Tomaree National Park

Exploring cultural heritage in the park

Cultural sites

Point Stephens Lighthouse and Fingal Island

Point Stephens Lighthouse stands tall and elegant on Fingal Island with a view over the rocks of Fingal Bay.

Built in 1862, Point Stephens Lighthouse features a swept tower base and first floor entrance that give a flared appearance. This construction, along with the terrace of Lighthouse Keepers’ quarters within the lighthouse precinct makes Point Stephens unique among Australian lighthouses.

Point Stephens Lighthouse is even more unique, in that its location on Fingal Island is occasionally connected to the mainland by a sand spit. However at present, it is not possible to reach the lighthouse via the spit so it’s best to get to the island by boat and walk along the track to the lighthouse. The coastal views from the island are pretty amazing as well.

Activities: walking, paddling, sailing, birdwatching, whale watching, picnicking, playing and socialising

Cultural heritage: Point Stephens Lighthouse - a NSW Heritage listed site
Point Stephens Lightstation and the adjacent lighthouse keepers cottages have earned NSW heritage listing for both historical and aesthetic significance. The Point Stephens Lighthouse is the largest and most accomplished of the lightstations designed by Alexander Dawson. The location and the assemblage of buildings in a spectacular coastal setting are unique in NSW.

It is the only lighthouse in Australia with a swept tower base and first floor entrance, and has a rare example of a terrace of lighthouse keepers quarters. It was in occupation for over 100 years, and contains sites of potential archaeological significance. The headland which the lightstation occupies has landmark qualities, with rugged terrain and distinct geology, and is highly visible along the adjacent coastal area.

Life Under the Light: Lighthouse Families of NSW
The lightstations of the NSW coast have a rich and fascinating history. Standing firm against the battering of fierce wind and waves the lightstations were a beacon of safety for passing ships whilst providing a unique home for lighthouse keepers and their families. Life Under the Light: Lighthouse Families of NSW is a richly illustrated book which provides evocative accounts of families working, raising children and carrying out domestic life within the harsh but beautiful natural environment of the lightstations.

Getting there: Fingal Island and Point Stephens Lighthouse are in Tomaree National Park, just off the coast of the Fingal Bay township in Port Stephens.

Views over Fingal Island and Point Stephens Lighthouse can be enjoyed from Tomaree Head Summit walk. Alternatively, the island can be viewed from Fingal Bay Beach. To get to Fingal Bay Beach:

  • Turn onto Government Road from Shoal Bay Road, Shoal Bay.
  • Continue on Marine Drive towards Fingal Bay
  • As you enter town, park at the Surf Live Saving Club on the left.

Please note the Fingal sand spit across to Fingal Island and Point Stephens Lighthouse is currently impassable. Seawater covering the sand spit, combined with deep channels and ocean swell, have made the crossing extremely unpredictable and hazardous. For your own safety, please do not attempt to walk across the spit in any direction. Access to Fingal Island is by boat only, until further notice.

Road access: Sealed road - 2WD vehicles.

World War II gun emplacements

Fire/closure alerts currently apply to this location. See details below.

If you’re interested in Australian military history, make sure you take the short walk along Fort Tomaree walk to Tomaree Head. The headland, part of Fort Tomaree, played an important role in Australia’s east coast defence system during World War II. Fort Tomaree included search light stations, a radar tower, torpedo tubes and barracks, where around 500 army, navy and air force personnel served.   

Most of the Fort’s buildings and guns have been removed; however the historic gun emplacements remain, a visual reminder of Australia’s military history. It’s easy to see why this location was chosen – the headland features panoramic views of Port Stephens and the coast. If you’d like to find out more, check out the interpretive panels near the emplacements, or take a guided Discovery tour.

On the way back to the car, take Tomaree Head Summit walk to the summit of Tomaree Head for a picturesque view of Port Stephens.

Take a virtual tour of the World War II gun emplacements on Google Street View.

Activities: walking, sightseeing, birdwatching, whale watching, picnicking, playing and socialising

Cultural heritage: Tomaree Head Fortifications - a NSW Heritage listed site
Tomaree Head is an strikingly identifiable element in the landscape, and as such has been used as a beacon by Aboriginal people as well as early European explorers, seafarers and settlers. For this reason, amongst many others, the site has gained a listing on the NSW Heritage register.

The Tomaree fortifications are of historical importance as part of the WW2 defence network installed along the coast of NSW to protect strategic places. The location on the head protected Port Stephens and the network of adjacent rivers and watercourses and the hinterland. It was an important part of the protection of the industrial installations at Newcastle.

