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Port Macquarie, NSW

Popular holiday and retirement town now a major service centre for the district.

Port Macquarie is a major service centre and important holiday destination on the New South Wales Mid North Coast. It is a town steeped in a history which dates back to convict times. There are superb nature reserves with lovely beaches known for their excellent surfing and fishing. There are also beautiful walking tracks with panoramic views around the headlands and beaches. Tourism is obviously central to the local economy, although fishing, oyster farming, manufacturing and mineral processing are also important. In historic terms, Port Macquarie is the most significant town between Newcastle and the Queensland border. In recent times it was the northern limit of the expressway which traversed the coastal hinterland from Sydney.

Location

Port Macquarie is located 391 km north-east of Sydney and 17 metres above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

In 1818 the explorer John Oxley followed the Hastings River from the Tamworth district to the ocean. He named the river after Warren Hastings, who had been the Governor-General of India and, when he reached the mouth of the river, he named the site Port Macquarie after Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales who had initiated the expedition.

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Things to See and Do

Beaches
Part of the holiday appeal of Port Macquarie is its number, and diversity, of excellent beaches. Some sources say there are seven local beaches. Others describe up to fifteen beaches in the greater Port Macquarie area. To the north of town, and only accessible by driving south from Crescent Head, is the 16 km long North Beach which is edged by Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve. Off Stewart Street, and closest to the centre of town, is Town Beach, which is located just south of the mouth of the Hastings River. The beach successfully combines safe family swimming at one end with board riding at the other.
A number of impressive beaches lie to the south of the town. These are, in order, Oxley's Beach, Rocky Beach, Flynn's Beach, Nobbys Beach, Shelly Beach, Miners Beach and Lighthouse Beach.
The first five can be accessed from Pacific Drive which follows the coastline southwards. The first, on the other side of Flagstaff Hill, is Oxley's Beach with a grassy verge ideal for picnics. To its south is a headland known as Windmill Hill which features a lookout and gardens. It was named because a windmill was erected on the hill in the mid-19th century. It was used to grind wheat and corn for government contracts. On the other side is Rocky Beach and further south is Flynn's Point, beyond which lies Flynn's Beach - the town's most popular beach with a surf lifesaving club and a grassy area with picnic and barbecue facilities. A small headland separates Flynn's from Nobby's Beach and south of Nobby's Hill are Shelly Beach and Miners Beach. Beyond the next headland is Lighthouse Beach which is accessed by Matthew Flinders Drive. There is a section of the beach which is leash free.  There is no shortage of choice and the local surfers know the best beaches with the best surfing conditions. For more information check out http://www.surfthecoast.com.au/PortMacquarie.

Tacking Point Lighthouse
Matthew Flinders named Tacking Point in July 1802 as he circumnavigated Australia. The lighthouse is the third-oldest in the country. It was built in 1879 to warn ships of the rocks near the shore and was converted to automatic acetylene operation in 1919 and to mains electricity in 1974. Today it is automated and has a range of 16 nautical miles. By 1879 more than twenty ships had been wrecked off the coast near Port Macquarie. Tacking Point, with its elevation above the surrounding coastline, offers superb views to both the north and the south. Consequently the lighthouse, which is made of cement rendered bricks, only needs an elevation of 8 metres. It was originally lit by a catadioptric light of less than 1000 candelas. This was changed to a wick oil light in 1919. There is detailed information on the lighthouse at http://www.lighthouses.org.au/lights/NSW/Tacking%20Point/Tacking%20Point.htm.

