Port Stephens is a fabulous beach holiday destination not far from Sydney. Just over 2 1/2 hours drive north from the centre of Sydney in NSW, it’s perfect for a short weekend getaway from Sydney or a longer stay.
But what if you’re bringing your dog along? There’s no need to worry, as I cover everything needed for a wonderful dog-friendly getaway to Port Stephens, from where to stay to dog-friendly things to do with your pup.
Dog-Friendly Beaches in Port Stephens
Port Stephens is home to some beautiful beaches, and while naturally some of the most popular beaches don’t permit dogs on the sand, there’s still some great options for paddling or strolling along the sand with your pup.
My favourite dog-friendly beach in Port Stephens is Bagnalls Beach, in between Nelson Bay and Corlette. This beach fronts on to the placid waters of the port, rather than the ocean, so its crystal clear waters are always calm, great for smaller dogs.
Best of all, the beach and adjacent reserve both permit dogs off-leash 24 hours, meaning that you can visit this beach with your dog anytime of day. Just note that Dutchmans Beach directly to the east prohibits dogs.
For a more wild experience, head to Birubi Beach, at the start of the massive expanse of Stockton Beach. Dogs are allowed along the initial stretch of this beach. When standing at the access path, the off-leash section to your right is just a little shorter than the off-leash section to the left, up to the headland.
Note however this is a time-restricted off-leash dog area. While dogs are allowed off-leash on the beach all day long from May to September, they are only allowed off-leash before 9am or after 5pm during the warmer months between October and April, roughly when the beach is patrolled.
Dogs are still allowed on the beach the rest of the day – but they need to stay on a leash, and at least 100m outside of the patrolled section. Dogs are also prohibited from the dune area where the camel rides operate.
There are also some other off-leash dog beaches in Port Stephens to choose from, although most are time-restricted. Check out these options:
Marrungbanga Reserve, Shoal Bay: This reserve and beach at the eastern end of sheltered Shoal Bay Beach, starting near the Zenith Bay Loop Road, permits off-leash dogs before 9am and after 5pm, while they are prohibited the rest of the day.
Boat Harbour Beach: Dogs are allowed off-leash (or on-leash) all day long between May and September on this ocean-facing beach. However, between October and April they are only allowed on-leash before 9am or after 5pm, while they are prohibited during the rest of the day.
Billy Beach, Mallabula: Heading further west within Port Stephens, dogs are allowed off-leash all day long on this calm harbour beach, at the end of Fairlands Road. At low tide, the sand flats extend a long way out.
Unfortunately, dogs are prohibited from many other stretches of sand in Port Stephens, including the main sections of Fingal Bay Beach, Little Beach, Shoal Bay Beach and One Mile Beach (plus any beaches in national parks). Check out the details on the council website or look for signs.
Dog-Friendly Sightseeing in Port Stephens
Heading to a dog beach isn’t the only dog-friendly thing to do in Port Stephens. Consider also ticking off some of these other sightseeing ideas…
#1 Take a Ferry to Tea Gardens
If you have a chance to take a boat out on the beautiful calm waters of Port Stephens, grab the opportunity! This is one of the best ways to experience fully the charm of the area and perhaps glimpse some of the resident dolphins.
The easiest option is to board one of the ferries that cross Port Stephens between Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens. There are two services on offer: the Original Tea Gardens Ferry Service on historic ferries, plus the newer ferry service on the YNOT Catamaran.
Both ferry services take about an hour between Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens, generally with three crossings daily, as long as the weather is suitable. Well-behaved dogs on a leash are welcomed onboard each ferry.
Generally the lunch time crossings are the most popular. It’s a short distance from the wharf in Tea Gardens to the Tea Gardens Hotel, which has a dog-friendly beer garden.
#2 Spend the Day on a Boat or Yacht
Another option to get out on the water at Port Stephens is to hire your own boat or yacht, with dogs often allowed to join you on board – just check with the hire company.
Soldiers Point Marina in particular is quite dog-friendly (just keep them on a leash), with “puppy parking” including a water bowl for when you go inside the office.
#3 Stop Off at Murray’s Brewery
While visiting Port Stephens, don’t miss stopping at Murray’s Brewery and Port Stephens Winery while driving to or departing from the area. It’s located at Bobs Farm, about 15 minutes drive outside of Nelson Bay.
Previously we’ve enjoyed lunch at the brewery with our dog in the large outdoor dining area. However, these days dogs are only permitted on the grassed area at the brewery. It’s best to bring your own rug or chairs for a picnic on the grass.
#4 Head Up Gan Gan Lookout
On the road heading into Nelson Bay proper, keep an eye out for the turn-off up to Gan Gan Lookout. Located on top of Lily Hill, you can drive right up to the lookout, although the steep road might be a bit much for caravans.
The lookout offers superb views right out over Port Stephens. Best of all, the lookout isn’t located within Tomaree National Park, so dogs on a leash are permitted to join you.
The views are admittedly more spectacular from Mount Tomaree, at the far end of Shoal Bay and at the entrance to the port. But you’ll have to skip the walk up it while visiting with a dog, as it’s located in the national park, along with a number of other sections of bushland around Port Stephens.
#5 Explore the Tilligerry Habitat
The Port Stephens area is home to a number of nature reserves where koalas may be spotted. One of the best dog-friendly options is the Tilligerry Habitat in Tanilba Bay, on the southwestern shore of Port Stephens.
