Port Stephens (New South Wales)

Port Stephens, an open youthful tide-dominated drowned-valley estuary,[1] is a large natural harbour of approximately 134 square kilometres (52 sq mi)[2] located in the Hunter and Mid North Coast regions of New South Wales, Australia.[3]

Port Stephens
Looking towards Yacaaba, the northern headland at the entrance of Port Stephens, along Jimmys Beach from Winda Woppa
Port Stephens is located in New South Wales
Port Stephens
Port Stephens
LocationHunter, Mid North Coast, New South Wales
Coordinates32°41′57″S 152°7′26″E / 32.69917°S 152.12389°E / -32.69917; 152.12389
Lake typeAn open tide dominated drowned valley estuary[1]
Primary inflowsKaruah River, Myall River, Tilligerry Creek
Primary outflowsTasman Sea, South Pacific Ocean
Catchment area296.8 square kilometres (114.6 sq mi)[2]
Basin countriesAustralia
DesignationMarine park
Max. length24 km (15 mi)
Max. width6.5 km (4.0 mi)
Surface area134 square kilometres (52 sq mi)[2]
Average depth14.1 metres (46 ft)[2]
Water volume1,741,516.5 megalitres (61,501.07×10^6 cu ft)[2]
Shore length1113 km (70 mi)
Surface elevation0 m (0 ft)
SettlementsAnna Bay, Bobs Farm,
Bundabah, Carrington,
Corlette, Hawks Nest,
Karuah, Lemon Tree Passage,
Mallabula, Nelson Bay,
North Arm Cove, Oyster Cove,
Pindimar, Salamander Bay,
Soldiers Point, Shoal Bay,
Swan Bay, Tahlee,
Tanilba Bay, Taylors Beach,
Tea Gardens
WebsiteNSW Planning & Environment webpage
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Port Stephens lies within the Port Stephens–Great Lakes Marine Park and is situated about 160 kilometres (99 mi) north-east of Sydney. The harbour lies wholly within the local government area of Port Stephens; although its northern shoreline forms the boundary between the Port Stephens and MidCoast local government areas.[4]

According to the 2006 census, more than 26,000 people lived within 3 km (1.9 mi) of its 113 km (70 mi) long shoreline and more than 32,000 lived within 10 km (6 mi).[5]



Port Stephens is formed through the confluence of the Myall and Karuah rivers, Tilligerry Creek, and the Tasman Sea of the South Pacific Ocean. The lower port has a predominantly marine ecology and the upper port an estuarine ecology. The area to the east of Port Stephens comprises the Tomago/Tomaree/Stockton sand beds.[6]

A narrow entrance between two striking hills of volcanic origin marks the opening of Port Stephens to the sea. The southern headland, Tomaree or South Head, rises to 161 metres (528 ft) above mean sea level (AMSL) while Yacaaba, the northern headland, is 210 m (690 ft) AMSL. The harbour is mostly shallow and sandy but contains sufficient deep water to accommodate large vessels. After its recovery from the wreck site in 1974 the bow of the MV Sygna, a 53,000 tonnes (52,163 long tons) Norwegian bulk carrier that was shipwrecked on Stockton Beach earlier that year, was moored in Port Stephens, at Salamander Bay, for almost two years.[7]

With an area of approximately 134 square kilometres (52 sq mi),[2] Port Stephens is larger than Sydney Harbour. Port Stephens extends approximately 24 km (15 mi) inland from the Tasman Sea and at its widest point, between Tanilba Bay and Tahlee, it is 6.5 km (4 mi) across. The narrowest point is between Soldiers Point and Pindimar where the distance is only 1.1 km (0.7 mi). Between Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens, in the most well known section of the port, it is 3.8 km (2.4 mi) wide.

The Karuah River drains into Port Stephens at its north-western corner. The Myall River (through the Myall Lakes) drains into the port on its northern shore, about 5.7 km (3.5 mi) from the mouth of the port. Twelve Mile Creek drains into the port's south-western corner.

The southern shore of the port is divided into two distinct areas known as the Tomaree and Tilligerry peninsulas. These are separated by Tilligerry Creek, a watercourse covering approximately 7.7 km2 (3.0 sq mi), which drains the land in the low-lying areas of Salt Ash, Bobs Farm, Tanilba Bay and Mallabula.[8] While the Tilligerry Peninsula is geographically closer to major centres such as Sydney and Newcastle, it lacks the urban development that has occurred on the much larger (25 km2 (10 sq mi) vs 115 km2 (44 sq mi) respectively) Tomaree peninsula. Although Lemon Tree Passage, on the Tilligerry Peninsula, and Soldiers Point, on the Tomaree Peninsula, are only 2.9 km (1.8 mi) from each other, physical separation of the suburbs by Port Stephens and Tilligerry Creek results in them being almost 40 km (25 mi) from each other by road.