Port Macquarie Coastal Walking Trail
The Port Macquarie Coastal Walking Trail in a 9.1 km walk from Westport Park past the Town Green and breakwater, around Town Beach and Flagstaff Hill and along the coast to Tacking Point Lighthouse. It is a sublime introduction to the coastline and to the beauties of the coast around Port Macquarie. The brochure - an excellent map and description of the walk is available at  http://www.pmhc.nsw.gov.au/files/assets/public/resident-services/community/place-making/port-macquarie-coastal-walk.pdf. - can be downloaded. It divides the walk into four stages
Stage 1 - Westport Car Park to Town Beach Kiosk - 2 km - 40 minutes - easy
Stage 2 - Town Beach Kiosk to Flynn's Beach Kiosk - 2.2 km - 40 minutes - moderate
Stage 3 - Flynn's Beach to Shelly Beach - 2.2 km - 45 minutes - moderate
Stage 4 - Shelly Beach to Tacking Point - 2.7 km - 1 hour - moderate

Port Macquarie Hastings Heritage Walking Tours
There are two walking tours of the town (both have been praised by participants) which are run by Mitch McKay and are held on Wednesdays to Saturdays. The first is of the town's historic cemetery and the second looks at the town's historic past.
Historic Cemetery - nearly 1,500 convicts, soldiers and early settlers were buried in the cemetery and each one of them has a fascinating story to tell. It starts at 2.00 pm.
Uncovering the Past - looks at the Birpai's lifestyle before the arrival of Europeans and then takes a close look at the penal colony which started in 1821. It starts at 9.30 am. Both tours walk around the town. For more information check out http://www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au/explore/location.aspx?cid=34&id=203 or phone Mitch McKay on 0447 429 016.

Gaol Point Lookout
Gaol Point Lookout, located near the corner of Lord Street and Stewart Street, offers panoramic views over the river mouth, the breakwaters, the harbour and Town Beach. It is located on the northern edge of the site where a brick gaol was built by convict labour between 1837 and 1840. Three men and a woman were hung there in 1844 and an Aboriginal man was hung outside the gaol walls in 1848. It was demolished in 1920.
In recent times there has been much discussion about the future of the lookout as a tourist attraction. It is currently undergoing council redevelopment. Interestingly on the opposite corner - Stewart and Lord Streets - is the Best Western Plus HW Boutique Motel which contains one of the two wells built to service the gaol. The motel's website notes: "The Best Western Plus HW Boutique Hotel was originally built on the site of the old convict gaol in 1966. Known then as the Historic Well Motel, it was named for the well that remains in the grounds to this very day. The convicts’ broad arrow markings are clear on the top layer of the wedge shaped hand-made bricks and are a popular talking point among guests who frequent the hotel today."

Port Macquarie Observatory
The Port Macquarie Astronomical Association's observatory is located in Rotary Park which is situated above Town Beach. There is a planetarium and telescope. It is open on Wednesday and Sunday evenings from 7.30 pm. The doors open at 7.15. It is held regardless of weather with an hour long presentation taking a tour of the night sky and, if the weather is good, there is an opportunity to see an astronomical object through the observatory's telescope. When daylight savings are in operation, the hours are 8.15 pm and the doors open at 8.00 pm. There is more information at http://www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au/explore/location.aspx?cid=34&id=31 or tel: 0403 683 394.

The Historic Graves and Allman Hill
In Clarence Street, adjacent to the road, are a four headstones which mark the site of the settlement's first cemetery (1821-24). One tells of a young soldier killed by a convict during an escape attempt and another of a child who died within three weeks of birth. Dr Fattorini's tombstone features a crown which bears witness to the doctor's unusual claim that he was related to Napoleon Buonaparte. This site is named Allman Hill after Francis Allman, the commandant of the original penal settlement, who hoisted the British flag on this site after stepping ashore in 1821. It was established in 1821 and contains 26 graves although only four are visible.

Port Macquarie Museum
Located in a russet building which sits at 22 Clarence Street, between Murray Street and Hay Street, is the Port Macquarie Museum. The convict-built store was erected c.1836 (there were extensions in the 1880s and in 1968 when it became a museum). It contains numerous historical documents and artefacts in exhibitions which are spread across fourteen rooms. The exhibits include "Relics, Rocks and Remnants" - Port Macquarie's hidden treasures; Our Rivers Our History - a record of the maritime history of the area; World War I at home; Rub a Dub Dub - a history of the use of local water; an exhibition on the Birpai people and the convict settlement; an exhibition on the town's role in Australian Federation; a costume gallery and a display recounting Port Macquarie's maritime history. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, tel: (02) 6583 1108. Check out http://portmuseum.org.au for more details.

