Just a short(ish) drive from Sydney is the most underrated foodie destination.

About 20 years ago, my parents bought a property on the NSW mid-north coast. So that's two entire decades I've been heading up the coast several times a year.

And in that time, not once – not once had I stopped in to spend any considerable amount of time in Port Macquarie. I'd drive on by the exit, knowing I was just an hour from my intended destination.

Like a chump – I drove on by.

Because I didn't know then what I know now: that Port Macquarie is a quiet little overachiever in the NSW holiday stakes.

When I was up that way recently, my best friend and I decided we'd take a mini girls' trip and spend a night in the pretty coastal town. And I don't want to come on strong, but I... think I'm in love?

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Port Macquarie (or "Port" as it's known to locals and also me, now) is an easy 4.5-or-thereabouts drive from Sydney. (It's also a cheeky hour on a plane from Sydney if you're in a hurry, and there are flights from Brisbane, Melbourne and, randomly, Lord Howe Island too).


Before we start arguing, if you can leave after breakfast and be there in time for lunch, it's a short drive. And friends, that is exactly what I recommend you do, because the second you roll into town you're going to want to go... to town... on the food.

What to eat in Port Macquarie. 

I was blown away by absolutely everything I put in my mouth during my approximately 30 hours here, and get your mind out of the gutter because I'm talking about food obviously. 


Let's get right to it, because where my stomach's concerned, I'm not interested in waiting. 

Little Shack.

Dat lunch view tho. Image: Supplied/Alix Nicholson.

 As soon as I got to Port, I wandered over to Little Shack, which is right smack on the water and about the most idyllic spot for a drink and a nibble you'll ever find. 


Cafe by day, restaurant and bar... also by day (and night), because you're on holidays and margaritas are an any-time food, pulling up a seat at the open-air bench overlooking the water sent me into instant holiday mode. The only downside? They'd misplaced their special coconut-opening-thingy (apparently not a knife?) so I couldn't sip a tropical fruit while I pretended I was in Bali.

The iced coffee and crisp fish tacos more than made up for it though, and I plan to have cocktails and watch the sun set from Little Shack's bar stools next time I'm in town.

The Beach House. 

Port definitely has the tropical vibes, but a storm did roll in that afternoon – not that it was a problem, because The Beach House was open for business and had room to squeeze us in on the verandah for a drink and a nibble.

So we did just that: we drank (margaritas) and we nibbled (platters feat. chorizo, house-smoked salmon, potato rosti, pickles, sourdough... You get the idea.) An easy after-lunch-before-dinner jaunt. 


Ichi, you cutie. You stuffed me to my eyeballs! Image: Supplied/Alix Nicholson.


Trying to pick a spot for dinner was tough, I'm not gonna lie. The Boat House at Sails by Rydges was high on the list, and I'd heard great things about the Mexican and cocktails at Hello Sailor on the marina. But after a rec from a friend (and an espresso martini at our hotel), we landed on Ichi. And if you like Japanese food, this spot has to be on your 'things to do in Port Macquarie' list.

I'm not going to lie, I was... quietly cautious. Mostly because I'm a snob, and am spoiled for great Japanese food in Sydney, so I didn't imagine it could be as good.


Oh how very wrong I was.

From the tataki beef to the seared scallops, the super-fresh sashimi and the ha-UGE tempura prawns – even the oysters, and you guys, I don't eat oysters! That's how good they were. 10/10 will be going back to this gem. (Oh and bonus, we were the last people to leave and we stayed for a chat with the owners, who were just lovely even though they probably just wanted us to leave already.)



I have to be honest – me and my friend were still full from the feast at Ichi the night before when we rocked up for breakfast at Banks the next morning. But we both have a real can-do attitude, so we ordered anyway and really took one for the team, in the form of smashed avo and poached eggs for me (a cliche breakfast maybe, but it can be hit and miss, and this one was top tier), and a bowl of granola and poached fruit for my friend. 

It's not just the food that hits at this sweet cafe, which would be in the river if it were any closer. The view, the serenity, the vibes were all immaculate.