The town of Karuah, located at the north-western corner of the port near the mouth of the Karuah River, experiences similar geographical separation from the Tilligerry Peninsula. Despite being only 7.7 km (4.8 mi) from Tanilba Bay, the road distance between the two suburbs is 40 km (25 mi).

The western shore and the western part of the northern shore of the port are largely undeveloped with the flora ranging from scrubland in the west to the large tracts of bushland which are present along most of the northern shore. Closer to the mouth of the port, at and near Winda Woppa, sandy beaches are prevalent. These extend from Jimmys Beach, near the mouth of the port, to the mouth of the Myall River, a distance of approximately 5.2 km (3.2 mi).[3][9] Just outside the mouth of the port lie the two small insular nature reserves of Cabbage Tree Island and Boondelbah Island, both dedicated to the conservation of the threatened Gould's petrel, and with no public access.


Entrance of Karuah River into Port Stephens (seen from Tanilba Bay, approximately 7.7 km (4.8 mi) away)

The Worimi are the traditional owners for the area which is now called Port Stephens and the wider region is home to numerous sites of deep cultural significance to the Worimi.[10]

The port was named by Captain Cook when he passed by on 11 May 1770, honouring Sir Philip Stephens, who was Secretary to the Admiralty.[11] Stephens was a personal friend of Cook and had recommended him for command of the voyage.[12] It seems Cook's initial choice had actually been Point Keppel and Keppel Bay, but instead he used Keppel Bay later.[13]

The first ship to enter the port was the Salamander, a ship of the Third Fleet that later gave the suburb of Salamander Bay its name, in 1791.[14] In that same year escaped convicts, then known as 'bolters', discovered coal in the area.

In 1795 the crew of HMS Providence discovered a group of escaped convicts living with the Worimi people.[15] Port Stephens became a popular haven for escaped convicts and so in 1820 a garrison of soldiers was established at what is now known as Soldiers Point.[14]

The 63-tonne (62-long-ton) cutter Lambton, commanded by Captain James Corlette, began shipping timber and wool out of the port in 1816.[14] The suburb of Corlette was named after the captain.[16]

Port Stephens has rather poor soil for the most part, and has limited agricultural potential. For this reason, no large towns developed there historically and it was never developed as a significant port. The major city and port of Newcastle developed at the mouth of the Hunter River, about 45 km (28 mi) south-west of Port Stephens.

Troops and landing craft crews training at HMAS Assault during World War II

Despite this, in 1920 there was a push for Port Stephens to be the capital city of a new state in a proposal originating from the country newspaper The Daily Observer. The proposal was the Observer's editor Victor Thompson's idea in response to continuing rural Australian antipathy at the Sydney-centralised funding and governance that many rural newspapers claimed had neglected to aid rural Australian towns.[17]

During World War II, the remoteness and lack of any significant civilian population led to the Royal Australian Navy establishing HMAS Assault, an amphibious landing training establishment, at Nelson Bay. The sick bay from HMAS Assault still stands and is used by the Port Stephens Community Arts Centre.[18][19]

A number of small towns developed around the port as fishing, holiday and retirement communities. Since the 1970s, with improved road access from Sydney, and the increasing popularity of coastal retirement lifestyles, there has been major expansion of these towns.

Port Stephens–Great Lakes Marine Park


On 1 December 2005 the Port Stephens–Great Lakes Marine Park was established pursuant to the Marine Parks Act, 1997 (NSW).[20] The park comprises approximately 97,200 hectares (240,000 acres) and includes all of Port Stephens, the Karuah and Myall rivers and all their creeks and tributaries under tidal influence.[21] The park was established to protect the wide variety of sea life that inhabit the port and nearby coastal areas of the Tasman Sea from just south of Forster to the northern end of Stockton Beach.

Examples of some of the sea life that inhabits Port Stephens
Saw-tooth moray eel
Crested horn shark
Eastern fiddler ray


Nelson Bay at dusk from Gan Gan Lookout
Shoal Bay beach in Port Stephens

At the time of the 2006 census, more than 85% of the population around Port Stephens resided in towns and suburbs that have developed on or near the southern shores of the port. More than 22,188 people live within 3 km (1.9 mi) of the port in the suburbs of Corlette, Lemon Tree Passage, Mallabula, Nelson Bay, Oyster Cove, Salamander Bay, Shoal Bay, Soldiers Point, Tanilba Bay and Taylors Beach. Another 5,343 people live in other suburbs on the Tomaree peninsula that are within 10 km (6 mi) of Port Stephens. These suburbs include Anna Bay,Note1 Boat Harbour, Bobs Farm, Fingal Bay, Fishermans Bay and One Mile.