Port Macquarie Courthouse
Located on the corner of Hay and Clarence Streets is the simple historic courthouse (1869) which was designed by the great Colonial Architect, James Barnet, and built by local builders, Butler and Bourne. It is flanked by Norfolk pines. It was the local court house from 1869-1986. It was restored in 1993 and is now open Monday to Friday from 10.00 am - 3.00 pm and Saturdays 10.00 am - 1.00 pm. For more information check out http://www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au/explore/location.aspx?id=423 or tel: (02) 6584 1818.

St Thomas's Anglican Church
St Thomas's Anglican Church is Australia's fifth-oldest remaining church. It is a Georgian structure built by convict labour between 1824 and 1828. The walls are of hand-made brick, one metre thick, and glued with mortar produced by burning oyster shells from Limeburners Creek. The square nails and spikes were forged by female convicts.
Highlights are the 1857 barrel organ which plays 33 hymns (it is the only one of its type in Australia), a crenellated bell-tower which offers fine views and the draught-proof, box-type cedar pews (originally reserved for the military). Free settlers were allowed to hire pews at the rate of £5 per annum (the average wage at the time being £3 per annum).
The memoirs of parishioner Eliza Walters offer an insight into the church towards the end of the 1820s: "The interior of the building was then plastered and lime-washed as white as snow. There was no flooring and no gallery ... a reading desk, but no pulpit ... and there were more prisoners than free people present.
"How well I can remember the grand old bass-toned bell, ringing out on a Sunday morning ... As we walked up the green, grassy hill, we were joined by the Officers, their wives and families and other free people ...
"At each door stood a guard of two red-coats. As soon as the bell rang at 10 a.m., the guards, with fixed bayonets, assumed command of the Church and marching into the building took up a position in the South-east corner. Opposite, in the North-east corner, stood the musicians [violin and flute]...
"There were four rows of wooden seats, or benches in the body of the Church, and on the North side sat the Iron gang, while on the South side sat the invalids from the Barracks. In front of the rows of rough seats were the Commandant's Pew ... near to where the musicians were stationed, and as soon as he and his family entered it, a screen was drawn across, and they were shut off from observation by the rest of the congregation.
"At the West end of the Church stood the Military Guards who had conducted the prisoners to the Service. The Commandant and all the free people were seated in their places before the prisoners were marched in."
Captain Rolland, the Commandant of the convict station in 1824, is buried under the front row of pews. It is said he was murdered during an escape attempt. His body was buried on consecrated ground before the laying of the foundation stone in the amusing belief that the convicts would be less likely to desecrate his grave if it were on sacred ground. An oblique comment on the opinion the convicts had of their Commandant.
The present chapel was built in 1821 as a dispensary for the garrison hospital which was located across the road where St Agnes' Catholic Church now stands. The building was extended and renovated in 1937 but the original portion retains its initial form. It is open Tuesday - Friday 9.30 am - noon, 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm.

Kooloonbung Creek Nature Park
There are numerous access points to this 52 ha Nature Park which is located in the heart of Port Macquarie. Access is available from Gordon Street, Hollingworth Street, Young Street, Anita Crescent, Glebe Close, Wynandra Crescent, Kooloobung Close and Begonia Place. There are two circuits in the park - one is 2.3 km, the other is 1.3 km and they can be combined. The park includes rows of weathered tombstones bearing the names of convicts and free settlers - the earliest interment dates from 1824. And there is an arboretum. There are several bird-watching platforms (over 165 species have been identified). The reserve also contains some koalas, sugar gliders, lizards and flying foxes. For more information and an excellent dowloadable brochure check out  www.pmhc.nsw.gov.au/files/assets/public/resident-services/.../koolunbung.pdf. You may have to go through Google to access it.

