Port Macquarie grew up around a prison built because the Newcastle gaol, in the words of Governor Macquarie, being too near Sydney enables criminals sent thither to effect their escape back to this place. Nowadays the reverse is true, with many queer Sydney escapees taking the five-hour drive north to Port.
The town has changed considerably from the na? and quirky representations of it in the local Historical Society Museum. As in most of the north coast of New South Wales, development is rife, with large houses and hotels springing up everywhere. The built environment is not attractive but the beaches around this area must be some of the most beautiful in NSW. A big plus for Port is that a large strip of public land to the east of Pacific Drive means there is no development visible from any of its beaches.
The beaches are splattered with beautiful rocky outcrops, great for exploring as part of a coastal walk from the town. I took a taxi to Tacking Point Lighthouse (great views) and in the interests of research walked to Miners Beach, the local nude/gay beach. A smattering of locals were happy to chat, and the vibe was friendly and only slightly tinged with the frisson of the cruise. The walk back to town from here is an easy half hour.
The local gay group, Coastal Lynx, services Port and Coffs Harbour (visit www.siteware.com.au/CHAINS). It has been around for 11 years or so, and its regular dances at the Flynn’s Beach Surf Club attract up to 120 punters and raise funds for the ACON branch in town.
Above Shelley Beach is the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre with a fantastic self-guided walk. The forest is the second largest remaining in NSW at 72 hectares in size and features four types of forest: littoral, dry, sub-tropical and eucalypt. The circular walk takes a leisurely 40 minutes and there’s an excellent caf?t the entrance. The koala hospital in Roto House, a restored colonial home, is also nearby and worth a visit.
From Port you can take the vehicular ferry to the northern side of the river. Here you’ll find a beach that stretches for as far as the eye can see and it is possible to 4WD right to the end. Dorrigo National Park is only two hours from town and has some of the most beautiful rainforest you are likely to experience but if the self-drive excursion doesn’t appeal, try Wilay Bijarr (phone 02 6562 5959), an Aboriginal cultural eco-tourism operator who conducts tailor-made 4WD tours from Port to sites of interest such as a magical wedding cave.
Port boasts the full range of accommodation. The HW Motel is in a grandstand location opposite Town Beach and most of the comfortable designer rooms have fantastic views up the coast. At Sails Resort, positioned in a quiet location on the river, you can enjoy the company of pelicans while dining at Spinnakers Restaurant. Other restaurants worth considering are Portabello’s, which has gained consistently good reviews since opening, and Tommy’s by the Beach, a steak and seafood affair where the proprietor puts on drag performances every Thursday night.
The Beach House Caf?n the Old Royal Hotel enjoys a prime location with views of the river, very attractive waiters and is obviously the local hang. The night I was there the Christmas tree lights in the main square were turned on. All the locals were out to see the spectacle which was a bit of a fizzer to say the least. Overheard from one table was, Geeze, Col, the lights at the caravan park are brighter than the bloody council’s effort.
She was right, but everyone enjoyed a laugh at the council’s expense, the night was warm and balmy and no one really cared. This is laidback Port. Leave those pretensions at home, thank you.
Story courtesy of Gay Travel Guides.