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Navigating Newcastle

Home > Sydney > Adventure | Art | Beaches | Long Weekend | Walks
by Irenke Forsyth (subscribe)
A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at
Published October 14th 2021
Newcastle is a bustling harbour city just 2hrs north of Sydney with a population of around 450,000 and plenty to see and do. From golden beaches to art and everything in between, it makes for a great weekend getaway.

Navigating it can be tricky on a warm weekend when the locals are out in droves and visitors are aplenty. Drivers need to be aware not just of cars on the main street through the city but the light rail running down the centre of it. It can be a bit scary if you're not used to it and if you're not sure exactly where you're going but you'll soon find your way to exploring what you set out to and then some.

So here's some of what you can get up to on a trip to this beautiful spot that is often bypassed on a trip north on the M1 -

Explore the Beaches and Ocean Baths

There are several beaches on the Newcastle coastline that are linked by the Bathers Way, a walk stretching between Nobbys Beach and Merewether Beach. The route also allows you access to Bogey Hole, a convict-built ocean bath from the colonial period.

Nobbys Beach is a favoured spot for swimming, learning to surf and spotting dolphins. A recreation area includes barbecue facilities and a kiosk that serves up fish, chips, burgers, coffee and cakes.

Nobbys Head and lighthouse are prominent at the northern end of the beach and a walk along the break-wall underneath the lighthouse is a must. You may even see a coal ship being towed by a tug boat.

Dudley Beach is great for those that want some seclusion, so is Redhead Beach with its red cliffs. The latter also has a food truck onsite so you won't need to leave when hunger sets in.

A bit further down from Redhead is Caves Beach, a little outside of Newcastle but well worth it for those wanting to explore inside the caves. Just make sure you go at low tide.

Merewether Beach sits on a long stretch of the Newcastle coastline and is actually split into 3 spots - the aforenamed beach, Dixon Park and Bar Beach. It's home to the international Surfest competition, is lined with a promenade, beachside cafes and an ocean baths complex that is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Newcastle Ocean Baths are also worth checking out with their art deco pavilion on a promenade overlooking the beach. There's a 50m pool with lanes roped off as well as a general swimming area with a pontoon in the middle.

Absorb the Art

The Civic Centre in Hunter Street is where you'll find the Tourist Information Centre, Museum Park and plenty of art. The Newcastle Museum (with free entry) is full of history, from transport to dinosaurs and the Novacastrian community. You can learn about Aboriginal life and watch videos of the Newcastle earthquake.

There are temporary and permanent exhibitions that include The Castanet Club (an exhibition you can dance to), Fire and Earth (where you experience the life of coal mining and steel production) and John Gollings: The History of the Built World (a photographic exhibition that embeds buildings with personality).

Outside the museum, you'll find Constance the Camel, a life-sized sculpture celebrating the history and culture of migrants. Within the sculpture are tools of trade, mementos, cultural, historical and everyday items - the things migrants brought with them to their new country.

The museum also has a couple of outdoor photo walls of street art that are interactive. Have your picture taken in front of a roaring dinosaur or pretend you are the Lord Mayor for the day. Other public street art is close by as well, with contributions from various artists.

Newcastle Art Gallery is another place to see key art, exhibitions and special events, along with an outdoor sculpture garden. Festivals bring further art, one such event being Chalk the Walk where footpaths come alive with colourful interactive 3D artworks. The event early in 2021 had a steampunk theme.

Engage in Adventure Activities

For a bird's eye view of Newcastle, hop on board a helicopter with Aero Logistics Helicopters that passes over all of the city's beaches, Redhead Bluff and the Glen Rock National Park and down the rugged coastline to the country's largest saltwater lagoon of Lake Macquarie. It's a 20-minute flight of breathtaking sights where you'll also spot a variety of marine life. Other flights to local areas are also available.

Another up in the air activity is that of paragliding and the Newcastle Paragliding Club offers you the opportunity to learn to fly quickly and easily. You'll feel as though you're on top of the world looking down on creation.

At Queens Wharf you can catch the ferry across the Hunter River to Stockton and head over to Anna Bay. It's the place where 4WD tours start from, providing fun for the whole family. You'll ride up and down Stockton Beach and along extensive sand dunes. The tour we did included sandboarding and some sights we weren't expecting, such as Tin City - a cluster of fishing shacks made out of corrugated iron - of which parts were used in the original Mad Max movie made in 1979. The tour was run by Port Stephens 4WD Tours and is one of a few that they operate.

Camel rides are also popular on Stockton Beach with Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides taking you on trails over the rolling dunes and along the shore. They run on weekends and every day during school holidays, plus public holidays. An option to pre-book sunset tours is available, making your experience even more magical.

Test your sense of adventure further at TreeTops Newcastle on their Tree Ropes Course that will see you climbing and weaving through bushland. You'll get up close with gum trees and the native wildlife as you tackle elevated obstacles with rope ladders, wobbly bridges, tunnels and more that will challenge you both mentally and physically. It's great fun for the whole family and an extraordinary way to experience the bush.