Roto House
Roto House is an historic eleven-room country house built of red mahogany in 1890 for surveyor John Flynn. It is located off Lord Street to the south of the Port Macquarie central business district. Continuously occupied by Flynn's family until 1979 it has been restored, supplied with period furnishings and beautifully maintained by National Parks and Wildlife Service. It is open daily from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6588 5555. For more information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/roto-house.

Koala Hospital and Port Macquarie Nature Reserve
Roto House is located inside the Port Macquarie Nature Reserve, 12 ha of wet sclerophyll forest and a wildlife corridor in the heart of Port Macquarie. The parklands are pleasant and quiet but it is the Koala Hospital that is the main attraction. It was established in 1973 as a treatment and relocation centre for koalas displaced by urban expansion. A good time to visit is during feeding which takes place twice daily from 8.00 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. and from 3.00 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. daily. The Koala Hospital is open from 8.00 am - 4.00 pm every day and is free - in part because John Williamson donated the royalties from his song "Goodbye Blinky Bill" to the hospital, tel: (02) 6584 1522 or check out http://www.koalahospital.org.au.

Mid North Coast Maritime Museum
The Mid North Coast Maritime Museum is unusual in that is located in three separate locations - two pilot cottages built in 1896 and at 6 William Street. The museum's website explains that it "encompasses two separate cottages which were originally built as pilot cottages in 1896. Now they house a wonderful collection of memorabilia and artefacts including superbly built scale models of a variety of vessels, charts, maps, paintings and an extensive collection of historical maritime photographs." It is open from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm every day. The main museum is located at the Boatman's Cottage in William St which is near Flagstaff Hill which was named after the signal station and beacon established there in 1821, tel: (02) 6583 1866. For more information check out  http://www.maritimemuseumcottages.org.au.

Sea Acres Rainforest Centre and National Park
Located at 159 Pacific Drive to the west of Miners Beach is Sea Acres National Park and Sea Acres Rainforest Visitor Centre. Run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service the National Park preserves 72 ha of rare coastal lowland rainforest behind Shelly Beach and Miners Beach. There are extensive paths through the rainforest including a 1.3 km loop boardwalk which can be experienced on an inexpensive guided tour. There is also a Bush Tucker tour which offers visitors an opportunity to taste indigenous foods. It is open daily from 9.00 am to 4.30 pm., tel: (02) 6582 3355. For more details check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Sea-Acres-Rainforest-boardwalk and http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Sea-Acres-National-Park.
The Mid North Coast Maritime Museum is unusual in that it is located in three separate locations - two pilot cottages built in 1896 and at 6 William Street. The museum's website explains that it "encompasses two separate cottages which were originally built as pilot cottages in 1896. Now they house a wonderful collection of memorabilia and artefacts including superbly built scale models of a variety of vessels, charts, maps, paintings and an extensive collection of historical maritime photographs." It is open from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm every day. The main museum is located at the Boatman's Cottage in William St which is near Flagstaff Hill which was named after the signal station and beacon established there in 1821, tel: (02) 6583 1866. For more information check out  http://www.maritimemuseumcottages.org.au.

Sea Acres Rainforest Centre and National Park
Located at 159 Pacific Drive to the west of Miners Beach is Sea Acres National Park and Sea Acres Rainforest Visitor Centre. Run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service the National Park preserves 72 ha of rare coastal lowland rainforest behind Shelly Beach and Miners Beach. There are extensive paths through the rainforest including a 1.3 km loop boardwalk which can be experienced on an inexpensive guided tour. There is also a Bush Tucker tour which offers visitors an opportunity to taste indigenous foods. It is open daily from 9.00 am to 4.30 pm., tel: (02) 6582 3355. For more details check out https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Sea-Acres-Rainforest-boardwalk and http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Sea-Acres-National-Park.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Lake Cathie
Located 18 km south of Port Macquarie is the town of Lake Cathie and the small, and picturesque lake, which offers visitors safe swimming in scenic surroundings. The town can be considered a suburb of Port Macquarie but the tidal lake, with its tannins which turn the water into a tea-like colour, is an attraction which should draw people for a day trip from Port Macquarie.

