A two-hour drive north of Sydney, 30 minutes west of Newcastle, Maitland has long been considered a day’s outing for city slickers. Stay at least two nights, however, and you are sure to be impressed by the things to see and do in the NSW Lower Hunter city which also encompasses the historic town of Morpeth.
Stroll along Maitland’s High Street – it runs parallel to the Hunter River – and you can marvel over the fascinating mix of architecture, designs dating more than 100 years old, some restored, others sitting dormant waiting for a fresh coat of paint and a bit of loving care.
Despite a chequered past, the once-bustling river port which was once served by transporting steamships and paddle wheelers keep on keeping on. Not even the devastating floods of 1955 have stood in its way.
Like the dedicated people who have called Maitland home, the city has been resilient, continually reinventing itself, even after the economically damaging effects of the 2020 pandemic.
It is this never say die attitude which makes a visit more appealing as holidaymakers rise from their three-month hibernation to take in the NSW great outdoors.
Whether you are seeking a place to wine and dine, sample craft beer, or take a scenic walk alongside the Hunter River or drive into the rich countryside, there are cafes, restaurants things to do in Maitland that will have you staying longer than initially planned.
- 1 Maitland, NSW
- 1.1 Cafes in Maitland
- 1.2 Wine and Beer Tastings
- 1.3 Maitland Restaurants
- 1.4 Heritage Accommodation
- 1.5 Other Things To Do In Maitland
For more things to do in NSW read:
Cafes in Maitland
From Maitland’s High Street to Morpeth’s quaint Swan Street, the aroma of bacon and eggs is as intoxicating as the scent of freshly brewed coffee on a morning’s walk.
1- Cunning Culinarian
One hot suggestion for breakfast or lunch is the Maitland café Cunning Culinarian, where you can dine indoors or outside of a 1902 heritage-listed building.
For lunch it is hard to pass up the seeded bagel with the oven smoked salmon, red onion, creamed cheese, and dill.
Then again, the herbed scrambled eggs with spinach, relish, hash brown and cheese – served as a tortilla wrap or on sourdough bread – is another favourite.
Owner Alina Mackee is passionate about her cooking and while not running the kitchen arranges culinary classes – for both adults and children.
The Cunning Culinarian is at 245 High St, Maitland, NSW.
2- Common Grounds, Morpeth
Among the popular Morpeth cafes is the contemporary Common Grounds, its veranda overlooking the Hunter and the nearby historic Morpeth Bridge.
Here, owner Nadine Monaghan is very much hands-on catering for her diners, the café’s friendly staff as warmly welcoming as the inviting dishes.
For breakfast, the potato rosti – served with chorizo, ham off the bone, caramelised onion, tomato relish, roquette and poached egg – is highly recommended, accompanied by orange juice and the mandatory cup of coffee or tea.
The menu changes daily between breakfast and lunch, with a new addition to the luncheon list being the vegan option of Tofu San Choy Bow.
Then there are such favourites as chilli lime calamari, pumpkin risotto and beer-battered flathead to whet the appetite.
Common Grounds Morpeth is at 4/142 Swan St, Morpeth, NSW.
3- Heritage Gardens Nursery
A 10-minute drive from Maitland, just off the New England Highway, is the Heritage Gardens Nursery where you can combine a shopping spree through the nursery with breakfast or lunch on the veranda of the cafe.
The menu remains unchanged throughout the day.
It is a tranquil setting among the gnomes, floral arrangements, and the birds as you dine on popular dishes as smashed avocado with the trimmings on sourdough bread and the soup of the day, pumpkin curry combo, much sought after in winter.
Olivia and Dwayne Bramble are a second generation of owners since the nursery – and its range of plants, pots, outdoor décor, and homewares – was established at Ashtonfield in 1984.
Heritage Gardens is at Corner New England HWY & Four Mile Creek Rd, Ashtonfield NSW.
4- The Bikesmith and Expresso Bar
A great example of hybrid coffee culture.
In this new world, we have all seen cafes sharing the same roof as hairdressers, even small grocery stores.
