I haven’t been well for the last couple of months and after finally getting a diagnosis (the process of which is an indictment on the medical community, but that’s another story) I had to wait a fortnight for treatment. At the same time a friend wanted to quit smoking and felt this would be most ably achieved away from the stress of his day to day life. So we decided to take a trip. Our criteria were relatively straightforward: somewhere we could relax and enjoy ourselves, good weather, capacity to cater to my eating preferences (roughly organic, paleo, low fructose) and a hospital with a 24 hour emergency department. We settled on Port Macquarie in NSW because neither of us had been there before.
We couldn’t have made a better choice.
Port Macquarie is located about 400kms north of Sydney, an easy run up the Pacific Hwy. It isn’t a “trendy” destination with the same tourist drawcards and reputation as somewhere like Byron Bay, but it had an ample amount of activities and points of interest to consume us for the week (and we didn’t come close to doing everything). At the same time it wasn’t overwhelming with that sense of pressure to see and do things, but rather a region we could explore at an easygoing pace. In addition, the beaches and hedlands are every bit as enjoyable and stunning as anything along the east coast.
Being a regional centre, we expected all the standard services and amentities. However, Port Macquarie goes beyond that – it’s almost as well serviced as a city. There are the significant major suppliers such as Woolworths, Coles, Target, JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks, Fantastic Furniture and Bunnings, all with decent opening hours, and standard brand name stores such as Collette Accessories, Just Jeans and National Geographic (located in either one of the two largish shopping complexes). There is also a vast array of health services, beyond basic doctors and dentists to include a number of osteopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths and other health professionals.
Pleasingly, there are also a number of independent stores, not the tacky touristy kind, but tasteful with quality merchandise. Particularly there are a lot of great boutiques with clothing for women of all ages. I can understand some locals’ frustration at the influx of the big franchises at the expense of these smaller, local businesses, but for us the balance was just right. I prefer to support independent stores where I can, but sometimes I need to be able to buy a stockpot at 8pm on a Sunday night!
However, the standout feature of Port Macquarie is the people. Almost everyone we came across was just lovely. Not in-your-face-take-up-all-your-time-invasive as happens in some country areas, but just generally pleasant, helpful, friendly, warm and happy. This was the best thing I could have hoped for. The rough time I have been having with my health has been quite depressing and the attitude of everyone in Port Macquarie really lifted my spirits and made probably the biggest difference of all to my wellbeing. I felt happy and at ease being out and about.
Particular thanks must go to the following people who can only be described as delightful: all the ladies at World Partea who made every visit a pleasurable and fun experience (and who made delicious teas that I’m yet to replicate); the bloke who served us at Little Brewing Co who somehow managed to be like a mate instantly without trying too hard (apologies that I cannot remember his name); Rob Southwood, an osteopath who was unavailable and who recommended Peggy Langdon, who turned out to be just as kind and nice as he’d said; David at Sheng Chi Pain Relief who couldn’t see me but who went out of his way to give me appropriate recommendations; Jan at Beaches Boutique who made shopping in her store a delightful experience, provided some great information about where to see whales and went over and above to get a pair of shoes for my sister (which she loves).
Of primary importance to me was that Port Macquarie cater to my eating preferences. This was not a problem as the region has a number of organic and health food stores. There is the independent Organic Belly in Murray St, the commercial Go Vita franchise in Settlement Point shopping centre, Organic Fitness in Bellbowrie St and ecoWild in Wauchope, about 20kms away on the other side of the Pacific Hwy. Beyond that there are a number of farmers markets. The only thing I was unable to get was cold pressed nut milk, which is hard to get anywhere, and I otherwise enjoyed a few alternative products from the local area that I am unable to get in Melbourne, including a different brand of coconut kefir.
We were keen on walking and as I’m a beach rather than a bush person we focused our activities around the foreshore. However, our travels around the region took us into the hinterland and the lakes area to the south and there’s plenty of alternatives. There are also a surprising amount of places to cater to the foodie culture including several wineries, two micro breweries and local producers of macadamias, fudge and tomatoes and strawberries.
Port Macquarie has the highest concentration of koalas on the east coast of Australia, so a lot of the tourism is focused around that. A brilliant component is the koala scuplture trail, which is actually one of the most clever tourism initiatives I’ve encountered. The community has commissioned 50 sculptures of koalas, all sponsored by various organisations and painted by different artists, and they are placed strategically around the region. It’s a fun treasure hunt for all ages that leads people all over the local area, also acting as a guide to some of the major points of interest and, if one allows the time, the opportunity to divert to other places that appear along the way (and there are many).