Lake Innes Nature Reserve
Located 10 km south of Port Macquarie via John Oxley Drive, Lake Innes Nature Reserve combines an insight into the early convict settlement of the district with a quiet lake which is ideal for birdwatching, swimming, kayaking, cycling, fishing and swimming. The nature reserve is home to kangaroos, wallabies and dingoes as well as ducks, swans and osprey. Of particular interest are:
1. Innes Ruins
The National Parks website (check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/Innes-Ruins) explains: "Innes Ruins is an important remnant of early settlement days on the north coast of NSW. Built by Major Archibald Clunes Innes, it contains rich history about the settlement of NSW, convict labour and the culture of the 1800s. As an added bonus, it has a very charming setting looking over Lake Innes.
"The Depression of the 1840s bought financial ruin to Innes, and the closure of Port Macquarie as a penal settlement deprived him of convict labour. Following his departure, the house was occupied by a number of people over time, but was derelict by the beginning of the 1900s. It subsequently deteriorated to its present state as a result of natural decay and vandalism.
"Today, the ruins are classified by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) and guided tours can be booked through the Port Macquarie Information Centre. Access to the site is by guided tour only." The tours can be booked at the Port Macquarie Visitor Information Centre, tel: (02) 6581 8000 or 1300 303 155.
2. Googik Heritage Walking Track
A 2 km, one way, 30 minute easy walk through Lake Innes Nature Reserve. There are details of the walk available at http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Googik-Heritage-walking-track.

Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park
Located off the Oxley Highway near the Pacific Highway on Billabong Drive, the Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park provides an opportunity to pat a koala, see reptiles close up, observe a wide range of Australian and international animals (including black handed spider monkeys), and watch a 4.6 metre crocodile named Shrek from both underwater and from a two-storey high platform above his pool. For more information check out http://www.billabongkoala.com.au.

Limeburners Creek National Park
Located 16 km north of Port Macquarie, Limeburners Creek National Park is 9123 hectares of pristine coastal heathlands characterised by banksias, blackbutt, wetlands and small pieces of rainforest around Big Hill. The area is ideal for birdwatching, swimming, surfing, canoeing, bushwalking and fishing. At Big Hill there is a loop walk which winds around the summit and provides panoramic vistas down wave-formed dunes and over the coastline, before descending into coastal rainforest.
The area between Big Hill and Point Plomer is important to local Aborigines who occupied the area for 5-6,000 years prior to the arrival of Europeans. There is an historic Aboriginal fish trap at Barries Beach. There are also shell middens, burial sites, a large stone tool working site and a quarry for stone tool production.
The reserve's name comes from the early days of European settlement when oyster shells from the creek were burned to produce lime for mortar. Free settlers moved into the area in the 1830s when the penal settlement at Port Macquarie was closed. The area adjacent the creek was declared the Orara Gold Field in 1881 though returns were small and unimportant. Check out http://macleayvalleycoast.com.au/great_things_to_do/limeburners-creek-national-park/ for more details.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area was occupied by the Birpai Aborigines.

* In 1770 when Captain Cook sailed up the eastern coast of Australia.

* The first European explorer into the area was John Oxley who explored the district in 1818. Oxley was instrumental in establishing Port Macquarie as a place of settlement. He noted that "the port abounds with fish, the sharks were larger and more numerous than I have ever before observed. The forest hills and rising grounds abounded with large kangaroos and the marshes afford shelter and support to innumerable wild fowl. Independent of the Hastings River, the area is generally well watered, there is a fine spring at the very entrance to the Port'"

* In 1819 Governor Macquarie sent Oxley back to survey the port and surrounding countryside with a view to establishing a penal settlement.

* Oxley's report was favourable. He recognised the port's capacity to receive coastal vessels. He also commented on the suitability of the area for the penal settlement and the richness of the soil and natural resources.

* Oxley returned again in 1820 to choose a townsite. He chose the area upon which the the centre of Port Macquarie is now located.

