Imagine Cruises

Stories from our backyard: Imagine Cruises

Imagine Cruises

Whale breach Port Stephens

Frank Future used to be a Lighthouse keeper 30 years ago. His appreciation of the ocean wilderness, boating, whales, and the protection of the environment were and still are his passion. Those initial passions sowed the beginnings of Imagine Cruises which is based in Port Stephens, Australia. Today he shares the beauty of the largest and most scenic Marine Park in New South Wales with the world and features over 8 cruises and tours showcasing the best of what Port Stephens has to offer. Bottlenose dolphins, Common dolphins, Little penguins, and Humpback whales are the stars of the show, and the tours also cover exploratory visits to the local islands, snorkelling, and sailing in the Bay. Imagine Cruises is an award-winning operator that has attained and held the highest level of Eco Tourism accreditation for over 20 years. The company and crew are passionate about presenting the wildlife and beauty of the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park, whilst simultaneously doing their best to educate their guests and take care of the spectacular environment as well as its creatures on both land and sea. Imagine donates $1 from every Dolphin watch booking to the Marine Parks Association to help with research projects.

Port Stephens:

Tomaree Head Summit Walk, Port Stephens. Credit: Destination NSW

Port Stephens is two and a half hours drive north of Sydney or only 20 minutes from Newcastle Airport. The region offers beautiful beaches, stunning sand dunes, coastal walks, national parks, pristine waters, and a great range of accommodation. Nelson Bay is the hub of the Port Stephens region, with a bustling marina that’s home to many cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. A holiday to Port Stephens/Nelson Bay is all about the sun, sea and sand, tasting freshly caught seafood, swimming in the clear waters, cruising on the Bay to meet the local marine residents and sandboarding down the spectacular Stockton Sand Dunes. It’s the perfect antidote to the excitement of Sydney city life and provides a quick and easy escape to relax and rejuvenate.

Imagine Cruises

Dolphin sighting from boom net

The showcase Whale Watch cruise is an absolute must-do to appreciate the beauty of the Marine Park as well as get up close and personal with the rich variety of local wildlife. The 3-hour Whale Watch cruise runs twice daily in season (May-November) and when the sails go up and the motors are turned off it is so quiet you can hear the whales breathe! With small group numbers the cruise sails out to witness the whales migrating past the islands of the Marine Park. Expect to view the fun-loving Dolphin antics as well as the spectacular behaviour of the majestic Humpbacks. It’s a win-win combo cruise! For those visiting in the warmer months (October-May) there are plenty of cruise options to view or swim with Dolphins, as well as snorkel, hike and explore the local islands of the Marine Park.

Imagine Cruises

Migaloo the rare white male Humpback Whale

One of the local stars of the east coast Humpbacks is “Migaloo”, a rare white male Humpback Whale. Imagine Cruises first encountered “Migaloo” 25 years ago, and he can still be sighted traveling the coast if you are very lucky. The name “Migaloo” means “white fella” in the indigenous language of the Bundjalung tribe of the north coast of NSW.

Dedicated to the protection of Dolphins & Whales…


Imagine Cruises

Humpback breach off Port Stephens

Imagine Cruises is impressive not only because of what they showcase in their Marine Park…but also because of what they do for their local stakeholders. In the early days, Frank was involved with both Greenpeace and the international Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), promoting Whale watch cruises as the only sustainable alternative to commercial whaling.

Imagine Cruises

Boom net fun

Right from the beginning Imagine Cruises have continued to support research and conservation initiatives such as the Dolphin Research Education and Management (DREAM) research fund, Eco Network Port Stephens, Ocean & Coastal Care Initiatives, attending the International Whaling Commission meetings for 10 years, Eco-tourism Australia and the Marine Parks Association. It’s admirable. Their community efforts do not stop there with their ongoing support to obtaining a World Heritage-listing for the Port Stephens Marine Park. A remarkable goal for a very special corner of the world. Make sure to include Imagine Cruises & Port Stephens on your wish list for your next Australia holiday…. I know I will be doing just that 😊.


