Port Macquarie - A Little Coastal Paradise
Reviewed Dec 2016
Located approximately 68 nm south of Coffs Harbour and 94 nm North of Port Stephens Port Macquarie is a very good stopover for cruisers heading north or south. The entrance to Port Macquarie is via a river bar entrance to the Hastings River. The entrance is well marked by a White Lead Light with port and starboard lights to indicate if you are off course.
I have only crossed the bar three times. On one occasion the bar appeared flat but a small wave appeared on the outer bank of the bar unexpectantly ( roughly 150 to 200 metres off the entrance ) which broke as we went over the wave exiting the river. On the last occasion ( December 2016) the bar was flat for the crossing in and out). I have found that many cruisers will bypass Port Macquarie due to a reputation that it is a dangerous bar. As with all river bar crossings Port Macquarie is no different to many other river bars along the east coast of Australia which requires respect and caution when crossing with the correct sea, tide and wind conditions. I have personally witnessed the entrance in its worst conditions which, no proper minded sailer would attempt to cross unless they wish to leave this world early. Lives have been lost on this stretch of water and it does required prudent seamanship to cross. If in doubt, stay out.
Port Macquarie VMR monitor marine radio 24 hours 7 days a week. If you have internet on your boat ,I found that using the “Coastalwatch” web site one can see in real time the entrances to many river bar entrances along the NSW coast. (In daylight hours). Many of the web cams are being upgraded to high definition and give excellent detail of how the bar is behaving and assisting a skipper in their decision in the best way to cross the bar or continue on their journey.
The town of Port Macquarie starts right at the entrance to the Hastings River with Town Beach on the Southern side of the entrance. Along the break wall is a fabulous camping ground that leads to the main township. As you pass the break wall the river splits wiht the north arm being the main river and the southern arm taking you towards a very small area with private mooring and Port Macquarie Marina. At the junction of the river there are three public moorings with a 24 hour limit and only a short dinghy ride to small public wharf (no suitable for yachts) where it is a very short walk to shops, cafes and most amenities. By following the northern arm you can navigate the Hastings River all the way to the Pacific Highway where a low level bridge stops most craft from going further. There are many safe anchorages along this section of river. One must be aware of a two vehicular ferry services that operate on the river, being the Settlement Point and Hibbard Ferry which both cross to the northern shore of the river.
If you follow the southern arm of the river you must follow the well marked narrow channel otherwise you will come to grief either on a sandbank or rocks. It is only a kilometre or so from the river mouth entrance when you come across the Port Macquarie Marina. This is a very small marina but is extremely welcoming of cruising sailers. Diesel and Unleaded fuel is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. A small haul out facility is also located on the Marina. I found the staff very friendly and professional. The marina is currently undergoing an expansion and more marina berths. The marina also has a number of swing moorings but these can be in high demand. The marina can be contacted via channel 72 or 02 6583 1940. Port Macquarie Marina has an excellent website which details berthing rates and all contact details and available facilities.
A large IGA supermarket is located within the large shopping centre in Port Macquarie township or a larger shopping centre with supermarkets can be located at Settlement City which is only a ten minute walk from the marina. A regional airport is located just outside of Port Macquarie with daily flights to Sydney and Brisbane and flights to Melbourne operating less frequently. A train service is available from Wauchope a short take ride away.I found Port Macquarie one of those places where you can shelter with safety from weather for a day (as was our case) or spend a week or longer exploring the area and just kicking back on the pristine beaches.
I have found that if the bar at Port Macquarie is not able to be crossed Camden Haven/Laurieton is an excellent Plan B. It is approximately 15 nm south of Port Macquarie which many cruisers consider an easier river bar to cross.
As always each skipper/owner is responsible for the safety of themselves. crew and vessels and must make the decision to cross a river bar safely based on all information available to them. In his book “Cruising the NSW Coast” Alan Lucas gives an excellent description of the approaches and navigation within the river and is a excellent guide for cruising this part of the coast. Chart AUS 811 relates to this area.
Ease of access amentities
Caution required to cross river bar entrance