Port Stephens (Australia)

Port Stephens in New South Wales, Australia, is often referred to as a paradise because of the beauty of its surroundings.

Located in the north of Sydney, one fine morning we left for a long drive along the beautiful roads that run through the picturesque landscape of eastern Australia.

With miles of clean, white, sandy beaches, Port Stephens was the proud owner of the beautiful Anna bay, Stockton Bight and a few historical sites that made our adventure trip worth remembering.

Stockton Bight was the largest and continuous coastal sand mass in this region. It was an amazing sight; miles and miles of desert landscape with no visible vegetation and with an incredible moving sand mass stretching some 32 kilometers south to Newcastle. The sand dunes shift constantly in the wind and move inland by up to five meters each year. Prior to reaching this area, we had left our usual tour bus and boarded a strong 4WD that would take us on a journey through the beautiful yet barren and rugged topography. We were strongly recommended to fasten our seat belts and soon we knew why; this was the bumpiest ride I have ever taken on a 4WD. Every single moment we were lifted up from the seat and mercilessly thrown back again. A few passengers started to feel nauseas at this up and down. There were shrieks and shrills as the vehicle slided on slopes and jumped over dunes; overall a very thrilling experience.

Enjoying this ride to the fullest extent we got off the vehicle to take part in Stockton Bight’s most popular activity, sand boarding. Our sand boarding guide was a long time resident of the region and knew the visitor’s psychology well. He first made it clear to all of us that since we would be gliding on sand there wasn’t any question of getting hurt. While he continuously polished the boards to make those glide better on the sand, he taught us how to balance ourselves on the board and dig four fingers except the thumb, deep into the sand and let the sand do the rest. Feeling a bit nervous yet excited, one by one we stood at the top of the slope to take our turn.

1, 2, 3 …..we counted, closed our eyes and a push from the guide and off we went, all screaming our lungs out, down the slope with the wind whistling past our ears and the sand racing through our fingers..… And when we opened our eyes, wow, we were in the midst of yet another sandy panorama. The guide stood up there on the slope and we hiked up the sand to reach him and return the boards. The children carried on with this fun till it was time for us to break away from this mind boggling activity.

We carried on with our drive to Anna Bay that had totally wet and heavy sand, yet it moved, such was the strength of the wind. Here we went down on the beach to try and catch some pippis. These are very protective species of shellfish that burrow into the sand and when the tide is out, can be dug down to find. There are strict controls on their numbers, and while we could catch those, we weren’t allowed to take them home; even though we spotted thousands I did not have the courage to hold those slimy things in my hands. I would rather let nature’s creation be where they belong to.

Once again we drove, this time on the beach, for about 30 kms to see the Sygna Wreck. Weighing 58000 tonnes, this Norwegian Carrier, Sygna Bergen, split in half on its maiden voyage on May 27th 1974. The day prior to this, the ship was anchored east of the Port of Newcastle waiting to load coal for Europe. A terrible storm struck with wind speed of more than 185 km per hour, ripping the ill-fated ship into two halves. What we got to see was the wreck of the ship that still stands there. We had a coffee/wine break here and it was a marvelous sight to watch the shifting dunes, the blue restless ocean and the remains of the ship.

On the way back we visited the ‘Tin city.’ Even though this was an isolated settlement of 12 shacks made of tin, it certainly was no city. We stopped some way off from the settlement, as people still stayed in those homes. These huts were built back in the mid-1800s to provide store for shipwrecked sailors when the number of shipwrecks stood at 98 between Newcastle and Port Stephens. Some of these huts are even used as week end resorts. Interestingly, solar cells provide these shacks with power and fresh water is close to the surface and easily pumped up. Maintaining the huts is difficult as the dunes move everyday and to keep one’s home above the sand is a daily chore. One of the huts was used as a pub in a Mel Gibson starrer famous movie ‘The Mad Max.’ The water near Tin City is referred to as Coca Cola; our guide dug a small well by hand only a few feet deep and it was quickly filled with black water that tasted as pure as rainwater. Some of the visitors joked that the water even tasted like Coke.

Our fabulous adventure was quickly coming to an end and we headed back along the beach to Anna Bay. Looking out towards the dunes, we admired the clouds, the ripples in the sand and the magnificently blue Pacific Ocean pounding onto the sand and realised that this was what actual coastal Australia was and that's exactly what we loved about this country; its diversity and never ending natural beauty.