The summer season (December-April) is traditionally the most popular time to visit. The daytime temperatures range around 26 degrees Celsius and the nights are mild. Perfect weather for all activities.

Good to know:

Quad biking on the Stockton Sand Dunes in the Worimi Conservation Lands, Port Stephens. Credit: Destination NSW

Port Stephens is a place of scenic beauty with a huge natural harbour bigger than Sydney Harbour. If you love being close to nature, then you will love Port Stephens! It’s a natural wonderland with plenty of Koalas, Dolphins and Whales (in season). Explore the nearby National Parks and the 26 beautiful beaches. You could stay for 2-3 nights or more as there is plenty to do! Apart from the numerous tours with Imagine Cruises, other top highlights include swimming with the Dolphins, experience some beach & dune driving and don’t forget the sandboarding (great fun for families), if quad biking is your thing then make sure to catch a 1 hour tour, learn to surf and make sure to visit the recently opened Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary.



Koala Encounter in Port Stephens. Credit: Destination NSW

And finally:

Australia Expat Travel (AET) specialises in exceptional holidays to Australia and New Zealand. We make it simple with our local knowledge, seamless logistics and trusted advice since 2004. Expect a bespoke itinerary curated with the big picture and the small details. Contact Us

Byron Bay

Be amazed by Byron Bay!

Byron Bay. What is all the fuss about? It has a lot to do with the hugely independent and creative character of the community. Of course, there are the stunning beaches and pristine coastline. Not to mention the magnificent hinterland with many National Parks to explore. The town is all about being clean and green. And yes, let’s not forget Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor in the Avengers) has chosen to call this coastal town home.

Byron Bay

The Pass Stairway. Tourism Australia.

In the past Byron Bay was known for its whaling station and as a surfing mecca. These days it’s a bohemian town on the global map with over two million visitors each year. Don’t expect high-rise towers overshadowing the beaches, franchise shops and shopping centres in this northern NSW coastal town. If you want that drive 40 minutes up the road to the Gold Coast. Byron is loved because of the nature and low-rise feel of the town. With the choice of two airports within a 40-minute drive, and the Brisbane International Airport only two hours north, Byron Bay is easily accessible. So, if you enjoy nature walks, beaches, buying locally organic food from the farmers market and treating yourself to the local day spa then Byron Bay is your town.

Byron Bay

Person walking to Minyon Falls. Tourism Australia.

Here are some of the key things to do:

Explore the Beaches:

Byron Bay has a plethora of gorgeous beaches to choose from… all blessed with white sands, plenty of waves and resident dolphins. They enjoy the waves just as much as we do! Main beach/Clarkes beach are in the town centre or take a picnic and wander to beautiful Wategos or Little Wategos Beach for a spell. Otherwise make time to wander through Arakwal National Park to Cosy Corner and Tallows Beach. We enjoyed a close encounter with a Wallaby and her Joey in the National Park before we walked the long expanse of Tallows Beach.

Byron Bay

Byron Bay Lighthouse views of Tallows Beach. Tourism Australia.

Cape Byron Walking Track:

Visit the most easterly point of mainland Australia at the Cape Byron Lighthouse. This loop track is 3.7km and takes roughly 2 hours. Lots of great bush & water views with plenty of steps and stops on the way. Tip – don’t walk back on the road but instead take in the Tallows Beach return route as it’s much nicer. Aim for Sunrise or Sunset for the best photos.

Byron Bay

People watching the Sunrise at Cape Byron Lighthouse . Tourism Australia

Get out on the water:

Byron Bay is all about the beach so make sure you take it all in. One great option is to do a kayak tour to see the dolphins and whales (in season). It’s alot of fun, and the bonus was sighting Loggerhead turtles and kayak surfing back to shore. You can also snorkel or dive at Julian Rocks marine reserve. Alternatively, consider a surf lesson for the whole family.

Byron Bay

Kayaking in the Ocean. Tourism Australia.

