Once home to the largest coal shipping harbour in the world, Newcastle today is a thriving metropolis with cool cafés and beautiful beaches.
By Hannah Tattersall
Australia’s second oldest city, "Newie" as it is affectionately known, is just a two hour drive north from Sydney in the eastern state of New South Wales. Like Sydney, Newcastle is bound by a harbour and glorious beaches, but its population of just under 300,000 makes it a quieter option for a weekend getaway or holiday. It is also the gateway to the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s major wine regions.
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Top things to do in Newcastle
Indulge in a foodie’s haven of cool cafés and eateries
There is no shortage of choice when it comes to eating out in Newcastle. A few options for starters: in the west end, The Edwards café is run by former Silverchair bassist (one of Australia's most successful rock bands) Chris Joannou and is a unique amalgamation of café, laundromat, bar and record store. The food is seriously good, too – the Legit Bacon & Egg Roll is, well, legit. Bolton Street Pantry has some of the best breakfast options (and coffee) in Newie, while The Blind Monk in Hamilton sources beers and ciders from smaller volume, local breweries and is definitely worth a visit. For a fine dining option, check out Subo, a contemporary bistro on Hunter street where menus are dictated by the seasons and chefs rely on fresh local produce. Check out HUNTERhunter for more great bars and restaurants in Newcastle.
Shop the markets
Do as the locals do and wander down to the nearest markets on a weekend. Held at Newcastle showground, the Newcastle City Farmers Markets is a meeting point for artisans: There are blacksmiths and jewellery makers, painters, photographers and toy makers. You’ll also find a vast selection of organic and conventionally grown foods including lamb, beef, pork, goat, trout, oysters, charcuterie and cured meats. Also check out the Hunt and Gather markets, a boutique designer hub where stall keepers proffer antique and pre-loved designer clothes, jewellery, art and food.
Relax like a local on a coastal walk
Newcastle’s Bathers Way is a scenic two hour or five kilometre (three mile) walk stretching from the lighthouse at Nobbys Headland to the coastal wilderness of Glenrock Reserve and the early coal workings at Burwood Beach. Along the way you'll soak up some of Newcastle’s rich indigenous and convict heritage, with yellow information signs providing historical information along the way. Take note of the historical site of Fort Scratchley, the only fort in Australia to have engaged the enemy in a maritime attack and Nobbys breakwall, which had its foundations laid by convict gangs; and be sure to take your swimming costume to enjoy secret swimming spots along the way.
Surf one of the eight beaches
There are few cities in the world that have a city centre surrounded by eight beaches. Newcastle is one of them. From Merewether and Newcastle Beach, which has the Art Deco pavilion and Newcastle Ocean Baths, to Nobbys, Dixon Park, Bogey Hole (carved into ocean rocks by convicts in 1820), and Bar Beach, there is a favourite spot for everyone. Whether you're a pro-surfer or a novice, you'll love Newcastle's most famous beach, Merewether, which features both white sand and spectacular waves. Four times world surfing champion, Mark Richards and 1991 world longboard champion, Martin McMillan live here. Newcastle’s Surfest festival, Australia’s largest surf festival, is held at Merewether every February. You can learn to surf or hone your skills with Surfest Surf School which operates out of Nobbys beach. Remember, always swim between the red and yellow flags which is the area surf lifesavers identify as the safest spot to swim.
How to get there
A two hour drive from Sydney along Australia’s east coast motorway, the Pacific Highway, will lead you straight into Hunter Street in Newcastle’s city centre. Otherwise you can take a scenic three hour train ride into Hamilton or Broadmeadow Stations (with connecting shuttle buses to central Newcastle and beaches) from Sydney’s Central Station, Strathfield, Eastwood, Epping or Hornsby. Greyhound bus services leave regularly from Sydney's Central Station, Brisbane's Coach Terminal and Melbourne's Travel Centre, or you can fly direct to Newcastle Airport from a number of cities including Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Ballina/ Byron Bay, Dubbo and Coffs Harbour.