Nelson Bay, Port Stephens NSW – Dog Friendly Destination

Nelson Bay, NSW is a small dog-friendly town located on the southern shore of Port Stephens, about 60 kilometres by road north-east of Newcastle.

It is a major tourism centre, particularly for dolphin and whale-watching, surfing, diving, fishing and other recreational aquatic activities.

About Port Stephens

Port Stephens isn’t an actual port, but a body of water formed by the convergence of the Myall and Karuah Rivers, Tilligerry Creek and the Tasman Sea.

The port was named by Captain Cook when he passed by on 11 May 1770, honouring Sir Stephen Philips, who was Secretary to the Admiralty.

Stephens was a personal friend of Cook and had recommended him for command of the voyage.

Where To Stay

We stayed at the Halifax Holiday Park, which is ‘dog-friendly’ except during NSW School Holiday Periods or Long Weekends (with the exception of June Long Weekend & July School Holidays).

It is situated between Little Beach and Shoal Beach, unfortunately neither dog-friendly. 

Although there are footpaths that run adjacent to them, you’re just not allowed on the sand.

On one of our wanders, we came across the fish cleaning station at Little Beach, with a few interested spectators.

Pelicans at Little Beach NSW

There are 2 other caravan parks in the area that dogs are welcomed. Fingal Bay and Shoal Bay

Both these parks are overseen by the same authority that run the Halifax Holiday Park, so the same exclusions apply.

Dog Friendly Days Out:

Beaches, Parks & Reserves

There is a 24 hour off-leash dog beach and exercise area at Bagnall’s Beach at Corlette. 

This is about 5 kms from the Caravan Park at Nelson Bay and takes about 10 minutes to drive to.

Bagnall's dog friendly beach Nelson Bay NSW
Bagnall's Beach

It’s a very safe and sheltered area where you and your furry friend can get your paws wet.

There was even a group of Black Swans bobbing about on the water when we were there, quite oblivious to all the canine capers taking place on the sand.

Black Swans at dog friendly Bagnall's Beach Nelson Bay NSW
Black Swans at Bagnall's Beach

Port Stephens has numerous dog exercise parks and reserves where off-lead fun can be had. Click on this link to find out where you can go for furry fun.

Day Trips:

Tea Gardens

If you and your dog are not averse to a bit of maritime mooching, there is a dog-friendly ferry which runs from Nelson Bay to Tea Gardens. 

It’s generally about an hours trip each way depending on which way the tide is running.

When we went, we took the 11.15 am crossing from Nelson Bay returning on the 2.30 pm. 

The trip across took about an hour and a quarter due to an adverse running tide, which curtailed our time at Tea Gardens a bit. 

Once over there you have a few choices of eateries. We plumped for the Tea Gardens Hotel with served very good food at reasonable prices.

There was plenty of shade for our dog Ash to relax in with a handy water bowl close by.

There are a couple of other cafes/restaurants close to the ferry jetty, but neither were dog-friendly.

The ferry is pretty basic and a bit noisy dependant on where you are sitting. So if your dog is of a nervous disposition then it may get a bit anxious.

The below photo is of our return trip where Ash was a bit more chilled out than on the initial crossing.

Dog Friendly ferry to Tea Gardens NSW
Tea Gardens Ferry

You can visit Tea Gardens without using the ferry, by driving around the coast road.

The time this takes is about the same as the ferry crossing and you would not be regulated by the ferry timings.

Humpback Highway

Now I’m going to tell you this, but very quietly so Ash doesn’t hear. 

Why, because we managed to sneak out for a couple of hours to go whale watching, courtesy of Tarryn’s Mum & Dad who took over the dog-sitting duties.

If you are able to get away from your furry friend for a short time, then this is a great way to spend a few hours. 

Not overly expensive either at $60/adult for the 3 hour trip. With never ending cups of tea/coffee and biscuits included in the price.

Initially we were treated to fantastic coastal views as we left Nelson Bay Harbour on our way out to ‘Humpback Highway’.

Little Beach, Nelson Bay, NSW
Little Beach, Nelson Bay, NSW
Shoal Beach, Shoal Bay, NSW
Shoal Beach, Shoal Bay

These amazing creatures

Within 20 minutes of leaving the harbour we had hooked up with 2 Humpback Whales, who we stayed with for about and hour and a half.


Whale Watching Nelson Bay NSW
Mum & Calf

Approximately 22,000 of the world’s humpback whale population pass the Port Stephens coast line on their 12,000km migration every year.

The humpback whale undertakes a northern migration from May to August. 

Travelling from its feeding grounds in Antarctica to the warmer tropical waters of the Pacific.

They then make the return journey south from August to November. 

This is the longest documented migration of any mammal on earth and the reason for the journey is to breed.

Despite its enormous size at birth, a newborn whale (calf) is born without a protective blubber layer so if it were born in the near-freezing temperatures of the Antarctic waters, its chances of survival would be slim.

So the whales head north to the warmer climate to give birth to their young.

There have even been sightings of a ‘White Whale’, which has been named ‘Migaloo’. But unfortunately for us he didn’t appear on this occasion. 

Maybe next time.

Returning to land we were reunited with a very happy pooch.

I’m sure that she was pleased to see us, but also think that it may have been the number of treats she had been given whilst we were whale-watching.

Ash happy from lots of treats

We then adjourned to the ‘Nice Cafe‘ for a bite to eat and a coffee. Great food and service and very dog-friendly and only a short walk away from the main Marina area.


There are quite a few cafes at the marina itself that are dog-friendly with outdoor seating and plenty of shade from the sun.


You can check out our other dog friendly Adventures Around Australia right here

Woofs and wags to you all!

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