A winter’s tale
From whales to bushwalks, Port Stephens offers plenty of attractions in cooler months
THERE is something wonderful about the seaside in winter. Windswept and wild, it has a brooding beauty so different to its vivacious summer self. The bronzed throngs have retreated indoors, and the beach belongs once more to nestling flocks of seagulls, shifting in the sand.
Under a bright blue sky, we’re heading to Port Stephens, about 21/ hours’ drive north of Sydney. Along with beautiful wintry seascapes, we’re hoping to see humpbacks and southern right whales on their annual migration.
Just before the sun goes down, we roll in to Marty’s at Little Beach, the perfect base for a whale- watching weekend. Five minutes by car is Nelson Bay, where we’ll board our whalespotting craft in the morning. Even closer are two of Port Stephens’ most idyllic beaches, Shoal Bay and, of course, Little Beach.
A short stroll to the end of the road and we’re on the Little Beach jetty. With white sand and gentle waves, this is a gorgeous swimming spot in summer. This afternoon, though, its only inhabitants are a few fishermen cleaning their catch and some imperious pelicans awaiting dinner.
Shadows stretch across the shore towards the water, still sparkling in the afternoon light, but out on the horizon, darkness looms.
The rain on the roof wakes us at dawn. Thunder rolls by and rattles the balcony doors. There’s a monster out there and we’re staying right where we are, under the covers. As much as we want to see whales, we’d rather not spend the morning on a furious sea, queasy and drenched to the bone as the sky dissolves into the ocean around us.
We batten down the hatches and make ourselves cosy in the big family kitchen. Revamped last winter, the 15 self-contained apartments and motel- style rooms are bright and spacious with a fresh beachy feel. After a sodden dash to Port Nelson for ingredients, our apartment is steaming up with lunch now simmering on the stove. We snuggle on the sofa with a pile of DVDs, drifting in and out of sleep as the rain patters on the window.
The next day, curious sea birds strut up the driveway and shake out their wings in the crisp morning air. The storm has passed. We consider a dip in the cute lagoon-shaped pool behind our apartment, but settle instead for breakfast under the palms. There’s a big barbecue by the pool, and tables and chairs for dining on sunny winter days or sultry summer nights. The water is too cold today, but there’s a familysized spa bath in our apartment. So we turn on the hot tap, add bubbles, blast the jets and sink down.
We may have missed our appointment with the whales, but we still have time to explore Tomaree National Park. This bushland backdrop to the towns and villages of Nelson Bay, Shoal Bay, Boat Harbour and Anna Bay is shimmering with raindrops. We head to the magnificent Stockton Bight sand dunes and hitch a ride on the resident camel train. Warm and soft under thigh, the beasts troop through the undulating dunes, and out along the empty beach. Then, all of a sudden, someone screams.
We follow their pointing finger to discover two black blobs out beyond the breakers. The flick of a tail, the snort of a blowhole, two almighty splashes and everyone cheers. Whales. They have found us in the end. Nellie Blundell was a guest of Destination Port Stephens. portstephens.org.au tamboiqueencruises.com martys.net.au
The white sand beaches of Port Stephens, about 21/
hours’ drive north of Sydney