Food/Retail with a difference:

Byron Bay definitely has a creative vibe that is evident through the food and retail scene. The wide variety of independent shops makes for a solid afternoon’s explore and there are plenty of regular markets featuring local artisan works as well as fresh produce. The variety and breadth of restaurants & cafes is fantastic. Don’t forget to explore the Arts & Industry Estate which features the local Stone & Wood Brewery.

Byron Bay

Byron Bay Streetscape. Tourism Australia.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary:

Based on the Gold Coast, and only a 50-minute drive from Byron Bay, this native wildlife sanctuary is a good option for those members of the family who want to cuddle a Koala. The law allows you to hold a koala in Queensland, but you cannot in New South Wales. The Sanctuary offers several sessions daily where you can join in to learn more about koalas and hold one at the end of the session.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Tourism & Events Queensland.

Make the time to visit Byron Bay & surrounds. Discover what is special about the area…it won’t disappoint! It’s always nice to get off the beaten path and immerse yourself in the local community and enjoy this lovely coastal town.


Sydney guide: New Year’s Eve & beyond…

Sydney is an enchanting city. Often described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, its magic lies within the gorgeous Sydney Harbour and the best-known sails of the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney also showcases the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, beautiful beaches, rugged coastlines and a climate that encourages a relaxed outdoor lifestyle. Special to visit at any time of the year, Sydney is a great starting point for your Australia adventure. There are plenty of things to do, with the major event being the amazing New Year’s Eve fireworks display from the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Australia is one of the first countries in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve as the clock ticks to midnight. The Sydney fireworks on the Harbour Bridge are famous worldwide with over 1 billion viewers. It is an unforgettable experience! If you are lucky enough to be in Sydney over that period it is important to plan for the celebrations. Some options for fireworks viewing are to enjoy the fabulous views on a boat in the harbour or wine & dine in a restaurant with harbour views. For those of us that don’t want to splurge our entire holiday savings on one night, there are free vantage points around the harbour if you are prepared to get there early. Another great option is to purchase tickets and get a fantastic view from the Royal Botanic Gardens. This offers brilliant views of both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in a stunning setting. These tickets include a picnic basket and family friendly entertainment. Ticket access is a ballot system, so you need to register. The pre-sale release date is September 10 before the public release on 24 September. Expect tickets to be approx. AUD $350/person. I highly recommend you register for an unforgettable night! Click here to register.


Friends enjoy a tour in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Photo credit: Destination NSW

But of course, there is plenty more to do in Sydney apart from the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Make sure to do a harbour cruise or catch the ferry to Manly, climb the Harbour Bridge or the Pylon Lookout, learn to surf at Bondi Beach, do the Bronte to Bondi coastal walk, allow time for some retail therapy and take a backstage tour at the Sydney Opera House to name a few. You are spoilt for choice in Sydney and the challenge is how to fit it all in! And just to make your decision even more difficult… here are a few more worthy options to consider. These must-dos should be included on everyone’s Sydney bucket list:

Bonza Bike Ride:

Take a 2.5-hour Highlights tour or the 4-hour 17km Classic tour of Sydney. It is an excellent way to start a Sydney holiday… it’s an easy ride through parks, along the harbour, and past all of Sydney’s iconic sites. You’ll get to ride on the world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge as well! The tour guides make it a fun few hours and it is not too difficult for families. Kids can have a choice of kid’s bikes/trail-alongs or baby seats to make Mum or Dad do all the work!


Cycling Tour around Sydney Harbour. Photo credit: Destination NSW

Watsons Bay Ferry & Lunch Combo:

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay. Watsons Bay is on the southern head entrance to Sydney Harbour and is Australia’s oldest fishing village. To the east is the Pacific Ocean and to the west is the Harbour with a glorious view of Sydney. Expect waterfront restaurants, great views and walks. Great for a day trip, make sure you enjoy the seafood at Doyles on the Beach for lunch. Savour fresh fish, lobster, prawns and more with views of one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. Alternatively order some fish and chips from the Doyles kiosk and enjoy watching the kids play at the beach and feed the seagulls. There is also an easy 2-hour walk which includes a scenic hike around South Head featuring beautiful views of Sydney Harbour, the city skyline, the Pacific Ocean, North Head and the historic Hornby Lighthouse. Such a glorious day out!


