Port Macquarie is a mid-sized town 570 km south of Brisbane and 390 km north of Sydney Australia. The population is just under 50,000, so it would be easy to dismiss Port Macquarie as a sleepy coastal town. But there are so many things to do in Port Macquarie that you might just want to add it to your Australia itinerary!
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A Brief History of Port Macquarie
John Oxley, an explorer, first visited Port Macquarie in 1818 as he explored inland New South Wales. He named the area after the Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie.
Port Macquarie became a penal settlement in 1821, replacing Newcastle as the destination for convicts who had committed secondary-level crimes. At the time, penal colonies were used as a way to exile and isolate criminals from the general population.
The penal settlement lasted until August 1830, at which time it was closed and moved to Moreton Bay. The town was then opened to settlers.
In March 2021 Port Macquarie experienced severe flooding as the Hastings River overflowed its banks during severe weather.
Things to do in Port Macquarie
1. Town Beach Breakwall
A walk along Port Macquarie’s breakwall offers great views of the Hastings River towards Town Beach. You’ll also notice colourfully painted rocks along the breakwall that locals and visitors have decorated over the years.
Some of the rocks are painted memorials, while others are to commemorate family reunions, graduations, weddings, and so on.
If you keep your eyes open, you may even spot dolphins in the Hastings River.
The Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park overlooks the breakwall. The park offers a variety of accommodations, including rental cabins, powered RV sites, and campsites.
The breakwall is also a good starting point to the 9 km Coastal Walk heading to Tacking Point Lighthouse at Lighthouse Beach.
2. Take a Cruise on the Hastings River
A scenic cruise on the Hastings River not only gives you the opportunity to see the town from a different perspective, but you might even spy some wildlife along the way.
Cruise Port Macquarie offers a few different options, such as dolphin spotting river cruises and sunset cruises.
Port Jet Cruise Adventures has a few additional options, such as whale and dolphin spotting cruises, boom net cruises, morning tea cruises, scenic cruises, and jet ski hires.
3. Port Macquarie Beaches
Port Macquarie boasts numerous beaches – 17 to be exact! Whether you’re into surfing, fishing, sailing, or just soaking up the sun, the beaches here will offer something for everyone.
If you want to learn to surf, this is a great place to start. Best of all, these surf schools provide all the equipment and gear you need for your lessons:
Make sure to follow all safety signs and regulations, as conditions for swimming can change throughout the day.
4. Sea Acres Rainforest Centre
Sea Acres Rainforest Centre has eco-displays, information on local Aboriginal culture and the surrounding rainforest, and exhibits by local artists. There is also a boardwalk, gift shop and cafe.
The centre is free to visit, but there is a fee to explore the Rainforest Boardwalk. The walk is an easy 1.3 km loop which is best experienced with a guided tour. Guided tours are included in the entry fee when guides are available, or feel free to explore the boardwalk on your own. Keep a look out for birds and other animals in the rainforest!
Hours of Operation: 9am to 4.30pm daily. Closed Christmas Day.
Address: 159 Pacific Drive
5. Coastal Walks
The 9 km coastal walk in Port Macquarie takes you past beaches, rainforest, and historic sites. The grade is fairly easy and also features boardwalks and viewpoints.
If you don’t want to walk the full length of the trail, you can break it down into four shorter walks:
- Westport Park to Town Beach – 2 km
- Town Beach to Flynns Beach – 2.2 km
- Flynns Beach to Shelly Beach – 2.2 km
- Shelly Beach to Tacking Point Lighthouse – 2.7 km
The full walk, starting at Westport Park and ending at Tacking Point Lighthouse, takes approximately 3.5 hours.
6. Tour the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
Koalas – all Australian wildlife, really – has had a tough go of it since the 2019/2020 bushfires decimated over 13 million hectares of land. The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital was overwhelmed with injured koalas. Thankfully, they were also overwhelmed with generous donations and were able to install 100 drinking stations in the burnt areas.
The non-profit hospital received funding to rebuild their facility in 2019 between the NSW Government and Koala Conservation Australia Inc. They’ve also started a Wild Koala Breeding Program – the first in the world.