The complex of fortifications located at Tomaree Head remains as one of only a few non-urban forts. It is also one of the few fortifications that retain elements such as rifle pits, and the radar was the first air warning radar made in Australia. Tomaree Head Fortifications represent the ongoing concern of Australian governments since the 19th century with the defence of Australia's coastline, and the fear of invasion that existed during WWII.

The lives of the few European occupants of Tomaree Head pre WWII have passed into local folklore. The fact that it had some importance to Aboriginal people is also part of its social significance.

Tomaree Head is a prominent landform at the entrance to Port Stephens. The geological formation is an unusual combination of landform aeolian sands and volcanic derived clays and adds to the heritage value of the site. Yacaaba  Headland, on the north side, is slightly higher at 217m but is less accessible. The prominence of the headland featured in Aboriginal stories and beliefs, partly for the aesthetic appeal.

To virtually all points of the compass there are stunning views of both land and sea scapes, dotted with some cultural elements. Many of these views contain varying compositions of the natural elements of mountains, vegetation and water, which are rated highly by people, whatever their cultural background. The plunging cliffs, slopes and rock formations along the eastern flank and waters edge are highly dramatic.

The natural areas of the headland have high conservation values. The Tomaree Headland is listed on the State Heritage Register for its ecological significance.

Getting there: The World War II gun emplacements are at Tomaree Head, accessible via Fort Tomaree walk.

From Nelson Bay:

  • Follow Shoal Bay Road to the lower Zenith Beach carpark
  • Follow Fort Tomaree walk to the gun emplacements

Road access: Sealed road - 2WD vehicles.

Facilities: picnic tables, lookout

Other facilities: Interpretive signage

Contact: Nelson Bay, Phone: 02 4984 8200

Events, activities and alerts at this location

Tomaree Head WWII gun emplacements

Some areas of this park are closed due to deteriorating heritage infrastructure that is now dangerous to the public. Closed areas include one of the WWII gun emplacements to the north of Tomaree Head. For more information, please contact (02) 4984 8200 or visit the NSW National Parks safety page for park safety guidelines.

Historic roads and tracks

Fort Tomaree walk - 1km each way (one-way route)

Walking (medium difficulty, 30 minutes each way)

General information

Torpedo tubes in Tomaree National Park (Image: S Milgate)This easy walk on a paved track around the lower slopes of Tomaree Head brings you face-to-face with local military heritage – World War II gun emplacements, built in 1941 to defend the east coast of Australia. Learn about Fort Tomaree from interpretive signs, or take a guided Discovery tour for even more detail.

A further track takes you up elevated walkways on Tomaree Head Summit walk, which offers breathtaking lookout views over Port Stephens and nature reserves like Cabbage Tree Island. Humpbacks migrate past here in winter and spring, so you’ll want to bring your camera for whale watching.

Finish your visit by relaxing on the lovely sands of beautiful Zenith Beach, near where the walk begins. Or make your way to the nearby picnic area; an idyllic spot to unwind underneath the shade of angophora trees.

Take a virtual tour of Fort Tomaree walk on Google Street View.

Directions: start at the Zenith Beach carpark and follow the paved track.

Contact: Nelson Bay, Phone: 02 4984 8200

Tomaree Head Summit walk - 1km each way (one-way route)

Walking (medium difficulty, 45 minutes each way)

General information

A view of Shoal Bay from Mount Tomaree, Tomaree National Park (Image: S Milgate/DECCW)Take the invigorating short walk to the summit of Tomaree Head, 161m above the Port Stephens entrance. As you hike the track, you’ll enjoy unparalleled views of idyllic Port Stephens and its coastline. From the top, you can even see as far as Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah islands – these nature reserves are the world’s only nesting sites for the endangered Gould's petrel.

When you reach the summit, the panoramic north coast views are bound to impress. Be sure to check out the historic World War II gun emplacements.Take your binoculars as you might be lucky to see some dolphins.

There’s a picnic table at the lookout, so if you have time, take a picnic lunch or some morning tea to enjoy as you take in the view. On the way back down, don’t forget to try Fort Tomaree walk.

Take a virtual tour of Tomaree Head Summit walk on Google Street View.

Directions: from Nelson Bay follow the Shoal Bay Road to the start of the walk at the Zenith Beach carpark; follow the path to the summit which is paved in parts. 

Opening hours: all hours

Contact: Nelson Bay, Phone: 02 4984 8200