Nestled in the picturesque Nelson Bay in Port Stephens, Australia, the Tomaree Head Summit Walk is a hidden gem that offers an unforgettable hiking experience. This relatively easy hike rewards adventurers with breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline, islands, and beyond. The summit is not only a haven for photographers but also a prime spot for whale watching during the migration season. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the various aspects of the Tomaree Head Summit Walk, including its features, benefits, and tips for making the most of your visit.

Introduction to Tomaree Head Summit Walk

The Tomaree Head Summit Walk is located in Tomaree National Park, a protected area known for its stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich history. The trailhead is easily accessible from Shoal Bay, a charming coastal village just a short drive from Nelson Bay. The walk itself is approximately 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) round trip and can be completed in about 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on your pace and how often you stop to take in the views.

The Hike: A Step-by-Step Guide

Starting Point

The hike begins at the Tomaree Head car park, which is well-signposted and has ample parking spaces. From here, follow the clearly marked trail that leads you through a shaded forest of eucalypt and banksia trees. The path is well-maintained and suitable for most fitness levels, though it does include some steep sections and stairs.

The Ascent

As you ascend, the trail offers glimpses of the stunning coastal scenery through the trees. Along the way, you’ll encounter several lookout points where you can pause to catch your breath and take in the views. These vantage points provide a preview of the spectacular vistas that await you at the summit.

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Reaching the Summit

The final stretch of the hike involves climbing a series of metal stairs, which can be a bit challenging but are well worth the effort. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be greeted by a 360-degree panorama that includes views of Port Stephens, the southern coastline, and offshore islands such as Cabbage Tree Island and Boondelbah Island.

The Views: A Photographer’s Paradise

Coastal Panorama

From the summit, the sweeping views of the coastline are nothing short of breathtaking. On a clear day, you can see for miles in every direction, with the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean contrasting beautifully against the white sandy beaches and lush green headlands. This is a perfect spot for capturing wide-angle shots of the dramatic coastal landscape.

Island Vistas

The view of the offshore islands is equally impressive. Cabbage Tree Island, also known as John Gould Nature Reserve, is particularly notable for its significance as a breeding ground for seabirds. Boondelbah Island, another important nature reserve, can also be seen from the summit. These islands add an extra layer of interest to your photographs and are a testament to the area’s natural beauty.

Sunset and Sunrise

The Tomaree Head Summit is an ideal location for both sunrise and sunset photography. In the early morning, the rising sun casts a warm glow over the landscape, creating a serene and magical atmosphere. In the evening, the setting sun paints the sky with vibrant hues of orange, pink, and purple, providing a stunning backdrop for your photos.

Whale Watching: A Seasonal Highlight

One of the most exciting aspects of the Tomaree Head Summit Walk is the opportunity to spot migrating whales. Each year, between May and November, humpback whales travel along the east coast of Australia on their migration route. The summit offers a prime vantage point for observing these magnificent creatures as they breach and play in the ocean below.

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Best Times for Whale Watching

The peak whale-watching season in Port Stephens is from June to August, though sightings can occur outside of this period as well. Early morning and late afternoon are often the best times to see whales, as the calm sea conditions make it easier to spot their distinctive spouts and breaches.

What to Look For

When whale watching from the summit, keep an eye out for telltale signs such as water spouts, tail slaps, and breaches. Humpback whales are known for their acrobatic displays, so you may be lucky enough to witness these impressive behaviors. Binoculars can enhance your viewing experience, allowing you to see the whales in greater detail.

Practical Tips for the Hike

What to Bring

  • Water: Ensure you bring plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially on hot days.
  • Snacks: Light snacks such as fruit, nuts, or energy bars can help keep your energy levels up.
  • Camera: A camera or smartphone is essential for capturing the stunning views and wildlife.
  • Binoculars: These are particularly useful for whale watching and observing distant landscapes.
  • Sunscreen: The Australian sun can be intense, so protect your skin with sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
  • Comfortable Shoes: Wear sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes with good grip, as the trail includes some uneven and steep sections.

Safety Considerations

  • Stay on the Trail: To protect the environment and ensure your safety, always stay on the designated trail.
  • Check the Weather: Before setting out, check the weather forecast and avoid hiking in extreme conditions such as heavy rain or high temperatures.
  • Wildlife Awareness: Be aware of the local wildlife and keep a respectful distance. While encounters with dangerous animals are rare, it’s always good to be cautious.
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While the Tomaree Head Summit Walk is relatively easy, it does include some steep sections and stairs, which may be challenging for those with limited mobility. However, the initial part of the trail is more accessible, allowing visitors to enjoy the natural surroundings without completing the full hike.

Nearby Attractions and Activities

Shoal Bay Beach

After your hike, consider relaxing at Shoal Bay Beach, located just a short drive from the trailhead. The beach is known for its clear, calm waters, making it perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and paddleboarding.

Dolphin Watching Cruises

Port Stephens is famous for its resident population of bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin-watching cruises operate regularly from Nelson Bay, offering a fantastic opportunity to see these playful creatures up close.

Local Dining

Finish your day with a meal at one of the many excellent restaurants in Nelson Bay or Shoal Bay. Fresh seafood is a local specialty, and there are plenty of dining options to suit all tastes and budgets.


The Tomaree Head Summit Walk is a must-do experience for anyone visiting Nelson Bay and Port Stephens. This relatively easy hike offers breathtaking panoramic views, making it a paradise for photographers and nature lovers alike. Whether you’re capturing the stunning coastal landscape, spotting migrating whales, or simply enjoying the fresh sea air, the Tomaree Head Summit Walk is sure to leave a lasting impression. With its combination of natural beauty, wildlife, and accessibility, it’s no wonder that this trail is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.


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