There are numerous ways to get involved with the Koala Hospital, including adopting a wild koala, funding a koala food tree, and volunteering, just to name a few.
To visit the koala hospital, you need to book online.
7. Kooloonbung Creek Nature Reserve
The Kooloonbung Creek Nature Reserve is a beautiful 52-hectare oasis in the middle of town. The reserve includes two walking tracks and boardwalks.
This is also a great location to see flying foxes. These large, intelligent bats love to hang from the trees and swoop across Kooloonbung Creek to scoop up a drink of water. Make sure to bring a good zoom lens and extra batteries if you want to get some good photos of these adorable winged puppies.
8. Googik Heritage Walking Track
Fancy more walking? Take a stroll along the Googik Heritage Walking Track. This 2 km trail begins at the Lake Innes Nature Reserve on Lake Road and heads south to St Columba Anglican School.
The trail is great for walking, cycling, and birdwatching. This is a Grade 3 trail, meaning there are gentle hills along the path.
9. Port Macquarie Historic Cemetery
The Port Macquarie Historic Cemetery is part of the Kooloonbung Creek Nature Reserve. Although the Port Macquarie Historic Cemetery sign gives the date of establishment as 1824, it was probably used as early as 1821. The cemetery is designed with gardens and large, shady trees which is a welcome reprieve from the hot Australian sun.
The cemetery is no longer in use for new burials. But it’s open to walk around and read the old gravestones. Some are so weathered that they are illegible, such as the one below. A new plaque was added below the headstone with biographical information.
A large monument in the cemetery also lists the names of all the people believed to have been buried at this site. I find old cemeteries like this fascinating, both in how people’s lives were captured in just a few words, and in the way wealth and status were displayed in the size and design of the headstones. Since Port Macquarie was founded as a penal colony in its early days, none of the headstones in the historic cemetery are grand or pretentious; they are all quite modest.
Address: Gordon Street
10. Archaeological Remains Under the Glasshouse
The glasshouse is a modern, multi-use building featuring an auditorium, conference and meeting facilities, regional gallery, performance space, and the visitor information center. But it’s what’s under the Glasshouse that is really interesting. In the basement you’ll find the archaeological ruins of Overseers’ Cottages. These cottages were associated with the administrators of the Port Macquarie penal settlement (1821-1830) and of the later town (post-1831). Even sections of the original brick barrel drain remain somewhat intact.
There are also artifacts on display, such as clay pipes, pottery, and this barrel tap:
Also keep an eye on the ground outside of the Glasshouse along Clarence Street for this interesting spot:
Address: 30-42 Clarence Street & Hay Street
11. Visit the Black Duck Brewery
The Black Duck Brewery and Bar is just one of three breweries in Port Macquarie. But I’m not sure if the other breweries occasionally serve up cartons of eggs with their brews.
Let me explain.
When we visited the Black Duck Brewery, we noticed something a bit unusual as we approached the warehouse-style facility. People weren’t walking out of the building with six-packs, or even kegs. No, they were walking out with cartons of eggs tucked under their arms.
As it turned out, one of the brewery’s staff members had a farm, and their chickens just produced way too many eggs for them to know what to do with. Hence, Free Egg Day at Black Duck Brewery.
Black Duck Brewery makes about a dozen craft beers; primarily ales. They also make a “once a year beer” made in small batches. The bar offers eight taps on site featuring their brews.
Black Duck Brewery opened in 2010 – still just a baby in brewery years! But they have already won several awards for their beers at the Sydney Royal Beer and Cider Show.
Address: 6b Acacia Ave Port Macquarie
Hours of Operation (Times may change):
12pm – 6pm Wednesday & Thursday
12pm – 8pm Friday
and from 1pm – 5pm Saturday
Other times you are welcome by appointment.
12. Follow a “Taste Trail”
Port Macquarie is a great place to indulge in food and wine. You can now follow one of five curated, themed “Taste Trails” which also include maps and drive times:
- Wine + Wonder
- Creatives + Curios
- Bars + Bites
- Producers + Providores
- Brews + Burgers
Click the link above for more information.
Where to Stay
Looking for a place to stay in Port Macquarie? Start your search here: