You wouldn’t instinctively place Newcastle at the top of your must-see tourist destinations when visiting Australia. However, that could certainly change after reading this article. Forget any preconceptions of an old industrial outpost, this is no longer an old steel town and you just might be pleasantly surprised with what this city has to offer.
Located a two hour’s drive north of Sydney, Australia’s second-oldest city is reinventing itself. Six beaches, an eclectic mix of bars and dining experiences, and laidback, friendly locals are only part of its charm.
Public Art with a Public Voice
Exploring the city, you will find a number of public art installations. Located on Darby Street, the Headphone Project was designed to provide an outlet for local musicians. The result is a unique piece of public art that’s functional, giving you a place to sit while you enjoy some homegrown sounds.
Newcastle’s museum is located in the historical old Honeysuckle Railway Workshops and admission is free for general exhibits. At the entrance to the museum, painted a vibrant red, the large ‘Steelwork Hooks’ are memento’s from the former BHP Steelworks.
Other artworks, such as ‘Foundry Frames’ by artist Rebecca Whan are located nearby. These installations are reminders of the city’s industrial past, while the sculpture ‘Constance the Camel’ according to artists Suzie Bleach and Andrew Townsend, pays tribute to the local migrant history.
Newcastle has a total of six beaches, easily accessible by car and public transport. A consistent swell and wave breaks to suit all styles make Newcastle a popular surf spot and host to a number of annual surfing events.
Two oceans baths are located at Newcastle and Merewether Beaches. A popular feature along the New South Wales coast, ocean baths are public seawater pools, built on rocky outcrops that allow waves to wash into the swimming pool. A great alternative for younger swimmers and less confident surf goers.
From the city centre you can stroll around the headland. Walk along the floating walkway, built in remembrance of the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.) soldiers, down to five of the beaches and both baths.
On the hill above Merewether beach sits the Beach Hotel, which is a perfect place to stop for a beachside lunch. Enjoy sipping a cold beer from one of the 15 on tap, or a glass from the extensive selection of award-winning wines while sitting on the hotel’s wide deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean, giving visitors a fantastic expansive view.
Newcastle boasts diverse architectural styles ranging from beautiful old terrace buildings to seventies retro, modern designs and a little bit of the unusual. Some will leave you wondering, what were the architects thinking?
The city is compact enough to get around on foot, so take the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and bizarreness of these buildings as you stroll about town.
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Food for all tastes
There is certainly no shortage of great places to dine, Darby Street is lined with restaurants and eateries. Frankie’s place has a quirky mix of odd furniture, old LP covers adorn the walls, centrepieces vary from globes to kitchen scales and cups of tea are served on hardcover children’s book.
If you enjoy super fresh, delicious seafood, then you have to visit Scratchleys on the Wharf. The menu boasts scallops, prawns, calamari, hot and cold seafood platters as well a selection of steak, chicken and pasta dishes. No wonder this place is a local icon and hugely popular – it was packed when we visited! The food was sensational and the restaurant overhangs the water, with spectacular views of the harbour, particularly when it is lit up at night.
Beginning life in the 1880’s as the Imperial hotel, today Soho on Darby is a restaurant and cocktail bar that offers outdoor dining at street level or on the upstairs balcony. They also make a great ‘Big breakfast’ for around AUD$10 / USD$7.50.
The Terrace Bar on King Street is a hidden gem. Located behind an inconspicuous wooden door, it’s easy to miss. Candlelight greets you upon entry and the downstairs area is long and narrow in the terrace style with a dancefloor and local DJ. Towards the back, comfortable old arm chairs provide a cosy space to unwind but the real surprise and perhaps the reason for the bar’s name, is the outdoor rooftop terrace. Fairy lights and candles provide a special ambience and relaxing atmosphere with heaters keeping the space warm during the colder months.
A history of coal and steel
The old BHP Steelworks closed its doors in 1999 but remnants of this industrial past are still evident around the city. Although the steelworks are no more, Newcastle boasts the world’s largest coal shipping harbour. You are likely to see rows of these large coal ships on the horizon, waiting their turn to dock and load cargo, before navigating the harbour and heading for open seas.
Newcastle has it all. A great range of attractions to keep visitors entertained, including golf, sailing, local tours, harbour and river cruises as well as adventure activities. A must-see destination and refreshing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of larger locations.
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