How to spend a rainy weekend in Anna Bay – chasing storms across the bay

Last long weekend I finally got organized and went to visit a friend at his beach hideaway in Anna Bay on NSW North Coast. Part of Port Stephens shire, Anna Bay is a small coastal town best known for its proximity to Port Stephens sand dunes (also known as Anna Bay sand dunes or Stockton sand dunes). It is a popular destination for weekend getaways from Sydney and a great base for exploring the Port Stephens region.

Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle

The getaway to the North Coast is the city of Newcastle. I stopped for a quick visit to Nobby’s beach to see if the elephant seal that was spotted there the day before was still around. Elephant seals rarely make it to the Australian coastline, so a chance to see one was not to be missed.

Crested terns in newcastle
Crested terns in Newcastle

The seal, however, did not wait for me, but what I got instead was gusty wind that threw sand and sea spray around at 40 km/hr. It was a miracle I didn’t get blown away into the sea.

There was a White-bellied sea eagle soaring above and at the end of the northern end of the beach, some Crested terns were rocking a bad hair day.

wind blowing away sea spray
Wind blowing away sea spray

Anna Bay

Later in the day, the wind blew in a biblical storm. Coming from Newcastle, my friend and I drove through a solid wall of rain for about 20 minutes. By the time we got to Birubi Point at Stockton beach, the sky looked like the world was about to end.

Stockton beach

Stockton Beach is epic even by Australian standards. It stretches for 32km (20 miles) from Newcastle to Anna Bay and gets as wide as 1km across in some areas. Of course, I couldn’t see much of it – it was concealed beyond the dramatic veil of an angry storm. Thankfully, I had a few days up my sleeve and the storm fizzled our overnight.

Stockton Beach is a world into itself. There are ancient Aboriginal middens concealed underneath the dunes, some of which are 1200 years old; there are rusted out hulls of wrecked ships hidden beneath the surf; and supersonic jet fighters screaming overhead, on training runs from the nearby Williamtown air force base. The waters off Stockton Beach are also part of the Great White Shark nursery. So, it’s really not a great place to get shipwrecked.

Anna Bay Sand Dunes

But the most popular feature of Stockton beach is the massive sand dunes. Port Stephens or Anna Bay sand dunes in Worimi Conservation Lands are the largest mobile sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. Each year, the dunes shift north by approximately 4 meters. The epic sand dunes cover 4,200 hectares, and some of the dunes reach over 30 meters in height. There are so many ways to explore Port Stephens dunes, you wouldn’t know where to start! Most tours depart from Buribi Beach in Anna Bay.

Tin City

The best-kept secret of Port Stephens sand dunes and Stockton beach is the Tin City. Lost among the endless dunes, the 11 corrugated iron shacks of Tin City could be a set for a post apocalyptic movie. In fact, they were. Parts of 1979’s Mad Max film were shot here.

The first couple of shacks were built here in the early 1900’s. At the time, shipwrecks along Stockton beach were so frequent that these shacks were erected to store supplies for the stranded sailors. Those that survived the shipwreck and the Great White sharks!

Then during the Great Depression, homeless men moved in and built more shacks. In its heyday, Tin City had more than 30 shacks. Most of them were torn down during WWII when the entire area was fortified against potential attacks by the Japanese fleet. But the 11 shacks that remain in Tin City today are still semi-occupied – they are last legal squatter settlement in Australia. Just imagine – no light, no running water, just sand and silence. That’s radical solitude.

How to get there: From Anna Bay, take Nelson Bay road towards Newcastle until you reach Boyces trail turn off. Follow Boyces trail to the start of the sand dunes and then walk to the shacks.

Alternatively, you can take the Tin City 4WD Tour with 4WD Tours R Us from Anna Bay. You could even take an Astrophotography tour to Tin City. Away from the city lights, the night sky over Stockton beach is spectacular.

Sandboarding

Most of the adventure-type activities on the dunes are concentrated near Birubi Point Public Carpark in Anna Bay. One of the most popular activities on the dunes is sandboarding. Tours like this one offer unlimited sandboarding fun for 1.5 hours on custom-built boards.

Quad bike riding

Another idea is to spend an hour riding quad bike through the dunes with this tour. Basic instructions on riding a quad bike are provided.

Camel safari

For something a little more laidback, you could go on a camel ride across the dunes with Oakfield Ranch for a 20 min ride at any time of the day for $30 ($25 for kids) or opt for an hour-long sunset ride. Riding a camel is not as comfortable as it may sound, so 20 minutes is pretty much as long as you would want to spend on the camel’s back. And it is long enough to imagine that you are deep in the Sahara desert. Until you see the ocean!

Address: Birubi Point Public Carpark (Lower Carpark) James Paterson Street, Anna Bay

Horse riding

If camel is not your mode of transportation, you can explore the dunes on horseback with Sahara trails. The beach rides start from $105 and all levels of experience are catered for.

