Looking out over the beach last week while in Port Macquarie my niece declared how lucky she was to be stuck in such a beautiful place. And I have to agree. Here are some of my favourite postcards and stories.
Postcards from Port Macquarie with its beaches, rolling hills and beautiful afternoon walks.
Have you been to Port, (local lingo)? Even google knows where you are talking about when you type in Port (in NSW).
It’s on the sea and the mouth of the Hastings River. The rugged beaches are very Australian looking, with rocky outcrops and trees almost to the sand. Dolphins and whales pass along the sea highway north and south waving their tales as they float by.
Beginnings of Port Macquarie
I had no idea of the history of Port Macquarie but when I started thinking about these postcards I started reading up.
Like a lot of Australia, Port began as a penal colony. By the 1820’s Newcastle, just outside Sydney was becoming overcrowded. It was also becoming an area for industry, mining, shipping and agriculture (and the beginnings of wine, most importantly)
The government of the new colonies needed somewhere to send all those pesky criminals that kept arriving, so in the 1820’s, they sent the meanest Captain they could find and some criminals and they set up camp in Port Macquarie. For many years this was NOT a place you wanted to be.
Port Macquarie was tough terrain and thick bush, and the local aboriginals were happy to return escaped prisoners in exchange for tobacco and blankets. The colony was a hellish place lasting till sometime in 1830. Things changed then. Captain hell pants was given land and retirement and shuffled out of town.
Port was starting to turn itself into a bit of a place to be. I mean, by now there were 41 brick & 25 wooden houses and a population of 2409! The Australian government decided this was a great area to send not only convicts but settlers. Former convicts were encouraged to stay and become part of the community, receiving land and support.
Port Macquarie, a settlement supporting disabled convicts
Farms were established at Settlement Point and Sancrox, and land was also cleared for agriculture in Rollands Plains on the Wilson River. The green rolling hills and sweeping river views are now only 20 minutes drive from town, but there is still plenty of agriculture out here. Then, it was mostly wheat, tobacco, cotton, vegetables and maize.
Back in town where they first settled, released convicts were employed in boat building, blacksmithing, teaching, baking and clerical duties. Poultry, pigs, cows and horses were also bred at the settlement. Woman convicts were employed at “The womans factory”making nails and other items.
Good times were on the horizon when sugar cane thrived, it was the very first cultivated in Australia. When the sugar mill was built someone came up with the bright idea to make Rum! This, well not only this, started to attract other artisans, farmers, fishers and generally people that hadn’t been convicts.
Don’t completely write off the convicts though, because convicts with disabilities started to be sent in from other places. I know, odd right? Whoever knew there was such a thing. One-armed men were encouraged to work in teams doing work like breaking rocks and stones for building. Believe it or not men with wooden legs became delivery men. And get this, there were teams of blind convicts who even worked at night tackling tasks they performed more skillfully than those with sight did during the day shift. Presumably, it also saved on candles.
Port Macquarie Flatlines
After all that activity things quietened down. A gold rush in the 1850’s saw people….well rush off to find some of the golden stuff. The sugar mill closed in 1860 and the idea to make the area an important Port was a bit of a disaster due to the sand bar in the harbour. A railroad was built in 1910 and that was also more reliable than trying to get ships off the sandbar.
By the 1960’s Port Macquarie was declared a sleepy little fishing town where people sat around waiting for something to happen. (sounds good to me). BUT between 1966 and 1981 the population doubled. Port became one of the fastest growing regions in NSW.
Could that be because there are so many beaches to choose from?
Port Macquarie is the place for Koala love
Many Koalas once lived in Port Macquarie. They still live here but now they have to share it with us. Chances are you’ll see one when you are here but it will probably be in either Australias only dedicated Koala hospital or Billabong zoo. The hospital has a Koala ambulance so that it can collect the little fellas from all around the place when they get injured by the 20th century.
Koalas are very fussy eaters. They don’t eat anything but leaves. They are our very own little vegans. The leaves though are quite toxic and they take quite a lot of digesting, breaking down the toxins and extracting limited nutrients. So, they sleep a lot tucked up into trees, sometimes 18 to 20 hours a day, giving their furry little bodies enough time to process their food.
You may be lucky enough to see a Koala high up in the trees. But to support local Koalas and the people that look after them be sure to donate to The Koala Hospital or Billabong Zoo or adopt a Koala. If you visit your entrance money or donations will be going toward supporting Koala care
Eating in Port Macquarie
If food and coffee are your things (like me) you are in for a nice surprise. There’s a great cafe culture here, and plenty to choose from. See if you can nab somewhere to perch at Salty crew kiosk right on the beach or try The Beach House, Roam, Sandbox, Bittersweet, LV’s on Clarence the Milkbar and Druiry lane. Take a nice drive to Wauchope and visit Sheathers on High. You will find locally roasted coffee and much more. Do you have a favourite cafe you’d like us to know about?
Dinner is on track too with local favourite Papa Feta for easy Greek. Then there’s one of my all-time favourite The Stunned Mullet for amazing food, service and wine. For a more casual but definitely delicious lunch or dinner go for Burger Rebellion and Bills Fishhouse. Head to Zebu bar and Restaurant for proper pizza and cocktails. Want to try some local wine over dinner (or anytime) then head to Casselgrain Winery and Little Fish cafe and restaurant. These wineries and restaurants offer unique experiences and you get to drink wine for lunch (just like on holidays)
From beach to fine dining it’s growing. But one of our favourite dinners of all time is fish and chips on the beach! Pick any beach…..
Of course Port isn’t all about beach and food, if you like walking or hiking and being one with the trees there is plenty of that too.
Here’s a couple of easy walks very close to Port Macquarie
This boardwalk trail through mangrove and paperbark trees is literally in the centre of Port Macquarie. There are two trails of varying distances that are suitable for all of the family. Although it is behind houses this is a wildlife corridor where you are likely to see Koalas, lizards and the odd snake crossing the trail. It is home to thousands of Flying Foxes too. The best thing about this area is that it was saved from development by the local community.
A stunning walk through the rainforest, over creeks and bridges in a 600m loop that spits you out at the largest Red Bloodwood tree in the southern hemisphere. The majestic tree is over 200 years old and about 16 metres wide at it’s base. I felt honoured to be in her presence. I felt like the air and the forest around this incredible tree was still and calm and cool. A must see.
It’s a short drive to the top of the world! Drive 20 minutes south of Port Macquarie to the Dooragan National Park and up the winding road to the top of North Brother mountain for a birdseye view all the way north and south of the coastline. On one side is the Camden haven Inlet, an impossible tangle of lakes and rivers
It is to say the least breathtaking. Pristine waterways, distant villages and clean air. You can picnic up here in the clouds. Theres bathrooms and often a van to buy a coffee
You’ll find all the markets and all the characters, food and artisan handcrafts too in this list of locals