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14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Port Macquarie, Australia

Written by Karen Hastings
Jun 5, 2020

Surrounded by sparkling-clean beaches with soft, squeaky sand, Port Macquarie (called "Port" by the locals) sits on the southernmost edge of the subtropics in northern New South Wales. Sun, sea, sand, and stunning scenery are the town's top assets, making it one of the state's best-loved holiday destinations and a favorite sea-change escape.

Aerial view of Port Macquarie and the Hastings River

Lush rain forests fringe the coast, and the Hastings River flows right through its heart, providing a picturesque playground for outdoor adventures. Surfing, fishing, swimming, boating, and kayaking are all popular things to do, and you can soak up the stunning sea vistas on a scenic 9.1-kilometer coastal hiking trail.

Wildlife lovers are also in luck. Port Macquarie is famous for its population of koalas, and you can see these cuddly characters and many other native species at local animal sanctuaries and in the region's national parks. Kids can also keep a lookout for the colorful hand-painted koala sculptures peppered around the region on the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail.

Culture buffs will also find plenty to keep them busy. Buzzing cafés and restaurants, a top-notch performing arts venue, and a fantastic little museum round out the tourist attractions. You can even sign up for a camel safari on the beach.

Wondering where to stay? Port Macquarie accommodation caters to every budget, from affordable caravan parks to serviced apartments and good-value hotels. With all these places to visit and amenities, it's no wonder this friendly town is one of the top getaways from Sydney.

See why generations of Aussie vacationers have frolicked on these powdery shores with our list of the top things to do in Port Macquarie.

1. Port Macquarie Beaches

Lighthouse Beach | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Basking on the flour-soft white sand and playing in the surf at one of Port Macquarie's 17 beautiful beaches are among the top things to do in this friendly town. Whether you love to surf the breaks, sunbathe, fish, body surf, or just stroll along the shore, you'll find the perfect stretch of sand and sea.

Family-friendly Flynns Beach is one of Port Macquarie's most popular beaches - perfect for picnics, swimming, and sunbathing.

Town Beach, steps from the main street, is fantastic for surfing when the winds are favorable. It's also wonderful for families, with showers, picnic facilities, and easy access to downtown shops and restaurants.

If you have toddlers and young children in tow, calmer estuary waters lap Lake Cathie Beach, and summer brings a slew of inflatable slides and trampolines.

South-facing Lighthouse Beach is always a favorite -especially in the summer - thanks to its protection from the predominant north-easterly winds. Its swells, attract intermediate and advanced surfers, and tourists love the camel safaris along its squeaky-white sands, which seem to stretch on forever. The picturesque Tacking Point Lighthouse presides over the beach.

Backed by rain forests, pretty Shelly Beach is a great pick for nature lovers, with a tidal lagoon and lush backdrop. You can access it along the Coastal Trail. And if you're bringing your four-legged friend to the beach, dog-friendly Nobbys Beach is the pick of the bunch.

For beach fishing, South Lighthouse beach and the breakwall are top spots, and if you don't mind heading farther afield, Dumbogan and Wash House offer good opportunities to catch your dinner. You can even sunbathe au naturel at Miners Beach.

2. Billabong Zoo Koala & Wildlife Park Editor's Pick

Lion exhibit at the Billabong Zoo Koala & Wildlife Park | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Want to pat a koala or dingo, stroke a baby croc, or hand-feed a kangaroo? Head to the fun-filled family-run Billabong Zoo. This favorite Port Macquarie attraction puts animal lovers up close to the species they love.

Every 30 minutes, you can attend free keeper talks, many with rewarding animal encounters, making your day here educational and exhilaratingly interactive. Feed red pandas and cheetahs, learn about spider monkeys, take a behind-the-scenes tour of the meerkat enclosure, see a saltwater croc launch out of the water, hold a non-venomous snake, and watch the lions interact with their dedicated keeper. Reptile shows round out the activities on weekends and during school holidays.

Wombats, wallaroos, and wallabies add to the impressive collection of 80-plus species here from Australia and around the world. After a rewarding day of critter encounters, you can relax at the café, which serves food from around the world.

Animal lovers will also be happy to know that the zoo's conservation efforts include an important koala breeding program - visitors can contribute by adopting a koala.