But the Maitland scene has pedalled a little further to boast a café that is a perfect fit for a pushbike workshop.
There is little wonder many of the patrons are cycling enthusiasts on a routine ride around the area.
The Bikesmith and Expresso Bar, on The Levee, is the brainchild of Tim Skinner, who like many of the local business people, is passionate about Maitland and what it offers holidaymakers.
As you sit inside or kerbside enjoying your morning brew (locally roasted Suspension Espresso much sought after), Tim is often behind the workshop counter tinkering with bicycles, repairing almost everything from a popped chain to replacing an inner tube.
“People will come in for a service and have a coffee while they wait,” he said. “Some will ride from as far away as Newcastle for lunch. It is a perfect combination.”
5- The Cabin Collective
On a far different take on hybrid cafes is the Cabin Collective, where the scent of freshly brewed coffee fills the room while customers have a customised tattoo.
The café, also on The Levee, thrives on its reputation to serve primitive roast coffee, where all the beans are hand-roasted on-site over an open fire.
It is arguably the only coffee shop in Australia to do so and is open from Mondays to Saturdays each week.
6- Slow Food Earth Market
As a pioneering food bowl for much of NSW, this riverside port which greeted steam ships in its bygone days, has a Slow Food Earth Market, a group of stalls lining The Levee in Maitland.
Founded three years ago by food-loving Amorelle Dempster, the market is erected on the first and fourth Thursday of the month and allows visitors to sample, buy or perhaps order online fresh Hunter produce for the plate at home, thus supporting local growers.
Seasonal pumpkins, cauliflower, baby carrots and potatoes are among the displays along with olives, olive oils, relishes, and sourdough bread – all sold at competitive prices.
The catalyst for the markets came in 2016 when local pumpkin crops were scarred by a damaging storm with the plight of 20 tonnes ending up as food waste.
Compelled to act, Amorelle sought the support of the Maitland City Council to erect a stall at The Levee, effectively saving the farmers’ livelihood.
The rest is history, and the farmers are grateful as the stalls remain complimentary, courtesy of the council.
Wine and Beer Tastings
7- Boydell’s Cellar Door and Restaurant
If time does not allow you to visit the Hunter wine country – a 30-minute drive to the west – Morpeth has a new cellar door where you can combine wine tasting with a light snack or lunch.
Boydell’s Cellar Door and Restaurant – tucked away in Green Street – is housed primarily in a restored 1820-built slab and shingle cottage, the rustic wooden beams and corrugated iron reminders of a colonial past when pioneer Charles Boydell made his paddle steamer journeys from the township Paterson to Morpeth.
The English-born settler and honorary magistrate was granted land along the Allyn River near Gresford, his name living on not only in the local history books but on the labels of the award-winning wine grown in the region.
Visit between Wednesday and Sunday, and you can either order bar eats as you sample renowned winemaker Liz Silkman’s whites and reds or book a table for lunch to pair the wines with seasonal local produce inside the restaurant or in the courtyard.
8- The Pourhouse
Beer lovers can also get a taste of local craft beer at Maitland’s The Pourhouse, housed inside the refurbished 1866 established Exchange Hotel on High Street.
Here you can sample local and Australian craft brews – rotated between 10 taps – while tucking into one of the burgers, the aptly named The Pourhouse and The Thunderbolt favourites.
9- River Port Brewing Company
Within the historic Commercial Hotel, across Swan Street from the 1898-built timber trestle Morpeth Bridge, is the River Port Brewing Company specialising in craft beer such as Big Hitter, in on honour of local boxing legend Les Darcy.
Brewed once a year to commemorate Anzac Day is the refreshing Anzac Ale.
Drop in late afternoon on a winter’s day, and you can enjoy one of the brews kerbside or on the large balcony while taking in another Morpeth sunset
If you are looking for a fusion dining experience with a distinctive Australian flavour, book a table at the refined delicatessen, café, bar and bistro Coquun for a treat or two.
Expect a general greeting of “anikanya” at the door to the contemporary restaurant before dining on fresh local produce with elements of locally grown bush tucker, washed down by some interesting hand-picked Hunter wines.
