I’m all about Exploring Newcastle!
Newcastle is a coastal city, home to 140, 000 people. It is a major regional centre, as well as being the largest metropolitan area outside of Sydney in the state of New South Wales. Newcastle is about two hours north of Sydney on the F3 freeway and trains run almost once an hour from Sydney. At under $20, it’s a pretty cheap ticket!
It’s a sprawling city that is slowly bringing some of the old towns around into the metropolis: towns like Wallsend, Cardiff, Maitland and Toronto which were also settled in the nineteenth century are now part of the city of Newcastle or will be soon if they’re not already.
Newcastle is a city that is evolving and renewing itself. Once a major port city, it is now finding its feet as an artistic hub, a centre for innovation, and a tourism centre. It has really good coffee almost everywhere you go, and thought fish and chips, fast food, and on the go chain options are available, there are some amazingly good small local restaurants making some really tasty fresh and healthy food.
As an aside, there’s a generally good awareness of dietary needs, and though i have had some bad experiences with some restaurants on the whole most have been both understanding and have delivered food that has met my dietary needs – lactose and gluten free!
Let’s start with Coffee. There’s a few places with cult followings that are worth speaking about: Suspension Coffee on Beaumont (pictured) has a great selection of beans, fabulous atmosphere, and friendly staff. Recent changes to wifi (limited to an hour a day) has meant this isn’t a feasible place for me to write anymore. The coffee is often quite a dark roast which is definitely some people’s jam!
Peaberry‘s Roasters and Cafe is just around the corner from Suspension on Maitland Road. They have a special roast each week as well as their signature roasts. Many of the better cafes around Newcastle use Peaberry’s coffee to make their espresso.
For those who venture down Hunter Street, I’d recommend Juicy Beans in the Forecourt across from the Playhouse (they also have other branches, including one at the newly refurbished Merewether Surf Club. They know good coffee. So too, in Hunter Street Mall, you’d be hard pressed to walk by One Penny Black.
Down Darby Street is really where things get personal. You see, there’s so much good coffee available that we’re spoiled for choice. One person’s favourite won’t be another. The list is pretty long and in addition to the coffee they all have other features worth thinking about: Honeybee and their cute courtyard has inspired with their great chai and funky wall features, Threemonkeys with their upstairs balcony and fresh juices, Goldberg’s and their epic iced chocolates in their back courtyard, glee with its rootsy hipster vibe, and that’s not even all of them.
My personal favourite in Longbench, at 166 Darby Street!
Coffee, food, careful with allergens, lots of options for where to sit, powerpoints, free wifi. Yeah, baby! That and you can transition to a wine if you’re still hanging there in the evening.
Beaches and Baths: Exploring Newcastle
There’s something magic about Newcastle and its beaches: You can walk or ride the entire coastline! The beach season officially runs from September to April, and the beaches are patrolled 7 days a week during these months. If you see those brightly coloured red and yellow flags be sure to swim between them.
You can walk all the way from the lighthouse on the headland at Nobby’s beach all the way to Merewether Baths. If you’re really keen you can actually walk further and join the Fernleigh track, but that’s an epic trek. Nobby’s to the Merewether Baths is about 5 kilometres or 3 miles.
If you start at the lighthouse, you’re also starting on Nobby’s breakwall – on rough days you will likely get wet from breaking waves – is a good kilometre long. The foundations of this breakwall were laid by convicts in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. When large oil tankers come in they glide by the breakwall with their fog horns blaring, it is quite the sight.
Nobby’s beach is probably Newcastle’s most famous beach courtesy of its role in Australian tourism campaigns and the unfortunate fact of the tanker, the Pascha Bulker being stuck on the beach for a few weeks a few years back. Thankfully, the rescue successfully removed the vessel from the beach preventing a rusting hulk from becoming the main attraction of an otherwise stunning beach. Lots of learn to surf schools use this beach for lessons, and as it is accessible from the train station it is popular with visiting groups and families. There are free BBQ facilities and covered picnic tables for those wanting to make a meal of it!
