I’ve long been a fan of Port Stephens, one of my go to destinations for a weekend of sun, surf and filling every crevice with sand.
But until my most recent visit I hadn’t realised that it is also an amazing place to eat, drink and be merry. At least it is should you happen to find yourself in gorgeous Shoal Bay.
The iconic Shoal Bay Country Club, dating back to 1930s, has just undergone an epic $6 million makeover that has transformed it into a cosmopolitan, modern dining and entertainment destination whilst still retaining a generous dollop of its historic charm.
The venue boasts some of the best facilities you could assemble under a single roof.
There’s a public bar, sports bar, an atmospheric outdoor courtyard and a lively cocktail bar with a cocktail list to die for (the passionfruit mojito is irresistible). You can also enjoy live music in the auditorium, relax in the gorgeous cane lounge, let the kids do their thing in the kids’ play area with dedicated activities, and there’s gaming and a TAB for those who like a punt.
There are two incredible restaurants serving up everything from bountiful brekkies to late-night desserts. An extensive menu was created by Executive Chef, Atick Elahi (of Hotel Centennial and The Eastern Group) catering to a variety of palates.
Mermaids, the hotel’s happening breakfast venue, rocks a retro beachy 50s vibe and serves up everything from healthy Acai Berry Bowls to brilliant brekky classics like waffles, eggs benedict and the biggest and best crispy bacon and eggs rolls I’ve had the pleasure of devouring.
Lunch and dinner are courtesy of The Kitchen and Patio, an airy upstairs bistro with impressive ocean views and a menu that has something for everyone from premium cuts of meat, to outstanding seafood platters to smoky wood fired pizzas.
There’s also a juice bar for the health conscious and a dessert bar for late-night sugar cravings.
And Ramada Shoal Bay is connected to the resort, so luxury apartment style accommodation is just a waddle away.
Of course, we didn’t spend the entire weekend indulging. When we weren’t eating or lolling in the Ramada’s lagoon-style swimming pool and indoor mineral baths, we got out and about in Port Stephens to burn off some of those delicious SBCC calories.
Stretching along 32 kilometres of gorgeous coastline, Stockton Beach is home to Australia’s largest coastal dune system and the ultimate sandpit for adventurous folk.
While getting up close and personal with camels Stumpy and his pal Jaffa, who it must be said was disturbingly flirtatious, on a ride through the Worimi Sand Dunes with Oakfield Adventure Camel Rides at Anna Bay was awesome fun, especially for the younger members of our crew, the highlight of our dune adventures was Quad Biking up and down them with the team from Sand Dune Adventures, run by members of the Worimi Aboriginal people, who own and protect the dunes.
We revved up our 400cc engines and raced from bush to beach, soaking up the insane views of the sweeping coastline and the otherworldly landscape created by the shifting sands, our experienced Indigenous guides sharing a little of the area’s history along the way.
Afterwards we hurtled our way down the colossal 30-metre dunes on sand boards, until every last orifice was filled with fine grains of sand, many of which I think are now permanently embedded.
Sand boarding requires minimal skill but a lot of energy for the return journey to the top of the dune, so a leisurely champagne yacht cruise with Blue Water Sailing on the pristine waters of Port Stephens, accompanied by a couple of wake busting dolphins, proved the perfect way to spend the rest of the afternoon. •