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Port Macquarie, a small town of less than 50,000 residents along the Pacific Coast in Australia, is often overlooked by local and international travelers. It’s a city with rich convict history dating back to 1818, but one that over the years has gained a rather uninspiring reputation of a “retirement destination”.

But the truth is, it’s so much more than that! Visiting Port Macquarie as backpackers, we found no reason to label it a “an old people settlement” and plenty of ways to soak up its vibrant, youthful, and adventurous culture. Port Macquarie’s laid back friendly vibe made us feel right at home, but that was only one of the reasons I fell in love with this small town on the Pacific Coast.

Campervans line Flynn's Beach in Port Macquarie, NSW

Campervans line Flynn’s Beach in Port Macquarie, NSW

Backpacker Friendly Vibe

We visited Port Macquarie on a road trip from Brisbane to Sydney while getting around and living in a campervan. Finding a place to safely park a campervan overnight is always a struggle for nomads on the road, but Port Macquarie couldn’t have been more accommodating! We pulled up to Flynn’s Beach late in the evening and despite our initial hesitations felt an immediate sense of relief. The car park was filled with other campervans, all parked next to each other facing the moonlit Flynn’s Beach. A group of backpackers were hanging out in the picnic area sharing travel stories over wine and beers. The mood was buoyant and friendly. It felt like we were all one big happy family living a dream life on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Mesmerising Morning Views

Quiet morning on Flynn's Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Quiet morning on Flynn’s Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Sleeping on the beach was an experience like no other. We were rocked to sleep by the gentle sounds of the waves sweeping along the rocky beach and woke up to a beautiful sunrise affectionately infusing the air with warm light. I drank my morning tea on the beach, looking out on to the ocean. It was absolute bliss. The kind of bliss you picture in the sacred dreams of the nomadic lifestyle.

Morning tea with spectacular views of Flynn's Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Morning tea with spectacular views of Flynn’s Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Never-ending Beaches

Inspired by the early morning sights, we dedicated many hours that day to exploring the rest of Port Macquarie’s 18 beaches, that range from family-friendly swimming beaches, to secluded patches of sand surrounded by incredible rocky headlands.

Town Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Town Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Oxley Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Oxley Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Flynn's Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Flynn’s Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

View of Lighthouse Beach form Tacking Point Lighthouse, Port Macquarie, NSW

View of Lighthouse Beach form Tacking Point Lighthouse, Port Macquarie, NSW

Flynn’s Beach, Rocky Beach, Nobby’s Beach, and Lighthouse Beach were just a few of our favourites! Many of the beaches offered fantastic surfing opportunities which helps the town flourish as an up and coming surfing destination. We couldn’t walk past Town Beach without stopping to admire the surfers in the water. Many of them were so young and so talented!

Surfers on Towns Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Surfers on Towns Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Some beaches were only accessible by 4WD, others were best explored on foot, and many offered great picnic areas and BBQs, making them ideal stomping grounds for families, groups, and those traveling as a couple.

Breathtaking Coastline

The locals told us that one of the best ways to explore many of Port Macquarie’s beaches is to embark on the famous 9km (one way) Coastal Walk. The walk stretches from the Town Green foreshore to Lighthouse Beach, passing through eight beautiful beaches, including Miners Beach, Shelly’s Beach, Nobby’s Beach, Flynn’s Beach, Rocky Beach, Oxley Beach, and Town Beach.

Rocky headlands at the end of Flynn's Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Rocky headlands at the end of Flynn’s Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Rocky Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Rocky Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW

Inside the Sea Acres Nature Reserve, Port Macquarie, NSW

Inside the Sea Acres Nature Reserve, Port Macquarie

We only had one day to spend in Port Macquarie, so we choose to explore the Coastal Walk by car, driving from beach to beach and seeing the stunning views and the diversity of the coastline without the time sacrifice. We may have cheated our way through Port Macquarie’s famous activity, but it didn’t make it any less memorable!

Fascinating Art at the Breakwall

The painted rock wall that stretches along the breakwall next to the Port Macquarie Caravan Park was nothing short of amazing and served a true testament to the wonderful Port community. What began as an art competition back in 1995, has since grown into a incredible rock gallery commemorating life, love, and adventures on the road! Every rock was unique, hand painted by locals and visitors alike. Some paintings were elaborate meaningful tributes to family, friends, or loved ones, others were simple scribbles on the rocks, marks of casual passers by.

Rock paintings at breakwall, Port Macquarie, NSW

Rock paintings at breakwall, Port Macquarie, NSW

Rock paintings at breakwall, Port Macquarie, NSW

Rock paintings at breakwall, Port Macquarie, NSW

One of the many engagement rocks in Port Macquarie's breakwall gallery

One of the many engagement rocks in Port Macquarie’s breakwall gallery

Rock paintings at breakwall, Port Macquarie, NSW

Rock paintings at breakwall, Port Macquarie, NSW

Travel themed rocks are also popular, Port Macquarie, NSW

Simpsons themed rock

I’m never the one to admire art in a museum or appreciate the meaning of a painting in a gallery, but walking along that breakwall, I felt a connection with every single rock, every person who left their mark along the river. It touched me, inspired me, and sometimes brought me to tears.

Rock paintings at breakwall, Port Macquarie, NSW

Admiring the gallery…

My adoration of Port Macquarie was unexpected. It was a stop that we weren’t even planning on making in the early stages of our Brisbane to Sydney road trip, but one that left us with found memories and a desire to one day return to this special town. Our stay in Port Macquarie was picture perfect: sharing a bottle of wine with fellow nomads on the beach at moonlight, waking up to the sounds of the ocean and the sun rising over the beach, spending days exploring beaches and secluded walks, taking in the worlds most beautiful attractions for absolutely free.

Early morning exploring with camera in hand. Flynn's Beach. Port Macquarie

Early morning exploring with camera in hand. What could be better than that?

Gone are the days of retirees in Port Macquarie. Today, this town is a place for nomads, backpackers, and voyagers. It’s a place for the young (and young at heart) and free, for those traveling solo, exploring with a loved one, or those traversing with families. It’s the perfect destination for those that appreciate the simple things in life, the whispers and roars of the oceans, and those that feel at home in nature’s stunning playgrounds.

Essential Travel Info:

Getting there: Port Macquarie is located 400km north of Sydney. It’s a great stop to make if you are embarking on a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane (or the reverse). If you are getting around by bus, both Greyhound and Premier Motor Service stop in Port Macquarie en route from Sydney to Brisbane and in reverse, dropping passengers off at the Port Macquarie Coach Station. The trip takes approximately 8 hours from Sydney and 10hrs from Brisbane. Overnight busses are available.

Getting around: The town of Port Macquarie is pretty compact with lots of places located within walking distance of the Town Centre, including many of the beaches and other attractions. Having a car is definitely beneficial if you want to see all the beaches without spending an entire day on your feet.

Where to stay: Being a vacation town, Port Macquarie offers plenty of accommodation options ranging from simple backpacker hostels to nicer resorts. Agoda offers 55 accommodation options in Port Macquarie and is a great place to start your search. Alternatively, consider staying in a local’s home through Airbnb.

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Port Macquarie’s laid back friendly vibe made us feel right at home, but that was only one of the reasons I fell in love with this small town on the Pacific Coast.