The Ultimate Guide: Things to do in Nelson Bay NSW

Located just 2.5 hours north of Sydney you’ll find the beautiful Port Stephens region. Within this region, you’ll find crystal clear waters, coastal mountains, marinas on top of marinas, sleepy coastal towns and an endless supply of hiking trails and wild swimming opportunities. However Nelson Bay is easily one of the more popular hot spots within Port Stephens. Nelson Bay is the gateway to the ocean. The d’Albora Marina Nelson Bay attracts thousands of tourists every year who hope to catch whales or charter a boat to the nearby islands. If you’re staying in the Nelson Bay region we’ve created your ultimate guide to the area, so here are the best things to do in Nelson Bay and the surrounding area.

Things to do in Nelson Bay and Surrounds

Visit the Inner Light Tea Rooms

what to do nelsons bay

This cafe easily has the best view in Nelson Bay. This heritage-listed cafe is located below the former Inner Light in the lighthouse keepers quarters, making it not only a pleasant dining experience but also a lot of history right around you. Once you take your seat at the cafe, you’ll look out and have views of Shoal Bay, Mount Tomaree, Yacaaba Headland and the endless blue ocean right in front of you.

inner light tea rooms

Even on a cloudy day, the view from the Inner Light Tea Rooms is unmatched in the region. Those looking for a cafe that is not as busy as those at d’Albora Marina will love this little hidden gem. The view here is unmatched, however, it is ultimately the view that you are paying for in the end with this cafe.

For those interested in the lighthouse, you are more than welcome to check out the area, the view, and the marine rescue centre without stopping at the cafe.

Mount Tomaree

Mount Tomaree hike

Mount Tomaree is the crown jewel of the Nelson Bay area. Located in Shoal Bay, only 5 minutes from Nelson Bay this hike is one of the must-do hikes in not only the Port Stephens area but also one of the best hikes in NSW. The Tomaree Head Summit hike is a short and challenging hike that is attempted by people of all ages throughout the year. At only 2.2kms return it is recommended you put 2 hours aside for this hike as you hike up the side of Mount Tomaree, transverse steep stairways and walk along metal walkways that have been placed along the side of the headland. This hike is easily one of the best things to do in Nelson Bay.

Once at the summit of this hike, you’ll find yourself left in awe at the views of Shoal Bay, and Nelson Bay. Continue up the track and you’ll catch unobstructed views of Yacaaba Headland, Zenith Beach all the way to Fingal Island. On a clear day, the view is breathtaking, however even on cloudy days, it’s still easy to see how this is one of the best things to do in Nelson Bay.

On your way down from the summit, take a side trail to Fort Tomaree, here you’ll find a lot of the history of this headland and how it was used in WWII. A lot of the gun emplacements, and structures are still on the headland and are worth checking out.

mount tomaree coastal walk
View from the summit of Mount Tomaree

Zenith Beach

Zenith Beach

Right next to Mount Tomaree, you’ll find Zenith Beach, which if you just climbed to the summit, you’ve already seen. However, a short walk from the base of Mount Tomarree you’ll find access to Zenith Beach which is one of the best beaches in NSW. This isolated beach is located between two headlands, and honestly the minute you catch your first glimpse of the beach from the track you’ll be left in awe.

Zenith Beach is idyllic and picturesque and also doesn’t attract the same crowds as the beaches in the bay do. It is important to note this is an unpatrolled beach, and lifesaving services are not available here.

things to do in nelson bay

Lunch at Shoal Bay Country Club

Shoal Bay Country Club

It would be rude to not have an amazing view for your lunch. The Shoal Bay Country Club is a pub in the Shoal Bay CBD and is only a 5-minute drive from Nelson Bay. This is a popular venue, but when you see the view of Mount Tomaree and Yacaaba Headland you’ll have you’ll understand why. The food and drinks are on the pricier side, but keep in mind you’re paying for the view and it will be worth it. If you’re looking for a window seat for your lunch to get unobstructed views make sure you head upstairs to the patio and arrive before midday. It fills up quickly.

