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Bannisters Port Stephens. A coastal luxury haven.

31/10/2023 by .
Bannisters Port Stephens

Sarah Kingdom makes a nostalgic return her old family holiday haunt at Port Stephens. A place of stunning beaches and coastal neighbourhoods and Bannisters Port Stephens, the luxury resort that’s replaced the childhood motel.

A two-and-a-half hour, easy drive, north of Sydney, on the East Coast of Australia, is the beautiful seaside getaway destination of Port Stephens. With over 30km of beautiful, clean, white, sandy beaches, pristine waters, fabulous national parks, stunning sand dunes, coastal walks and tiny towns, not to mention a terrifically laidback lifestyle, this is a definitely place worth visiting. 26 stunning beaches and a majestic bay, the local area is known as a ‘blue water paradise’ because of the sheer beauty of its marine surroundings.

World-class surf breaks, scuba diving with grey nurse sharks, swimming with wild dolphins and snorkelling in quiet bays – Port Stephens is all about family-friendly fun.

Bannisters Port Stephens

Port Stephens is not a town in its own right, but rather a collection of relaxed coastal neighbourhoods, each offering something a little different, including Nelson Bay, Anna Bay, Shoal Bay, Fingal Bay, and my personal favourite Soldiers Point.

Family holidays to Soldiers Point began when I was very young. Packed into the back of the car with my younger sister and two very hairy spaniels.

But once we arrived, oh the bliss, the freedom, the fun! We spent our summers in an antiquated wooden house, with a wrap-around veranda in true old Australian building style. We swam, made sandcastles, which we decorated with bits of shell, seaweed and driftwood.

Hotel Drone 3 Kate Bennett

Now, 40 years on, I was returning. Having lived in Zambia for well over 30 years, I was making one of my infrequent visits back to Australia to see my parents, who still live in Sydney. Time was short, but I was determined to revisit the Soldiers Point of my childhood. I hopped in the car and headed up the road, and down memory lane.

The old winding, car-sick-making, highway was gone, instead, a three-lane expressway sped me along, faster than I was prepared for. I missed my turnoff and spent some time ‘finding myself’ in the streets of Newcastle before a friendly bystander got me back on track. Pulling into Soldiers Point I was pleasantly surprised to see some things hadn’t changed. Some things though were unrecognisable. The community centre was still standing, though no Saturday night films seemed to be advertised. The corner store with the sweets was no longer.

The wharf where I’d learnt to fish was still intact, but the house with its wrap-around veranda was gone. What was also the same, but different, was the old Salamander. The once shabby and ageing, sixties motel, Salamander Shores, had never looked so good in my youth. But it was the Salamander no longer, before me was a glistening reincarnation, Bannisters Port Stephens, and this is where I was booked to spend the weekend.

Bannisters Port Stephens

Bannisters Port Stephens opened in late 2018. This is the second location for the Bannisters group, which began in 2002 when media entrepreneur Peter Cosgrove renovated a seventies motel at Mollymook, a tiny town on the coast, three hours south of Sydney and later joined forces with celebrity chef Rick Stein.

After the success at Mollymook, and keen to expand their footprint in Australia, Rick, his wife Sarah and Peter Cosgrove turned their hand to Bannisters Port Stephens.

Situated cliffside, the hotel is grand in scale but boutique in vibe. A sparkling makeover infused with design elements like floor to ceiling glass, trademark whites and breezy blue tones, timber accents and plenty of greenery; somehow breathing new life into the space whilst retaining the character of its former Salamander days. Dogs and children are welcome, there are even pet-friendly rooms. The staff are super friendly, and somehow have the knack of managing to make good service entirely drama-free.

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An infinity pool looks down over the same public jetty where I’d once learned to fish, and where patient fathers and excited youngsters still dangle their fishing lines. The hotel features 80 rooms, including four luxury suites and a penthouse, that all come with either water or bushland views. There are a couple of different options when it comes to dining – a cavernous bar downstairs called the Cheeky Dog, good for pizza, pool and watching sports on the giant TV screens and Julio’s Mexican Cantina, with bay views, Mexican food and margaritas. But, by far the best, without a doubt, is Rick Stein’s, a fine dining restaurant, but with a relaxed, holiday feel.

Port Stephens is home to some of the best seafood on the east coast of Australia and the menu reflects this and celebrates the region. It starts with a selection of fresh seafood – think grilled scallops and freshly shucked oysters. Follow that with an entrée of sashimi of local yellowfin tuna or perhaps local lobster and mud crab linguine.

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For main course I had the delectable Sri Lankan local swordfish curry, whilst my son opted to leave the seafood and go for a Tasmanian wagyu rump steak. Desserts are predictably rich, and mine was a divine chocolate fondant. Whatever you choose, the ingredients are freshly caught or sourced and beautifully prepared, and when combined with a wide-ranging wine list to complement every course, you really can’t go wrong.

The next morning, we were woken by the hysterical laughter of a kookaburra in a tree overlooking our veranda, and when we opened the curtains, two rainbow lorikeets sat on the outside chairs looking in at us. The sun was shining through the gum trees and glistening on the water in the bay below. Coffee on the veranda, and a pre-breakfast stroll down to the wharf, it doesn’t get much more perfect than this. Rick Stein and Bannisters Port Stephens makes for a truly delicious weekend away.

Images (C) Kate Bennett and David Griffen

Tell Me More About Bannisters Port Stephens

Bannisters Port Stephens, 147 Soldiers Point Road, Soldiers Point, NSW, 02 4919 3800,

T:(02) 4919 3800

A three-night midweek special ‘Dine Another Day’ package at Bannisters Port Stephens, staying in an Ocean Deck room, like the one I stayed in, starts from £225 per room on a double occupancy. It includes a glass of bubbles or port on arrival, continental breakfast, dinner one night in Rick Stein’s restaurant (2 courses from a select menu) and £50 dining credit to use at Julio’s Mexican Cantina.

For a weekend stay in the same type of room, prices start at £260 per night for two people on a bed and breakfast basis.

Rick Stein at Bannisters Port Stephens is open for dinner daily and for lunch on Saturday and Sunday only. Bookings are recommended. The cost is about £100 for two, plus drinks.

Getting to Port Stephens

Drive north of Sydney for 2.5 hours, or north of Newcastle for 1 hour and you’ll arrive in the New South Wales coastal region of Port Stephens. If you’re travelling from further afield, you can catch a domestic flight to Newcastle Airport and then travel a further 25 minutes by rental car or taxi to Port Stephens.


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