Monday, 11 July 2016

Shoal Bay: some Port Stephens magic

Recently I came back from a long overdue holiday in Port Stephens and the Hunter Valley. Having almost reached burn-out proportions again after spending the past 12 months writing two books, selling an overseas investment property, being made redundant from my regular part-time job of the past 4 and a half years, and starting a business with my wife of 23 years, we felt like we just needed a break to get away from it all. Shoal Bay turned out to be the perfect destination to do just that.

Shoal Bay township as viewed from the top of Tomaree Headland, May 2016.

Situated near the entrance to Port Stephens and surrounded by Tomaree National Park, Shoal Bay feels like it is cut off from the rest of the world, despite being just around the corner from nearby Nelson Bay and only 63 km north of Newcastle. With the sun rising each morning over the towering Tomaree Headland and the tranquil shores of Shoal Bay itself licking at your heels while you stroll the golden sand, it took less than 24 hours to unwind. Once we had, an early morning hike to the top of Tomaree Headland gave us a stunning panorama of where we were staying. The headland was used as a defence outpost in World War 2, and the concrete gun fortresses guarding the entrance to Port Stephens and the Newcastle coastline today stand silent among the gum trees.

The Wyndham Ramada Shoal Bay and Port Stephens Country Club, May 2016.

We stayed at the Wyndham Ramada Port Stephens, which at one time in its life was known as the Port Stephens Country Club. Today, the original 1920's Country Club building operates as the local pub, and the combined resort complex dominates the shoreline of this coastal hamlet of 1,838 people.

Looking back towards the US Army WWII Fort Tomaree and Tomaree Headland, May 2016

Down by the shoreline, the cluster of buildings nestled at water level on the base of Tomaree Headland was at one time a U.S. Army base. Fort Tomaree is today a retirement home for the disabled, and as such has no access to the public. While the beach today is used solely by fishermen and holiday makers like ourselves to take a long meandering walks, photos on the walls of the Ramada Resort show locals during the wartime posing with U.S. soldiers and the various tanks and amphibious vehicles that frequented the beach during training exercises.

Sunset on a much needed break as seen from our resort balcony in Shoal Bay, May 2016.

At the end of each day, this is the view we enjoyed from our balcony. While barbecuing a T-bone steak and enjoying a bottle of wine with my wife Denise, we still had to stop and remind ourselves of how lucky we are to be living in Australia. Despite all the stress of the past 12 months we had come to escape, we are very fortunate indeed to be living in a country such as this at a time when so much of the world is still enduring hardships that we thought the 20th Century would have overcome. To watch the sunset in a different place miles from home, is one of the greatest joys of holidaying, and next up we are heading via a day of sightseeing in Newcastle to spend 4 nights in the Hunter Valley. But as usual, that is a story for another day.

What I liked: The seclusion and feeling of being a world away from everything was amazing, and the hike to the top of Tomaree Headland is a must-do. The Wyndham Ramada Resort was first-class and had an amazing pool and the best hydrotherapy spa I've ever been to.

What I didn't: There wasn't much to not-like, although there's not a lot of restaurants or shops within walking distance, so a car is a must-have to stock-up at the local Woolies supermarket in nearby Nelson Bay before you can enjoy just being still.

See also; Newcastle: The historic beach city

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