There are multiple walking paths and boardwalks in the reserve, passing through various types of woodlands, swamp forest and wetlands. Naturally, dogs need to be kept on a leash. Ask the staff at the visitors centre or check for signs where koalas have recently been spotted.
Combine a walk through the reserve with a walk along the nearby Tanilba Boardwalk or a visit to the off-leash Billy Beach.
Dog-Friendly Parks in Port Stephens
In addition to the dog beaches listed above, there are a number of other places in Port Stephens where your dog can run about off-leash.
For starters, there are fenced dog parks just behind Fingal Bay Beach, at Lancaster Park in Soldiers Point (although this one is only open 7am to 7pm) and Coachwood Drive Reserve in Medowie.
Some other off-leash parks that aren’t fenced for your pup include Fishermans Bay Park, North Headland in Boat Harbour (just check the signs for the boundary), the reserve on Austral Street in Nelson Bay, Amirah Park in Corlette and Kooindah Park at Lemon Tree Passage. Dogs are also allowed off-leash at the Tanilba Bay Boardwalk.
And of course many other parks and walkways allow your dog to join you, as long as they stay on a leash. For full details and any changes, see the council website, which displays all the off-leash parks on a map.
Dog-Friendly Cafes in Port Stephens
Nearly all cafes and restaurants in Port Stephens have plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy the sunshine, and many will likely allow your dog to join you, as long as they are well-behaved.
It’s best though to check in advance, in case they don’t allow pets (which is at the owner’s discretion) or in case they wish for you to sit in a specific area. Plus, if it’s very busy (frequently the case during the peak summer period), it might not be the best environment for your dog.
In Nelson Bay, a dog-friendly cafe close to the marina is The Little Nel. Open daily for breakfast and lunch, except for on Monday when it closes early, it’s highly rated for its breakfast options and coffee. The section out the front under the umbrellas is dog-friendly – just make sure you book on summer weekends!
For something different, head to the Inner Light Tea Rooms. Housed in the former lighthouse keeper’s cottage on the headland in Nelson Bay, bookings are recommended – request an outdoor table for dining with your pup. The tea rooms are open daily for breakfast and lunch.
Another cafe that that comes recommend as very dog-friendly is Lemon Tree Cafe at Lemon Tree Passage. Open for breakfast and lunch daily, there’s plenty of water bowls for dogs, not to mention a few statues that might surprise your pup. It’s best for a relaxed meal before heading to the nearby off-leash Kooindah Park.
Many cafes will also offer you takeaway options, in case you want to picnic with your dog in one of the pet-friendly reserves of the area.
Dog-Friendly Pubs in Port Stephens
A particularly dog-friendly pub in Port Stephens, not surprising given it’s name, is the Cheeky Dog in Soldiers Point, near Bannisters.
Serving up pub style food, or just a nice spot to enjoy a drink, there’s a large dog-friendly outdoor area. I’ve also heard reports that well-behaved dogs are able to join you in part of the indoor sports bar area, although double check with the staff.
Dog-Friendly Accommodation in Port Stephens
There are a wide range of dog-friendly accommodation options available in the Port Stephens region.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive commission if you make a purchase using the links. See my full disclaimer.
Pet-Friendly Caravan Parks in Port Stephens
For starters, many of the local caravan parks permit dogs. The jointly-run Fingal Bay Holiday Park, Shoal Bay Holiday Park and Halifax Holiday Park (in between Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay) permit dogs when staying in your own tent or caravan.
There are no longer any exclusion periods during school holidays and long weekends (as is common in coastal areas of NSW), although there is a limit of one dog per site during school holidays and over public holidays. You do however need to request permission in advance. For their full pet policy click here.
Another dog-friendly caravan park is the BIG4 Bays Holiday Park. As well as powered and unpowered sites, dogs are also allowed in selected cabins and caravans – see the options on their website.
Advance approval is required and an additional cleaning fee of $50 applies for cabins and vans. There’s a free dog wash and washing machine for pet bedding onsite. However, dogs are no longer permitted during NSW school holidays and over long weekends, plus cats are not allowed.
Pet-Friendly Hotels in Port Stephens
For something for luxurious, consider Bannisters Port Stephens at Soldiers Point. Their ground floor Ocean Deck and Luxury Suite rooms are dog-friendly. Stylishly decorated in subdued tones, these ground floor rooms open directly onto the resort’s garden, plus offer easy beach access, while the dog-friendly Cheeky Dog is a short walk away.
For more information, check out their dog-friendly information.
Pet-Friendly Holiday Homes in Port Stephens
There’s also many options for individual houses and holiday apartments scattered around the Port Stephens area that allow dogs. These are particularly good for larger groups.
An excellent dog-friendly holiday home in Nelson Bay is Dutchies. This spacious, well-appointed house sleeps up to six guests, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It’s virtually across the road from the off-leash Bagnalls Beach, plus there’s a fenced garden area. Dogs are welcome – just bring your dog’s bed.
Another wonderful pet-friendly holiday home at the far end of off-leash Bagnalls Beach is this Beach Bungalow. With three bedrooms and two bathrooms it can accomodate up to 10 guests, with prices staggered based on the number of guests. Pets will love the beach and fully fenced yard. Double check the surcharge for pets, plus the full pet rules, before booking.
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About the Author
Shandos Cleaver is the founder of Travelnuity: Dog-Friendly Travel. She has travelled extensively with her Miniature Dachshund, Schnitzel, including to 33 countries across Europe, every state and territory of Australia except Tasmania, and 10 of the United States. She’s passionate about providing inspiration and information to others wanting to travel with their dogs, whether close to home or internationally.
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