Who else LOVES weekends away to regional towns they’ve never visited?
You know the ones… the last minute, lets-go-now kind of weekends? (AIRBNB anyone?)
Even better when they’re LONG weekends and you have a whole two nights away.
ESPECIALLY good after we’ve worked hard all week!
And then you consider that the regional town you’re headed to is likely small, with hidden gems spread out or tucked away… the ones that only the locals know about. And you simply MUST know where they are, so you put in a decent amount of research the day before… the best place for coffee, where to go for dinner and drinks, the best cellar door and local bar.
For that very reason, look no further! Having recently moved to Sydney, my husband and I have a whole new ‘backyard’ to explore, so I'll be sharing lots more travel journals - both weekend adventures and dreamy overseas journeys.
Today, Newcastle gets some love.
Getting to Newcastle
Our trip started with a rush to get out of Sydney on Saturday morning.
If you know the chaos that is Sydney traffic, you might well do the same. If you’re not bothered by any delays, perhaps head up to Palm Beach for a delicious brekky at The Boathouse - it's a must when you're headed north.
In our case, I grabbed breakfast to go while my better half went to fill up the car - which turned out to be GREAT for me because I met a baby Italian Greyhound at the café, wearing a lovely tan jumper. Wee!
Fuelled by food, coffee (chai for me) and puppy pats, we drove straight to Newcastle in one go. It’s a really easy drive and it felt like we were there in no time. The car ride seemed almost too short. As we drove into town, the sunshine and blue sky disguised the cool winter weather, noticeable only by the absence of people out and about. The locals we did see were wearing bundles of layers, wandering lovely wide streets where the trees stood without their leaves.
Newcastle is spread out, so you’ll want to drive or hire a car to get there and around town. Also a necessity for the all-important day trip out to the Hunter Valley afterwards.
Coffee, beaches and the ANZAC coastal walk
This small city has a big heart and is full of fun things to do.
We kicked off our Newcastle tour with a drive around the ‘burbs, to get a feel for the city layout. Driving around, you’ll quickly work out where the hotspots are – including Honeysuckle Harbour, Darby Street, Street and Bar Beach. We started with a coffee on Darby Street, at this adorable hole-in-the-wall shop called Glee Coffee Roasters, where the baristas were proud and chatty, the locals were friendly and warmly welcomed, and the décor was minimalist and lovely. Instant love! We sat at a table by the window and watched people come and go, before taking a wander down this street full of lovely shops, cafes and florists.
We jumped back in the car to visit what Newcastle is best known for: it’s STUNNING beaches and ocean baths. We wandered to the lighthouse and back, enjoying the turquoise waters and witnessing brave surfers. We wandered from one beach to the next (driving in between as they are spread out) and ended up at the stunning ANZAC walk that I had been dying to see. It was NUMBER 1 on my list of things to see and do in Newcastle, and it didn’t disappoint. The walk is elevated, starting high up on a cliff, overhanging the road and the beach below, with a wide, metal grate walkway filled with tourists and sporty locals. At the Southern end is a killer set of stairs for all the exercisers. Along the way you’ll see army references in signage and artworks made of the distinctive, orange rusty corten steel.
This may surprise you - in addition to being an artist, I'm also a landscape architect. Nothing makes me happier than visiting something that has been designed with love, purely for my experience. The ANZAC walk is no exception, and although I had originally planned to walk it at sunset, our visit in the early afternoon was magic. Our lucky blue-sky day meant we had amazing, long-range views of the ocean, the beaches and the suburbs nestled below. It was invigorating.
Inevitably, we get hungry. And as per usual, we leave it to the last minute. Anyone else do this?
We have had so much fun exploring that we get to 2pm, realise we’re hungry (bordering hangry), then wonder where will be open for lunch. Lunch consists of delicious sandwiches and salads at The Edwards, a stunning, industrial-chic restaurant.
We leave full and happy, and ready to check in to our AIRBNB stay.
Our AIRBNB stay
It’s a wonderful experience, meeting a friendly, relaxed young couple who will happily share their home with us for the night. Their house is gorgeous - we chat to them about their renovations and realise we are in for a treat as we settle into our room. Their dog Harvey quickly becomes our friend, and we sadly leave him behind to soak up the rest of Newcastle before the day disappears.