* In 1821 three ships set sail with 44 military personnel and 60 convicts who were chosen for their skills and good behaviour and encouraged with the possibility of conditional pardons or tickets-of-leave after 18 months. The penal settlement was established in 1821 under Captain Francis Allman. He landed on what is now the town green and hoisted the British flag on the rise now known as Allman Hill at the top of Clarence Street. All three ships were wrecked as they entered the harbour.

* The convicts started clearing thick bush (mostly tea-tree and banksia). A stockade was built to protect against Aboriginal attacks. Inside the stockade were quarters for officers and convicts, a cottage for the Commandant and vegetable gardens. One of the first buildings - the garrison hospital - still stands. Port Macquarie was then the most northerly settlement in the colony.

* Governor Macquarie visited the settlement in November 1821 and approved the site. He noted the abundance of timber, the "verdant hills" to the "rear of the town which afford excellent rich pasturage for cattle" and recorded that the indigenous inhabitants had "lately manifested a very hostile spirit ... by frequently throwing spears at the men employed in procuring rosewood and cedar, a very useful man was killed".

* In 1821 Captain Allman persuaded a black prisoner from Antigua in the West Indies to plant and grow the first sugarcane in Australia.

* Macquarie wanted the settlement to be self-sustaining and, by 1824, convicts were employed in building, agriculture (mostly wheat, tobacco, cotton, vegetables and maize), boat building, blacksmithing, teaching, baking and clerical duties etc. Poultry, pigs, cows and horses were also bred at the settlement.

* The first sugar mill was established in 1824.

* St Thomas' Anglican Church was built between 1824 and 1828.

* A Female Factory, where the women made nails and other items, was established in 1825.

* In 1830 a decision was made to dismantle the penal settlement and open the district to free settlers. Some of the convicts were removed to Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island. 1830 saw the first hotel built in the town.

* In the 1830s the free settlers focussed on horse breeding for the Indian army, wine growing and dairy farming.

* A road was built from New England in 1840 and the port became an important outlet for the wool and produce from the tablelands.

* In 1840 Surveyor Clement Hodgkinson passed through and wrote of "the town, built on a gentle rise, which shows to advantage its pretty little cottages with pointed roofs, its broad straight streets ... and its tall square church tower ... A grove of magnificent trees encircles Port Macquarie".

* The town's first bank opened in 1840.

* The first Presbyterian Church was built in 1842.

* An economic depression saw the town's first bank close in 1844.

* The first Methodist Church started holding services in 1846.

* The last convicts at Port Macquarie were nor removed until 1847.

* The Church of England school in the town became a state school in 1848.

* Many families left the area in the 1850s as a result of the goldrushes.

* Sugar cane and the sugar mill were abandoned in the 1860s.

* The harbour traffic became important in the 1870s, although the shallow bar prevented Port Macquarie from ever emerging as a major port.

* The Catholic Church was consecrated in 1878.

* In 1879 the Tacking Point Lighthouse was established.

* The town's first bank in 35 years opened in 1880.

* Port Macquarie's first newspaper was published in 1882.

* In 1886 The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia described Port Macquarie as "the business centre of the agricultural district and the pastoral background ... maize, barley, oats, potatoes; the cultivation of the vine is also an important industry'.

* Local government  was established in 1887.

* In the late 1890s, Louis Becke wrote of Port Macquarie that it was an "old-time town ... a quaint, sleepy little place of six hundred inhabitants, who spend their days in fishing and waiting for better times."

* The construction of the North Coast Railway in the 1910s spelt the end of the Port Macquarie harbour.

* By the 1960s, Port Macquarie was a quiet fishing town.

* The population of Port Macquarie more than doubled between 1966 and 1981.

* By 1981 the town was the state's second-fastest growing centre.

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Visitor Information

The Port Macquarie Visitors' Centre is located at the corner of Clarence Street and Hay Street, tel: (02) 6581 8000 or 1300 303 155.

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Useful Websites

The official local website - http://www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au - has useful information about accommodation and eating in the district.

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