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Image © Port Macquarie Tourism, Linday Moller Productions

Why families love Port Macquarie

With its golden beaches, abundant wildlife and unique adventures, Port Macquarie is a haven for holidaying families, explains Aleney De Winter.

Port Macquarie’s magnificent river systems and 17 uncrowded beaches, including six lifeguard-patrolled options, are without doubt the jewel in its family holiday crown, but on this visit my kids, Raff and Marlo, have water fun of a wilder kind on their minds.

Making a splash

Stoney Aqua Park is a brand-spanking-new inflatable, overwater arena of obstacles, giant slides, trampolines, rockers, blast bags and swings located on a man-made lake at Telegraph Point. And the kids can’t wait to don their mandatory life vests to take it on.

They, and their ungainly parents, soon learn it isn’t as easy as it looks, skidding, sliding and wiping out into the water from the slippery floating playground. The kids are in fits of giggles as they pit themselves against each other like contenders in Australian Ninja Warrior as they take on each challenge. It is as exhilarating as it is exhausting and we all leave with muscles aching and grins on our faces.

We’ve worked up quite a hunger, so head to Ricardoes Tomatoes & Strawberries to refuel. After downing fluffy warm scones with homemade strawberry jam at Red Restaurant, we’re armed with buckets to go strawberry picking. The kids cram them full of the luscious berries, which they shovel into their faces on return to our beachside apartment at Mantra The Observatory.

Stuffed full of strawberries, we spend the rest of the day in the hotel’s indoor pool, finishing the way we started – wet and a little wild.

Image © Aleney De Winter

Animal antics

We wake to blissfully blue skies so we take the Coastal Walk, an eight-kilometre walkway running from Port Macquarie’s Town Green to Lighthouse Beach, where we have a date with a couple of camels. At Port Macquarie Camel Safaris, kids helmet up and wave us goodbye as they plod off on the back of a camel along the golden sands. They return giddy, and not a little smelly, but we have more animal antics in store.

The multi-award-winning Billabong Zoo is home to a marvellous menagerie. As a privately owned conservation zoo featuring Australian and exotic animals, it offers plenty of opportunities for kids to interact with its furry, feathery and fearsome residents.

We stop to watch the big cats come out to play and listen to fascinating keeper talks at the lion, cheetah and snow leopard enclosures. The kids flirt with mischievous monkeys, feed kangaroos and steal slobbery kisses from a rare white dingo. Then it is time for a close encounter of the meerkat kind. Here, Raff and Marlo step into the enclosure with the keeper to feed corn to the three ridiculously cute critters. Extroverted and quite chatty, they run around, on and over the kids in their desperation for a spoonful of golden corn. Once it’s all gone, two of the meerkats dash back into their burrows while the other heads off for his shift as stoic sentinel. The kids leave on a high, thoroughly educated on the smart, adorable creatures.

The zoo is also renowned for its koala breeding program. The kids are thrilled to join a keeper in the koala enclosure for a private meet and greet, even more so when they are tasked with feeding a few of the cuddly critters their daily supplements.

If too much koala is never enough, you can take the kids on a treasure hunt along the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail. There are 57 quirky and cute metre-high koala sculptures scattered throughout the city, celebrating the region and the outstanding work of the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital – the first facility in the world dedicated solely to the care and conservation of the much-loved marsupials.

Image © Aleney De Winter

Port in a storm

According to the CSIRO, Port Macquarie has the best climate in Australia, with mild winters and gentle summers, which is why holidaymakers like us flock to bask in the sun, sand and surf all year round. But someone appears to have forgotten to inform Mother Nature because as we leave the zoo, the clouds roll in. By the time we get back to town, it is raining and our plans of beachcombing and boating are scuppered.

It takes minimal research to discover that Port Macquarie has plenty to keep a young family occupied indoors, or at least undercover, while we wait for the storm to pass. Our first stop is the award-winning Port Macquarie Museum with 14 rooms of displays and artefacts, where the kids are suitably fascinated to learn the story of Port Macquarie’s past, from its Indigenous beginnings as the home of the Birpai people to its settlement as a British penal colony.

But it is Centre of Gravity that really floats my goat-like children’s boats. These kids love to climb and on a stormy Saturday night, this indoor climb centre is the place to be with fog machines, music and lasers lighting up the walls. There’s an area upstairs for my little climbers while Raff and his dad take on the centre’s more extreme climbs, Darkzone laser skirmish and the terrifying (at least to his mother) Leap of Faith, a seven-metre-high jump to a swinging trapeze.

Image © Aleney De Winter

Lost and found

After our weekend of wildlife and wild fun, we make one more stop at Bago Vineyard and Maze, near Wauchope in the Port Macquarie hinterland. I’m keen to stock up on a little of its Bago Spritzy Rose as well as some of the incredible Baba Lila chocolates that are handmade on the premises. The kids though are more interested in throwing themselves headfirst into the hedge maze, NSW’s largest, so I decide to hold off on the wine until we navigate our way out of the two kilometres of confusing pathways.

After about half an hour, I wish I’d stocked up before entering because I think we may be stuck in here for the rest of our natural lives. Just when I’m ready to call for the state emergency services, the kids (who are much better at this maze business than me) find the exit and I run to the waiting arms of the cellar door, while they amuse themselves under the shade of a blossoming jacaranda tree.

My family may have found our way out of Port Macquarie’s mega-maze but, really, there’s nowhere I can think of where I’d rather be lost than right here.

This article appeared in volume 54 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

Image © Aleney De Winter

Getting there

Located almost halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, Port Macquarie is easily accessible by bus, train, car and plane.

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