Beautiful beaches, lofty towers, museums, secluded swimming spots, killer cafes – Newcastle, two hours’ drive north of Sydney, has it all in spades. Here are the top attractions to add to your to-do list when you visit this booming beach town.
1. Nobbys Beach and Breakwater
Newcastle 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. Gawk at the mammoth container ships 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 worth a visit.
2. Darby Street
Coal isn’t the only black substance Newcastle peddles en masse; coffee has now become the city’s 21st-century obsession. The epicentre of the cafe scene is Darby Street, 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.
3. The Hunter Valley
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 produce world-renowned Semillon, as well as quality Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. And that’s before we even wax lyrical about Hunter’s mouth-watering restaurants, relaxing day spas, gourmet food artisans and much more.
4. Bogey Hole
Built by convicts in 1820, this heritage-listed ocean pool is considered the oldest surviving European construction in Newcastle. Two centuries 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.
5. Port Stephens
Another must-visit region just a short drive from the city centre is Port Stephens – a pristine patch of 26 sparkling beaches, a 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 (20mi) along the coast and tower 40 metres (130ft) above the beach, best tackled by 4WD, quad bike or on the back of a board if you’re feeling adventurous.
6. McDonald Jones Stadium
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 stadium is also fertile soil for football, and the city gets right behind A-League outfit the Newcastle Jets in the summer.
7. Merewether Beach
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 a 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.
8. Fort Scratchley
Originally built by the British in the 19th century to fend off a possible Russian attack, when 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.
9. Newcastle Museum
Having started life as 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 the beautifully maintained Victorian railway architecture. Culture Vultures should also pop into the Newcastle Art Gallery to see its collection of 5,000 works.