To the locals it’s just Port. Not even Port Mac – just Port. But Port Macquarie is a whole lot more sophisticated than its simple name. It really is the diamond in the crown of New South Wales Mid-North Coast. With 18 pristine beaches to choose from, wildlife parks, wineries, spectacular hinterland and more, Port Macquarie should be on top of everyone’s to do list.
Port is really the sort of place you should take a week or more to really enjoy the natural beauty as well as the man-made attractions. We had just 24 hours to get to know this coastal paradise.
It doesn’t get much better than waking up early enough to view the phenomenal sunrise from your balcony at Port Macquarie’s best address – The Observatory.
With 88 spacious apartments and penthouses the Observatory offers an especially luxurious experience for a self-catering apartment. Exceptionally luxurious when you realize the property has won The United Nations World Environment Day Award, the Qantas Award for Excellence in Sustainability, the World Boutique Hotel’s Sustainability Award and most recently the National Sustainability Leadership Award.
The green philosophy here goes way past a little recycling and cards to remind you to re-use your towel. The O-Zone program invites guests to pay a voluntary premium of $50 which allows them the extra benefits of a fresh local food platter, green bathroom products, in-room fitness equipment and Wii-Fit set up as well as tour bikes for getting around town. 230 solar panels on the hotel roof provide power for 5000 guests annually and one of Australia’s handful of deluxe hotels to be awarded 100 per cent carbon neutral status.
In 2015 how does a deluxe hotel balance its green credentials and still provide the very best guest experience? Management and staff have worked hard to somehow combine all the necessary comforts like free Wi-Fi, a Spa and new energy, water and waste saving initiatives. Little touches like the Savour the Flavour package make for a great welcome to Port. Showcasing the great produce and the artisans of the area the arrival gift includes locally produced wine, beer, cheese, tomato chutney and hand-made chocolates. http://www.observatory.net.au/
(The 2-night Savour the Flavour Package is available until December 24 2015).
The Stunned Mullet
Since 2005, Lou Perri and Executive Chef and co-owner David Henry have been treating locals and tourists to their particular brand of hospitality. Their MO is straightforward: source the finest locally caught and sustainable seafood and outstanding Port Macquarie produce and present it simply and most importantly with a whole lot of love.
Most recently, The Stunned Mullet was voted ninth in NSW in the SMH Good Food Guide 2016 People’s Choice awards. They have one toque in the Good Food Guide and have been awarded a ‘glass’ every year for the last five Gourmet Traveller’s Wine List of the Year gongs.
From the moment you are greeted by ‘born’ host Lou Perri – you feel at home. He is the sort of host who can judge how much you need his help with the wine list or the menu from the moment you sit down.
Start with artisanal bread and relish a well-crafted menu while sipping something special. The menu and specials highlight the close working relationship chef Henry and his producers share. There are Asian influences like the delicious Pork Belly and Seared Scallops with nuoc cham and Asian salad.
The mouthwatering Confit Duck Leg with truffled mash and sour cherry could be overwhelming except for a clever pairing with mizuna lettuce, pear & hazelnut salad and verjuice vinaigrette that cuts through the richness of the dish. There’s Glacier 51 Tooth fish, Mandagery Creek Venison and Cape Grim Grass Fed sirloin.
Save room for desserts like the Chocolate Hazelnut textures with white chocolate cremeux, praline semifreddo, strawberries, chocolate brownie and vanilla mascarpone. Perhaps the Pistachio baklava, crème patisserie, fresh date leather, quince, late harvest Riesling and macadamia ice cream is more your speed. http://thestunnedmullet.com.au/
Don’t go to Port and miss breakfast at the homey and extremely popular Milkbar. On the ground floor of The Observatory, opposite Town Beach is a top spot to while away an hour or so, if the hungry locals let you linger that long. Breakfast is cleverly served until 2pm during the week and ‘til 11am on weekends.
The emphasis here is on fresh, healthy and local. The blackboard menu allows for all diets, food intolerances and allergies: Coconut bircher muesli with berries, yoghurt and hazelnuts, banana bread is served with passionfruit curd, toasted coconut and banana. Surfers order bacon and egg rolls with tomato, rocket and sauce and I seriously consider the French toast with cinnamon ricotta, strawberries and toasted macadamias.
But it’s the house-made baked beans topped with fresh herbs and goats cheese served with toasted sourdough that wins me over. The scrambled free-range eggs with baby spinach and avocado are also an absolute winner. Naturally, there’s milkshakes with a name like Milkbar as well as supercharged smoothies and most importantly very good coffee.
There are tarts and bread and more to take home. Or if you have room the strawberry vanilla coconut muffins looked amazing. https://www.facebook.com/milkbar.townbeach
Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries
If you’re heading north out of Port, don’t miss Ricardoes – a Farm gate experience like no other. (Actually even if you’re heading south, make sure you get to Ricardoes).
Anthony Sarks literally built it and they came. And came. When he and his brother, Richard decided to diversify they didn’t know they would soon have Port’s number 1 tourist attraction. They come by the coach full or carload to pick luscious, real strawberries, inspect the award-winning hothouse tomatoes and buy something to remember their day.
Unlike other Farm gates here you get to pick your own strawberries. The sheer joy of grabbing a bucket and some secateurs and picking your own cannot be underestimated. The heady strawberry aroma is magnified in the warmth of the greenhouse as you set off to ‘pick your own’. The rows of multi-award-winning tomatoes in the state of the art greenhouses are spectacular.
Anthony took us on own private tour, but everyone can learn more about the property and growing strawberries and tomatoes on the 11am guided tours. In Café Red you can enjoy a leisurely Devonshire tea with jam made from Ricardoes strawberries. The walls are adorned with all the winning ribbons from agricultural and fine food shows everywhere for the jams, tomato sauces, chutneys, tomato soup and pickles. It’s hard to choose, but it’s all yummy and makes for great gifts. http://ricardoes.com/
Port Macquarie is one of the few places on the NSW coast that promises romance, adventure, wonderful food and wine or just about anything you need your holiday to be. And all just 4 hours by car from Sydney. http://www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au/