On May 11th 1770 Captain James Cook while mapping the Eastern Coast of the ‘unknown southern land’ discovered a ‘low rocky point’ which was named for his Secretary of the Admiralty; Port Stephens. Nestled a short 20 minute drive from Port Stephens lies the small township; Nelson Bay. Just like many areas Nelson was named as a tribute to HMAS Lady Nelson. Like many coastal cities it boasts an array of activities such as whale watching (season permitting), all year round dolphin tours, fishing boats that are available for private or commercial hire and of course plenty of sand.
On the highway into Nelson Bay you may be welcomed by customary coastal rain but typically the weather is kind and will (cobalt sky). Horse paddocks and golf courses line the route to south Hunter region. The drive from Sydney will take you 2.5 hours while public transport will take just under 5 hours and set you back a minuscule $30-$40. Since Chinese fishermen started curing their catch and sending it back home Nelson Bay’s population has grown to a healthy 5,300 residents but despite this solitude is never hard to find. No matter your travel style from backpacker, family on a budget or a high end holiday maker, you’ll find accommodation to fit your needs. Holiday apartments border Shoal Bay Road and are within a stone’s throw away from the water. But you have to get in quick as they are snapped up very quick especially during the school holidays.
Though it may be small but the harbour is constantly abuzz with activity from dawn to dusk. First to leave and last to come in are eager fishermen hoping to bring home the catch of the day. Next to leave are the Whale or Dolphin watching tours depart. While dolphins can be seen almost all year round the ideal time to view the whales on their annual journey along the NSW coast is May to November. These tours generally include a few hours out on the water morning or afternoon tea and the opportunity to see these magnificent animals up close in their natural habitat. There are 2 major companies that operate out of Nelson Bay both boasting a near perfect track record and very competitive pricing. As the day draws to a close the fishermen will return with their spoils of a day well spent on the ocean. The pungent smell of sea salt and fish fills the air and draws the attention of seagulls and pelicans who squabble over the entrails tossed to them.
Get back to nature
No matter which area of Nelson Bay you stay you are almost never far from a beach. Fingal Bay and Shoal Bay being the most popular. However if you are after a private spot to go for a dip then Zenith Beach would be perfect. Framed by mountain cliffs and a rocky outcrop Zenith is defiantly the place to go. Its crystal clear water will invite you in and you’ll be powerless to resist its charm but be advised that it is not patrolled and the sea can be quite powerful. So if you’re not a confident swimmer then perhaps Fingal Bay may be a better option. If you’ve had a swim and are looking to stretch your legs then all the way from Shoal Bay to Fingal Bay and beyond are connected by a coastal bush walk. You can park your car at either of the track and spend the entire day exploring the coast. Pack a picnic lunch and relax on one of the five beaches. You’ll only have to share with the waves and the occasional Kookaburra. Unfortunately none of these beaches provide any shelter so pack a hat and umbrella if you plan on spending a few hours. If you’re lucky you may even spot an Echidna or Kangaroo. For a 360 degree view of Nelson Bay and its surrounds head over to Tomaree National Park and be treated to incredible views, you might even be able to see your accommodation from there. The walk is short 1km long [one way] and will take the better part of an hour to complete. The tracks are very easy to follow and showcases what makes Nelson Bay and Australia the must go beach holiday destination.
Another beautiful day at Nelson Bay
Want to bring the whole family on a memorable back holiday? Young or old there is plenty for the kids to do will you sit back and soak up the sun rays. There are a number of playgrounds and a small cinema for those rainy days. Fingal Bay offers surf beginning lessons or you can hire a surf board yourself and show the young ones how it’s done. There’s a day spa where mum can finally have some girl time and a golf course where t old man can it the green for a few rounds. Or you can take the entire clan for some one on one time with rays and sharks at the Irukandji Shark and Ray encounters [formally the Australian Shark and Ray Centre]. So bring your swimmers and join one of the guided tours and get that perfect ‘shark selfie that will drive your friends wild.
If you’re looking to explore historical sites around Nelson Bay then right across ‘the spit’ at Fingal Bay is the Port Stephens Lighthouse and lighthouse quarters. The Fingal Island itself is quite small but makes for a wonderful spot to Whale Watch or enjoy the view. Unfortunately the island is sometimes inaccessible by land due to unpredictable high tides so it is strongly advised to take into consideration your return trip or access the island by boat.
So if you’re looking for a quiet beach holiday that won’t break the bank then you’ve found one in Nelson Bay. Weather you want to chill and listen to the waves or explore the coast line or just get the family out of the city for the weekend Nelson Bay is perfect for you.