Gan Gan Hill Lookout

Things to do in Port Stephens
view from Gan Gan Hill Lookout

Those looking for an accessible lookout in Nelson Bay will be delighted to find you can drive right up to the Gan Gan Hill Lookout. Standing at 160m Gan Gan Hill is the tallest mountain in the Port Stephens region. There are two lookouts here both of which are accessible with wheelchair access platforms. Here you’ll catch views of Myalls Lake, the entire Port Stephens region, and Newcastle. Some of the points of interest from this lookout are the Yacaaba Headland and Mount Tomaree which are both surrounded by the beautiful endless blue to the Pacific Ocean, which on a good day it feels like you could dive straight into. The lookouts provide plenty of signage and interpretive maps to help you pinpoint all the major points of interest in the Port Stephens area. Make sure you pack your camera for this one!

d’Albora Marina

One of the main reasons people visit Nelson Bay is for dolphin and whale watching. So it’s no surprise that d’Albora Marina is one of the most popular things to do in Nelsons Bay. Nelson Bay is the dolphin and whale-watching capital of NSW and the d’Albora Marina is the hub for all this action. Between June and October, the NSW coastline becomes a super highway for the humpback whale. As the Humpbacks make they’re way from Antartica to QLD and back to Antartica they pass by the Nelson Bay. This makes it one of the best places in NSW to see whales in the wild. Book an eco whale-watching cruise directly from the marina to see these beautiful animals up close and personal. Or book ahead and save some time here.

Worimi Country

Beach driving at Stockton beach
Beach driving on the Stockton Dunes

Located only 20 minutes from Nelson Bay you’ll find Worimi Country. Formally known as Stockton Dunes this area is the longest beach-driving area in NSW and is also the largest moving dunes in the southern hemisphere. This area is popular for those interested in beach fishing and beach driving. However, many tours focus on indigenous culture and exploring the dunes for those who don’t have a 4×4. Some of the popular tours in Worimi Country are camel rides, sand boarding, Quad Biking and 4×4 tours.

Some of the dunes in this area are up to 30m tall so it is a good idea to go with those familiar with the area and 4×4 beach driving if you choose not to go on a tour.

You can book tours for this area here.

Dolphin Swim Australia

This is easily one of the best things to do in Nelson Bay, however, it is not for the faint heart. Those looking for an adrenaline-pumping experience don’t need to look any further than Dolphin Swim Australia. If you’ve ever had the desire to swim with dolphins, rethink how you’re going to do this. We aren’t snorkelling and hoping to see a dolphin pass us by, we’re not sitting in a boom net. We are being pulled by a catamaran at a speed that dolphins swim at in the wild. This means that the dolphins swim with us. On this tour, the dolphins, swim and play right in front of you naturally, and it is honestly a surreal experience. Words can’t describe how it feels. It’s completely overwhelming and doesn’t feel real, but also one of the best experiences of your life. The adrenaline starts pumping and the second you see you’re first dolphin the anxiety disappears and suddenly it feels completely natural to be in the ocean.

dolphin swim nelson bay

Dolphin Swim Australia is the first of its kind worldwide. There are very few places that give you this experience, and it is also the only registered dolphin in NSW. After a successful swim, you’ll toast with mimosas as you head back to shore. This tour is all-inclusive, including photography, brunch, wetsuits, snorkelling gear, sea sickness tablets, and your swim with the common dolphin. Don’t pass up on this experience, it truly is one of a kind.

Tours only run October-April and book out with only 12 people a day allowed in the water, so it does book out. More info is available here.

Fly Point

Fly Point offers some of the best onshore snorkeling in NSW so it’s no surprise it’s on this list. If you have envisioned your trip to Nelson Bay to include seeing wild animals this is the perfect spot for you. Fly Point is home to pineapple fish, blue groupers, octopus, wobbegong sharks and even elusive seahorses. Because of this Fly Point is also one of the most popular dive spots in NSW, which is definitely why it is one of the best things to do in Nelson Bay. Head to this spot earlier in the day for the best chance to get it all to yourself.

Shoal Bay Beach

Shoal Bay Beach

For those wanted to swim, but don’t like waves, Shoal Bay Beach is for you. Wade your way out in the warm waters of Shoal Bay, relax and take in the views of this picturesque beach. You can’t beach the views here. This is one of the most popular things to do in Nelson Bay, and should not be passed up. Head to a cafe or the Shoal Bay Country Club afterwards for a drink and continue to take in the views of the bay!

There are so many more things to do in Nelson Bay, however, these are your must-do experiences. For more travel guides check out some of our national park guides here.


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