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A Day in the Bay

Got the post holiday blues? Still wanting to stretch out the summer vibes and go exploring this weekend? Sometimes the best adventures are right under our noses, or in this case, right next door.
Nelson Bay

Like a lot of Novocastrians, I’ve always had friends in ‘The Bay.’ After all, Port Stephens and Newcastle are literally neighbours. When I go there to visit, I’m a guest at their houses, I eat where they eat, swim where they swim; I get the authentic, local experience.

It’s due to this familiarity that sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on the tourist experience. With NSW borders closed and international travel on pause, Sydneysiders are heading to Nelson Bay and the surrounding coastal suburbs in droves. With some of the best surfing beaches, snorkelling and dining experiences in the country, who can blame them?

Swell photographer, Zoë Lonergan, and I decided to take a daytrip up to ‘The Bay’, but this time we planned to look at it with the eyes of tourists; talking to local business owners instead of friends and sampling the places that we’d previously missed because we had taken these neighbours for granted.

Nelson Bay
Nelson Bay

Our first stop as tourists was at Gan Gan Lookout. With access almost directly across from the big white whale on Nelson Bay Road, it’s hard to miss and provides an almost perfect three hundred and sixty degree view of Port Stephens. From the vantage point of the lookout, it struck me how vast the area was and how little I actually knew about the district other than the tiny pockets I’d visited with friends.

Although the drive from Newcastle is only around fifty minutes, (technically you’re in Port Stephens as soon as you turn left into Fern Bay from Stockton Bridge) I was in desperate need of coffee and breakfast, so we headed down from the lookout and stopped at In House Kitchen.

Attached to The Home Interior, a contemporary homewares store with a coastal flare, In House Kitchen was the perfect café for a downtown Nelson Bay brunch. It was still early, but I couldn’t resist the Pearl Couscous Seafood Paella. Zoë had the Sesame-Coated Avocado with Tahini Labneh, Heirloom Tomato, Kale and Seeded Sourdough.

Nelson Bay
Nelson Bay

Home Interior and In House Kitchen’s owner Josie, stated that despite being a popular café for the seven years they’ve been open, the bounce back from Covid-19 lockdown has been one of their busiest periods to date.

“The spring holidays have been more like Christmas, which hurts to say because our friends and colleagues are in Melbourne and you feel guilty about it, because it so easily could have been us as well. It honestly breaks my heart,” Josie commented.

With our appetites satisfied, we took a walk around downtown Nelson Bay and stopped in at Burbridge and Burke, a truly unique art and design store. Both artists and designers themselves; owners Kim and Claire have created the perfect combination of gallery and gift store that supports Australian artisans and companies.

“I wanted customers to come in and feel like it was a gallery – so that they could spend time admiring things and chat to us about Australian makers. It’s great because people come in, do a loop and buy something, then see something else they want on their way out,” Kim said.

We’d eaten, admired art and finished some shopping, so it was time to get down to the water. At Fly Point, located between Nelson Bay and Little Beach, Zoë waded out with her camera while tourists snorkelled and kids explored the shoreline. I admired the native birdlife and a local recited a list of fish he’d seen that morning while snorkelling. Not that I know anything about marine life, but the sheer number he quoted was enough to impress me.

Nelson Bay

I wanted customers to come in and feel like it was a gallery – so that they could spend time admiring things and chat to us about Australian makers.

Nelson Bay

Driving home, it was easy to forget that we’d only been there for the day. We’d done a week’s worth of activities, yet barely scratched the surface.

We headed to Shoal Bay with plans to take a hike around Tomaree Head, but were stopped in our tracks by Scoop & Roll, a gourmet ice cream cart right at the end of Shoal Bay Road. Scoop & Roll’s owner, Briony, recently relocated to the area from New Zealand looking for a business idea that was simple yet successful. Offering both vegan and full cream options, Zoë and I took advantage of Briony’s perfect location and grabbed an ice cream each for our walk.

When it cooled down a little, we drove to Soldiers Point for a cocktail overlooking the water, at Bannisters Terrace Bar before taking the short walk next door to Cheeky Dog. Coming up to its first birthday, Cheeky Dog is a sports bar for everyone. With big screens, a pool table, VIP area and a modern Mediterranean menu, the bar has all the elements of the classic Australian pub, but with a little more sophistication.

Full of the day’s food and adventures, we finished the afternoon off with a simple afternoon swim at Birubi Beach. The dog friendly area, brand new skatepark and an assortment of rock pools to explore makes Birubi Beach the ultimate destination for a family daytrip.

Driving home, it was easy to forget that we’d only been there for the day. We’d done a week’s worth of activities, yet barely scratched the surface. If you’ve got the weekend free, or even just a day, don’t forget to drop in and see our neighbours at ‘The Bay.’ Just remember to come home.

Nelson Bay
Nelson Bay

Planning on staying a few days?

Check out these local haunts for a well-rounded Port Stephens experience.

Grab a takeaway pizza from Giannis in Shoal Bay and head to Box Beach. This secluded beach is sandwiched between popular Shoal and Fingal Bays and is perfect for sunset swims away from all of the crowds. Box Beach is unpatrolled, so if you aren’t a strong swimmer, best to stay on the shoreline.

Have the kids in tow? For a nature walk that isn’t quite as challenging as Tomaree Headland, make your way to Port Stephens Native Flora Gardens. This low-grade nature walk contains several tracks throughout the reserve from Little Beach to Fly Point. Keep your eyes peeled for friendly kookaburras and finish off your trek with a dip at Little Beach.

For morning tea with a view, check out Inner Light Tea Rooms in Nelson Bay. Located at the historic Nelson Head Heritage Lighthouse Cottage, visit for the scones and panoramic views of Nelson and Shoal Bay.

As seen in Swell Issue 8. Grab your copy here

Words: James Turvey | Photography: Zoe Lonergan

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