Address: 9 Port Stephens Drive, Anna Bay

Drive on the beach in your own 4WD

If you have your own 4WD and a permit, you can access more than 22 kilometres of Stockton beach and over 350 hectares of dunes. The entire area is managed by the Worimi Conservation Lands and you will need to get a $33 permit  (buy it here) in order to enter the dunes in your 4WD. Australians love their beach driving and Port Stephen dunes and Stockton beach are one of the larges coastal driving areas in NSW.

There is a certain skill to driving on the beach, and if you are new to it, it’s best to read the rules on Worimi Conservation Lands website.

Address: Gan Gan Road, Anna Bay (Birubbi 4WD access on Google maps)

Dunes and Whales tour

And if half a day adventure is not enough for you, you could combine Anna Bay sand dunes with Whale watching in Port Stephens for a full-day adventure from Anna Bay.

Anna Bay Coastline

Anna Bay coastline is a medley of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches. You can easily reach the cliffs of Birubi Point from Port Stephens sand dunes by a 10-min walk across Birubi beach.

Tomaree National Park

There are quite a few trails running along the cliffs of Anna Bay in Tomaree National Park. If you are surefooted enough, you can walk from cliff top to cliff top, but take care not to slip, there are no guard rails here. And of course, the beauty of it is that this coastal environment is absolutely wild. Most of the time, you will be the only person on the cliffs and you can scramble across the rocks to some of the most incredible perches above the thundering surf.

You can follow the coastline from Birubi Point to the start of Morna Point walk at Iris More picnic area (8 Birubi Ln, Anna Bay). The return walk to Morna Point covers a spectacular portion of Tomaree coastline and takes about 2 hours to complete.

Coastal Wildlife

Straw necked ibis
Straw necked ibis

I spotted some typical coastal wildlife on my explorations of Tomaree trails. A group of cormorants were chilling out on the rocks while being constantly rained on and hit with the spray from the surf. Nearby a few sooty oystercatchers were snoozing on the rocks and a Heron hunched up behind a large boulder. A White-bellied Sea eagle soared overhead as Australian garnets dove for fish like winged arrows.

Anna Bay Beaches

Being a coastal town, there’s no shortage of beaches in Anna Bay to laze away the day. There are family-friendly patrolled beaches, deserted wild beaches, rocky beaches and dog-friendly beaches. Here are some of the most popular beaches closest to Anna Bay.

One mile Beach

The 1.3 km long One Mile Beach, also known as Anna Bay Beach, is the most popular beach in the area. It is patrolled by lifeguards during the summer months and its a great place for a swim, particularly the southern end of the beach, near the picnic area and the kiosk. It is also popular with surfers and fishermen.

visiting One mile beach is one of the fun things to do in Anna Bay
One Mile Beach

Samurai Beach

‘Next door’ to One Mile Beach, Samurai Beach is the official nudist beach. So if you prefer to sunbathe al-natural this is the spot for you.

Birubi Point Beach

Buribi Point Beach is the beach that runs from the end of Stockton beach to the cliffs of Buribi Point. Swimming can be hazardous on this beach, but it is a great beach for a walk. It is also a dog-friendly beach popular with local pooches.

Buribi Point Beach

Kingsley Beach

Kingsley Beach is tucked away among the coastal cliffs near Boat Harbour. It can be reached by Kingsley Drive Fire trail and a short walk. This beach may appear sheltered, but it is south-facing and exposed to south swell which generated strong rips. So unless you are a superbly confident swimmer, it’s best not to wade too deep at Kingsley.

How to get to Anna Bay

By Car

Anna Bay is 200km north of Sydney and can be reached via a 3-hour drive along M1

By Public Transport

You can also reach Anna Bay by public transport, although it will take a bit longer. Take a train from Central to Hamilton station (3 hrs) and then take 130 bus that will take you to Anna Bay in about 50 minutes.

Where to Eat in Anna Bay

  • Crest Birubi Beach. The best cafe for breakfast and lunch, Crest Birubi Beach, is conveniently located on Buribi Beach, near Port Stephens Sand Dunes car park. One of my favourite things to do in Anna Bay is to order a Quinoa bowl at Crest cafe and look out for whales and dolphins over lunch.
  • Anna Bay Tavern. The best place for a pub meal for dinner is Anna Bay Tavern. Generally, I am not a fan of pubs, but after a full day of exploring, a pub meal is all I can think of.

Where to stay in Anna Bay

The most stunning waterfront houses in Anna Bay are quite large (sleep between 6 and 7 guests), so they can be quite pricey unless you are travelling as a group. In that case, check out this stunning Ocean Cottage at Birubi or this Saltwater Curls Anna Bay Coastal Retreat

A more budget-friendly option is this Garden Cottage Hideway or this Garden Studio.

Wherever you decide to stay in Anna Bay, you will be a short stroll away from the beaches.

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