"Blue Water Wonderland" Nelson Bay by iandsmith

Nelson Bay Travel Guide: 36 reviews and 65 photos

The vision splendid

When they came up with the title "Blue Water Wonderland" for this place, for once they didn't overstate their case.
Port Stephens is one of Australia's greatest spots for waterside activity. Australians, especially those from down south, know about it but it has been kept relatively free from international tourism.
Nelson Bay, Shoal Bay, Dutchies Bay, Salamander Bay and a few lesser known ones dot the southern shores. Shoal Bay is superb, as this picture testifies, taken from the old inner lighthouse that is now in the hands of volunteers who run a small cafe. I can imagine developers salivating over such a site. Luckily, it will stay as it is.
The headland left of centre is Yacaaba, which you will read more about in my pages. The entrance to the sea lies on its left.
The other side has Hawkes Nest and Tea Gardens, not as populous but that makes them less crowded as well.

Port Stephens was sighted in May 1770 by Captain Cook who named it after Philip Stephens, secretary of the Admiralty. He also noted smoke from Aboriginal campfires, presumably belonging to the Worimi tribe who occupied the land from Port Stephens north to Wallis Lake and inland to the Maitland area.
Five convicts whose boat sunk off the Port in 1790 inadvertantly became the first Europeans to reside here. They were seen as reincarnated ancestors by the Worimi (pronounced Wor-im-I) who aided them and accepted them into the tribe.
The harbour was entered by the convict ship Salamander in 1791 and charted by deputy surveyor-general Charles Grimes in 1795 who described it as low and sandy. He noted that the Aborigines were taller and more solid of build than those in the Sydney area, that their languages were entirely different and that their canoes and huts were larger. When Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson made out a report of the expedition he foresaw no further interest in the site (obviously not a tourist!).
Governor King ordered a survey of the Port by William Paterson in 1801 and it was personally inspected by Governor Macquarie in 1812 who found the port 'good, safe, and capacious' but abandoned his plans as there were too many shoals and the land was considered too barren to support a colony.
Timber getting commenced in the area in 1816. The exploitation of the area's abundant supply of oysters also began at this time with their incineration for lime at Carrington, Stockton and Fame Cove. Oyster beds are common in many places throughout the bay today and Port Stephens oysters have earned a reputation for quality.
The Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) were granted half a million acres on the northern side of Port Stephens in 1826 and a base of operations was established at present-day Carrington, on the north side, with 80 settlers, 720 sheep and some horse and cattle. Over 200 acres were quickly cleared, vineyards established and, by 1830, an extensive settlement was in place with 600 employees, 11 permanent houses, workshops, military barracks, a smithy, a school, a shearing shed and slaughter house and other temporary buildings. Tahlee House was built for the first manager in 1826.
The first permanent settler was Captain William Cromarty who was granted 300 acres of land adjacent the Karuah River. In the early days passing ships and whalers used the harbour as a source of wood and water. The approaches to the Port were dangerous and there were plenty of shipwrecks: 24 by the time the first lighthouse was built at Point Stephens in 1862. Another was erected at Nelson Head in 1872. Though they may have stemmed the tide they did not end the wrecks.
After the burning of live oysters for lime was prohibited in 1868, due to stock depletion, the cultivation of oysters for consumption got under way, rapidly expanding in the 1920s, particularly at Oyster Cove. As a result the Port is now the largest single oyster-producing area in Australia. Lobsters were successfully trapped from the second half of the 19th century by Greek and then Italian settlers.
The first survey at Nelson Bay was carried out in 1874 and a post office was opened in 1883. Schools were established at Hannah Bay (now Anna Bay just to the south) in 1879 and at both Salt Ash and Nelson Bay in 1883. The Hunter River Steam Navigation Company ran picnic excursions into the area from the late 19th century into the 1940s. In the Second World War Port Stephens was used as a base by the armed forces who trained 20 000 American and 2000 Australian servicemen. There are still tunnels in the Little Beach area dating from that time.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Glorious scenery, superb bay, a mecca for water sports
  • Cons:When you're in paradise, there aren't any
  • In a nutshell:One of Australia's top ten "must see" in my opinion
  • Last visit to Nelson Bay: Dec 2004
  • Intro Updated Dec 30, 2004
  • Add to Trip Planner (?)
  • Report Abuse

Reviews (20)

Comments (7)

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Oct 15, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    Thanks for the tour, Ian :-) My sister will be in Sydney and asked me if I know Anna Bay. And here I found it and more she will love to see :-)

  • BluBluBlu's Profile Photo
    Aug 25, 2005 at 2:13 PM

    Fingal Bay looks wonderful Ian! You have to love the Kookaburra's...happy travels, Blu

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Mar 11, 2005 at 7:50 PM

    Ian, I'm still LOL about the "kookaburra bird incident"! One mile beach, Fingal Bay, and Tomaree Headland are simply stunning. You live in a country reknown for beauty; I'm so glad you appreciate it. Some people are oblivious to such beauty.

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Dec 4, 2004 at 4:42 PM

    A beautiful looking spot and with great history information too! Very interesting your tale of the attacking Kookaburra!

  • CandS's Profile Photo
    Nov 7, 2004 at 1:06 PM

    I love Port Stephens... I have wonderful memories of dolphins swimming beside our little catamaran and up to the edge of the beach... :)

  • Goner's Profile Photo
    Jul 9, 2004 at 8:58 PM

    Every time I read one of your pages, I want to go there..how can I see it all???

  • karin_kamphuis's Profile Photo
    Jun 16, 2004 at 10:45 AM

    Thanks for the tips. Do you know if greyhound stops at port stephens? Couldn't find it on there website! I have a greyhound pass, but like to visit port stephens, have you info?? THANKS! Greetings Karin


“The shortest distance between two people is laughter (note sign in picture)”

Online Now


Top 1,000 Travel Writer
Member Rank:
0 0 0 1 9
Forum Rank:
0 0 4 4 1

Badges & Stats in Nelson Bay

  • 20 Reviews
  • 30 Photos
  • 1 Forum posts
  • 3,367PageViews

Have you been to Nelson Bay?

  Share Your Travels  

Latest Activity in Nelson Bay

Travel Interests

See All Travel Interests (5)