I awoke with warm rays of sunshine on my face. Disoriented and a tad confused, I looked out of the window. The sun was hanging on the horizon, filling the air with gentle morning light.
“Merry Christmas and welcome to Newcastle!”, bellowed the bus driver.
It was December 25, 2010. I was on my very first solo backpacking trip, making my way from a surf camp outside of Coffs Harbour to Melbourne. I quickly gathered my things and hopped off the bus.
“I have 2 hours until I need to head to the airport to catch my flight to Melbourne”, I explained to the bus driver. “Do you have any recommendations for things I could see while I’m here?”
“Just 2 hours? Oh darling, you are really not doing Newcastle justice.”
I knew he was right. I wasn’t going to even scratch the surface…
It took me 5 years to come back to Newcastle despite the fact that I have been living in Brisbane for the last 2 years. Shameful, I know, but there always seemed to be other places to explore. But we finally decided that it was now or never and added a stop in Newcastle on our way back from a weekend in Hunter Valley.
We didn’t expect Newcastle to dazzle us with its good looks. After all, it has always been known as the industrial centre of Australia, famous for its steel, copper, and coal manufacturing. It wasn’t until recently that Newcastle started attracting the crowds thanks to its funky atmosphere and the developing artistic side.
We arrived with no expectations. After checking into our hotel we drove straight to Bar Beach for a chance to snap a few sunset shots over the city. We took a stroll along the Esplanade and ended up on Memorial Drive, and were taken aback by the stunning views of the ocean from the top of the cliffs. The sun was setting over the city, casting a beautiful golden glow onto the misty beach. Surfers were catching their last waves of the day, families were enjoying the last sun rays, and dozens of groups picnicking in the grass waiting for the sun to do its daily magic show.
And it did. We couldn’t stop snapping away long after the sun disappeared behind the horizon.
Culture Vultures in Action
The next morning we took in the cultural side of the city. First up was the Christ Church Cathedral, a beautiful architectural structure that dominates the Newcastle skyline. The original church dates back to 1804, with many additions and expansions set in motion over the years. Today it stands over 36 meters tall and provides regular worship services, along with wedding and baptism ceremonies. It was once possible to climb to the top of the cathedral to take in breathtaking views of the city, but unfortunately that is no longer an option. The viewing platform has been closed for 3 years.
Next up was Newcastle’s best attraction – Fort Scratchley. Often misinterpreted as a sight for school groups and oldies, its a historical sight that isn’t just for history buffs. We thoroughly enjoyed roaming through the rooms inside the Fort Scratchley Museum, listening to War stories and learning about Newcastle’s role as Australia’s second settlement. Fort Scratchley is situated at the top of Flagstaff Hill and offers 360 degree views of Newcastle, incorporating Nobby’s Beach to Newcastle Rock Pools, and through to the heart of the city centre. If nothing else, head to the Fort to snap some photos and sit back and enjoy the views.
Our time in Newcastle was crammed with activities, but we absolutely had to pause and enjoy some time bumming around on Nobby’s Beach. After seeing it in all of its glory from the top of Fort Scratchley, I couldn’t wait to get down and sink my feet in the sand.
Nobby’s is the perfect beach for families and general sunning, swimming, and lazying around. Bar Beach is another great option that features a patrolled swimming area and sheltered rock pools. Newcastle Beach is known as one of the best surf locations in Australia and is definitely more appealing to the adventurous souls, which we totally are… in theory.
In Search for the Best Restaurants in Town
The majority of Newcastle’s great eats can be found on Beaumont Street in Hamilton and Darby Street in Cooks Hill. We tried our luck with Darby Street, poking our heads into every restaurant in search of the best cheap eats in town. There were lots of bars and a few fancy establishments, but nothing really impressed us at dinner time. We went back to Darby Street again the next day to experience its lunch scene.
The light of day and the daytime buzz made it a whole lot more appealing. Our favourite spot was Frankies Place with its retro decor of record covers, a cute courtyard, and a great lunch and nibbles menu.
If you are visiting on the weekend, the Newcastle City Farmers Markets, held at the Newcastle Showgrounds on most Sundays is another great place for a bite to eat. Try the Rustic Flair Food Truck, it won us over with their porkwich, burritos, and smoothie options. The market is opened from 8am until 1pm, and offers a great selection of fruits/veggies, local produce, food stalls, clothing, and accessories shops.
and the Best Place for a Drink…
Beaumont Street, Hunter Street, and Honeysuckle Drive in Hamilton often fight it out for the best area for entertainment. While lots of bars did look quite appealing, we opted for a drink with a view instead. Queens Wharf Hotel is a great little hang out spot that offered a selection of home brewed beers, good wine options, and a lovely view from the outdoor beer garden on the jetty. We took our time strolling down Wharf Street enjoying the views of the Hunter River. It’s a lovely walk across the Foreshore down to Nobby’s Beach Reserve.
At the end of the day it really wasn’t Newcastle sights that lured us in. It was the perfect balance of the small town feel, the laid back beachy lifestyle, and the cute boutique vibe combined with a beautiful natural setting that made us so grateful for a chance to visit Newcastle. Tourists don’t flock to this city and maybe that’s exactly why Newcastle is sometimes referred to as the most underrated city in Australia. You just don’t expect it to be so lovely…
Max fell in love with Newcastle, announcing that if we ever wanted to move away from Brisbane, this is where he would want to be based. (Ok, I kind of really liked it too) And hey, with us, you just never know…