Port Macquarie for families

First let me say this: our youngest son is feral. He has the face of a Care Bear, the coordination of a demented Roomba and a mystifying attraction to toilet brushes and garbage. If it can kill you, he wants to put it in his mouth.

Travelling with him is an exercise in vigilance and restraint; restraint in the pram, restraint in the car seat and restraint in your arms while he tries to wriggle free and waddle into oncoming peril.

It’s for this reason – as well as many more – that Port Macquarie is an ideal choice for our family. It’s a short drive (2.5 hours up the Pacific Hwy), it’s extremely pram-friendly and it has plenty to keep you occupied within an easy radius.

Accommodation: The Mid-Pacific

We stayed at The Mid-Pacific, an overhauled motel in a central location. The pool and spa overlooks the river and foreshore, it has free on-site parking and it’s easy walking distance to most things.

The downside is that the showers are borderline murderous, dousing you in scalding water until you figure out the correct ratio (0.05% hot, 99.5% cold) and the rooms don’t get serviced so you have to deal with your own mess.

We stayed for three nights and I was going a bit stir crazy by the third day because the standard rooms are tiny. Good for a couple, way too small for a family.

Joey loved the sea plane ride.

Attractions: Joy flight on a sea plane, Timbertown, Port Macquarie Museum and Regional Art Gallery

Should you spend $100 a head on a 10 minute joy flight? According to my son Joey, all the yes! We flew with Eastern Air Services over the beaches and swooped back over the Hastings River for a bird’s eye view of the surprisingly complex wetlands and estuaries.

Timbertown. In truth, it’s a dilapidated dump with a few gleaming 1920s-era cars dotted around the place. It would be the perfect venue for a Halloween party, complete with menacing looking wax figures and a zombie-apocalypse desertion vibe.

The paddleboats were sweaty fun.

Nevertheless, Joey loved the steam train ride, the mini-train ride and the paddle boats. There were some free-range alpacas and showgirl ostriches to sweeten the deal and a cart ride with pulled by an exhausted looking Clydesdale (I feel you, buddy).

I was swindled out of $40 for Grandfather port from the ‘winery’. I will drink it while I lament my extreme susceptibility to salespeople.

The Green Hornet was a hit with this little train nut.

For genuine old things, the Port Macquarie Museum on Clarence St is a trove of detailed local knowledge. The region is on Birpai traditional lands, was a second tier penal colony and was home to a thriving timber industry before the tourists arrived. The artefacts are carefully curated and combine to show a comprehensive picture of the region’s past.

The Regional Art Gallery is located in the impressive Glasshouse building. The exhibitions were a curious combination of Aboriginal art, a small single artist exhibition and a video installation exhibition that focused on the murder of an anti-gentrification activist. It was a weird combination.

Little Shack is a sweet spot for a coffee.

Dining out: Blue Cow Gelato, The Pepperberry, Little Shack and Rydges buffet breakfast

Because Blue Cow Gelato had lines out the door 10 people deep, we didn’t go until the last day. I only managed to clap my gums around a scoop of salted coconut and pea flower. It was sublime. Line up. Do not delay.

The Pepperberry cafe is a pleasant, bustling corner cafe with bush food and plant-based accents on its menu. The coffee, food and service is outstanding. I highly recommend it and, judging by the steady flow of customers, so does everyone else.

Little Shack is an Insta-friendly sandy-floored set piece overlooking the river. The food is hipsterish, the serves are adequate but not generous (one piece of toast with smashed avo, feta and cherry tomatoes is $15) and the coffee is excellent. It’s a cheerful place to soak up the holiday vibes.

We wound up at the Rydges buffet breakfast out of desperation. The boys were getting hangry and everywhere was packed. I reasoned that it would be quick, and it was. But it was also expensive ($34 per head for adults and $18 for kids) and the food and coffee were OK at best.

The river walk was a daily highlight.

Port Macquarie: Should you go?

Wholeheartedly yes! It’s polished and well-serviced, while also feeling carefree and fun. From the multiple kid’s parks, flat river walk and cycle path, to rainforest-fringed, fish-shimmering Shelly Beach, it’s a family paradise.

Do you like Port Macquarie? Got any tips to share?

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