My personal highlights were:
World Partea (2/1 Hay St, between Port Day Spa & Rydges, near the foreshore): This is a tea bar devoted entirely to the enjoyment of tea. They have over 180 varieties, including all the standard teas, variations on some classics (eg French Earl Grey) and herbal blends designed with the assistance of a naturopath. There’s also an array of tea paraphernalia – cups, teapots, infusers. Each day they put out a selection of 3-4 teas for tasting and you can order any of the blends as a cuppa. Of particular note, they are one of the few places in Australia to serve A2 milk. They also cater for all other dietary requirements with almond and coconut milk as well. It was refreshing to meet the owner who has a strong interest in health and wellbeing, and to be in a place where asking what type of almond milk is used was welcomed. I with there was something like this in Melbourne! www.worldpartea.com.au
Crafty Shoes (1 Railway Ave Kendall): Kendall is a small town in the hinterland between Kew and Comboyne (where we were heading for “Cowala”). On the main road through, we spotted Crafty Shoes. I just had to stop – I’m a shoe fanatic and it seemed too ironic to find a place devoted to shoes in this tiny town. The place is run by Sally, an environmental scientist who makes casual leather shoes with a focus on sandals for both males and females. They are some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve encountered – light, well structured, don’t rub, adjust to the foot, easy to walk in all day – they rival my commercial Merrells for foot love. She also stocks a hemp and bamboo products and a few organic and health food products that she uses herself that are not only about quality but also philosophy – sustainability and fair trade. You can purchase the shoes online; just note that the sizing is different to standard (from memory you go one size up to what you’d normally get). www.craftyshoes.com.au
Beaches @ Port Boutique: Located opposite Port Central, Beaches was my favourite of the independent boutiques. That’s personal – they had my type of clothes (simple, elegant, sophisticated mid 30s) and I got some fabulous comfortable sandals for my sister and I – but Jan definitely puts a lot of effort into the selection of clothing and accessories she chooses. She’s also extremely helpful and friendly and a great advertisement for her store with her chic appearance.
ecoWild Health Food & Organics (Wauchope): ecoWild rivals the health food stores I’m used to in Melbourne’s hipster areas. It stocks a huge array of groceries, lifestyle products (cosmetics, laundry) and supplements, plus clothing and fresh fruit and vegetables. It is one of the best organic groceries/health food stores I’ve been to anywhere in Australia.
Real Food Market (Glasshouse Building Forecourt 2-6pm Tuesdays): If I lived in Port Macquarie, I could do almost all my shopping here every week. It’s as though someone looked in my kitchen as a guide to what to have! Though small it has one of almost every sort of stall one needs and they are all well stocked – there’s an organic fruit and vegetable stall; Near River who do pasture-raised pork and some organic vegetables; an organic grass fed beef vendor; an organic pasture raised egg place; several stalls with condiments such as honey, olive oil and sauces; Ewetopia, a sheep and jersey milk dairy producer; and – in my opinion the piece-de-resistance – Bottled Culture, a fermented/cultured foods stall offering everything from fermented vegetables to liquid jun, kefir and kombucha. The products were all excellent quality. Of particular note, one head of broccoli that I didn’t get around to using lasted in near-perfect condition all the way to Melbourne a week later!
The Little Brewing Company (58 Uralla Rd): This local micro brewery has quite a selection of beers including Pilsner, Witbir, Ale and Porter under multiple labels – Wicked Elf and Mad Abbott to name a couple. The beers are well structured and complex and the variety means there’s something for every taste and occasion. As noted above, the bloke who served us the tasting was a highlight of the trip in
and of himself – one of those individuals who is able to develop a rapport with anyone quickly and was both responsive and knowledgable. It’s worth tasting the beers just for the pleasure of his company. www.thelittlebrewingcompany.com.au
Long Point Winery: I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of wines in the Port Macquarie region, but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Long Point. The winemaker was knowledgable and helpful and they had a large array of interesting products – wines, spirits and ginger beer. All the wines I tasted were very drinkable. www.longpointvineyard.com.au
Coastal Walk: The 9km coastal walk from the town to Hastings Lighthouse is a must-do. It winds through and around the headlands and across the beaches and the views are spectacular – I don’t think I’ve ever taken so many nature-oriented photos. The track is well-designed and maintained so it’s suitable even for casual walkers, though I’d suggest doing it in sections unless you’re in a good state of fitness as there’s a number of hilly sections and trudges across soft beach sand. I couldn’t pick a favourite beach; they’re all worth a look.
Town Green to Town Beach Walk: On most days this was our sunset ritual and it was a great way to see in the evening. We followed the path from the cruise terminals along the town foreshore in front of the pub then along the walkway next to a series of painted rocks, yet another unique feature of Port Macquarie – people have gone to quite some effort to commemorate their stay or significant events by painting a rock on the foreshore.
In keeping with the koala theme, there is also the Koala Hospital, where orphaned and injured koalas are cared for and rehabilitated and Billabong Zoo, which hass an internationally accredited koala breeding program. The Koala Hospital was more interesting for me because of the work they do and the information provided about what to do if one comes across an injured koala. They also survive on grants and donations.
That completes my review of Port Macquarie. We had a wonderful time and it is somewhere I will hopefully return to revisit the things I loved and check out the things we didn’t get around to. Once again, I’d like to thank the place and everyone we encountered, especially those mentioned above, for being the silver lining to my health issues and providing me with so much enjoyment and happiness in amongst so much distress.