Mark the next public holiday on your calendars, Sydney-siders, you're heading up north! As it sits on the North coast of New South Wales and is only a two-hour drive from Sydney, Newcastle is a prime location for a short getaway and perfect for families not willing to venture too far. Although it's the second-largest city in the state, neither my husband nor I had visited before but needless to say, it was a safe common ground nurturing his keen fishing interest, and my inclination towards café hopping, shopping, quirky boutique stores and ocean baths! So here are five tips to get your own north-bound holiday planning underway.
Shop till you drop at Westfield Kotara or Charlestown Square
The first day of arrival can easily feel like a waste, and a way to combat that is making sure you arrive well before your accommodation's scheduled check in time and make a mental note of a few things you can do before you get the keys. Dropping into these shopping centres are a great way to fill in this time and have your getaway started on a positive note. Shake off the post road trip weariness with a bite from the food court, then enjoy shopping from big retail brands, most of which have large ranges of items at heavily reduced prices—perks of a small city!
Go for a dip at Merewhether Ocean Baths With all that they offer, the Merewhether Ocean Baths are the embodiment of a wholesome Australian morning. Rise with the sun on a walk on the Bathers Way track—which starts from and runs beyond these public baths—and enjoy delicious breakfast at the Merewhether Surfhouse Café overlooking the beach and baths before going for a dip! Or watch the sunrise from the edge of the baths and warm up with a cuppa afterwards, why not? There are two sections to these public baths, the shallow waters of the first making it perfect for families. Get in bright and early to secure a spot at the nearby parking lot which permits four hours of free parking, as it gets rather busy from 10am, well into the late hours of the afternoon.
Take a self-guided walking tour of Beaumont St Hamilton is a vibrant, multicultural suburb that once accommodated a 19th-century settlement of immigrant coal miners. Now home to many historically significant buildings, antique stores, boutique stores and quirky cafes, it's Beaumont Street is a great way to explore Newcastle away from the sand. Make sure to drop into Son of a Gun café, which will have you cosy up in one of the booth seatings, musing at the 1920s fit-out of the place and the frames adorning the gallery wall as a backdrop for it all. There's even a corner at the backfilled with books and toys for children to entertain them as you dine. P.S: Their vegan carrot cake is a must-try!
Drive up top Nelson Bay for the day Enjoy a long day swimming in the flat, clear waters of Nelson Bay beach, and snorkel at the adjacent Fly Point Aquatic Reserve for some up close and personal time with its colourful inhabitants—the depth is also great for first-timers. Have a bite to eat for lunch from one of the cafes near the beach, then pop into Nero's Gelato ice creamery for your sugar fix, browsing the boutique stores along the street as you go.
Treat yourself to dinner at Habesha Restaurant Trust me, even the face towels sitting rolled up in a woven straw bowl and the Ethiopian handwash ceremony before your food is served is well worth the visit! A waiter/waitress will come around with a special pot and soap for you to wash your hands while she holds a basin underneath for the excess water. The towels provided are then taken away, and the meal is eaten by hand with the flatbread provided. The flavours will have your taste buds travelling as you sit amidst the authentic décor of the restaurant, sharing a meal and a conversation with your loved ones. The restuarant also has an impressive vegan range!
P.S: If you ever get over the tofu scramble over at the Merewhether Surfhouse café, try out Sanctum café for breakfast—the food, friendly staff and the bowls they provide for dogs brought along is sure to bring your trip to a light-hearted end.