Address: 61 Billabong Drive, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

Official site: https://www.billabongzoo.com.au/

3. Koala Hospital

Koala relaxing at the Koala Hospital | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Seeing a koala up close is a quintessential Aussie experience, but helping this threatened species is even more rewarding. At the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, you can do both.

Staffed almost entirely by volunteers, the koala hospital rehabilitates sick and injured koalas and conducts important research into saving koala populations in the wild. The hospital's goal is to release the residents back into the wild, although some are too badly injured and will live out their lives under the care of these dedicated volunteers.

Stop by the whiteboard when you arrive to learn about the current residents and their stories. Dog attacks, car accidents, bushfire burns, and disease are some of the most common ailments, and you can watch staff caring for the koalas through a window in the treatment room. Wandering around the rehabilitation yards is a great way to see the koalas up close.

Entry to the koala hospital is free, but a donation is appreciated and goes directly back into helping the koalas. Adopting a koala also makes a great gift to an animal-loving family member or friend.

Address: Cnr of Roto Place and Lord Street, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

Official site: https://www.koalahospital.org.au/

4. Port Macquarie Coastal Walking Trail

Port Macquarie Coastal Walk | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Wondering what to do when you first arrive? Take a hike along the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk. It's a great way to get a feel for the area, do some sightseeing, and stay fit at the same time.

The scenery is spectacular. Squeaky-clean beaches, subtropical rainforest, rocky bays, and some of the region's top tourist attractions are among the sights along the way.

The 9.1-kilometer, one-way trail follows the coast between Westport Park, near the town center, and Tacking Point Lighthouse, but if you don't have time to hike the entire trail, you can break it up into sections.

If mobility is an issue or you have young kids in tow, the easy first stage is ideal. Flat, paved paths lead from Westport Park to Town Beach kiosk. Highlights include colorful Instagram-worthy public art along the Breakwall Walking Path, kids' playgrounds, and possible sightings of dolphins and whales.

Stage two ends at Flynns Beach surf club, one of Port Macquarie's best beaches. Stage three travels along the shores of Nobbys Beach to Shelly Beach, and stage four is the longest and most challenging stretch. It threads along the coastline, past the soft-sand of Miners Beach (avert your eyes if you don't want to see nude sunbathers), through the beautiful subtropical rainforest of Sea Acres Nature Reserve, and up to Tacking Point Lighthouse.

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife: Brush turkeys, wallabies, goannas, dolphins, and migrating humpback whales are just some of the animals you might spot along the way. You'll also find plenty of scenic rest stops and lookouts, as well as water bottle filling stations and restrooms along the route.

5. Tacking Point Lighthouse

Tacking Point Lighthouse | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Perched high atop a rocky point, picturesque Tacking Point Lighthouse, presides over Lighthouse Beach with spectacular views along the coast. In the early 19th century, the explorer Matthew Flinders tacked off the coast here, giving the point its name. The lighthouse was built in 1879 to the design of the New South Wales colonial architect, James Barnet, and is still in use today.

You can't enter the lighthouse, but it makes a perfect postcard picture. You can also see the foundations of the lighthouse keepers' cottage and read stories about the keepers' lonely life. But what really steals the show are the panoramic views of the wild and rocky coast. You might even spot whales here during the migration season.

Backed by lush rain forest, this scenic spot is also a site of cultural significance for the Birpai tribe, the region's Aboriginal people. It was an important observation point, where they could see fish runs, and they also gathered bush tucker (food) from the surrounding forests.

To access the lighthouse, you can either walk up the stairs from Lighthouse Beach or drive right up to the top of the lighthouse, although parking is limited. This is also a great spot to start the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk.

Address: Lighthouse Road, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

6. Sea Acres Rainforest Centre

Rainforest Boardwalk in Sea Acres National Park | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Ever heard of a land mullet? It's Australia's largest skink, and this chubby black reptile is frequently spotted from the Rainforest Boardwalk in Sea Acres National Park, along with many other rain forest residents.

Take a stroll along the easy 1.3-kilometer loop, which winds throughout the reserve. You'll see beautiful bangalow palms, elkhorn ferns, ironwood trees, snake-like strangler figs, lianas, native orchids, and more. You'll also learn about the Birpai aboriginal people, the original inhabitants of this land, and their bush tucker (traditional foods) sourced from rain forest plants.

