The fast-growing town of PORT MACQUARIE, at the mouth of the Hastings River, has a beautiful natural setting. Long, sandy beaches extend far along the coast, while the hinterland is dotted with forests, mountains and pretty towns. The town was established in 1821 as a place of secondary punishment for convicts who continued their criminal ways after arrival in New South Wales, though by the late 1820s the penal settlement was closed and the area opened up to free settlers. An increasing number of independent travellers call into "Port", but it remains primarily a family-focused resort. The activities on offer are really the thing here, with mini-zoos, nature parks, cruises on the Hastings River, horseriding and, above all, watersports and fishing outlets all vying for your attention.
The river foreshore, with its anglers and pelican colony, is a pleasant place for a peaceful sunset stroll or to grab some fish and chips. Floating offices where you can book anything from dolphin tours to seaplane flights are located along its western end, towards the town wharf A string of fine beaches runs down the ocean-facing side of town (Town, Flynn's and Lighthouse are patrolled); perhaps the best way to spend a day in Port Macquarie is to rent a bike and explore the cliff-top paths and roads that link them all.