• Ports Ahoy

    Ports Ahoy

    Gordon Bell - Shutterstock

    Ports Ahoy

    No less than six YHA hostels have port in their name, hug the Australian coastline and offer a great insight into the country’s beach and maritime culture. Janet McGarry has been lucky enough to visit them all.


    The early colonial explorers of Australia showed a distinct lack of imagination when it came to the names they bestowed on their discoveries. British royalty, peers and politicians were a frequent choice, whilst geographic features got many an outing. There is one dominant coastal name though and that is Port.

    Never one to buck a trend, YHA has no less than six hostels in its Australian network in a Port location – so join us on this tour . . . 



    ‘Scallops. You need to try the scallops’. With those words from Robert, the owner of Port Lincoln YHA ringing in our ears, we ambled down the main street. Port Lincoln has a pleasant frontage, bordered by towering Norfolk Pines and a row of shops that most seaside Australian towns seem to specialise in. But, there amongst them, was a café with some of the best scallops you’ll ever taste. I fought back the thought that the previous day they were probably living a watery life. The sauce and flavour was just too good.

    Port Lincoln sneaks up on you with pleasures you didn’t expect. Most people are drawn to this small town on the southern-most tip of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia by the lure of shark-cage diving as it’s one of a few spots in the world to offer this. But Port Lincoln is far from being a one horse town.

    Built on the back of a very successful fishing fleet (think tuna – and of course those scallops), Port Lincoln has a rolling rural backdrop and azure blue coastal views. And you need to get out to sea. Even if eye-balling sharks are not your thing, there are other options. The Swimming with Tuna trip is family friendly, but the pick for me was the Swim with Sea Lions half day trip.

    I’ll confess I’m a sucker for a pretty face, and those elegantly sleek bodies, button eyes and twitching whiskers are a great package. A mere 90 minutes cruising from town, and you jump into the shallow water of a sheltered bay to snorkel, play and frolic with the locals. It’s an experience hard to beat (and luckily, not a shark in sight!).

    Ports Ahoy_PortLincoln_ Shark Cage Calypso



    There are times on every trip when you just need to chill. Travelling west from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road, it is tempting to turn back after the many splendours of the Twelve Apostles. Resist that temptation! Scoot through Warnambool as quick as you can, and instead head straight to the little fishing town of Port Fairy, which is a great destination in itself or makes the perfect stop off point en route through to South Australia and Adelaide.

    Port Fairy is one of those towns that just feel right. Set prettily on the banks of the river Moyne as it spills out to sea, the large fishing fleet promises seafood dinners, whilst the strong café culture delivers excellent coffee. This historic town is great for wandering, with sandstone buildings and interesting shops to explore.

    There’s surf beaches, boat cruises, and nearby national parks to investigate. But first and foremost, this is a place to wind down in.

    Ports Ahoy_Port Fairy



    Thanks to a too-successful tourism campaign with the cheesy tagline ‘PS I love you’, Port Stephens has been discovered by many locals and travellers alike. They’ve found out about the kilometres of sea beaches to wander, national park tracks to walk and views to take in. Where you can swim in summer, and whale watch in winter, and you are still only a couple of hours from Sydney.

    But you can escape the bustle of this popular town by relaxing at the YHA. It’s an oasis of tropical surrounds and bush that can be your slice of paradise. Snugly located in Anna Bay, you can wander down to the sea, spot a koala or two, relax by the pool or cook up a storm in the bush kitchen.

    Close by are all the water sports to take your fancy, and few go past a cruise out to spot dolphins and whales (in season) and to take in the view of Mt Tomaree which dominates the bay.

    Ports Ahoy_Port Stephens



    Think Port Douglas and many Australians recall Christopher Skase, who came, built and departed. These were the glory days of the 1980s and there are still elements in town that hark back to this time, but after a few lean years, Port Douglas is on the resurgence and not before time, either.

    This is the ultimate tropical getaway where you can combine amenities like excellent cafes, restaurants and shops, with access to everything the Great Barrier Reef has to offer. And you are on the doorstep of Mossman Gorge, the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation. Port Douglas is a terrific hub for a Tropical North Queensland experience.

    A few days here offers a great combination of lazy days on Four Mile Beach (best Aussie beach for cycling along, in my humble opinion) with busy days out – lots of choices for trips to both the inner and outer reef, sunset cruises and diving trips. But keep time aside for Cape Tribulation. Crossing the Daintree still brings you to another world – of spectacular rainforest that is a world away from modern life.

    Ports Ahoy_Port Douglas_Martin Valigursky Shutterstock



    Every trip has a moment when it’s time to just retire to a comfy chair with a glass of wine and a good book. An excellent view and a local vintage isn’t always available though, but Port Elliot easily delivers.

    The YHA sits proudly on a rise, a dominant historic building that faces out across Horseshoe Bay. Turn right out of the front door and you can wander along the coastal walking path skirting beaches and rocky viewing points. Turn left and it’s a short stroll to the main street and many historic buildings. This town has long been the secret weekend spot of Adelaideans – an easy drive south through rolling rural scenery, past the vineyards of McLaren Vale.

    True travellers though will know that Port Elliot is but a jump from the glory of the Coorong. An unspoilt wilderness of wetlands, lakes and beaches and home to a vast array of birdlife, the Coorong is largely undiscovered. Do yourself a favour – canoe or cruise its waters, walk the beaches, marvel at its serenity. There is nowhere else in Australia quite like it.

    Ports Ahoy_Port Elliot



    There is no more recognisable symbol of Australia than the little furry face of a koala, and few can resist their charm. Most visitors get up close experience to them at a zoo or wildlife park as they can be hard to spot in the wild. But if you are travelling between Sydney and Brisbane, the Koala Hospital at Port Macquarie should be on your visit list.

    Open daily, this is not primarily a tourist attraction (though very popular with visitors) but a leading organisation for the protection of Australia’s rapidly shrinking koala population.

    Marsupial time over, Port Macquarie is a substantial town which is great for those who want all the facilities it has to offer with the backdrop of sparkling beaches, great surf and coastal views. And the lure of the YHA is that it is one of those places where people plan to spend a night, and end up staying days. Super relaxed, it’s a great spot to refresh your travelling batteries.

    Ports Ahoy_Port Macquarie_Legendary Pacific Coast


    These are six vastly different YHAs and that is part of their charm. From the tropical lushness of Port Douglas located a stroll from sumptuous Four Mile Beach, to the Bali-feel of Port Stephens, where koala spotting is obligatory. Port Fairy is the spot to relax and enjoy the café culture after touring the Great Ocean Road, whilst Port Elliot is a stylish escape with one of the best YHA views from its upper balcony. You can’t escape sharks in Port Lincoln at this exceptional YHA whilst the most photographed hostel pet award definitely goes to Cheeky, Port Macquarie’s resident lorikeet.