If we keep walking there are some beautiful sites (and sights) along the way including Fort Scratchley – the only fort in Australia to have engaged in a maritime attack – which is still used to fire the cannons on special ocassions including when ships arrive and leave the port.
You’ll come across this pool along the way. Take a dip in the Newcastle Baths (or just take photos on those steps like everyone else). This is one of two ocean baths in Newcastle – the other is at the end of our little walk at Merewether. Take a look at the Art Deco Pavilion while you’re there.
There’s some great spots here to have lunch – you can pick up some hot chips to feed to the seagulls if you like! Newcastle beach has a change room and a kiosk. This is a great place to meet for lunch close to the city – there’s limited parking though, so it’s great if you can walk.
Walk along the wide boulevard and you’ll see a skatepark to your right – there is a wall there (now prohibited to paint on) that used to be an amazing mural wall. As you keep walking you’ll see glimpses of the artistic heart of this city!
If you keep walking ahead instead of going up to King Edward Park, you’ll find yourself at a local favourite – the Bogey Hole. It’s a swimming spot, so take a dip. You might get hit by a wave or two on the odd occasion, but it’s been there for a couple of hundred years so you’ll be in good company.
You can go up into King Edward park by the road or the stairs. The stairs are a workout, but you’ll get to the spot above quicker. This photo is looking down from the top of King Edward Park towards the Newcastle Baths, Newcastle East and Newcastle Beach. In King Edward Park you’ll find a bandstand, a few bbq’s, lots of places for the kids to play and for you to picnic. You’ll also see lots and lots of city workers parking their cars on the edge of a road, but that’s a story for another day!
If you walk up another set of stairs you’ll see another old fort that was barracks in more recent years before falling into disrepair. There’s lots of good historical information on signs up there. Otherwise you can climb up to the lookout before heading down the coastal path to Bar Beach.
And another view from a little closer to the beach!
This is where you can hit the beach sand and stay on it all the way to Merewether! So take off those shoes and feel the sand between your toes!
There’s a sheltered rock pool up the left end of the beach which is great for small kids and for a few laps. This is where I took my niece who loved the waist high (on a four year old) waves. There’s a patrolled area in front of the Cook’s Hill Surf Club and some shaded tables, some decent food and coffee. When there’s a storm brewing this is a prime watching spot!
The photo below is of Bar Beach. The waves here are good surfing waves. This is just along from Dixon Beach, the home beach of World Champion Surfer, Mark Richards.
Merewether Beach is always full of swimmers and surfers, and boot campers. This is a popular place for early morning exercise with dozens running the infamous stairs. Every year the beach hosts Surfest which draws world champions from Australia and overseas and provides quite a spectacle. There’s a few restaurants here including the three levels of the Surfhouse Restaurant. With uninterrupted ocean views, there are worse places to enjoy a cocktail or two with friends!
Finally you’ll hit the Merewether Ocean Baths. They are patrolled by a lifeguard and there’s a pool that’s great for the little ones as well as an area that’s set up for the lap swimmer. The iconic blocks are a feature of many local post wedding shoots, and seeing as that’s where RM proposed to me i’ve got quite a soft spot for largest oceans baths in the southern hemisphere. ** they are renovating the baths in 2014, but they should be open early in 2015 – so never fear and visit the Newcastle Baths in the meantime **
I’ve only just scratched the surface of Newcastle. There’s so much more to it. I didn’t even talk about the incredible efforts of Renew Newcastle and This is Not Art, or the Arts Precinct in general. I truly believe this is one of Australia’s underrated cities. It is definitely worth the visit (especially if you’re coming from overseas). Check out Newcastle Now for more information.
Maybe you can help, what’s your favourite Newcastle spot? What’s the best part of Exploring Newcastle for you?
copyright 2014: Anna Blanch Rabe
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Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.
Anna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and photographer. You can follow her adventure on Not A Pedestrian Life, or Facebook. For more domestic things take a look at Quotidian Home or her previous website, Goannatree.