It’s so easy to get caught up in the big smoke that I sometimes forget what’s beyond the city limits. There’s so much that can be seen and done as a day-trip, or as we did, an overnighter up at Port Stephens less than three hours from home.
Things slow down significantly as soon as you’ve left the rat race. People seem more relaxed and carefree, the air is cleaner and a string of villages beckons with sparkling coves, sandy beaches and rocky headlands jutting out of the water.
The last time we stayed in the area was well over 15 years ago, in a B&B that backed onto the bushland somewhere in the hills. This time we took advantage of a great value Sunday room rate at the Anchorage at Corlette Point. It’s a little far removed from the centre of Nelson Bay, which is fine, as it was merely somewhere to sleep and take advantage of a pretty decent breakfast spread.
Little Beach is tucked neatly between Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay. It offers many self-contained holiday rentals, a grassy park and sheltered beach that’s very popular with families. Not that we were there to frolic in the water or build sandcastles with the little tackers.
I had my eyes set on the Little Beach Boathouse before we even hit town; a waterside restaurant simmering with out-of-towners, young couples and cashed-up retirees.
The digs are casual, light, airy and beachy, and as expected, seafood shows up a number of times on the menu. For those of us with a penchant for vino, there are grapes from nearby Hunter Valley that feature heavily on the wine list, along with many local and New Zealand varieties.
It was a requirement that I tuck into one of the Australian craft beers that sit alongside brews from Japan, Mexico, Holland and the Czech Republic – given the summer temperatures outside.
From delicious Port Stephens rock oysters (19) topped with pickled peach dressing, to juicy tempura prawns (22), the seafood is nothing short of being super fresh.
The miso glazed Atlantic salmon (32) goes down a treat, served over a wombok, snow pea shoot and peach salad.
Crisp pork belly (27) is another winner, piled over chat potatoes, brocollini and puréed cauliflower. Chopped macadamias add to the crunch and fig jam throws in a sweet mouth-hug.
Climbing mountains after lunch isn’t something I generally choose to do, for obvious reasons. When the sun is shining and the water is sparkling, well, you kinda want to see it all from a different perspective. And what better way than to take the paved path to the summit of Mount Tomaree?
The flora is a fine example of Aussie bush through and through. It’s dry, forested with different species of eucalyptus and many wild flowers colour-up the scrub. It wasn’t difficult to miss a bunch of native finger lime trees and the wild violets that so happen to be edible, both leaves and flowers.
And then there’s the view from the top; a view that looks out in all directions, up and down the coast.
The Shoal Bay village is a tad quieter than its Nelson Bay counterpart, so it was here that we settled in for the evening to watch the balmy sunset and tuck into drinks at the Country Club Hotel. This old relic has been pouring beers since the 1930’s and offers a few dining options such as Sandyfoot Cafe and the more refined Catch with its loft bay views upstairs.
Drinks and dinner for us was at SeaRock, the in-house bistro that comes complete with live music if you time it right. It’s pub grub all the way at this locals hangout, with a kids menu that doesn’t only appeal to the little ones.
The mother-in-law can never eat a full-sized steak, so it was a 120 g scotch fillet (12) from the Nipper’s menu. Served with thick chips and little tub of gravy, the steak is cooked to medium-rare perfection. And the bonus of ordering from a kids menu? She got herself a free ice cream.
Pizza, pasta and seafood also feature on the menu, plus a bunch of burgers. A saltbush Moroccan lamb burger (18) is a satisfying double handful of Gruyere cheese, beetroot tzatziki & harissa aïoli, whilst the chicken parmigiana (20) is a sizeable hunk of golden and molten goodness.
Had we known about this place before we filled up at the Anchorage breakfast buffet, we would have forgone the free brekkie and tucked into the enormous offerings at Crest. The receptionist recommended Crest as a great place to have coffee, and she wasn’t wrong. The coffee is fantastic, but it’s the setting that wins us all over. It sits adjacent to the Birubi Point Surf Life Saving Club that sits at the north end of a beach that stretches almost 30 kilometres down to Newcastle.
Breakfast and lunch is the go at Crest, and it was the large avocado & feta smash that made us double take when it was delivered to a neighbouring table.
There was no rush in driving home to Sydney so suggestion was made to find somewhere for lunch in Newcastle. I barely remember the last time I was in this port city, but I have heard that it’s on the up with the food and coffee scene.
We stumbled upon Saluna and were immediately taken by its mismatched rustic decor. A few industrial touches, hessian sacks, repurposed wooden spools and retro school furniture make for a comfy environment. And the coffee comes with a big tick from us. Single origin cold drip, syphon and espresso are up for grabs and a seasonal menu that caters to pretty much any dietary needs or preferences.
And you’ve gotta love a cafe that watches its waste. It’s green all the way at Saluna. They recycle pretty much everything.
A mixed bag of edibles is on show on the lunch menu – from a veg-friendly salad of beet, lentils and caramelised pears to corned beef brioche sandwich. A rather healthy open sandwich (17.5) satisfies the better half with its feta, avocado and tomatoes; and for me, the Southwestern-style fried chicken (18.5). Not sure what made it southwestern as it was nothing more than pieces of deep-fried thigh that lacked seasoning or spices. At least the harissa and lime-scented slaw had flavour.
The house-made fig & ginger and orange & cardamom cakes won us all over, and the days special – little chia seed pudding (9) probably did my cholesterol levels a favour. The pot of glorified bircher muesli sat with a blackberry compote, which added a little sweetness to the yoghurt.
Full bellies. Time to go home.