As we head back into town, I remember there is just one place I had REALLY wanted to go…. NEEDED to go.
My husband is amazing. Unable to get a park nearby, he drops me off and does the block while I spend my time assessing dessert options and chatting to the shop keeper, a dapper young man (so handsomely dressed!) who tells me about his favourite treats available in store.
There is a big, fat caramel mudcake that I still wonder about now and again (several months later), but it was the chocolate brownie sandwich (with salted caramel buttercream filling) that catches my eye and holds me hostage. It’s nearly as big as my head and I leave with one of those (wistfully eyeing off all the friends I’m leaving behind), extremely happy with my purchase.
Before we had arrived in Newcastle, our AIRBNB host had alerted me to the fact that we were arriving on a festival weekend. I couldn’t believe our luck – the Winter Heat festival was just getting started when we arrived at Honeysuckle around 5.30pm. The whole wharf area is modern and lovely, with wide boardwalks along the waterfront. The museum looks wonderful but we didn't get a chance to go – next time for sure. We wandered the market stalls at sunset, witnessed ‘tugboat ballet’ – an incredible and humorous water display – and eyed off every food van in sight. There was live music and a wonderful display of bonfires to stave off the cool winter night. Despite being tired from wandering the entire day, I felt alive and happy. The festival was absolutely bustling by the time we left in search of an intimate dinner.
If you want somewhere or something special for dinner, DON'T DO WHAT WE DID – book ahead.
Everyone I spoke to recommends the fine dining restaurant named Rustica, perched high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. I can still remember listening to the crash of waves along the shorefront as we walked from our car to the restaurant. Unfortunately the restaurant was fully booked when we stumbled in out of the cold, but they recommended us to a local Spanish tapas restaurant nearby. I thoroughly enjoyed Bocado’s rustic bread and garlic prawns, washed down with sangria. We sat at the window bench, watching people navigate the cold, windy streets as we enjoyed the cosy warmth. Perfect!
We obviously didn’t need dessert, because we had our treat from Hello Naomi. We drove back to our AIRBNB for a hot shower (did I mention the divine bathroom?) and to rug up and enjoy some quiet time. I found the TV remote, figured out how to turn it on and watched Finding Nemo with my new friend Harvey. It was bliss!
If you’re like me, you won’t want to go home. You’ll string out a road trip for as long as possible and stop along the way as much as possible to prolong your little holiday. There are a few wonderful ways to do this:
If you’re a wine lover, or after some fresh country air, head straight to Hunter Valley. It’s only an hour’s drive from Newcastle and it’s a stunning place. If you are a garden lover or green thumb like me, you’ll definitely want to check out the Hunter Valley Gardens. These gardens are mesmerizing and will take a good hour or two to get around all the different ‘themes’ – from wetlands and rose gardens, to Chinese and Japanese gardens and everything in between.
There are tonnes of wineries and cellar doors to choose from in the Hunter. We picked up our favourite bottle at , but if the atmosphere is more important to you, I would say that Audrey Wilkinson’s is the loveliest. You’ll know what I mean when you drive up their private, winding road. I was so full of cheese from that I can't vouch for their wines but I loved it.
Speaking of cheese, long weekends and holidays call for cheese boards for lunch. It's acceptable every day. You can do what we did and enjoy a cheese board from Hunter Valley Cheese Factory, sit in the sunshine and munch away.
Perhaps you’re an animal lover like me and would jump at the chance to see pelicans being fed their afternoon tea. Be warned - this is not just any pelican gathering, but a massive mob of pelicans who come to this beautiful spot for their daily feeding at 3.30pm. We took the Hunter Valley day trip option, but I have heard this is an absolutely impressive display of wildlife and quite a memorable event to witness.
It’s on my list for next time. FOR SURE.
If you don’t know me yet, you’ll soon realise I have a LONG LONG list.
That list ALWAYS includes second visits - let me know if you’ve been to Newie, and what your favourite spots are for next time I go back!