It’s two decades since BHP closed in Newcastle, but there are elements of the “old town” which prove it has not lost its steely resolve. For a city built on steel, Newcastle has re-invented itself as a genuine holiday centre on the NSW north coast, a two-hour drive north of Sydney. If you’re looking for things to do in Newcastle NSW, there’s plenty to keep you busy.
While locals refer to the state’s second-largest city as merely a “town”, business travellers and leisure seekers see Newcastle as a more sophisticated city through its array of chic NSW restaurants and bars, established theatres, inviting boutiques and art galleries, and other general tourist attractions. Then there are the natural treasures – the beaches, parks and scenic paths – on which the city prides itself.
Although coal continues to be trained into the centre for waiting cargo ships, today’s visitors see Newcastle in a different light, some using it as a base for drives to the nearby Hunter winegrowing region, the waters of Lake Macquarie and the blue water paradise of Port Stephens.
The 2017 staging of the first-ever Newcastle 500 V8 race meeting, while inconvenient to some protesting locals, played a key role in beaming through the TV screens images of a scenic city worth considering for that next coastal holiday.
HARBOUR FRONT DINING in Newcastle
Whether it’s around lunchtime or early evening, the harbour waterfront can be a hive of activity, particularly on weekends, the Customs House Hotel is an ideal spot serving casual snack food and Mediterranean-inspired a la carte meals – outdoors or indoors.
Here, you can sit back and enjoy the cuisine by marvelling over a heritage listed building which was designed in the Italianate Renaissance Revival Style by NSW Colonial Architect James Barnet in 1877.
Stroll further to the Queen Street Wharf Hotel and you are met with all kinds of dining specials, where Monday-to-Friday happy hour last three hours between 3pm and 6pm and live music is the rage every second Thursday evening. Dine and wine as you watch the Stockton ferry cross the harbour to the north side.
The Newcastle harbour front is also popular for its Scratchleys on the Wharf and its exquisite mouth-watering menu of seafood dishes, the seafood chowder and chargrilled seafood antipasto popular choices.
As for Italian restaurants, Cielo Italiano is a popular choice for its rustic and authentic fare, seafood almost mandatory.
Among the popular Newcastle Thai restaurants is Al-Oi Thai, a few blocks back from the waterfront in Hunter Street, while the number of Newcastle Indian restaurants has grown, Surtaj another choice of dining experience along Hunter Street.
Newcastle beaches – SURF, SUN AND SAND
Dig your toes into the sands of Newcastle and Merewether beaches and you follow in the footsteps of such notable locals as former world surfing champion Mark Richards.
Considered a favourite for surfers chasing the perfect wave, Newcastle Beach is also popular with families, the ocean baths and the heritage-listed Art Deco pavilion a haven for toddlers.
Today’s home to the annual Surfest Competition Challenging for the title of best beach Newcastle is Merewether to the south, where Richards perfected his art of surfing.
A two-minute stroll between Merewether Beach and Merewether Ocean Baths is the historic Ladies Rock Pool and the heritage-listed Surf House.
Cut into ocean rocks by convict labour in 1819, is Newcastle’s Bogey Hole which remains a popular spot so many years later.
It doesn’t take much to admire the workmanship achieved by the convicts who were commanded by Commandant Morisset to build the pool for his own use.
It was known, originally as the “Commandants Baths”. However, the name “Bogey Hole” was applied afterwards and is derived from the indigenous word meaning “to bathe”.
Things to do in Newcastle on a walk
In 1801, Australia’s first coal mine was established in Newcastle under the present site of Fort Scratchley. Built using convict labour, Fort Scratchley is one of the city’s leading attractions, and there’s no better way to visit than on a leisurely walk.
Here, you will learn of the fort’s history, the 6-inch guns the first and only fired in Australia on an enemy vessel during battle – a Japanese submarine during World War II.
To wander around the site is among many things to do in Newcastle NSW.
Newcastle is criss-crossed with walking paths and trails, from one which hugs the harbour’s waterfront to a city walk and a much sought-after coastal trail that weaves through leafy King Edward Park.
For a panoramic look of the city and coast, take the short climb to the Obelisk – you won’t be disappointed with the result. And, yes, don’t forget the camera.
Newcastle from the sky
Taking off from suburban it is easy to see why the seagulls and various other birdlife love Newcastle. And it’s not because of the hot chips accidentally dropped along the paths lining the beaches and harbour.
Book a flight from suburban Mayfield through Aerologistics Helicopters and you will soon find yourself up with the birds looking down on the many landmarks, beaches, parks, harbour and sprawling suburbs of a city with 500,000 population.
A highlight is the 20-minute Sygna and Stockton Beach flight which passes over Nobbys Beach and focuses not only on the famous undulating sand dunes, but the rusting, partially submerged remains of a shipwreck, the Sygna, a 30,000-tonne Norwegian bulk carrier which ran aground during a fierce storm in 1974. Depending on season, chances of spotting humpback whales on their migration to and from Antarctica are extremely good.
Best Newcastle Accommodation
Location, location, location . . . the Novotel Newcastle Beach is perfectly positioned for more reasons than one. A few strides away are the sands of Newcastle Beach. A slightly longer walk away is the harbour front and the historic Fort Scratchley, which guards Nobbys Beach Newcastle.
And there’s there the very shopping hub of a city which has its share of inviting cafes, art galleries, bars and entertainment precincts.
As for this beach hotel, the commanding address only tells half the story. To complement its modern design are 88 attractive and well-appointed guest rooms, the ground floor is a drawcard for hungry locals as well as guests for the modern Australian cuisine served inside or al fresco style at Bistro Dalby.
In capitalising on seasonal produce, accomplished chef Clinton Doggett creates dishes that more than tempt the taste buds – they have a wow factor, from the seared scallops and roasted eggplant puree appetiser to the barramundi with roast fennel and sea blite as a main course.
In between the shopping, dining and walks, there’s the hotel’s spa and fitness centre which receives a good work out from the guests.
SHORT DRIVE AWAY
As a holiday centre, Newcastle has its many attractions within a one-hour drive of the Custom House (now a hotel) clocktower.
Head west, and you could find yourself in the famous Hunter Valley wine region sampling such labels as McGuigan and Tyrrells and the lesser known Mistletoe and De Iuliis, to name a few, between meals, a round of golf and a visit to Hunter Valley Gardens. Then there’s the steam capital of Maitland and the nearby historic town of Morpeth with its array of shops and cafes.
Head north of Newcastle and there are the Stockton dunes, farther north the blue-water paradise Port Stephens. Drive south, and the vast waters and beaches of Lake Macquarie draw your interest to water skiing, fishing or merely paddling a kayak. And, of course, there are such popular ocean beaches as Caves Beach, a short drive from Swansea and the entrance to Lake Macquarie.