The seaside town of Port Macquarie lies at the mouth of the Hastings River on the mid north New South Wales coast.
Here, dreamy beaches are punctuated by rugged headlands and give way to a rare patch of coastal rainforest to be explored on a boardwalk.
The coast in Port Macquarie is hugged by a nine-kilometre path, so you can get around by bike or on foot, stopping occasionally to watch dolphins and humpback whales in the Pacific.
On land, the Port Macquarie area has Australia’s highest population of koalas, and there’s a vital koala hospital open to the public, as well as a zoo for close koala encounters.
1. Koala Hospital
Sadly, large numbers of Australia’s iconic marsupials are injured each year through bushfire, road collisions and dog attacks.
And that’s before we come to the 2019-2020 bushfires that devastated a huge portion of their habitat.
Established in 1973, this nationally recognised treatment and rehabilitation centre in Port Macquarie has four permanent paid staff and provides 14 intensive care units and 33 special yards for rehabilitation.
The Koala Hospital is open all day for self-guided visits, letting you walk freely around the grounds to see recovering koalas.
There’s a leaflet and map full of info, but if that’s not enough you can join the guided tour every day at 15:00. Entry is free but of course you’re encouraged to leave a donation, make an adoption or buy something at the hospital’s shop.
2. Coastal Walk
In Port Macquarie you can walk next to the Pacific Ocean for nine kilometres and almost never have to deal with road traffic.
The Coastal Walk is on an easy gradient, with occasional light climbs on scenic headlands, and is broken into four manageable sections no more than 2.7 kilometres long.
You’ll amble along the picturesque breakwall at the mouth of the Hastings River, next to alluring beaches, green parks and up to vantage points for distant views.
May to November you could well spot a humpback whale breaching in the ocean, and are asked to log your sighting at wildaboutwhales.com.au.
Heading south, the final leg takes you through the Sea Acres National Park, one of the last places in New South Wales where the rainforest touches the Pacific Coast.
3. Billabong Zoo: Koala and Wildlife Park
This attraction started out more than 30 years ago as a noted breeding facility for koalas.
Those cute marsupials are still the stars at Billabong Zoo, but are joined by animals from more than 80 other species, among them wombats, Fennec foxes, quolls, cheetahs, red pandas, African lions, snow leopards, spider monkeys and many more.
Billabong Zoo encourages interaction, allowing you to feed and pet wallabies, and organise one-on-one encounters with koalas, cheetahs, snakes and red pandas, to name a few.
Every half-hour you’ll also be able to catch an educational keeper presentation, included in the entry fee.
4. Tacking Point Lighthouse
The southern trailhead for the Coastal Walk is a stirring promontory capped by a whitewashed lighthouse.
Tacking Point Lighthouse has been here since 1879, placing it just outside Australia’s top ten oldest lighthouses.
Tacking Point, the landform, was named by famed navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders on his 1802-03 circumnavigation of Australia.
The lighthouse is a photo hotspot, there are information plaques detailing the history of Tacking Point and its beacon, and you can stare out at the ocean on the likely chance of sighting a dolphin or humpback whale (May-Nov). And then just west, you can continue your walk along the breathtaking Lighthouse Beach, strewn with giant Palaeozoic outcrops labelled Watonga Rocks.
5. Roto House
This 11-room weatherboard house in the Macquarie Nature Reserve was built in 1890 for the land surveyor John Flynn, and is one of a small few buildings from the 19th century still standing in Port Macquarie.
Hemmed by a picket fence and veranda, Roto House is a veritable time capsule, constructed from local red mahogany and loaded with fixtures and decoration from the period.
As you make your way, you’ll come across documents, photographs and family belongings, giving the impression that the Flynn family, here until 1979, has just popped out for a walk.
6. Sea Acres Rainforest Centre
One of the largest surviving rainforest reserves in New South Wales is little more than five kilometres from Port Macquarie’s CBD.
The headline attraction here is a 1.3-kilometre raised boardwalk, leading you through a spectacular, untouched tract of subtropical rainforest.
Inside, you can find out all you need to know about the rainforest’s delicate ecology, as well as its importance in local Aboriginal culture.
To deepen your knowledge you could opt for a tour with an expert guide, while there’s always some sort of presentation or event happening at the centre’s little theatre.
Rainforest meditation takes place at the centre once a month, and the Rainforest Cafe serves afternoon tea under a beautiful grove of Bangalow palms.
7. Town Beach
The closest beach to Port Macquarie’s CBD is also the most frequented in the town.
With soft white sand, Town Beach is 600 metres long arcing from the south wall at the mouth of the Hastings River to a 15-metre-high headland at the Flagstaff Lookout.
The beach is patrolled between September and April, and is big with surfers for its sand bars and protection from the southerly wind.
When the tide and bars are aligned the beach can get some serious southeast swells.
