Susan Gough Henly gets back to nature - and visits the Koala Hospital - in beautiful Port Macquarie.
The seaside resort of Port Macquarie was catapulted onto the world stage during the New South Wales bushfires, as images of koala rescues and rehabilitation at the Koala Hospital were broadcast on news sites from New York to London.
The bushland around Port Macquarie has long been an ideal habitat for one of the most genetically diverse populations of koalas in the country. With this landscape now under threat, wildlife conservation is now more important than ever.
There's never been a better reason to put Port Macquarie on your holiday destination wish list and support the important work of the world's only koala hospital. Happily, this low-key community on the mid-north coast of New South Wales offers the very best nature-based attractions, which are balm to the soul in these difficult times.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Port Macquarie has the best climate in Australia, according to the CSIRO, with cool summer breezes, mild winters and water warm enough for year-round swimming. Ten beautiful beaches stretch along the coast, the Hastings River meanders across a rich alluvial plain and the hinterland is lush with rainforests and waterfalls.
You might spot wild koalas in the gumtrees around town but to be sure of a sighting, visit the (free) Koala Hospital any day of the week. During the 3pm feeding-time tours, guides explain koala conservation and the hospital's wild koala breeding program. You can help support these initiatives with donations or by adopting a koala ($60).
You'll see how important koalas are in these parts when you spot some of the 70 artist-designed, one-metre high Hello Koala sculptures across the Port Macquarie district.
Another must-do is the nine-kilometre Coastal Walk through Sea Acres National Park, which starts under the Norfolk pines on the Town Green foreshore and meanders all the way to Lighthouse Beach and the Tacking Point Lighthouse. Keep your eye out for bottlenose dolphins and, from May to November, migrating whales.
For more nature immersion, enjoy the park's guided rainforest walk along the 1.3-kilometre canopy Sea Acres Rainforest boardwalk.
At the end of the day, unwind with a horse ride through the vines before indulging in a wine and cheese platter at Cassegrain Wines which, just like the koalas, was impacted by the bushfires and needs our support.
There are plenty of dining options in Port Macquarie, from fish and chips to gourmet dining. Savour ocean views, cutting-edge cuisine and an exceptional wine list at The Stunned Mullet. Enjoy fresh local produce, free-range eggs and pork from the owner's farm at LV's on Clarence. Feast on strawberry shortcake and scones at Cafe Red at Ricardoes hydroponic tomato and strawberry farm.
Fly: Qantas and Virgin Australia operate flights from Sydney. Port Macquarie is a four-hour drive north of Sydney.
Stay: The centrally located Mantra The Observatory sports an indoor pool, an Endota spa and terrific views over the Town Green foreshore. See mantratheobservatory.com.au
Tour: Port Jet Cruise Adventures runs whale-watching trips from May to November. See portjet.com.au
Explore more: portmacquarieinfo.com.au
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