I’d never seen sand dunes like this. Everything around you is white and yellow sand in dramatic peaks and valleys that you often can’t fully appreciate until you’re on the edge. I grew up around beaches, and I’ve visited more than one desert, but yet: I’d really, truly, never seen sand dunes like this. It’s stupidly beautiful.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. What a lot of people don’t know, even if they grew up only a couple of hours away (*ahem*, me) is that this 32km stretch of the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes is home to the largest moving sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere.
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I was lucky enough to be on a quad bike tour with Sand Dune Adventures in the Port Stephens area. I can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous to get on these quad bikes. I’m more someone who dabbles in adrenaline activities rather than a junkie — someone who enjoys getting the blood pumping while still having a healthy appreciation for what could kill me. I also just really didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the 25-strong tour group I was in.
All that melted away, though, as soon as I pulled out of the garage. As it turns out, quad bikes are very easy to manage, and the guides walk you through all the best practices.
Honestly, I’m so relieved to have these guides — Sand Dune Adventures is led by local Indigenous guides who know the best pathways through the sand (and how to follow them, respectfully). If you were hoping to hoon around you’ll be disappointed — although there is a fast, medium and slow group — but considering how unexpectedly you can come upon a near-vertical drop, it’s really a better idea.
Let’s just say, I finally understand Star Wars, and why they’re always hiding behind sand dunes — these babies truly sneak up on you and you’d never realise how deep a valley you were coming too until you were directly above it.
If heights make you nervous, you’d better tell the guides beforehand so they can find you a flatter way around, because over the course of an hour we come across several steep drops that caused more than one person to drop a few swear words(*ahem*, me again). There’s no easing down it horizontally either, for safety it’s single file and straight down so you almost feel like you’re about to tumble head first. After going down the first one though (and realising that the quad bike wasn’t going to give out and make me eat it), I’m actually living for the rush.
I have to be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much when I first read about the tour. Sand dunes? Pfft, I know sand dunes — but I figured riding the quad bikes would be a hoot and the main reason to go. Boy was I wrong.
I’m honestly still in awe of the unique beauty here. I fell behind the group so many times, purely because I was so distracted by the view — never a bad problem to have, mind you. At an easy two and half hour drive from Sydney, this is the best weekend activity you’ll find, hands down.
As much as you could make it a day trip, I really recommend making it a full weekend. This part of the coast has all the chill coastal vibes (and pristine beaches) you want for a getaway, with plenty of accomodation options.
On a Saturday night, Shoal Bay Country Club is the place to be. It’s kitted out and very modern, so not at all the bowls club feels I know you’re thinking of. The food is fine, the drinks are plentiful, and the line is out the door (so arrive early).
To take some of the effort out of organising all your seperate activities, Oaks Hotels, Resorts & Suites have partnered with Experience Oz to create a series of themed packages around the country, so you book your accomodation and they’ll book your activities for everything from romance to adrenaline.
In Port Stephens, you can stay at Oaks Port Stephens Pacific Blue Resort, then ask them to organise either a Sand Dune Adventures quad bike tour for $110, or opt for the Sand Boarding and 4WD Adventure instead, for $35.
The latter is also a fun choice, by the way. You can sit on the board instead of standing, so it’s easy for all levels, and frankly it makes for a cute Instagram picture. Unfortunately when I arrived the wind picked up big time, and the sand was whipping on my legs in the way only sand can. So I did a couple of rides down then left pretty quickly, but on a nice day I can imagine it’d be nice to relax and chat between rides. Just as a heads up though, the ‘4WD adventure‘ part is just the ride to the dune.
Still though, hand on my heart, it’s the quad biking tour for me. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.
(Lead Image: Instagram / @sand_dune_adventures)
Kassia is the Editor of AWOL, and a straight-up travel addict. She was born without a sense of direction, yet an intense desire to explore the world. As such, she's lost 90% of the time but she's learned to roll with it. You can catch her latest adventures on Instagram @probably_kassia.