Our Legendary Journey: Port Macquarie
Two hours south of Coffs Harbour is the beautiful town of Port Macquarie. The region is known for its idyllic climate and stunning coastline making it a favourite holiday destination for many. From the golden sandy beaches, to brilliant blue waters and vibrant rainforests – there is so much on offer in Port Macquarie.
We spent two nights here on our Legendary Pacific Coast road trip, visiting the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre and horse riding in the hinterland of the Greater Port Macquarie region.
I was super excited to not only stop by in my home town, I was thrilled to be able to show Derek around the wonderful place I was lucky enough to grow up in.
Filled with so much natural beauty, from the waterways, surf spots and thriving marine life to the iconic breakwall, Koala Hospital and camel rides along Lighthouse Beach – there is so much character in this relatively small town.
I remember the magical sunsets along the many stunning beaches, and once again, they did not disappoint. There is a lovely 9km walk that runs from Lighthouse Beach along the coast and into town, that we highly recommend doing if you have the time.
Whatever you decide to do in Port Macquarie, it is bound to be a memorable experience.
Just next to the Shelley Beach turn off, you’ll find the entrance to Sea Acres Rainforest Centre. Welcomed by friendly staff and volunteer guides, there is a wealth of information and interactive displays on show in the visitor centre. We watched an inspiring film on the local Aboriginal culture and surrounding rainforest environment downstairs in the theatre.
We met up with some of the staff and began a guided boardwalk tour through the Sea Acres National Park. This was a great way to discover the different layers of the rainforest, without disturbing the forest floor, seven metres below us. The guides were so knowledgeable of the local region, and all of the flora and fauna found in the national park and really helped us gain a deeper insight into each fern and fig we strolled past.
The boardwalk is a 1.3km loop track and it depends on your pace, but we spent about an hour exploring and photographing the fascinating sights. We loved the elevated perspective, being able to view the wonders of the rainforest that are usually too high up to appreciate from the ground.
Something we really noticed from our travels throughout Australia was the abundance of birdlife and their magical calls, something we rarely hear in New Zealand. It was such a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere hearing the songs from birds like the whip birds and the Lewin’s Honeyeater. We also spotted a giants goanna rustling in the forest floor below.
The flora was just as spectacular, with python trees, bangalow and walking stick palms, strangler fig, maiden’s blush, staghorn and elkhorn ferns.
We highly recommend stopping by here on your visit to Port Macquarie. It’s such a bizarre sight to come across after you have been exploring the coast and is a refreshing place to spend some time and reconnect with nature.
After our beautiful rainforest walk, we headed straight to the café for some lunch.
As a local, the Rainforest Café was one place that we used to love visiting to escape from reality and relax in the tranquil surrounds of the Sea Acres National Park. Surrounded by the lush flora, sitting on the balcony looking out to the canopy above and listening to the birdlife is an experience in itself.
We had worked up quite an appetite after our walk, so we were happy to see such a delicious looking menu. The roasted pumpkin, ricotta & sage tart and steak sandwich caught our eye and we were blown away with how amazing they tasted – right down to the accompanying jams and relishes. The coffees were outstanding too. Our meals were simple and filling, yet very reasonably priced.
Whether you are stopping by for a coffee or a meal, you won’t be disappointed by the quality of the food and incredible rainforest setting.
Just a short drive west of Port Macquarie, nestled in the hinterland is the peaceful Bellrowan Valley.
We love riding horses, and was recommended to visit the team at Bellrowan Valley by locals in the region. Owners Mark and Julie established the operation back in 2001, and over the past 15 year they have seen over 33,000 visitors pass through and won a number of tourism awards.
Our experience started with a 4WD adventure into the valley, down steep rural roads, before arriving at the farm and homestead. There were horses everywhere, all carefully separated into specific paddocks. The team here have been creating the best mob of horses, breeding and gathering them from across Australia, with 18 of the 30 horses from the same bloodline – all born, raised and trained by Mark & Julie.
We filled out an ability questionnaire and were paired to our most suited horse. Monty and Merlot were our horses, both were incredibly friendly and well-mannered which made us feel very safe for the entire journey.
We were separated into small groups of similar skill levels, and set off on our ride through the eucalypt and rainforest. We soon picked up the pace and had plenty of opportunity to trot along the bushland trails. It was such an authentic Australian setting, and we were experiencing it the perfect way – on horseback. There were gentle climbs, descents and creek crossings, where our horses stopped to replenish their thirst.
After our ride, Julie had some fresh damper waiting for us which was a great way to finish up our day in the Bellrowan Valley. We had a bit of time to meet the other farm animals hanging about, including a donkey, miniature horse and friendly dogs.
We loved our time out in the hinterland of Greater Port Macquarie and experiencing the rural lifestyle for the day. The team were so welcoming and we were stoked with the behaviour of the horses – making for an all-round enjoyable adventure.
We woke up early on our last morning in Port Macquarie and drove 1.25 hours south to the un-spoiled town of Forster.
Forster holds a certain small coastal town charm about it with much of the town’s best features being the way both dining and entertainment take place on the water or at the water’s edge.
The absolute pinnacle experience in the region is Amaroo Cruises, who not only take you into the magical world of the bottlenose dolphin but also give you a tour of one of New South Wales' most pristine stretches of coastline.
The tours depart around 10am most days and take about 2.5 hours. The Amaroo team make a pretty bold promise at guaranteeing dolphin encounters - and during our trip, it only took the first 15 minutes or so before a local pod playfully appeared in the shallows of Wallis Lake, well before even getting out into the open ocean.
The Amaroo is a family run operation and this shows in the passion they put into the trip, how meticulous the vessel is and how knowledgeable the crew were with the waters and marine life that we came across in each moment of the trip.
We had a second opportunity to see a larger pod of dolphins at play along the northern beaches not far from the entrance to Wallis Lake.
During the cruise we managed to also spot a small hammerhead shark and a few albatross that made an appearance - clearly indicating there was an abundance of marine life you may spot, with each trip being quite unique to what you may find.
After two rounds of dolphin spotting we enjoyed a nice warm cup of tea and some cookies and made our way back to the base, taking in a good amount of time to cruise along the other side of the coastline.
Amaroo Cruises run a superb operation and if one were visiting the foster region this would be definite must-do!
This is a vibrant, fun and friendly hostel located right near the heart of the town. Just a short walk from the supermarket, river and beginning of the breakwall – this is a great place to be based for your stay in Port Macquarie.
The hostel is uniquely setup in two houses, with an awesome communal and pool area with hammocks to relax in. There was a cinema room, ping pong tables and tidy kitchen/dining space – exactly what you want from your accommodation, all at an affordable price.