For families here to relax, there’s an open grassy space, equipped with picnic facilities and lots of shade, all overlooking the beach.
A bit further away you’ll come to a creative children’s playground, outdoor gym and skate park, all close to the scenic breakwall.
8. Mid North Coast Maritime Museum
Seafaring and ocean-borne trade are integral to the Port Macquarie story, and well over a century of maritime history is condensed at this pair of preserved pilot cottages.
These buildings have been standing since 1896 and house a wonderful stash of maritime objects counting maps, a host of intricate scale models, paintings, maps, navigational instruments, diving gear, buoys, charts and a sizeable display of maritime photographs.
Also belonging to the museum is the Pilot Boat’s Shed on the river’s edge, and the Hibbert Boat Yard and Slipway off Hastings River Drive.
9. Port Macquarie Museum
At Port Macquarie’s CBD you’ll be able to get to grips with the town’s complex past at this award-winning museum.
The galleries at the Port Macquarie Museum go into detail on topics like the indigenous Birpai People, European settlement from 1821, the penal colony days, all the way up to the town’s modern development as a tourist resort.
The displays are enhanced with some riveting artefacts, like a Raphael Clint sundial from the penal settlement, an imported Wedgwood toilet bowl from an abandoned colonial house, an intact manual sugar-crushing mill and watercolours of the settlement by turn-of-the-century artist Lionel Lindsay.
10. Ricardoes Tomatoes & Strawberries
High-tech hydroponic greenhouses allow this farm on Port Macquarie’s northern outskirts to grow strawberries and tomatoes all year round.
Within, plump, deep red tomatoes grow on vines climbing to the ceiling, between avenues of strawberry plants on latticed A frames.
There are more than 30,000 plants growing at the farm, including eight tomato varieties, and five kinds of hydroponic strawberries.
You can come at any time of the year to pick your own, and call in at the shop and cafe, both crammed with delicious things grown and made right here, or at an array of local farms.
11. Flynns Beach
If you’re willing to travel, there are many kilometres of exquisite sandy beaches up and down the mid north coast.
One of the picks, just five minutes from the CBD is Flynns Beach, a 500-metre bay bookended by rocky headlands.
The beach is mostly protected from the westerly and southerly winds, leaving it with light, rolling waves, perfect for novice surfers year-round.
There’s a surf club here, with a kiosk serving snacks, drinks and light meals, while families will love poking around the rockpools to see some marine life up close.
Of course, Flynns Beach is on the Coastal Walk, so you can get to neighbouring beaches with ease.
12. Wineries and Vineyards
The undulating banks of the Hastings River have had a wine-making history reaching all the way back to the 1830s.
The industry was in retreat by the turn of the 20th century but has enjoyed a revival since the 1980s that continues to this day.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot account for much of the output in this hot region, and are often blended together to make full-flavoured but surprisingly soft, earthy and berry-forward wines.
There’s a handful of prominent wineries within a few short minutes of Port Macquarie, combining tours and tastings with local culture and history.
Among them are Cassegrain Wines, Douglas Vale Historic Homestead & Vineyard, Long Point Vineyard + Art Gallery and Bago Vineyards, which has a two-metre hedge maze beside its winery.
13. Whale Watching
Every year between May and November, humpback whales leave their feedings grounds in Antarctica for a long migration up the east coast of Australia to subtropical waters to mate.
After giving birth the whales and their calves make the long journey south once more, and throughout this time can be seen just off the Port Macquarie coast.
You can gaze out to see from land at vantage points like Harry’s Lookout, Tacking Point and Flagstaff Lookout, but there are also a number of operators based in Port Macquarie, waiting to take you out.
14. Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail
You don’t need to be eagle-eyed to notice the dozens of out-sized koalas sitting around Port Macquarie.
Part of an award-winning tourism initiative, these one-metre fibreglass sculptures show up at scenic lookouts, surrounded by flowerbeds at parks and hiding in all sorts of unexpected places.
Port Macquarie’s 70+ koalas boast original hand-painted designs by artists, and come with an important conservation message.
If you want to see them all, you can download a free trail map from the Hello Koalas website, which will also let you know about new arrivals and old favourites.
15. Lake Innes Nature Reserve
Directly south-west of Port Macquarie is a protected reserve blending natural beauty, recreation and remnants of early settlement on the north coast of New South Wales.
At Lake Innes you can go kayaking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, cycling and bird-watching.
The two-kilometre Googik Trail sets off from the foreshore through gently rolling hills, lifting you over wetlands on a boardwalk.
By the water you can take it easy at the Perch Hole picnic area, keeping your eyes peeled for birdlife like black swans, wood ducks and osprey.
Finally, the Innes Ruins are the vestiges of an expansive house and stables, from the 1830s and 1840s, when Port Macquarie was a penal settlement.
You can also make out the remains of the servants’ cottages, lakeside boathouse, brick-making site and kitchen garden.