I never thought I'd feel this way about a chicken salad. 

I was told it was good, and I was... curious. Could a salad truly be that special? Could a salad soothe a weary soul and warm a cold, dark heart? Could a salad... change lives? 

Yes. Yes it could.

Friends, even if you're just passing through Port, please – go to Frankie's. Order the chicken salad. Don't question it. Don't be tempted by all the other menu items (which, admittedly, looked delicious too, and if the CS is anything to go by, definitely would be). Just do it. I'll be disappointed in you if you don't.

(Oh, the coffee was fab too, which will be important to you if you're A Coffee Person like me.)


Blue Cow Gelato. 

If you didn't eat ice cream, did you even have a beachside holiday? Gelato spots are a dime a dozen these days, so you've got to do something kind of spesh to stand out in the over-saturated (but delicious) market, but when I saw the line literally around the corner of Blue Cow Gelato, I figured it must be worth standing around in the sweaty heat for. I (and everyone else waiting) was right. 


The freezer had the prettiest rainbow of flavours I ever did see, and I went rogue and ordered a scoop of Salted Coconut and Peaflower flavour, less because it sounded tasty (which it was) and more because it was blue and it was pretty and, well, that was good enough for me. 

Where to stay in Port Macquarie.

Heaven aka the pool at Sails by Rydges. Image: Supplied/Alix Nicholson.


Sails by Rydges is one of the boujie-er (boujier? Bougee-er?) options in town, and it's where I shacked up for the night. Except it's not really 'in' town as such; more a little out, but in a place the size of Port, "not in town" only meant a seven-ish-minute drive away. (In fact, after our dinner at Ichi, we walked back and it took all of 20 minutes, which is nothing when you're a couple of cocktails and 273kg of Japanese food deep.)

The sprawling resort was giving Hamptons x Malibu, with a dash of French riviera, and had a pool area that backed onto the river, making for a very Instagrammable spot. The girls behind the bar make a great espresso martini, and the pool was *heaven* the next morning between brekkie and the very generous 11am checkout.

What to do in Port Macquarie.

Where to shop in Port Macquarie.

If I'm on holiday, even for just one night, you can bet I'm shopping.

There's an enormous shopping centre (Settlement City) across the road from Sails by Rydges, if you're looking for a chain store/mall vibe, but if boutiques take your fancy (same here), check out Mainstore (on Sunset Parade, just over the road from Little Shack) and Lilli Rose Design (on Murray St, just around the corner).

In the Port Central mall, we also stumbled on a shop that deserves a shout out – Beach Life Crescent Head, which was owned and run by a young local guy (Crescent Head is a sweet little seaside town about 45 minutes north of Port).

They had lots of cool trending beach-adjacent *stuff* at reasonable price points, and I could've spent a lot more in there than I did. All I picked up were some sunnies, but I've got my eye on the cooler bag, the beach rugs, the foldable chairs... 


The best beaches in Port Macquarie.

There's not a bad beach in this area to be honest, and there are plenty to pick from. They're all a short drive (like, between five and 10 minutes max) from the centre of town, meaning you can pick one and stay all day or partake in some beach hopping depending on your mood.

Town Beach is the main patrolled beach, that also happens to be where you'll find Salty Crew, a sweet cafe overlooking the ocean, serving up pretty decent coffee and bites. 

Flynn's Beach is the next one along and popular with families thanks to its (usually) pretty calm water. There's also another great little spot for food and bevs (can you... tell I like to eat?) called Sandbox. Park your butt on the grass overlooking the beach or nab yourself a spot on the sand with the locals. 

Shelley Beach (another couple of minutes' drive up the road) is another well-loved swim spot, with a tidal lagoon that's perf for the kiddos to splash about in. 

Alix stayed in Port Macquarie as a guest of Sails by Rydges and Port Macquarie.

Alix Nicholson is Mamamia's Weekend Editor. Check out her obsession with travel, beauty and her stinkin' cute dog Lottie over on her Instagram.

Feature image: Supplied.

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