Last Updated on July 5, 2021 by Kyle Tully
Perhaps the most well known town in the Port Stephens area, Nelson Bay is the hub and perfect starting point in the region. With lots of accommodation to choose from (including, hotels, motels and private rentals) as well as an array of activities and amenities in the area, this charming little coastal borough offers something for everyone.
Within the sheltered arms of the bay there are calm, safe beaches with crystal clear waters that are ideal for small children and less competent swimmers, while the ocean facing beaches are just a five-minute drive away and are washed by booming waves. More than 140 bottlenose dolphins also call this bay their home. These placid beauties are frequently spotted floating and frolicking along the shoreline, close to the beach.
The diving and snorkelling here is also exceptional.
Out of the water, Nelson Bay is a lively mini-metropolis of cute cafes, beautiful boutiques and restaurants brimming with delicious food and drinks. Parks are dotted along the length of the shoreline, and the 5km long (each way) Bartlett Cycleway cuts through on it’s path from the Tomaree Headland to The Anchorage in Corlette. This shared path lures you from beach to beach, suburb to suburb, as you wander through local flora and national park, taking in the sea side view as you walk.
The D’Albora Marina has many whale watching tours (seasonal) and dolphin cruises departing a few times a day, and a ferry to take you across the bay to Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest.
On the Sand:
There are no patrolled beaches in Nelson Bay, however the local beaches (Little Nelson Bay, Dutchmans Beach and Little Beach) are all calm water beaches without waves.
A boat ramp can be found at Little Beach Reserve.
Street parking is limited on all beaches and fills up quickly. Most parking is also metred. If staying locally, we recommend walking and enjoying the scenery as you make your way to the water – you won’t regret it.
In the Sea:
Average seawater temperatures for Nelson Bay peak in the range of 22 to 25°C (72 to 77°F) in early February and are at their lowest mid August, in the range 17 to 20°C (63 to 68°F).
Water clarity is usually great as Nelson Bay is protected from most large swells.
Snorkelling tours operate around Fly Point reserve. Fly Point is a protected aquatic sanctuary that offers some of the best shore diving and snorkelling in NSW. Lush sponge gardens and kelp forests are just a few metres from the rocky shore, as well as pineapple fish, blue groupers, octopus, wobbegong sharks and even seahorses.
In Summer, juvenile tropical fish appear including butterfly fish, damsel fish, wrass and butterfly cod. Don’t forget to bring your (waterproof) camera!
On the Land:
Nelson Bay Foreshore Reserve extends from the marina, up towards Fly Point and has sheltered picnic tables, BBQ facilities, soft grass for the kiddos (or fur babies) and an upgraded kid’s park. Public toilets can be located behind the marina, as well as at Little Beach Reserve and a third by the parking lot at Little Nelson Bay.
There are boutiques, cafes, post office, banks and real estate agencies in central Nelson Bay (Magnus St, Stockton St, Yacaaba St & Donald St). Amenities can be purchased from the Woolworths on Donald Street, in the centre of town.
The food selection is huge – a modern take of pub food can be enjoyed at The Sea Breeze Hotel across the road from the marina. Breakfast and brunch must-visits include The Little Nel on Government Rd and In House Kitchen at Home Interior. Be sure to visit their attached home decor store. You’ll want one of everything! No visit is complete until you have had dinner at The Little Beach Boathouse – fresh, quality dining with romantic views of the water – dolphins frequent their waters daily.
Gan Gan Lookout is accessed from Nelson Bay Road, just 1.5km out of the town centre along Lily Hill Road (it runs off of Nelson Bay Road). The panorama from Gan Gan Lookout is breathtaking! 360o views from the Port’s entrance (Mt Tomaree and Yacaaba Head) sweeping down to the Newcastle skyline; the mountains in the west and eastwards over Hawks Nest.