A lively harbour city two hours north of Sydney, Newcastle has an international reputation as one of Australia’s best surfing destinations. However, travellers who come for the epic waves and pristine, sandy shoreline will soon discover plenty of reasons to linger in their street clothes, from fascinating historical sites to the heavenly brunch spots and top-notch art on gallery (and alley) walls. And whether you desire a posh hotel with a romantic view or just a spot to drop your backpack before heading out on the town, there is a place in Newcastle for you.
Host of the annual Surfest Competition, Merewether Beach draws accomplished surfers from around the world. Newcastle Beach is also famous among the pros for the “perfect waves” off Newcastle Point, while Nobby’s Beach draws beginners and experts alike. Surfers who prefer a less crowded shore can join the locals at Dixon Beach, and four-legged travellers should make tracks to Horseshoe Beach; it’s the only leash-free stretch of sand in town. Young families flock to Bar Beach to paddle in the rock pool, though Newcastle also spoils swimmers of all ages with its beautiful ocean baths—some hardy souls even enjoy their calm, sparkling waters in the winter! Though holiday makers will find few hotels in Newcastle located directly on its beaches, some might even say this is part of their charm, and there are many places to stay just moments away from the sand.
The second oldest city in Australia, Newcastle has an award-winning museum devoted to its rich history, present, and future. The Newcastle Museum is a handsome, modern building within the historic Honeysuckle Railway workshops, which offers free admission to its permanent exhibitions. Young (and young-at-heart) visitors particularly enjoy lifting the car at Supernova, the museum’s hands-on science centre. Travellers can also learn more about the city’s military history (while enjoying its most spectacular vantage point) at Fort Scratchley; built during the Crimean War, this former military installation features an extensive network of underground tunnels and a chilling claim to fame. During World War II, the fort returned fire on a Japanese submarine, making it the only Australian fort to engage in an attack. Though the fort has been decommissioned for many years, first-time visitors should note that a gun is fired on site at precisely 1pm (to coincide with the Customs House time ball drop) every day that it is open, in keeping with a time-honoured seafaring tradition.
The second largest art collection in New South Wales lives at the Newcastle Art Gallery. Travellers will find over 6,200 works of art here in a wide array of media, from ceramics and paintings to photographs and videos. After exiting through the gift shop, art lovers can wander through Newcastle’s handsome CBD in search of over 25 outdoor murals, including The Aquarium: this colourful tribute to Newcastle’s most iconic people and places can be found inside the pedestrian tunnel to Merewether Beach. Not far from the “time tunnel,” explorers will also find the Bather’s Way; this spectacularly scenic coastal walkway runs from the Mereweather Ocean Baths to Nobby’s Beach, and is linked to the Newcastle Memorial Walk, an inspiring clifftop route that pays tribute to ANZAC. King Edward Park is a beautiful place to ramble, too. And travellers who prefer a more structured approach to sightseeing will be pleased to find many guided walking tours on offer: architecture, history, and food are among the most popular themes.
Surrounded by unspoiled natural landscapes, Newcastle is an excellent base for an outdoorsy escape. Adventurous travellers can go chasing waterfalls at Glenrock State Conservation Area, home to the region’s last surviving pocket of coastal rainforest as well as a handful of ancient Aboriginal sites. At Blackbutt Reserve, just a few miles outside the city centre, visitors can cuddle a koala, pet a wombat, or take a selfie with a snake. In addition to award-winning wildlife exhibits and daily shows, the reserve offers over 182 hectares of scenic natural bushland criss-crossed by walking trails suited to all levels of athletic ability. Animal lovers looking for something a little wilder than a walk can canoe, bike, or even ride a Segway through the Hunter Wetlands Centre (home to 250 species!) or challenge themselves at the Tree Top Adventure Park: this playground in the sky offers over 100 elevated obstacles such as rope ladders, zip lines, and bridges, as well as magnificent views over natural Australian bushland and its native species.