There’s no better way to describe it than electric. Old majestic buildings have been restored, new cafes and waterfront nightspots are overflowing, artists have commandeered the markets and pop-up stores, and the food and wine, well, it is the gateway to the Hunter Valley after all – ’nuff said.
Long gone are the days of ‘Steel City’; it has been almost 15 years since the dirty smoke stacks of the old BHP Steelworks last exhaled. And while Newcastle remains the largest coal shipping harbour in the world, you’d be forgiven for not noticing. If anything, the industrialisation of Australia’s second-oldest city sets an edgy backdrop for the art scene. No more the Ugly Duckling, Newcastle has begun to strut its stuff.
It wouldn’t be a beach town without a beach and Newcastle has no shortage of golden sand. In fact, there are six world-class beaches within a five minute drive of the city centre: Newcastle Beach, Horseshoe Beach, Bar Beach, Merewether Beach, Stockton Beach, and the most famous, Nobbys Beach which stretches out along a sandy peninsula capped by the iconic Nobbys Head. These beaches regularly top the list as some of the best in NSW and that’s just the start. There are 17 beaches along this clean stretch of the ‘Surf Coast’ and better still, they aren’t overly crowded.
Get ready to go on a time-warp like no other because this staggeringly beautiful seaside walk not only passes Newcastle’s best swimming spots and rock pools, but has a colourful history to boot. Starting at Nobbys Head – which used to be a prisoner island twice its size before being blown up – the path hugs the coast passing Newcastle Beach and ending at Merewether.
A stroll from end to end will take about three hours, passing Fort Scratchley, which defended the country from an aggressive Japanese sub during WWII. To this day, it’s the only fort in the country to have fired on an enemy vessel.
Further along reclining on the edge of the ocean is Bathers Pavilion with its shapely and inviting Art Deco curves. Then up and over a cliff is the heritage-listed Bogey Hole, carved into ocean rocks by convicts in 1820 for the private use of Commandant Morisset. Locals soon nicknamed the impressively positioned pool the ‘bogey’ hole, borrowing the east-coast aboriginal word for bathe. The path ends at the Merewether Baths – the biggest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere.
It’s no mistake Newcastle has become a foodie destination – it sits at the mouth of the Hunter River, the lifeblood of the Hunter Valley. Front and foremost in its foodie revolution are fresh seasonal ingredients, with restaurants like Sprout Dining on Honeysuckle Drive leading the way.
Elsewhere, many of the city’s old industrial buildings are transforming into delectable eateries and restaurants, such as The Grain Store Craft Beer Café, once Tooheys’ old depot, or 5 Sawyers on Darby Street.
And then there are the waterfront gourmet grub spots, like Craft & Co Burgers, which uses local ingredients and has 25 varieties of craft beer on tap as well as cider and a wide range of wine. Warning: the probability of overindulgence is high.
The waterfront restaurants and bars along the contemporary Honeysuckle Precinct have emerged as a melting pot of activity come evening, with social butterflies perching on the open decks as the sun sets over Newcastle Harbour. Elsewhere, small bars are popping up throughout the city every other week, with places like One Penny Black, Cazador and Reserve Wine Bar all instantly popular entrants to the nightlife scene.
Shopping and Coffee
You could easily spend an entire day picking your way through the cafes and quirky stores lining Darby Street. From boutique designers to playful gift stores, the street has a distinct artisan edge. Even more of a distraction are the 20 or so cafes dotting the strip, many of which have hidden courtyards – two popular haunts worth a mention are Goldbergs and Three Monkeys. Shoppers can then continue their discoveries along Hunter Mall.
For those favouring the ‘chic’, the tree-lined streets of The Junction may be more your style, with designer labels and trendy cafes to please. And let’s not forget the popular Olive Tree Markets, which explodes with the creativity of the region’s many artisans at the beginning of every month.
Put simply, if you don’t buy something while in Newcastle, you must have will of steel.