For starters, try a few small plates such as Hunter Binnorie Brie, marinated locally grown olives, salt and pepper squid and glazed macadamia beer nuts, or perhaps a cheese-filled damper dip bowl before deciding on a main course, the slow-cooked lamb shoulder with bush tomato and saltbush tzatziki a couple’s delight, especially in winter.
When translated into English, the local Wonnarua Country word of Coquun means freshwater river, a perfect match for its riverside, uniquely modernistic Maitland address.
Despite his Irish roots, owner Daniel O’Leary is of indigenous descent, thus allowing chief chef Evelyn Wilson to create a mixed menu with native ingredients.
11- Fratelli Roma
A few strides along High Street from Coquun is a traditional Italian restaurant, Fratelli Roma, where the décor is as inviting as the extensive menu.
The doors opened to the friendly family-owned restaurant in 2013, but locals, particularly the repeat pasta and pizza-loving guests, feel as if it has been in Maitland much longer.
Among the favourite antipasti dishes is the lightly battered calamari and the arancini of tomato and basil risotto and goats cheese filling while the main course of veal scaloppine, mushrooms, shallot, creamy white wine sauce is a hearty alternative to the traditionally ordered pastas and pizzas.
And make sure to keep some space for the Tiramisù with the house churned vanilla gelato and fresh strawberries. You won’t be disappointed.
Fratelli Roma is very much a family affair as it is owned and operated by husband and wife team Daniel and Christine Kibble, and managed by Dan’s younger brother Nathan.
Variety is the spice of life when it comes to accommodation in and around Maitland.
Whether you book a site at a caravan park or settle into a small family-owned bed and breakfast establishment, there is much to say about a stay.
Then again, you could well be stepping back in time – with the mod cons included.
Take Morpeth, for example.
Bronte Boutique Hotel
In the heart of the town’s Swan Street is a lovingly refurbished The Bronte Boutique Hotel, a five-star establishment housed in what was initially the 1822-built home and shop of Caleb Soul, of Soul Paterson Pharmacy fame.
Named after Lord Nelson, the Earl of Bronte, the hotel and its six inviting guestrooms has an overwhelming Victorian charm, the antiques of the era fused with Asian artefacts, the collection of a passionate effervescent owner Clint Marquet who has added two self-contained contemporary apartments behind the whitewashed hotel.
William Arnott Hotel
Across the street is the 19th Century Arnotts Historic Bakehouse, where owners Alison and Stephen Arnott have converted the former bakery – once a restaurant as well – into three heritage suites aptly named after biscuit varieties – the upstairs Monte Carlo Penthouse, the street level VoVo Suite and the adjacent SAO studio.
The newly-named The William Arnott Hotel honours the founder of Arnotts Biscuits who along with brother David opened the bakery in Morpeth in 1861 before moving to Newcastle.
Stephen’s is the great-great-great grandchild and hosts sourdough making classes on appointment.
Other Things To Do In Maitland
12- Visit Maitland Gaol
If the towering sandstone walls could talk, a self-guided audio tour of infamous Maitland Gaol would have you mesmerised longer than you would envisage.
Then again, who would want to be a long-term guest with so many grizzly blood-curdling stories to tell?
Some of Australia’s most notorious prisoners have called Maitland Gaol – among the Maitland major attractions – home since it opened in 1848, the hardships they confronted, the executions, the riots and the attempted gaol breaks revealed within the damp cells.
Our guide Robyn could tell you more, but you would need more time, perhaps another visit to hear of the gaol’s infamous history.
Among the most notorious inmates were Irish-born bushranger Captain Moonlite, Chow Hayes, Darcy Dugan, Arthur “Neddy” Smith and a few more recent characters not worth mentioning because of the severity of their crimes.
Between 1843 and 1897, 16 men were hanged, 13 for murder, three for rape.
In the end, an outdated Maitland Gaol closed its doors for the final time in January 1998.
