Newcastle’s harbour might lack the aesthetic appeal of Sydney’s down the road, but it does hold the distinction of being the largest coal-exporting port in the world. And you can gawk at the mammoth bulk carriers with a front-row seat on Nobbys Breakwater, which juts out into the Pacific to guide the ships into the Hunter River. The golden sand and picturesque lighthouse also make Nobbys Beach a must-visit.
Coal isn’t the only black substance Newcastle peddles en masse, with coffee becoming the city’s 21st century obsession. The epicentre of the burgeoning cafe scene is Darby St, a hub of clothes shops, homeware boutiques, music stores, trendy restaurants, and comfy coffee shops linking the city centre with Bar Beach. Three Monkeys is an institution, and it’s surrounded by lots of other great places for a cuppa.
Tone your calves on the Honeysuckle Foreshore by climbing the 180 steps to the summit of the Queens Wharf Tower, which boasts panoramic views of the harbour below and Port Stephens in the distance. But hurry, scale this ‘erection’ while you still can — the council plans to knock down the tower in 2018 because it embarrassingly resembles a ‘phallic symbol‘.
This heritage-listed ocean pool is considered the oldest surviving European construction in Newcastle, built by convicts in 1820. Almost 200 years later, the Bogey Hole is one of the city’s favourite swimming spots, with bathers crowding into the sea bath next to King Edward Park for a splash around as the ocean waves crash into the rocks.
Rugby league is Newcastle’s religion, and this stadium is the cathedral. The Newcastle International Sports Centre — now known as McDonald Jones Stadium for sponsorship reasons — swells with 20,000-plus Novocastrians when their beloved NRL club, the Newcastle Knights, run around in winter. The Hunter is also a fertile soil for football, too, and the city gets right behind A-League outfit the Newcastle Jets in summer.
Australia’s second oldest city also has the country’s oldest wine region on its doorstep. The Hunter Valley — just 45 minutes’ drive from Newcastle — is home to more than 150 wineries that produces world-renowned Semillon, as well as quality Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon as well. And that’s before we even wax lyrical about the Hunter’s mouth-watering restaurants, relaxing day spas, gourmet food artisans, and much more.
Another must-visit region just a short drive from the city centre is Port Stephens – a pristine patch of 26 sparkling beaches, lush national park, a resident pod of 140 bottlenose dolphins, and Australia’s largest sand dune system. The Worimi Conservation Lands stretch more than 32km along the coast and tower 40 metres above the beach, best tackled by 4WD, quad bike, or on the back of a board if you’re feeling adventurous.
Originally built by the British in the 19th century to fend off a possible Russian attack, then called into actual duty against Japanese submarines in World War II, this historic fortification is now a fascinating museum perched above Nobbys Beach in the middle of Newcastle. Its location offers a peerless vantage point over the ocean, especially when whales are making their annual migration along the east coast. History buffs should also pay a visit to the Convict Lumberyard nearby.
Stroll along the Newcastle Memorial Walk along the rugged coastline to pop out at Merewether, a beach that’s well populated by swimmers and surfers alike. Don’t want to get your toes sandy? That’s sweet. Stick to your picnic in Dixon Park, have a dip in the recently renovated and kid-friendly ocean baths, or slurp down a cold schooner at the Beach Hotel.
Beginning life in a former brewery in 1988 then shifting to the old Honeysuckle Railway Workshops in 2011, this vibrant museum takes you through Newcastle’s history. That journey goes from early Aboriginal life to British settlement, coal and steel production, and to life today — all within beautifully maintained Victorian railway architecture. Culture Vultures should also pop into the Newcastle Art Gallery to see their collection of 5000 works.