If you want some adventure with your feet firmly on the ground, then you might want to join Let's Roam for their Newcastle Scavenger Hunt: Between River and Sea. You'll discover all the best landmarks and hidden gems, answering trivia questions and solving challenges. It's great for teams and families who want to work together or compete against one another to learn new facts and create memorable experiences, racking up points and laughs along the way.

If it's whale watching you're interested in, then look no further than CoastXP who run a number of tours, including the Encounter Tour. Beginning at Harbour Square Boat Dock, their custom-built boat provides a fast, safe and smooth ride taking you inside Newcastle Harbour to admire the sights before heading offshore on an adventure that visits spots only accessible by water. You'll learn about the history of the port, the city, Aboriginal heritage, the landscape and marine life, as you enjoy close encounters with humpback whales, dolphins and seals.

For crime buffs and something on the dark side, take a leisurely walk with Dark Stories on their True Crime Tour that will lead you digging deep into Newcastle's sinister hidden past as skeletons beg to come out of the closet. You'll be retracing the steps of the city's most ruthless men in this 90-minute murky world of fraudsters, murderers and undesirables.

Take a Walk

There are plenty of places to take a walk or hike in this coastal city. Apart from the aforementioned Bathers Way, there's the Newcastle Memorial Walk - a commemorative pathway featuring cliffside ocean views and artwork dedicated to WWI soldiers, and the Newcastle East Heritage Walk that begins at Watt Street Wharf and takes you past Customs House and the Convict Lumber Yard, former rail marshalling yards, a former power station, ocean baths and more.

Other walks include the Fernleigh Track, a former rail track that's a 15km shared walking and cycling path between Adamstown and Belmont, and Blackbutt Reserve in Carnley Avenue Kotara with over 20 walking trails in natural bushland that feature native wildlife and a children's playground.

Admire History at Fort Scratchley

This former 1880's coastal defence installation, now a museum, was built to defend the city against a possible Russian attack. However, the only time the guns were fired was during WWII on a night in June 1942 against a Japanese submarine that bombarded Newcastle with a couple of dozen shells.

Sitting atop a hill along the Bathers Way, looking out over the ocean, Fort Scratchley holds a fascinating part of the city's military history. The buildings and installations on the site include former accommodation used by the troops, a canteen (soldiers mess), servants quarters, the old guardhouse containing two gaol cells, a laboratory, an artillery store, a mine firing station, a searchlight directing station, museum rooms showcasing maritime history and the site's role in protecting the Australian coastline during WWII, and more.

Open 6 days a week (closed Tuesdays & some public holidays), general admission is free. You can watch the firing of the time gun at 1pm and, on Wednesdays, there's morse code demonstrations. Guided tunnel tours (must be pre-booked) are available, for a fee, providing a unique perspective into the site.

The site is also a great viewpoint for spotting migrating whales.

Rest Up in a Park

King Edward Park on Reserve Road is great for when you need a place to relax after all your sightseeing. It has a lovely sunken garden that's usually ablaze with colour, a Victorian rotunda, Norfolk Island pines and spectacular ocean views.

Popular for families, there's picnic facilities and barbecues as well as a playground for the young ones. In summer, it's now a movie venue too.

Civic Park in King Street is the green heart of the city, nestled between the heritage City Hall building, the Art Gallery and the Regional Library. It offers large shady trees, tiered garden beds, war memorials, expanses of lawn great for picnics and the Captain Cook Memorial Fountain with its arcs of water.

Foreshore Park is another top spot to visit, especially with children who love the playground that includes a cute train, rockers, climbing and swinging apparatus. There's also ponds with ducks and other water birds, plus plenty of space to run, cycle and scoot around.

Located on Wharf Road, you can also enjoy a picnic or one of the surrounding cafes.

Nourish Yourself

Last but not least, there's plenty of places where you can enjoy a bite to eat or a larger meal and quench your thirst. From pubs and bars like Wil & Sons to cafes like Three Monkeys and One Penny Black, and the fine dining restaurants of Subo, Restaurant Mason and Jonah's On The Beach, you're sure to find something suitable no matter your budget.

If it's gelato or a milkshake you're after, a great dessert or even a burger, then head to The Hood Milk Bar. They recently appeared on an episode of the TV series Destination Dessert, which gave them a nod for their delicious treats.

For some education and a feed, join Dave's Brewery Tours for a unique experience. They run a half-day Craft Beer & Food Matching tour which visits 4 venues. Starting at The Lucky Hotel, you'll visit some hidden gems that include touring a brewery and enjoying a tasting paddle, indulging in sausages and saisons, Berliner Weisse with Brie cheese and maybe even a Porter with a pistachio ice cream sandwich.

Happy Travels!
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Why? For a getaway full of delights
Where: Newcastle, NSW
Your Comment
What an in-depth article, Irenke, makes me want to visit! Congrats on the well-deserved Gold!
by Elaine (score: 3|8616) 47 days ago
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