To say it’s been a stressful year would be the understatement of the century, and while plenty of Aussies are using the opportunity of easing border restrictions to explore popular east coast hotspots like Byron Bay and the Gold Coast, you might be surprised to hear that Port Macquarie and surrounds should also be on your summer must-visit list.
I’ll be the first to admit that I fell firmly into the category of ‘I went to Port Macquarie once when I was young and I remember going whale and dolphin watching’. But having had the opportunity to re-visit the region during its popular (though slightly re-vamped due to Covid) ArtWalk Festival this year, I this time left feeling reinvigorated and inspired.
From bustling town centres, to incredible food offerings, stunning scenery, hands-on experiences, and a positive and supportive vibe within the local community, we can definitely say a trip to Port Macquarie, including the surround areas of Wauchope and Laurieton, could be just what your soul needs after the year we’ve had.
Breakfast with a view and restaurants that make you feel like you’re part of the family?
COAST Lighthouse Beach
This cafe is located under trees but directly across from the beach so you won’t be surprised to hear someone shout ‘whale’ while chowing down on your delicious breaky. The chocolate peanut butter smoothie and the granola with fresh fruit and mascarpone were possible two of my breakfast highlights of the entire year.
Little Shack Port Macquarie
If you don’t want to venture too far our of town, Little Shack is the place to go. Located on Town Green (and at the start of the Breakwall, overlooking the river), Little Shack is a popular spot for breakfast and a coffee with locals and visitors alike.
Drury Lane Eatery
At Drury Lane Eatery, husband and wife Dru and Kate believe food is an integral part of bringing people together. We got to experience a Drury Lane Eatery ‘Bistro Session’ and had possible the best baked Halloumi on the planet.
The casual eatery is open for breakfast and lunch Monday to Saturday and open for dinner Wednesday to Saturday. They source their produce locally, being spoilt for choice with local farmers, provedores and keen backyard gardeners, their menu is actually ever-changing to highlight what’s in season week to week.
The dinner menu is designed to share with friends and family - if you really want to that is. They make everything in house daily and from scratch, including the house sourdough, daily cakes, and baked treats.
Locals Gino together with Maree created Bar Florian in honour of his parents’ regional background of the Veneto and Vicenza regions of Italy. With retro, 60’s Italian theme, the venue has been created for patrons to share some of the finest pizzas, cured meats, cheeses and condiments served on hand crafted glass platters.
Even if you don’t come here for dinner it is definitely the place to be for a drink or two on your way back to the hotel.
Zebu Bar & Restaurant
Experience light and airy waterfront dining at Zebu Bar & Restaurant. The venue, located overlooking the Hastings River in the heart of the Port Macquarie CBD, is a favourite amongst locals and if you check out the menu you’ll know why. It’s also the perfect place for a round of cocktails with friends.
If there is one thing Port Macquarie excels at, it’s putting art and culture front and centre, which was no clearer than during this year’s ArtWalk Festival.
Normally a night-time immersive arts festival with a week of satellite events, this year organisers had to come up with something new due to Covid-19 and in stepped the entire local community to help.
The event instead spread across an entire week with local businesses housing artwork as well as hosting talks and workshops. The entire town was a buzz. And there were smaller markets help in surrounding towns making sure they also got some tourism love after a tough year.
Glasshouse Port Macquarie
A more permanent but no less impressive fixture is the Glasshouse. Located in the heart of Port Macquarie, the Glasshouse is home to a theatre, regional gallery, studio, Visitor Information Centre, gift shop, conference and meeting facilities and heritage displays.
Featuring innovative and environmentally sustainable design, the centre provides high quality exhibition, conference and performing arts facilities, as well as some of the region’s most modern technical and production infrastructure and highest level of patron comfort.
If you are keen to get a hands-on experience, there are plenty of Art workshops that are on all year round. Skye Petho - a professional artist, specialising in hand-blown glass jewellery and creative tuition - owns Arthouse Industries and runs plenty of fun classes you can try. Arthouse Industries also showcases a selection of unique, hand-made, one-off designs, artwork, clothing and jewellery.
If the hustle and bustle of a beach-side town is a little too much during the summer months, you can also escape to a more tranquil location at some of these incredible local retreats.
Mansfield Estate is your own private eco-retreat boasting thriving bushland, open fields, and native koala habitat.
Overlooking stunning ocean views on 600 acres of rural land, it’s perfect for group retreats, getaways, weddings, and special functions. The rooms have been crafted and adapted from shipping containers to reduce carbon footprint and offer expansive views of the estate to the ocean.
Out There Design and Mosaic
Local artist Francesca O’Donnell runs Out There Design and Mosaic at her incredible property on the outskirts of Port Macquarie. Out There Design and Mosaic offer unique handcrafted pieces, as well as hosting mosaic art classes.
And if you love the property so much you don’t want to leave you’re in luck as Francesca also hosts guests in a luxury Airbnb with two bedrooms. And you can have the entire property - yes there is a pool - to yourself.
We’ve mentioned the community a few times but every time you visit a new place it becomes more and more apparent how much the owners and staff pour their heart and soul into what they do.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
The famous Koala Hospital (the only of its kind in the world) was established in 1973 and is an activity of the Koala Conservation Australia Incorporated: a Not-for-Profit Organisation.
It consists of a treatment room, 8 Intensive Care Units, 6 outdoor intensive care units and 33 rehabilitation yards, many of which have trees for koalas to learn to climb as part of the rehabilitation process.
Between 200 and 250 koalas are admitted through the Hospital annually, and the amazing work the team do has been recognised world-wide.
Dunbogan Boatshed is nestled on the banks of the Camden Haven River, about 30 minutes south of Port Macquarie.
It was built in the 1940’s and while it still carries the charm of an old boatshed, it’s got plenty more to offer. Locals and tourists can enjoy a quality coffee on the deck, while they soak up the view of the yachts on the water. You can hire a kayak, tinny, or a BBQ boat to get out on the water with your family, or grab some fish food and feed the fish from the deck.
Owner Damien Lay, a one-time documentary filmmaker, is clearly passionate about revitalising the community, and employing locals. He has more big plans in his sights - like a vintage caravan selling crepes out the front, or even champagne and oyster cruises on board a vintage trawler.
Bago Maze and Winery
The Bago Winery and Maze is a great day out for big and little kids and is just 20-minutes from Port Macquarie.
It is home to one of the world's biggest hedge mazes, with two-metre high walls, designed by Ian Mobbs, whose family owns and runs the winery. You can watch the kids get lost from the top of the hill or try to get through yourself.
Or if it just seems like a little too much, there is always time for a little bit of wine and cheese tasting. Or you can poke your head into BabaLila’s Russian chocolate shop. If edible chocolate sounds like your thing she also offers workshops.
Yahoo Lifestyle was a guest of Port Macquarie Hastings Council.
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