I only need steer my car a fraction of a distance off the hot tarmac of the busy Pacific Highway to reconnect with the land. Within minutes of taking the Nelson Bay turnoff I’m surrounded by green, fertile pastures in which animals graze peacefully and the roadside signs attached to the low wooden palings beside farm gates are offering fresh vegetables and fruit: $5 for a bucket of avocados ($3.50 each in Sydney)! I also notice there are many horses for sale, should I wish to switch my mode of transport.
I haven’t been to Port Stephens for quite a while, more fool me, having whizzed past a few times en route to more distant destinations. It’s a remarkable patch of coastline and close enough to Sydney to almost be considered a “weekend suburb”. When I arrive in Nelson Bay there’s traffic congestion along the main street. A local tells me this is a regular sight on a Friday morning “whenever the weather turns good and they flock here from the city.”
After refuelling myself with a tasty little frittata at The Little Nel Cafe, I drive to the far end of Shoal Bay to tackle the hike up to the lookout on Tomaree Head. This burst of exercise up an extremely well maintained pathway and stairway network seems to demand more puff than it did when I last made the climb. What’s that telling me! My reward at the summit are superb panoramas, especially the view encompassing a trio of magical beaches called Zenith, Wreck and Box leading to the long finger of Fingal Spit. From my lofty vantage point I can survey all that awaits me over the next few days. – RW