We arrived in the town of Port Macquarie after completing our tour of New England. It was just before sunset so we settled in at the Port Macquarie YHA for a quiet Saturday night that turned out to be quite a social event. We met a few people that night, including Brian, a bloke from Louisiana USA who looked very much like Anthony Kedis from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. We ended up hanging out with him the next day at the Black Duck Brewery.
Port Macquarie is 390km north of Sydney and is located at the mouth of the Hastings River. The area was first explored by John Oxley in 1818 and named after the Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie. It began as a penal settlement in 1821, replacing Newcastle as the destination for convicts from the UK. There are two things needed to make a good penal colony – isolation and labour – and Newcastle had lost both of these elements, with farmers moving into the Hunter Valley reducing isolation and the cedar industry winding down and producing less work.
The rugged terrain around Port Macquarie was overgrown, providing a great amount of isolation, and there were plenty of aborigines in the area who were more than happy to return runaway convicts for some tobacco or blankets. The first man to run the penal colony loved dishing out lashings as punishment, and the penal colony soon earned the reputation of a hellish place to be. By 1840, the penal colony was closed and Port Macquarie became a town for free settlers. These days, it’s a popular place for retirement.
Things to Do and See
Hello Koalas Public Art Sculpture Trail
This is the coolest and most colourful thing about Port Macquarie – it was like a treasure hunt to find all the koalas. Many of the koalas are within the city centre and along the foreshore, but there are some further out past Wauchope and there’s one at Bago Winery too. While you’re on the hunt, keep an eye out for the genuine Chinese Junk at the marina and the cool graffiti on the rocks of the breakwater.
Tacking Point Lighthouse
South of the city centre, on a headland by the coast is Tacking Point Lighthouse. It’s a great lookout over Lighthouse Beach and a perfect spot for whale watching. The reason it’s called Tacking Point is because when Matthew Flinders was exploring the area, the headland was a tacking point on his map. Unfortunately, it took scores of shipwrecks around the headland before the lighthouse was built in 1879.
Koala Hospital and Roto House
Established in 1973, the Koala Hospital treats sick or injured koalas and educates the community about how habitat destruction and disease can affect koalas. You can visit the koalas during the day or arrive at 3pm for feeding time.
Nearby is the Roto House, a late Victorian house that has recently been bought and restored by NSW National Parks. It used to be owned by the Flynn family and was built in 1890. It’s open for display and there’s a retro café onsite.
Black Duck Brewery
We visited the Black Duck Brewery with an American guy we met at the Port Macquarie YHA, and were greeted at the entrance by a huge Great Dane called Murphy. With the big black dog by our side, we met Al the brewer, and passed on a message from Ben at New England Brewery.
“So busy that his customers can’t find a park, aye?” Al said. “Tell him it’s standing room only here…”
We settled at the bar with a huge line of tasting paddles for the ten beers they had on offer. A paddle of four beers was $5 so it’s around $10 for the full range, including two special beers. Juz’s favourite was the Summer Swallow, an easy drinking session ale with apple and banana on yeasty bread and a refreshing finish. Dave’s favourite was the Heron’s Craic, an Irish red ale with a delicious apple pie smell and a creamy caramel flavour.
Black Duck Brewery has been operational for 5 years. It’s the perfect place to sit down for a Sunday session, have a beer and a delicious pizza, or take a tour of the brewery.
Bago Vinyard and Maze
Bago Vinyard is located about 25 minutes south west of Port Macquarie, and is worth the visit, whether you’re interested in the wine or the maze. The wines are great, and include a few varieties we hadn’t heard of, like Chambourcin and Savagnin. Once you’ve done a wine tasting and swooned at how delicious the mulled wine is, go check out the biggest maze in NSW.
On our way to the Hunter Valley, we deviated from the highway to pass through Tuncurry and Forster. Regardless of which side of the bridge you are, the little parks on either end offer a great view of the bridge that spans the Coolongolook River.
Just as the sun was setting, we made it to Cape Hawke Lookout, a platform on top of a hill that offers great views of the coast and town below. Before we ran out of light, we drove past Lake Wallis and watched the sky change colour and reflect on the still water.
Information & Accommodation
The public transport system around Port Macquarie is operated by Busways and the network covers the city and outer suburbs. However, if you stay at the Port Macquarie YHA, you will be within walking distance of the city centre. If you need to travel further, there are buses that travel on nearby Park Street and Gordon Street.