Sunday, 27 May 2012

Stephen goes to Port Macquarie

.... and i'm off to visit Kate from Rydges Port Macquaire, one of those 'put a face to a name' experiences that fascinate me, accompanied by a few events industry cohorts and the illustrious Maggie D. The Rydges Port Macquarie has just finished a major refurbishment and they are keen to show it off, and I'm keen to see it. 

My abiding memory of Port Macqaurie, in fact my only memory, is from visiting with a wonderful girlfriend many years ago and spending time drinking cheap wine a nice hotel room and eating takeaway from the Maccas that was across the road, I think the hotel was Sails. I am sure both myself and Port Macquarie are a little more sophisticated these days.

I've learned that Port Macquarie is easy to get to, just a 1 hour flight and 7-10 flights every day from Sydney and a couple from Brisbane. Both Qantas & Virgin fly into Port Macquarie and although prices vary you will probably pay just over A$100 each way. There are plans to expand the airport and take direct flights from Melbourne. 

.... something to consider when you are thinking about costs of a regional destination, any time airfares are mentioned it always sounds expensive, but savings on accommodation, conference package and parking in Port Macquarie (compared to a similar Sydney CBD venue) probably equal at least A$90 per person per day. Which makes a 2 or 3 day conference in Port Macquarie very financially viable.

Conference Room

Rydges is premier conference hotel in Port Macquarie. The new conference rooms have an expanded capacity and they can now seat around 300 people for a Gala Dinner, with 120 accommodation rooms they are very comfortable hosting a residential conference of around 100 people. The conference space has heaps of natural light and can be divided into smaller sections for break-out groups, workshops or smaller meetings. 

River View Room

The room I stayed in was spacious with a balcony and great views of the Hastings river, but most importantly, a work desk with plenty of power points, a comfortable bed and great shower. I just wish they had some herbal teas in the mini bar.

Visit for some more information about the property.

Dinner in the new hotel restaurant, Zebu, was lovely and exceeded my expectations, I'm no gastronome, but sometimes it seems that hotel restaurants are satisfied with being adequate. Zebu is not that type of restaurant and does not feel like a traditional regional hotel restaurant and bar. The space is modern and engaging with some gentle live music, and with plenty of locals enjoying themselves the place had a lively yet comfortable atmosphere. The food was delicious, the service was professional and friendly. Rydges have made an effort and it shows..... and I love that the General Manager and Sales people are locals who are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and involved with the community. 

Port Macquarie has a variety of venues that can be utilised. Rydges is the largest Conference Hotel and is a great base for any residential conference in the area, but we all know that getting delegates out of the hotel for an activity or dinner can give them some interesting local experiences to remember and talk about. 

Town Beach
We visited the Glasshouse just 1 minute walk from Rydges Port Macquarie. The Glasshouse is a modern multi-purpose arts centre that the locals should be proud of. The venue offers a fully equipped, professional, 600 seat Theatre,  great spaces for meetings, activities, exhibitions and cocktail functions along with a permanent Art Gallery (some amazing Tracey Moffatt photographs were hanging at the time of my visit) The Glasshouse works closely with Rydges and provides a great off-site venue for a variety of events.

Another excellent local venue and tourist attraction is Cassegrain Winery. This is a favorite wedding venue for locals and a popular banquet venue for conference organisers, with an indoor space that can seat around 100 people for a dinner with great views of the winery and gardens or outdoor spaces that can be set up for sit down dining and cocktail functions. We were lucky enough to enjoy a sit down lunch in the elegant gardens, bathed in sunshine and surrounded by the Australian bush, great food and local wines in a beautiful setting.

In the evening we were taken on a Port Macquarie Ghost Tour, a fascinating and entertaining night walk through the town during which we were introduced the the brutal history of Port Macquarie's early days, the tour can take up to 30 people and culminated in the local cemetery which left us a little jittery, clearly in need of a good feed and a glass of wine! Fortunately The Stunned Mullet was on hand and provided an amazing dinner, the Thai Syle Broth and  Braised Beef Cheek were stand out dishes for me, but my colleagues were equally effusive about other items on the menu along with the extensive and high quality wine list. The Stunned Mullet is less than 10 minutes walk from Rydges and can up to seat 80 delegates.

View from North Brother Mountain
View from Rydges Port Macquarie

Rydges Port Macquarie is right on the edge of the Hastings River and has a wharf on the front doorstep opening up the opportunity for a wide variety of water based activities. We got on a Chinese Junk for an afternoon cruise with drinks, delicious canapes and dolphins to watch. Conference delegates can enjoy cocktail cruises, dinner cruises and, I'm reliably informed, the least expensive Whale Watching Cruises on east coast of Australia. For the more adventurous Port Macquarie offers Ocean Jet Boating, high speed action with 360's, power brakes, slides and fish tails in the ocean swell. We also slowed down for some sightseeing along the rugged picturesque coastline and we all kept our eyes peeled for any sign of the whales that pass by Port Macquarie, although the reality is that we were a month early for Whale Watching season.

In conclusion, Port Macquarie is a well equipped conference destination, good quality conference hotel, a variety of alternative venues, great food and beverage, plenty of opportunity for Team Building Activities, a rich local history and, of course, the natural beauty of the area with lots of beautiful unpopulated beaches, the Hastings River and picturesque hinterland. For the more pragmatic it is a destination that is affordable and easy to access. A thoroughly recommendable destination with Rydges Port Macquarie at the epicentre.


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