I woke up before dawn and set off to the meeting spot where the tour bus would pick me up, since it didn't stop at my hotel. Luckily, I left a significant time buffer, because I walked all over the place and couldn't find the location I was supposed to be. I finally had to stop at an early morning cafe and ask directions. It turned out that my hotel is on an angled intersection rather like the letter V, and I took the wrong branch, so I was a block away by the time I got to the wide end.
That settled, the bus driver picked up the other passengers, and we left Sydney just as the sun was coming up. It was really something to see the view of the Opera House at sunrise from the Harbor Bridge.
We drove quite a long way, the driver/guide talking the entire time. This was the first tour I had taken where the guide drove the bus. Unlike the previous day, when most of the passengers fell asleep on the way, everyone was alert and attentive to what he had to say. He made it a point to address questions to all the various passengers, as there were only about ten of us. We finally arrived at Port Stephens, where I found a sign that points you toward the essentials.
Contrary to what one might expect from the sign, we did not go there for the chocolate. Rather, we went there for wild dolphin watching [video file]. These particular dolphins are completely wild; they are not fed by humans, and there are rules about how many boats can watch them for how long each day. The boats have to chug around searching for the dolphins by sight. We were quite lucky to encounter two large, playful pods. Some of the dolphins even entertained themselves swimming under the boat.
We had lunch aboard the boat, but that wasn't nearly the end of our trip. Next, the driver took us to a nearby area with sand dunes. We frolicked about in the sand for a while, even sledding down the slopes. I was hesitant at first, imagining that the sand would feel like, well, sandpaper, but it was actually extremely soft when digging hands through it. After we had our fill of that, we went down to the beach where all the sand had originated and waded around looking for shellfish.
The driver next took us to an area famous for wild koalas. We all got out of the bus and scanned the trees one by one until at last someone spotted a koala high in a tree. After leaving there, the driver told us to scan the fields along the sides of the road for wild kangaroo (which act remarkably like the deer in Michigan, it seems). He thought the season was probably still too early to see any, but we did glimpse one hopping across a field.
Finally, we concluded the tour by having a wine-tasting at a local winery. I enjoyed their dessert wine, but I already had too much luggage even to think of buying some. On the way home, the driver explained that his tour company uses a portion of the trip fee to do things like plant trees for koalas or donate to natural disaster relief efforts. I must say that, of all the tours I took during my stay, I liked this one the most.