Watsons Bay, Sydney. Photo credit: Destination NSW

Barangaroo Reserve:

Discover a fantastic mix of experiences in Barangaroo, including the newest restaurants, beautiful parkland, shopping and fascinating Indigenous tours. Barangaroo is Sydney’s new waterfront car-free destination. It is the transformation of one of the city’s oldest industrial sites into a spectacular, six-hectare headland open space for all to enjoy. The highlight is a promenade along the harbour foreshore offering uninterrupted water views of Sydney Harbour from Walsh Bay under the shadows of the Harbour Bridge right through to Darling Harbour.


Family enjoying a walk through Barangaroo Reserve, Barangaroo. Photo credit: Destination NSW

Sydney is a great starting point for your Australia Holiday. It has the wow-factor in abundance and offers so much to see and do. Sydney is that go-to destination for good reason… it’s the city you have to love. Ask us to include Sydney in your Australia holiday itinerary…

things to do in sydney

Escape to the Hawkesbury River for a brilliant day on the water!

Our family recently enjoyed a winter mini-break in Sydney. We had visited Sydney several times before and explored most of the highlights. This time our highlight was a day on the Hawkesbury River kayaking. It was a pleasure to get active and enjoy the great outdoors so close to Sydney!


Hawkesbury River

Parsley Bay

The Hawkesbury River:

Is an easy 1-hour train journey from the city, and the tranquil hamlet of Brooklyn is the gateway.  Brooklyn is a good place to grab a coffee and consider your options for how to explore the river. The Hawkesbury River is a breath of fresh air that flows past riverside towns into bays and inlets between the Ku-ring-gai Chase and Brisbane Water National parks. The Hawkesbury River is navigable for over 100 kilometres. You could cruise and explore these waters for weeks and still not discover it all! Spend a day hiking, boating, kayaking or enjoy an overnight anchorage in a hired boat or a waterfront B&B and wake up to the call of Kookaburras, Whip Birds, Sea Eagles and the lapping of the tides.

Here are some of the key things to do:


An easy and fun way to explore! You can hire either a single or double canoe, and paddle for a half or full day, or overnight and camp in the National parks. We did a 20-minute paddle to Dangar Island, had lunch at the Bowling Club, then paddled another 20 minutes to an inlet at the base of Tank Creek. Did a 1 hour bushwalk to the cascades & waterfalls with an incredible natural infinity pool that looks directly over the stunning Hawkesbury. We then returned to Brooklyn after an amazing day on the kayaks.

Hawkesbury River   

Hawkesbury River

Tank Creek Infinity Pool


Dangar Island:

Has a regular ferry service. No cars on the island, so it is very peaceful! Wheelbarrows are the main mode of transport for moving shopping from the jetty to home. The Dangar Island Bowling Club is the local watering hole and the place to have a meal during the weekend. Bradley’s Beach is on the southeast side of the island and is an excellent swimming beach on high tide. At low tide, the beach becomes the perfect place for the kids to play in ‘river mud’.

The Riverboat Postman:

Enjoy a historic 3-hour postman boat run on the Hawkesbury. This daily service delivers mail and other essentials whilst you soak up the magnificent scenery of the Hawkesbury.

Houseboat Hire:

A great way to explore at your leisure in the comfort of your own houseboat. Swim at secluded beaches, fish or just relax with a good book. Minimum 2-night hire outside of peak periods.

Hawkesbury River

Take a day out of your Sydney visit to enjoy a kayak on the magnificent Hawkesbury River. It is off the beaten path, easy to access, and really is a stunning excursion that does deliver on a great outdoor experience! Ask us to include the Hawkesbury in your Australia holiday itinerary…