While you walk, listen out for the "whip crack" call of the eastern whipbird. Look for swamp wallabies and brush turkeys feeding on the forest floor, and keep your eyes peeled for powerful owls in the treetops, Australia's largest species of owl. Peer among the twisty branches for pythons and possums, and soak up the magical ambience of the forest's dappled light.

The best way to explore the forest is on a guided tour, offered about four times a day, but you can also take a self-guided tour if you'd rather travel at your own pace.

Afterwards, you can stock up on Aussie souvenirs in the gift shop at the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre or relax with a fresh-squeezed juice and snack at the little café.

Address: 159 Pacific Drive, Port Macquarie New South Wales

Official site: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/visitor-centres/sea-acres-rainforest-centre

7. Hastings River Cruises

Sunset over the Hastings River

Gliding along the Hastings River into Limeburners Creek National Park offers a unique perspective of this laid-back coastal town. Not only can you see the town from the water, you also have an excellent chance to spot some of the resident wildlife in the national park. See ospreys diving into the glassy waters, watch turtles and dolphins swimming by the boat, and soak up the silence of the natural bushland lining the river banks - you might even see some kangaroos.

Port Jet Cruise Adventures run eco-river cruises with dolphin spotting, Devonshire morning tea cruises, and sunset cruises, as well as other custom cruises.

Cruise Port Macquarie also offers sunset and dolphin spotting cruises. Afternoon tea and snacks are included.

Prefer a more peaceful experience? You can also rent a kayak and paddle along these glistening waterways on a solo excursion or with the family.

8. Roto House

Roto House | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Right next door to the Koala Hospital, Roto House sits in a picturesque bushland setting and provides a snapshot of affluent early life in the area.

This beautifully restored late Victorian Georgian home was once the home of John Flynn, a land surveyor and one of Port Macquarie's earliest residents, and is one of the few remaining 19th-century timber homes left in the area, built of local red mahogany. The Flynn's had six children, two of whom were born at Roto House, and three of them lived here right up until 1979.

Wandering through this lovingly restored home, it's easy to imagine life here in the late-19th and early 20th century. All the rooms are set up as they would have been during the era, and the Flynn's original possessions and photographs tell the family's story.

Friendly volunteers are happy to answer questions as you wander from room to room. Entry is free, but a gold coin donation is appreciated.

Address: 2 Roto Place, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

Official site: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/roto-house

9. The Glasshouse

The Glasshouse | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Resembling a glassy wave, this striking performing arts venue and conference center is the perfect place to visit for a dose of culture. It also makes a great first stop before you head out to tour the town.

Wander into the light-filled lobby, and you'll find the Glasshouse Visitor Information Centre, with details on all the things to see and do in Port Macquarie, as well as heritage displays. You can also buy gifts and souvenirs here.

In addition to all the information on Port Macquarie tourist attractions, you can admire rotating art exhibitions in the Glasshouse Regional Art Gallery, from indigenous and contemporary art to sculptures and touring exhibitions. The gallery also offers artist-led workshops and evening art talks.

And of course, this is Port Macquarie's main performing arts venue, with a 588-seat theater and a performance studio. The venue also hosts nationally acclaimed performances, from pop concerts to classical ballet. Check the website for Port Macquarie's upcoming events.

Next door to The Glasshouse is the popular Port Central shopping mall, with a range of specialty stores and boutiques. Farmers markets are also held here in the Port Central Forecourt every Tuesday afternoon from 12 to 6pm.

Address: 30-42 Clarence Street &, Hay Street, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

Official site: https://www.glasshouse.org.au/Home

10. Port Macquarie Museum

Port Macquarie Museum | Photo Copyright: Keith Vernon

How did Port Macquarie transform itself from a British penal colony to a popular holiday destination? You can find out at the Port Macquarie Museum. Housed in a cheery red-brick building, this worthwhile little museum unveils the town's history, including its first inhabitants, the Birpai people; its convict past; the lucrative timber industry; and its rich river and maritime history. It's a great place to visit when you first arrive to learn about what makes the town tick.

