By Roger ALLNUTT
It was a surprise to see a Chinese junk (ancient style of sailing ship) on the Hastings River at Port Macquarie on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. But it was a very relaxing vehicle for a midday cruise to see some of the sights of the booming rural city, especially the upmarket marina style developments of Settlement City.
Port Macquarie (named after Governor Macquarie) is one of the oldest settlements in Australia being established in 1821 as a penal settlement which was ultimately disbanded in 1830. It was discovered by explorer John Oxley in 1818 as he came from the interior to the coast.
The city is roughly 400km north of Sydney and is now the fastest growing community in New South Wales. Many retirees are attracted to the pleasant climate, relaxed lifestyle and community facilities in the region.
The Hastings River flows inland for many kilometres and provides a focus for the central area of the city. Cruise boats offer many options from short river cruises to whale watching and dolphin spotting expeditions off shore.
My cruise on the Cruise Terminal’s Chinese Junk took us along the river from the breakwater up past some of the newer developments of the city and included excellent commentary on the area and its history. A different touch was the inclusion of a fish and chips lunch hand delivered by the chef of a local restaurant from the jetty in cooler bags.
Along the southern bank of the river the extensive Town Green is popular for strolling or relaxing. Norfolk pines line the water’s edge, offering a distinct aesthetic. Many of the large rocks making up the breakwater are covered in messages indicating people who have visited the city on holidays and even a number of ‘memorials’ to one time visitors. A statue of Edmund Barton, the second prime Minister of Australia and a Port Macquarie ‘boy’ holds pride of place on the Town Green.
The coastline south from Town Green is spectacular with many beaches and rocky headlands providing great views. A nine kilometre pathway along the coast joins the different beaches and is popular with locals and visitors alike. My favourite beaches are Town Beach, Flynns Beach and Shelley Beach while Lighthouse Beach is a vast stretch of sand leading down to smaller communities such as Lake Cathie and Laurieton.
The distinctive blue and white Tacking Point lighthouse at the northern end of Lighthouse Beach was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802 and provides great views along the sand. It was built in 1879 to a design by noted Colonial Architect James Barnet. Nearby is Sea Acres National Park which contains one of the most diverse coastal rainforests in NSW. The 1.3km accessible elevated rainforest boardwalk is an inspiring experience enjoying the sights, sounds and tranquillity of the reserve.
Back near the city centre the Kooloonbung Creek Nature Park contains a number of walking trails and is home to around 165 bird species, reptiles and flying foxes in 52 hectares of natural bushland.
Dominating a hill on the edge of the central district area is the Anglican St Thomas’ Church which is the fifth oldest in Australia. It was built by convict labour under military supervision between 1824 and 1827; at that time Australia was still part of the Diocese of Calcutta! The bricks were hand-made (on some of the outside wall bricks you can see brickmaker’s markers (a kind of ancient quality control) and the mortar made from oyster shells. The Walker Pipe Organ dates from 1856 although it was reconditioned in 1970.
A curved stairway and ladders lead up to the roof of the unusual square tower (no steeple) while inside the church the cedar box pews are rather unique. Presumably leading families had their own pew but name tags have been lost. The church is open for inspection during the week with volunteers providing interesting commentary and discussion.
There is a whole range of activities available in and around Port Macquarie for all the family. There are plenty of water based activities, horse and camel safaris, some good golf courses, some good museums and galleries and you can take in the Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park located on the road to Wauchope to the west of the city. You can visit the unique Koala Hospital. The local tourist office is a font of information and is located in the ’Glasshouse’ that also serves as a gallery, heritage displays and live shows.
An unusual attraction is Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries just off the Princes Highway north of Port Macquarie where you can pick your own strawberries growing year round under cover on vertical lattice frames. They also have many varieties of tomatoes some quite unknown to me.
The town of Wauchope is about 20km west of Port Macquarie on the Oxley Highway which cuts across the main Princes Highway. A rather sleepy place well known for its cheese and other dairy products it is the gateway to over 40,000 hectares of National Parks and State Forests. About 10 kilometres south of Wauchope on Bago Road a short dirt road takes you into the Burrawan State Forest where a 600m loop trail brings you to the wonderful ‘Old Bottlebutt’ the largest Red Bloodwood tree in the Southern Hemisphere. The 200 year old tree is over 50m high and 16m wide at the base.
The other side of Bago Road offers a visit to charming Bago Winery is recommended especially on the second Sunday each month when Jazz in the Vineyard is held. It is very relaxing listening to local groups while enjoying a cheese platter of local cheeses accompanied by a glass or two of Bago wine. An added attraction is the Bago Maze which you overlook from the grassy slope outside the winery. The design of the tricky maze (2km of pathways) takes inspiration from the surrounding vineyard, bushland and the influences of earth, air and water represented in two interlaced spirals.
Port Macquarie is well serviced with a wide range of accommodation options from luxury resorts to hotels and caravan parks. The number and variety of cafes and restaurants reflects a large, bustling community which attracts tourists throughout the year.
For more information check the website www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au
Roger Allnutt was assisted by the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.