209km (130 miles) N of Sydney

Port Stephens, just 2 1/2 hours north of Sydney, should be at the top of any New South Wales itinerary. The sheltered Port Stephens bay is more than twice the size of Sydney Harbour and is as clean as a newly poured bath. The sea literally jumps with fish, and the creamy islands and surrounding Tomaree National Park boast more species of birds than even Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Two pods of Bottlenose Dolphins, around 80 individuals in all, call the bay home, and larger Common Dolphins live just outside the bay. Port Stephens is also a fabulous place to watch whales during their migration to the breeding grounds farther north (roughly from mid-may to the end of October -- though they are less frequently seen in Aug). There is also a large breeding colony of koalas in Lemon Tree Passage on the south side of the Tomaree Peninsula, which makes up the southern shoreline of the bay.

The main town, Nelson Bay (pop. 8,000), is on the northern side of the peninsula. There's a lovely promenade walk, little beaches, an interesting marina, good fashion shops, some nice eateries, and a long jetty. The township of Shoal Bay, farther along the peninsula, has a spectacular beach edged with wildflowers in season. Another small resort town, Anna Bay, is the largest development on the southern side of the peninsula and has excellent surf beaches. The Stockton Bight stretches some 32km (20 miles) from Anna Bay south to the large industrial town of Newcastle. The Stockton Sand Dunes are the largest continuous sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere and you can book 4-wheel-drive adventures that include the chance to surf down the dunes.