The exhibits here are fun and informative. Highlights include the Arcade of Shops, with objects used by early settlers, and the costume gallery, where you can see what early settlers wore and even dress up in vintage clothes. Interactive activities engage the kids, and the friendly volunteers are happy to chat with visitors.

The museum is open every day except Sunday, and you'll need at least an hour to get the most out of your visit. Exhibits are refreshed regularly, so you'll always see something new here.

If you're looking for things to do in Port Macquarie when it's raining, this is a great option for the whole family.

Address: 22 Clarence Street, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

Official site: https://portmuseum.org.au/

11. Whale Watching Cruises

Breaching humpback whales off Port Macquarie

Witnessing a whale launching out of the water is an unforgettable experience. At Port Macquarie you have the chance to glimpse this incredible sight - from land or sea. From May through November, tens of thousands of whales migrate along the coast.

Humpback whales are the most common and entertaining species - they often breach out of the water. But you might also see southern right whales, which have been known to enter shallow bays. Bottlenose dolphins are often spotted cavorting in the estuary of the Hastings River and along the shoreline.

The best way to get up close to these gentle cruises is aboard a whale watching and dolphin spotting cruise. Port Jet Cruise Adventures whisks you out on 90-minute cruises during the season in a choice of two different boats, one with underwater viewing windows.

If you prefer to stay on land, you still have a chance to see these loveable marine mammals. Vantage points pepper the coast, including the lookout at Tacking Point Lighthouse and along the Port Macquarie coastal walk.

12. Ride a Camel on the Beach

Guide leading camels along Lighthouse Beach in Port Macquarie

Looking for a unique way to do some sightseeing in Port Macquarie? How about a camel safari. These comical animals plod along the soft-sand shores of Lighthouse Beach on fine days, taking tourists for 30-minute jaunts (20-minutes during New South Wales school holidays). It's a fun way to soak up the coastal vistas of this sweeping nine-kilometer beach.

To sign up, just head down to Lighthouse Beach and chat to the owner. You'll find him about a kilometer south of the Tacking Point Surf Club. Rides operate every day of the year, except Saturdays and Christmas Day, weather permitting. Make sure you bring cash!

Official site: https://www.portmacquariecamels.com.au/

13. Catch the Big One on a Fishing Trip

Sunset beach fishing

With the Hastings River running right through its heart, the Camden Haven River system, offshore reefs, and miles of pristine beaches, Port Macquarie is a top spot for anglers.

If you're into deep-sea fishing, Ocean Star whisks you out on the blue waters on a 40-foot custom fishing boat. Snapper, kingfish, jewfish, and pearl perch are among the many species you can catch offshore, and big game anglers can hook marlin, tuna, wahoo, mackerel, and dolphin fish.

Is river fishing your preference? Castaway Estuary Fishing Charters specializes in calm-water fishing with lures. Target species include bass, flathead, whiting, bream, jewfish, and mudcrabs, and you can choose from half-day, full-day, and hobie kayak fishing adventures. The Camden Haven River is also known for its blue swimmer crab and prawns.

Prefer to keep it simple and fish from land with the kids? Head to the Town Wharf, the Southern Breakwall, or the Settlement Point Picnic Area. But make sure you purchase a New South Wales fishing license.

Spring and summer are the most popular fishing seasons, but if you're hoping to fish from one of the rocky points or beaches, autumn and winter are excellent times of year to target bream, mulloway, and tailor.

14. Pick Fresh Strawberries at Ricardoes

Freshly picked strawberries

It's hard to resist the taste of a luscious, sweet strawberry. At Ricardoes, you can pluck them fresh from the vines, pile them high in a bucket, and take them home to enjoy. This U-pick farm grows five varieties of hydroponic strawberries, as well as eight varieties of tomatoes.

Free guided tours take place weekdays at 11am. This a great thing to do with the kids.

After you've stocked up on strawberries, stop by the café for a steaming hot bowl of tomato soup, or scones served with fresh-whipped cream and strawberries. You can also purchase preserves, pasta sauces, and chutneys, among other gastronomic goodies, at the gift shop.

Best of all, entry to the farm is free - you only pay for what you pick.

Address: 221 Blackmans Point Road, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

Official site: http://www.ricardoes.com/

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