Nelson Bay is the largest town dotting the shores of Port Stephens. While on holiday in this magical neck of the woods just 63 km north of Newcastle, my wife Denise and I spent a few days taking advantage of the amazing weather to explore town and take a trip on the ferry to the tiny hamlet of Tea Gardens.
|The best pies by far! Red Ned's is a must-do in Nelson Bay. May 2016.|
The town of Nelson Bay is full of unique little stores on leafy tree-lined streets overlooking the shoreline of Port Stephens. My favourite local find was Red Ned's Pies, located in the heart of Stockton Street in Nelson Bay. The gourmet pie shop with the life-size mannequin of Ned Kelly standing guard outside, bakes over 50 varieties of pies daily. Starting our day with a lobster, prawn and barramundi pie was a wise decision. Afterwards, it was just a short stroll downhill to the d'Albora Marinas, where seeing the daily fish feeding from the wharf at 11 am is a must-do for all ages.
|The d'Albora Marina lies at the bottom of Stockton Street, photo May 2016.|
While there are many whale and dolphin watching tours that depart d'Abora Marina each day, it is easy-enough to dodge the crowds of overseas tourists that clamor aboard the cruise ships for a day on Port Stephens, simply by walking to the eastern end of the harbour and taking one of the two local ferry services that operate between Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens.
|That's Ray tying up the MV Wallamba on the public wharf in Nelson Bay, May 2016.|
Both the Tea Gardens Ferry Service and Ferrylink operate regular year-round trips across Port Stephens, weather permitting. Best of all, both charge only $20 per adult for a return cruise.
|I love this shot from the wheel of the Wallamba approaching Hawks Nest taken in May 2016.|
Once aboard, captain and owner of the MV Wallamba Ray Horsfield invites me to join him at the helm and points out some of the features of Port Stephens as we make our way across the harbour. At two-and-a-half times the size of Sydney Harbour, the hour long ferry trip between Nelson Bay and the fishing village of Tea Gardens on the other side, is still a lot quicker aboard the vintage timber ferry than circumnavigating Port Stephens in a south-west-north-east fashion by car.
|Tea Gardens's Singing Bridge, photo taken May 2016.|
The tiny villages of Hawks Nest and Tea Gardens were once separated by the Myall River until a 304 metre, or 998 foot long bridge was constructed in 1974. Nicknamed 'the singing bridge', it gets its name from the musical harp-like sounds created whenever a strong southwesterly wind blows through the metal bridge railings.
|Arriving at Tea Gardens wharf, as seen through the exit door of the MV Wallamba, May 2016.|
The town of Tea Gardens resembles nothing of any English Countryside Inn or Manor you may have pictured during the trip across Port Stephens, mainly consisting of a scattering of restaurants, cafes and a pub of the banks of the Myall River. We were lucky enough, or unlucky enough depending on your point of view, to have visited Tea Gardens on Mother's Day, when it seemed that every Mother in a 40 mile radius had flocked to Tea Gardens for a long lunch out with the family. Coupled with the local football team having won their rugby league match that weekend, there was plenty of honking from passing cars followed by shouts of "up Tea Gardens!" All up it only made the atmosphere of the day all that bit more interesting.
|Nelson Bay's Inner Lighthouse, taken in May 2016.|
Arriving back in Nelson Bay, Denise and I bid the MV Wallamba farewell and head to the Inner Light Tearooms at Nelson Head for a true afternoon tea overlooking the entrance to Port Stephens. The lighthouse cottage dates back to 1876, and interestingly there is no lighthouse tower. Instead, the light was housed in the octagonal room seen on the left of the building in the photo above. The modern-looking spaceship to the right is the headquarters for the Port Stephens Marine Rescue. So after enjoying tea and cake on the deck at the rear of the lighthouse cottage, Denise and I climb the stairs to meet the kind folk who man the marine rescue desk. With our accommodation on the shores of Shoal Bay visible below, it was soon time to head back for our last night holidaying in Port Stephens before heading off to explore Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. But as usual, that is a story for another day.
What I liked: The price! Twenty bucks for a couple of hours cruising to Tea Gardens and back is simply good value. It's a laid-back, budget-savvy tour complete with million dollar views!
What I didn't: The public wharf was a little hard to find, although I suppose the pricey full-day charter boats will always command the most prominent wharves at the marina.
See also; Shoal Bay: some Port Stephens magic and Newcastle: The historic beach city