We had an awesome time in Newcastle. The city had a lot to offer in terms of scenery, museums and history, and there were plenty of yummy things to eat and drink. We got to experience a range of conditions from brilliantly sunny to miserably cold and wet, and looking for all the funky street art around town was fun.
We also got to share our dorm at the Newcastle Beach YHA with the most excellent and generous bloke, Blake, who shared his honey bourbon with us and started an incredible night of storytelling that left us feeling a little seedy in the morning. Unfortunately, he had gone by the time we woke up, but we will never forget him and we officially dedicate our $100 Day in Sydney to him.
- Newcastle is Australia’s second oldest city, the second most populated area in NSW and is the biggest city in the Hunter Region.
- People from Newcastle are called Novocastrians.
- It’s the largest coal exporting harbour in the world.
- Lots of famous people come from Newcastle – some include former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins, the band Silverchair, and one hit wonder Yahoo Serious, who has disappeared from the face of the earth after that terribly quirky film Young Einstein, which was also filmed in Newcastle.
Originally called Malubimba by the traditional owners, the Newcastle region was first discovered in 1797 by an English naval officer who was out looking for some runaway convicts who had stolen a ship from Sydney Cove. He sailed into the Hunter River and after a bit of exploration, he reported back about a place with a deep water port and abundant coal. In 1799, Newcastle recorded its first export of coal when 50 tonnes of the black stuff was shipped to Bengal via Sydney in the vessel ‘The Hunter’.
Unfortunately, Newcastle didn’t always have such a great reputation. It used to be a penal colony where all the dangerous criminals were sent to work in the coal mines. It was an awful place where harsh punishment was dished out frequently and conditions were terrible. Newcastle remained a penal colony until 1823 when farming was introduced to the area. Military rule was replaced with a free pioneer settlement.
Things to See & Do
It’s an absolute pleasure to walk around Newcastle. It has such a great mixture of new and old. Search for colourful street art while you admire the heritage buildings, and everything is within walking distance or on the free bus loop.
Civic Park has a beautiful fountain and is sandwiched between the Newcastle Art Gallery and City Hall. Nearby is Darby Street, a bustling little precinct with cafes and restaurants. A short walk away is Queens Wharf along the Hunter River, as well as Hunter Street Mall.
Lock Up Cultural Centre
An old police station and prison that has been turned into an art gallery. Wander through the cells of the heritage building while you browse the art, keeping in mind that the venue’s original use ceased in 1982.
Christ Church Cathedral
If you enjoy a church, then by all means visit this one. There is plenty to see – pretty stained glass windows, custom embroidered prayer cushions, beautiful architecture, and there’s even a hole in the floor where you can view the foundation stone.
One of the best museums we’ve visited on our journey. There’s an eye-popping giant illuminated earth overhead as you enter an awesome interactive science display. Play with magnets, lift cars and create tornadoes while you learn stuff!
There’s also a great display on the history of the area where we learnt about the devastating 1989 earthquake that rocked Newcastle, and the industry exhibition gave insight into the regions coal mining and BHP steel production works.
There is plenty to see along the coast. If you start from Nobby’s Lighthouse and Breakwall, which seems to be a popular exercise spot amongst the locals, and head south along the east coast, you’ll walk past a few landmarks.
Fort Scratchly sits atop the hill and overlooks Nobby’s Beach – it was a commanding post built in 1882 to protect the city again Russian attack. However, the guns weren’t used until WW2 when Japanese submarines fired on Newcastle.
Further down is Newcastle Ocean Baths, a historic site that opened in 1922. It has a beautiful art deco façade and the pools overlook the ocean. The day we walked past, we were lucky to see a whale not far from the shore.
With origins dating back to 1819, the obelisk started out as a windmill that ground flour. Its position not only allowed the windmill to catch the wind and grind flour at great speeds, it also became a landmark for sailors along the coast. In 1847, the windmill was sold and sailors were pissed off because their marker was missing, so in 1850, the local government erected the Obelisk.
Over the years, the Obelisk has been damaged by lightning strikes, and an explosion caused by a gas leak ignited by two girls playing with fireworks. These days, it’s a great place to get a panoramic view of the city.
Despite seeming quite dangerous, Bogie Hole is a popular swimming spot amongst the locals. It’s one of Australia’s oldest ocean sea baths, carved out by convicts in 1820. It used to be known as the Commandant’s Baths but colloquially became known as Bogey Hole from a native word for ‘to bathe’.
Food & Drink
Serving directly from the tank to the tap, the Foghorn Brewery produces a great selection of craft beers in a big warehouse-style space. Dave enjoyed the Sligo Extra Stout with its rich coffee and chocolate flavours and balanced bitterness while Juz liked the big 7% Belgio Blonde, which was ridiculously drinkable with fruit and yeast characteristics.
Harry’s Café De Wheels
This historic Novocastrian icon started back in the 1930s as Harry’s, with humble ‘pies ‘n’ peas’ that were popular with sailors, soldiers, taxi drivers and policemen. The café operated until 1938 when Harry was sent to the war, where he earned his nickname, Tiger (hence the signature dish of a pie topped with potatoes, peas and gravy). When he returned to Newcastle, he reopened his café and renamed it Harry’s Café de Wheels because council regulation required mobile food vans to move at least 12 inches a day. Over the years, many celebrities have visited Harry’s – Brooke Shields, Frank Sinatra, Russell Crowe, Elton John, Anthony Bourdain, even Colonel Sanders!
We stumbled across Harry’s during a massive walk around the city to shake off our hangover from the night before. The timing was perfectly aligned with lunchtime so we stopped for a Pie & Peas, as well as a Hot Dog de Wheels, complete with mushy peas, chilli con carne, garlic onions and stripes of cheese sauce and chilli sauce. Neither fancy nor gourmet, but totally delicious.
The Grand Hotel
For a cheap lunch, you can’t go past the Grand Hotel. Dave scored the $10 chicken schnitzel with chips and salad while Juz paid a little extra for the New York sandwich with fries – tangy and juicy with just enough chips. Both were absolutely delicious and satisfied our midday hunger.
While we were there, one of the bartenders came out and told us about his motorcycle trip around Australia. It’s always great to hear about other people’s travels, but we were amazed that he did the whole lot in only two months!
Good Brother Espresso Shop
A cute little café that makes a great coffee, and even offers blankets to customers sitting outside during winter. How nice!
Information & Accommodation
Free public transport is available in Newcastle. Catch any blue and white State Transit bus within the inner city zone between 7:30am and 6pm for FREE! For more information, visit the City of Newcastle website.
For friendly accommodation that is centrally located, book yourself in at the Newcastle Beach YHA. It’s located on Pacific Street within an historic building, complete with a grand wooden staircase and chesterfield couches. For more information, check out their website.