While the closure was welcomed by many, it did result in an economic downturn for locals who relied on its existence for business, from washing bed linen and towels to providing food for the inmates and security guards.
Then again, the emptied gaol does play host to special events, from dining experiences and wedding receptions to the annual Beer and Twisted Festival in early November.
And, of course, it is open for the daily self-guided and guide tours.
13- Have Fun At Steamfest
It is almost 40 years ago since the last coal-operated steam haulage freight service in Australia was closed on the South Maitland Railway Line.
But it was not the final time we would see steam-driven trains motoring in and out of Maitland.
Each year over the past 35 years – excluding 2020 where everything shuddered to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Maitland has hosted Steamfest, a celebration of steam each April dedicated to the days when locomotives and steamrollers were a regular sight. And year 2021 will be the same.
Standing on the platform of Maitland Station are the usual conductors dressed in uniform.
And at the helm of the locomotives is a dedicated team of volunteers who live and breathe coal-driven trains.
The annual Show ‘n’ Shine is an impressive showcase of motoring history, bringing Maitland Park to life with over 500 classic cars, food stalls, family entertainment and activities and mini steam train rides for the children.
14- Taste Fudge At Campbell’s Store
Like bees around a honeypot or children in a lolly shop, the historic Campbell’s Store is among the must-see Morpeth attractions and has the appeal to attract visitors of all ages and tastes.
And, yes, you can sample an array of honey and such sweets as fudge.
A word of warning: Make sure to set aside plenty of time to explore the maze of items sold through 15 dealers, almost everything from novelty teapots and children Golden Books to antique jewellery, war memorabilia and pre-decimal Australian currency.
With every step you slowly make you can relive history in a two-storey store that dates from 1835 and during its heyday was the place to shop in the Hunter Valley.
Everyone from miles around travelled by steamship, horse-drawn cart, walked or rode to Campbell’s Store.
Even founder James Campbell minted his own money to be used by patrons.
For the past 34 years, since owner Trevor Richards took over the ownership of the store, he has seen a swing towards patrons from overseas, keen on snaring a piece of Australiana to take home in the suitcase.
15- Shop Til You Drop
Behind the original store is a barn-like building which today houses the Morpeth Ginger Beer Factory and Gourmet Foods, Morpeth Gift Gallery and the first floor Morpeth Investment Art Gallery which has featured the works of some of Australia’s great artists, including highly renowned James Hough and some of his lifelike birds and wildlife paintings, and the colourful outback works of Australian iconic artist Max Mannix.
Head downstairs from the gallery, and you can prepare for a time-consuming shopping experience at this multi-award-winning shop as you come across a cluster of Teddy Bears, jewellery, handbags, skincare products, jams and gourmet sauces and candy.
And, yes, make sure to sample the ginger beer, the selection of honey and fudge.
16- Visit the Maitland Regional Art Gallery
Behind the red-brick walls of a 1910-built Federation Gothic building which, until 1987, was the Maitland Technical College, is a display of art worthy of international interest.
The Maitland Regional Art Gallery, commonly known as MRAG, is considered one of Australia’s finest regional galleries, its 11 modern exhibition spaces hosting an array of changing displays.
Most recent have included the Guns to Roses exhibition, a theme which portrays “life as fragile as paper” – where human suffering has been inflicted at the hand of others.
During a visit in mid-2020, the gallery featured a fascinating collection of miniature art, a Safe Space Contemporary Sculpture featuring oars, and colourful indigenous paintings honouring the late Tiger Palpatja, who hailed from South Australia and lived until he was 92 years old.
On loan to MRAG from a private collector, the Tiger Palpatja selection of 11 major works includes three collaborative paintings and three canvases by Palpatja’s granddaughters Sandra and Shirley Adamson.
Also, on show outside the walls of the gallery, is the giant-sized half-human, half-dog sculpture simply known as The Fetch, as you soon realise why.
Apart from the exhibition space, the art gallery has a quality shop, the Seraphine Café (named after an 18th Century French artist) and, on Sundays, hosts free art activities for families of all ages.
For more things to do in Maitland go here.