A regular summer getaway for Sydneysiders, the local Aussie seaside area of Port Stephens is the ideal summer location to travel with kids. Big bright blue skies and an ocean perfect for beginner through to wannabe pro surfers are topped off with friendly dolphins who will ride the waves with you. For a totally chilled out family holiday in the sun, head to Port Stephens with kids, a favourite Sydney family holiday destination dude. 

The Destination

Port Stephens is affectionately known as the dolphin capital of Australia. The pristine bays are home to an abundance of marine life including over seventy local dolphins. On the land there is a koala colony and numerous theme parks for children to explore, not to mention the championship golf course and award-winning dining for mums and dads. From the great outdoors to the little luxuries in the town of Nelson Bay, there is truly something for everyone in Port Stephens.

The Attractions

The bays surrounding Port Stephens are magnificent. For younger children the calm waters are perfect for paddling. Older children can fish off the wharf, snorkel at Fly Point or explore the bays on a kayak or paddleboard. Families may also enjoy taking out a sail or jet boat, both of which are readily available for hire at the Marina.

With so many dolphins calling the bays of Port Stephens home, it is no surprise that one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nelson Bay [Port Stephens’ main town] are dolphin cruises. Dolphins are regularly spotted all year round in Port Stephens and make for a special delight for children of all ages. If travelling between May and November families may also enjoy a whale cruise. The migrating humpback whales visit the coastline in droves and put on magnificent acrobatic displays for visitors.

Do note that while it’s a peaceful experience to be on the open water, if you’ve never been wildlife watching before, bring your patience and pre-warn the children. The wild animals do not appear on cue and after several hours all you may see is a tail or squirt of water. If your kids have trouble keeping still, this may not be a good option for you.

Surfing is a favourite Australian pastime that has almost no age limit. There is really nothing like the sensation of being out in the ocean; it is not uncommon to share a wave with a pod of dolphins. Children interested in learning how to ride the local waves can choose between two family-friendly beaches. Port Stephens Surf School operates at both One Mile and Birubi Beach and caters for learners from age 5 and above of all abilities.

More adventurous teens may prefer to head around to Anna Bay’s Birubi Beach. Not only is this picturesque stretch of coastline popular amongst local surfers, it is also where you can enjoy an adrenalin-fueled board ride down the sand dunes. Sand boarding is a popular activity at Birubi and a great way to take in the beauty and magnitude of the Stockton Sand Dunes.

Birubi Beach presents many more delights for families who are not quite as adventurous. Sahara Trails and Oakfield Ranch offer more leisurely horse and camel rides along the beach for families. Alternatively the rock pools that hug the foreshore of the beach are a great place for youngsters to explore.

Families who prefer land rather than water may prefer to visit Oakville Farm and Fauna World. Here children can cuddle a koala, milk a cow, ride a tractor, hold a snake and see crocodiles.


There is an abundance of accommodation in the Port Stephens area for every type of traveller on any budget. For families interested in staying along the bays there are numerous holiday lettings, caravan parks and even resorts at Nelson Bay, Little Beach and Shoal Bay. (Nelson Bay is the biggest town with the most amenities.)

Families who prefer to stay on a surf beach can stay at are caravan parks at either One Mile Beach or Birubi Beach. Both of these parks have camping as well as villa options and are located right on the beach.

The Practicalities

The idyllic bays of Port Stephens are an easy two-and-a-half hour drive north of Sydney along the F3 freeway or a thirty-five minute drive from Newcastle Regional Airport. Because this is such a popular local destination, beware of serious traffic jams on weekends and school holidays. Avoid commuting during peak periods such as Friday nights (to Port Stevens), Sunday afternoons (returning to Sydney) and long weekends.

For more ideas on things to do in Sydney with kids, see the suitcases&strollers interview with former Wiggle, Sam Moran

To read more about beaches in northern New South Wales, see the suitcases&strollers story Coffs Harbour Insider

By Christine Kodomicholos