A four-hour drive north of Sydney, Port Macquarie is a subtropical paradise famed for its stunning coastline, rainforests and mountains. From visiting the Koala Hospital to a stroll in Crowdy Bay National Park, here are the best things to do in the Australian town.
The ancestral home of the Birpai people, Port Macquarie was first developed by the British in 1821 as a penal settlement – a long way from the thriving coastal community that it is today. Housed in a heritage-listed 1830s building in the centre of town, the Port Macquarie Historical Museum has a wealth of exhibits and information about the history of the town, including archaeological collections, photographs and stories.
Australia’s 13th-oldest lighthouse, Tacking Point Lighthouse was built in 1879 after more than 20 ships were wrecked on the coast around Port Macquarie. Perched on a high rocky headland where the ocean meets the rainforest, the lighthouse is one of a series of small lighthouses designed by the New South Wales (NSW) government architect, James Barnet. Just 8km (5mi) south of the town centre, the headland is an important site of cultural significance for the Birpai people, who have lived in the area for tens of thousands of years. It’s also one of the best spots for whale watching from May to November and is the endpoint of the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk.
One of the best ways to explore the region’s famous beaches, the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk is a 9km (5.6mi) walking trail from Port Macquarie to Tacking Point Lighthouse, via Westport Park, Town Beach, Flynn Beach, Nobby’s Beach, Shelly Beach, Miners Beach and Sea Acres Nature Reserve. The trail can be easily divided into four shorter walks if you don’t feel like braving it all at once. Make sure to bring a water bottle as there are refilling stations en-route, and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, whales, wallabies and goannas.
Established in 1973, Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of sick and injured koalas, as well as research into the plights of these much-loved animals. Located in the grounds of the historic Roto House, you can visit the Koala Hospital to learn about koalas and see these threatened animals up close and personal. If you want to help further, you can also sponsor wild koalas through the Koala Hospital’s adoption program.
Whatever your preference, Port Macquarie has a market for everyone – from farmers’ markets showcasing the best local produce to art markets and bazaars. Foodies won’t want to miss the Real Food Markets on Hay Street every Tuesday, while art enthusiasts will love the Port Macquarie Art Society Bazaar at Hamilton House every Sunday. You can also combine sightseeing with market-browsing, with a visit to the Laurieton Riverwalk Markets or the monthly Artist Market in the grounds of the Port Macquarie Maritime Museum.
It’s pretty tough to choose just one beach to visit in Port Macquarie, but if push came to shove, it would probably be Shelly Beach. This natural tidal lagoon 5km (3mi) from town, is surrounded by white sand and rainforest and makes for a perfect place to spend a few hours relaxing and soaking up the sun. Head up to Harry’s Lookout for the best views.
A popular sunset spot, the Port Macquarie Breakwall is lined with colourful graffiti-painted rocks. Adding a little character to this charming part of town, where the Hastings River meets the Pacific Ocean, the rocks of the Breakwall are covered with messages and memories. A great place for a leisurely stroll, there are plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by. Keep your eyes peeled for playful dolphins who like to come and frolic in the calm waters.
One of Australia’s oldest operating vineyards, Douglas Vale Homestead & Vineyard’s story dates back to 1859, when George Francis, a winemaker went prospecting for gold and found enough to build a family home and start a vineyard. Over the years, Douglas Vale wine became world famous, making its way as far as Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Kolkata and London. After falling into disrepair in the ’90s, a team of local volunteers banded together to save the property from demolition. The cellar doors were reopened, and the homestead turned into a museum.
Less than an hour drive south of Port Macquarie, Crowdy Bay is arguably one of NSW’s most spectacular coastal National Parks. Perfect for secluded camping on the beach, the park also has great bushwalking trails, lots of native wildlife including koalas, good surf and even an abandoned writer’s hut buried deep in the melaleuca forest. On the way, swing by the little town of Laurieton. If you have time, you can also go via Dooragan National Park and check out the sweeping views from the top of North Brother Mountain.
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