Don't fight it. There's a 99 per cent probability you'll look up house prices before your visit to Port Stephens is over. White-sand beaches, lush flora, fine dining, farm gates and family-friendly outings. What's not to like?
If you're from Melbourne, now's a grand time to escape the freezing grey gloom (it's a 1½-hour plane hop away). Sydneysiders, take a drive, it's half an hour down the road from Newcastle.
Here's a sure-fire guide for a top time at this beautiful patch of coast.
Watch camel trains trekking across the dunes at Crest Birubi Beach. This relaxed, beach-front cafe with stellar views dishes up crunchy beer-battered fish and chips, snacky nachos and top milkshakes. Dress code: thongs. Do this: Sand-boarding, or take a 4WD dune tour. Try this: Fat Yak beer on tap. crestbirubibeach.com.au.
Enjoy a breakfast of zucchini and pea fritters with streaky bacon and poached eggs at Little Nel's in Port Stephens.
For the best breakfast in town, head to Little Nel. This smart, inner-city-style cafe is a winner with top-notch brunches, excellent coffee and ace service. Try this: salmon on toast, a supremely good brunch special of Atlantic salmon and creme fraiche smeared on sourdough, with a just-runny poached egg, steamed asparagus and grapefruit. Other dishes swing from buttermilk pancakes to zucchini and pea and fritters with streaky bacon. Know this: There's a great deck out back. littlenel.com.au.
Locals say the best tomatoes come from the long-running Gypsies roadside stall, a great pitstop for supplies. Are they right? You bet. The tomatoes are awesome: flavour-packed, juicy and delicious. Nelson Bay Road, Anna Bay
Little Beach Boathouse restaurant.
Catch the sunset at Little Beach Boathouse, a fun, upbeat right-on-the-water fine diner specialising in seafood with a mod-Asian spin. Try local rock oysters, or p'raps crisp-skinned miso salmon in a tangle of noodles. Salt-and-pepper calamari is perfectly bitey, and dark chocolate mousse with a peanut brittle biscuit caps things off sweetly. Try this: Anything from the accessible, well-chosen wine list. littlebeachboathouse.com.au.
Do some whale watching from the lookout at the 161-metre-high Tomaree Head, right at the bay entrance to Port Stephens, or take a cruise for a closer view. imaginecruises.com.au
Bring the gang to Murray's Brewery, a fab easy pleaser that's part picnic ground, vineyard, craft brewery, and winery all rolled into one cool package. Kids gambol about the expansive grassy grounds, shaded by towering gums, while groups play bocce or kick the footy. Wood-fired, slow-smoked ribs and brisket are signatures, or there are burgers, and wood-fired pizza, the bases made with house beer, and the Brewery's beer is popping up at top restaurants all around Australia. Do this: Take a brewery tour. See this: Live music at weekends. Know this: On weekends, a $5 bus service runs to and from Murray's and includes a free brewery tour. Phone: 02 4982 6411
See boats bobbing in the water from the Anchorage, a luxe, Hamptons-esque resort sporting a recent multi-million dollar makeover. Crisp, all-white rooms are comfy and well-appointed. Down yonder, there's a gorgeous, gentle walk along the reserve through manicured gardens, and a little bay beach for those who want to fish or get their feet wet. Breakfast is a high-class buffet served in the waterfront conservatory overlooking the pool. For a fancy dinner, try Anchorage's Galley Kitchen (open to non-guests, too) for brilliant seafood platters loaded with the lot (lobster, crab, scallops, king prawns, and more) and other top-notch dishes including char-grilled eye fillet. Good for: weddings, or just chilling out in style. anchorageportstephens.com.au.
Sweeping views are at the top of the hill at former-lighthouse cafe Inner Light Tea Rooms. Devonshire tea is a firm fave with regulars, as are the super fluffy pancakes. There's a bit of history for lighthouse twitchers. Know this: Park by the water and work up an appetite walking up the hill.