Ah, Port Macquarie – beautiful one day, blissful the next. It’s my favourite holiday destination, any time of year – winter chills disappear on its sunny beaches; while in summer cool sea breezes keep the heatwaves at bay.
For my daughter and I, a road trip to Port is always an adventure. After picking up a last minute deal on an Avis Hyundai rental from DriveNow’s last minute Sydney Car hire area we hit the Pacific Highway for the crawl out of Sydney – always the worst part of the trip. But once we were freewheeling north, it’s smooth driving for four and a half hours before we reach paradise – Port, that is!
There are a stack of affordable places to stay in town, but our choice this time was the Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park, located right on the Hastings River fronting the boardwalks with its distinctive colourful rocks. Talk about a room (or in our case, site!) with a view – where else in the world can you get a millionaire waterfront setting like this on a budget?
After settling in, the beach beckoned – our stroll along the golden sands of Town Beach rewarded by the sight of couple of dolphins, their fins silhouetted against the setting sun.
Into the wild
Of course, that set the theme for our short break … wildlife. My daughter and I are both animal crackers, and there’s no better place to have close encounters with furry critters than at Port Macquarie. First stop the following morning was the Koala Hospital, a facility for koalas that have been attacked by dogs, run over by cars or suffer from Chlamydia or ‘wet-bottom syndrome’, a bacterial disease rampant in the koala community.
Located in one of the densest koala corridors in NSW, the hospital is run entirely by volunteers and relies on donations to carry out its essential work. You can even ‘adopt’ one of the little fellas, the donation of $40 a year going towards koala research.
While you can’t handle the koalas rehabilitating at the hospital, you can have a more touchy-feely animal encounter at Billabong Wildlife Park. On weekends and during school holidays, demonstrations by animal keepers are an entertaining way to learn about Australian natives such as quolls, wallabies and even snakes. We loved the kanga enclosure where you can see bald little joeys poking their heads out of mum’s pouch; and my daughter even got to hold a gorgeous white dingo pup, which thrilled her no end.
High in the saddle
We both are into horses, so a ride in the beautiful hinterland was high on our agenda. Bellrowan Valley Horse Riding, about an hour’s drive from Port Macquarie, is the only riding outfitter in the area catering to both beginners and more experienced riders. The horses here are well cared for and obedient, and I was pleased to see they offer some solid tuition to everyone before hitting the trails.
We may be both experienced horse riders, but neither my daughter or I have ever ridden a camel! Port Macquarie Camel Safaris runs 20 minute camel rides on Lighthouse Beach (Port’s southernmost beach) – loads of fun, glorious scenery and informative as well.
From our elevated position on Sandy the camel’s back (which feels a lot like a woolly carpet), we could see for kilometres up the deserted beach, the white sand the perfect contrast to the cloudless blue sky. There was a soft breeze, the sound of breaking surf … and once again, our dolphin friends paid a visit.
Now if that’s not heaven, I don’t know what is.
ANGELA DE LEON