Road Trip to Port Stephens

*NOTE: Fuel pump problem resulted in a recall of thousands of Toyota and LEXUS vehicles in  2020. See model list HERE

Cities are stressful places.

Sometimes you just need to get out of dodge. There is only so many smashed avos one can take.

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Weekends give everyone carte blanche to act like knobs so a midweek break is the ticket.

BELOW: When have you seen 1 LC 500 let alone 2? This is the scene as we set off.

After pawing over the extensive Visit NSW guides, we stuck a pin in a map, so to speak. A quickie sprint up the highway was just the ticket. The M1 is moody at the best of times so check to make sure a truck hasn’t run into a sandstone cliff and burst in to flames.

Assuming there are no flames, try to pick a time when traffic isn’t going to double your driving time.

We love the pretty-as-a-picture north coast. The full drive is a challenging 800km, with Sydney to Port Stephens being a scenic 200km of it. It’s the best bit, so that’s where we decided to put in our time.

You can either pick a place and go straight to it, or meander mindlessly up the coast, stopping when the mood takes you. There are plenty of pretty spots along the way where accommodation is cheap and cheerful.

Of the 3-hour trip, 45 minutes is spent navigating the wilds of Sydney’s posh Upper North Shore. That’s a term made up by people who couldn’t afford to live close to town.

Once on the M1 we stopped for a welcome loo break just outside the city limits. Mooney Mooney sounds strange, but it’s the name of a huge rest stop with facilities galore. There are more toilets than a music festival, and some random boat ramps. If water sports on the Hawkesbury isn’t your thing, there are riparian BBQs too.

After an essential comfort stop, and an ice-cream from a Mr Whippy wannabe, we headed north again. Make no mistake about it, although the highway passes through some pretty scenery, the drive is dull as dishwater. Highways are a way to get quickly from one place to another so stream some comforting music is essential. Don’t rely in the interwebz because coverage on Optus is patchy at best. We chose Kylie, of course.

I took a nifty flask of coffee so there was plenty for the trip, but it shoots through like a Bondi Tram, so I always keep an eye out for more places to stop.

After what seemed like an age, we stopped for a most unsatisfactory sandwich and truck-stop coffee. Somehow a Maccer’s saps the life out of a weekend away so we stuck to the offerings in the window at the diner nearby.

Here’s the video:

This is where things went a bit wrong.

Although our $218,000 LEXUS coupe was under 10,000kms old, it had developed a fuel pump problem, unbeknownst to us.

We were still an hour and a half from Port Stephens, and our digs at the Ramada in Shoal Bay.

The drive through the coastal villages was marred by another hiccup with the car. It stopped after being starved of fuel and as annoying as that is, it was saved by the fact that it was a LEXUS. We were given a loaner to finish our trip. But more about that later.

We rolled in to town mid-afternoon. After checking in, we took a stroll along the beach. The bay is wide and forms part of the Port Stephens district. Shoal bay rests near the entrance to the port and has access to the superb vistas offered from the headland.

From the top of the hill you can see 10 km in each direction.

Gun emplacements from the war dot the site. in town, there is plenty to do if you just feel like relaxing.

The Ramada is an older style resort. Although it needs a nip and tuck, it remains decent value. Our room faced the beach boulevard so we spent our time on the balcony sipping drinks.

We went next door for dinner at the Shoal Bay Country Club that night. Glasses of red wine are best described as buckets. Two of them and you’re completely munted. Food is excellent. We tried spicy wings, a chicken parma, and a steak.

We retired to our room for an excellent night’s sleep.

Next morning we ate a light breakfast at the beachfront café below, and spent the morning lazing on the beach. Of course, I had the car to deal with. I had a long drive in to Newcastle to change cars, but LEXUS would have brought me a car if I had preferred it.

Dinner was fish and chips on the beach. Somehow simple was best. Alcohol is banned on the beach so back to our room for cocktails on the balcony.

The following days were spent reading books, drinking coffee, cocktails and beers.

The sky was wide and blue, until it wasn’t. The weather came over all moody, but it was time to leave so we didn’t care.

About the Hotel Ramada Shoal Bay

The resort is a collection of buildings with apartments of various sizes.

Our room, a one bed apartment, was a long space divided into bedroom, bathroom, and living. The two former had no natural light. The living room had basic furniture that could use a freshen up. Some of the woodwork looked a bit tired.

A small kitchen catered for simple meals.

The main areas of the hotel include reception leading our to the pool and spa, and rooms front the beach for functions and conferences.

Parking is free with a single space allotted for each unit.

It is right in the centre of the action, but beware, things close early there.

Back to the city.

Cars swapped, fuel pumps working, we fired up the big GT and headed home. The trip home always seems shorter. Much to our chargrin, the weather had fined up once more.

Despite the odd hiccup, all was well.