Most urban development to the south of Port Stephens has occurred on the Tomaree peninsula in the suburbs of Corlette, Nelson Bay, Salamander Bay, Shoal Bay and Soldiers Point.

On the western shore is the suburb of Swan Bay, a small community of around 100 persons. The main industry in the area is oyster farming, however a small tourist resort is located near the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek. Karuah township, which has a population of 857, is at the north-western corner of the port, at the mouth of the Karuah River.

East of the Karuah River, in the Mid-Coast Council local government area there are 3,584 people living in Bundabah, Carrington, Hawks Nest, North Arm Cove, Pindimar, Tahlee and Tea Gardens.

Tourism and recreation


Port Stephens is a popular tourism destination with a strong focus on aquatic activities such as whale and dolphin watching,[22] fishing and recreational boating and swimming.[23][24][25]


  1. ^ Although 900 metres (2,953 ft) of Anna Bay's shoreline actually touches Port Stephens near Taylor's Beach, none of its residents live in this area. The vast majority of Anna Bay residents live close to the Tasman Sea shoreline, well away from Port Stephens, although there is a small community living near the border between Anna Bay and Taylor's Beach.


  1. ^ a b Roy, P. S; Williams, R. J; Jones, A. R; Yassini, I; et al. (2001). "Structure and Function of South-east Australian Estuaries". Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. 53: 351–384. doi:10.1006/ecss.2001.0796.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Estuaries of NSW: Port Stephens". NSW Environment & Heritage. Government of New South Wales. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Port Stephens". Land and Property Management Authority - Spatial Information eXchange. New South Wales Land and Property Information. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  4. ^ "Port Stephens". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 8 July 2008.  
  5. ^ Consolidated population figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 census
  6. ^ "Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Action Plan" (PDF). Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority. Government of New South Wales. January 2007. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-9803465-0-3. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  7. ^ "Major Oil Spills in Australia, Sygna, Newcastle, 26 May 1974". Australian Marine Safety Authority. Archived from the original on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  8. ^ "Tilligerry Creek". Land and Property Management Authority - Spatial Information eXchange. New South Wales Land and Property Information. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  9. ^ Measurements from 1:100000 maps 9232 NEWCASTLE and 9332 PORT STEPHENS
  10. ^ "Aboriginal history". portstephens.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  11. ^ Reed, A. W (1969). Place-Names of New South Wales: Their Origins and Meanings. Sydney: A. H & A. W Reed. p. 120.
  12. ^ Robert Kerr (22 December 2004). "A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol. 12". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  13. ^ Parkin, Ray (2003) H.M. Bark Endeavour, p. 213. Carlton South, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press. ISBN 0-522-85093-6.
  14. ^ a b c "History of Port Stephens". Retrieved 9 July 2008. (see "Early development of Port Stephens" section)
  15. ^ Broughton, William Robert (1804), A voyage of discovery to the north Pacific Ocean: in which the coastal Asia, ... Japan ... as well as the coast of Corea have been examined and surveyed, performed in His Majesty's Sloop Providence and her tender in the years 1795, 1796, 1797, 1798, T. Cadell and W. Davies, pp. 16–19, OL 24159440M, retrieved 20 January 2012
  16. ^ "Corlette". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 10 July 2008.  
  17. ^ Rod Kirkpatrick (August 2000). "How newspaper editors helped the country become politically articulate" (PDF). Australian Journalism Review. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  18. ^ "HMAS Assault, Port Stephens, New South Wales during WW2". Peter Dunn. 5 January 2008. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  19. ^ "Home Page". Port Stephens Community Arts Centre. Archived from the original on 19 July 2008. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  20. ^ "Port Stephens Marine Park". Australian Marine Conservation Society. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  21. ^ "Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park". Marine Parks Authority NSW. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  22. ^ "Port Stephens". Australian Explorer. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  23. ^ "Port Stephens Area". Visit NSW. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  24. ^ "Tourist Information – Nelson Bay & Port Stephens". Imagine Cruises Nelson Bay. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  25. ^ "Tourism at Port Stephens". portstephens-australia.com. Retrieved 7 April 2013.

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