans. Be warned: it can be a hard place to leave when the sun is shin­ing. $$ Ten years ago, Innes Lake es­tate was si­t­u­ated on the ru­ral edge of town; now it’s en­cir­cled by sub­ur­ban back­yards. Lunch­ing on veal paupi­ettes or a Provençal tart be­neath the jacaranda at the win­ery’s Lit­tle Fish Café & Vine­yard (lit­tle­fish­cafe.com.au), it’s easy to pre­tend you’re in France – un­til the kook­abur­ras laugh.

The River­mark café (river­mark­cafe.com) on Hast­ings River Drive, not far from the air­port, is a lo­cals’ lunch favourite that’s as pop­u­lar for its cakes as it is for its seafood, sal­ads, burg­ers and wraps. It’s right on the river and you’ll of­ten see a dol­phin or two cruise past while you eat.

Crav­ing good Ital­ian pizza? The Qu­at­tro For­mag­gio (four cheeses), clas­sic Margherita and Cal­abrese at Bar Flo­rian (barflo­rian.com.au) are a cut above the average – and the Sin­ful Choco­late Pizza with Nutella, white choco­late, hazel­nuts and straw­ber­ries is rea­son enough to go. The wine list is solid, too.

$$$ The Stunned Mul­let (thes­tunned mul­let.com.au) is Port Mac­quarie’s only res­tau­rant with a cov­eted hat and it never dis­ap­points. Much is made of the view – it over­looks Town Beach – but that’s not why it’s worth the splurge. Ev­ery­thing on the menu – from the won­ton-wrapped prawns to the Patag­o­nian tooth­fish and the swoon-wor­thy salty crème caramel with black sesame gelato and spiced rum jelly – is su­perb. If you can’t get a ta­ble here, try Zebu (zebu.com.au), be­neath the Ry­dges ho­tel, for great steaks with a knock-your-socks-off wa­ter view.

Fu­sion 7 (fu­sion7.com.au) is one place you shouldn’t miss – easy to do, as it’s non­de­script from the street and sev­eral blocks from the wa­ter­front. Chef Lind­sey Sch­wab hasn’t wasted any en­ergy on the dé­cor be­cause all his ef­fort goes into cre­at­ing the food. Dishes to try in­clude black bean salad with scal­lops, ly­chees and jamón; Korean coleslaw with prawns, figs and macadamia dukkah; and duck breast on chick­pea mash with fen­nel and gre­mo­lata. It’s the type of place the lo­cals like to keep to them­selves.

These are the places to stay...

$ Port Mac­quarie Break­wall Hol­i­day Park (port­mac­quar­iebreak­wall.com.au), be­tween Town Beach and the river, has one of the best lo­ca­tions in town. If you’re not up for camp­ing, the self­con­tained cab­ins – while in need of a re­vamp – are great value for fam­i­lies or those want­ing some­thing a bit big­ger than a ho­tel room. Most have bal­conies with wa­ter views. Al­ter­na­tively, check on­line for good deals at Wa­ters Edge (wa­tersedge­port­mac­quarie.com.au), which of­fers no-frills river­side mo­tel rooms that are clean and com­fort­able. $$ From the out­side, El Paso Mo­tor Inn (el­pa­so­mo­torinn.com.au) is your quin­tes­sen­tial mid-20th-cen­tury mo­tel, al­though a brand-new re­furb means the in­te­rior is much more up to date. In sum­mer, Mac­quarie Wa­ters Bou­tique Apart­ment Ho­tel (mac­quar­iewa­ters.com. au) is home to one of the coun­try’s only “dive-in” movie the­atres (where you can watch a film from the pool). An­other ho­tel with a view, Ry­dges Port Mac­quarie (ry­dges.com) is in a top spot at Town Green. Sis­ter prop­erty Sails Re­sort Port Mac­quarie by Ry­dges (ry­dges.com) is a short walk from the cen­tre of town and, as it’s just had a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar makeover, it’s your best bet if qual­ity pool time is high on your hol­i­day wish list. $$$ Al­most all of the ho­tel rooms and apart­ments at The Ob­ser­va­tory (ob­ser­va­tory.net.au) – Port’s most lux­u­ri­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion – have ocean views. At Sand­cas­tle Apart­ments (sand­castle­port­mac­quarie.com.au), stay dur­ing win­ter and you’ll not only pick up a good deal but you may even see a whale from your bal­cony.

Tourne­dos mé­dail­lons with black truf­fle and Borde­laise sauce at Lit­tle Fish (left); Tack­ing Point Light­house (above)

Oys­ters on the Hast­ings River (above); rack of lamb at The Cor­ner Res­tau­rant

Wa­ter­front din­ing at Zebu (left); Fu­sion 7’s roast rhubarb and cheese­cake ice-cream with pump­kin seed crum­ble

The Stunned Mul­let’s Patag­o­nian tooth­fish with shi­itake sui­mono (above); chef David Henry preps the fil­let

(From top) Watch the wa­ter ac­tion from Town Green; a deluxe open-plan apart­ment at The Ob­ser­va­tory

First-time vis­i­tor to Port Mac­quarie? See our guide at trav­elin­sider.qan­tas. com.au.

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