Golden beaches, postcard-perfect ocean pools, a busy harbour and intriguing history make New South Wales’ second-largest city, Newcastle, a favourite travel destination just 170km north of Sydney. It’s also the gateway to some of the state’s best wines, 50km northwest in the Hunter region, and yet more beaches and whale-watching waters in Port Stephens, 60km to the northeast. Regardless of whether you’re a gourmand, adventure enthusiast or lover of luxury, here is a guide to discovering Newcastle— and beyond.
Take a dip in Bogey Hole: There are more than 100 ocean baths across New South Wales, but none are quite as enticing— or important— as Newcastle’s Bogey Hole. Thought to be the oldest of its kind in Australia, this sea-fed pool was cut into the rocks off Shepherds Hill by convicts in 1819. Splash about in the turquoise water, or soak up views of the coastline from any number of cliffside perches; just arrive early in summer, as it’s a popular place to cool off.
Get cultural in Cooks Hill: The inner-city neighbourhood of Cooks Hill is distinguished by its lovely leafy streets, lined with grand Victorian mansions and timber cottages home to some of the city’s most happening restaurants, bars and cafes. In between you’ll discover the Newcastle Art Gallery (with a collection of more than 6,000 works), bookshops and independent galleries. Small wonder it draws an eclectic crowd.
Explore the Honeysuckle precinct: Once a busy industrial area, the Honeysuckle precinct has been reinvented as Newcastle’s hippest waterfront hangout. Many visit to walk, cycle or rollerblade along foreshore promenades— many more arrive to gaze over the busy harbour from buzzing restaurants and bars. You’ll also find the Newcastle Museum here, hosting an exciting calendar of permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Stay a stone’s throw from the ocean as well as the city’s attractions at Novotel Newcastle Beach, featuring contemporary and well-appointed guestrooms and modern Australian dining at Bistro Dalby.
Cruise out to see whales: Every year between May and November, more than 25,000 humpback and southern right whales steam up and down Australia’s east coast on their annual migration. While you’ll likely spot them breaching and blowing from the shore (the headland in Tomaree National Park is an ideal lookout), there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as getting within a flipper of these majestic creatures on a cruise— there are a number of Port Stephens operators to choose from.
Stay and dine at Bannisters: The retro Salamander Shores motel was a Port Stephens icon for decades— it’s been reborn as Bannisters Port Stephens, its 80 barefoot-luxe rooms and suites done up in a coastal palette of blue and white. Slide into the infinity pool overlooking the glittering bay, dine on fresh seafood by celebrated chef Rick Stein or explore the national parkland and crystal-clear waterways that characterise the Port Stephens region.
Discover the sand dunes: The longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere, the Stockton Sand Dunes reach heights of more than 40 metres, their steep sides often hitting an incline of 60 degrees. Speed freaks will want to sign up for dune surfing or a quad-bike tour, while more leisurely ways to explore the area include camel rides and cultural tours, visiting ancient Aboriginal sites while learning about bush foods.
More than 6,000 trees, 60,000 shrubs, and a million other plants and bulbs create a floral wonderland at the Hunter Valley Gardens. Across the 14 hectares there are 8km of walking trails, leading to cool waterfalls and themed areas, including an Italian grotto and the Storybook Garden, taking you on a journey through childhood fantasies. After wandering the grounds, pop in to Harrigan’s Irish-themed bistro for a glass of Hunter Valley wine and the signature beef-and-Guinness pot pie.
Stay and dine at Spicers Guesthouse: Set in the heart of the Hunter Valley— arguably the state’s premier wine region— Spicers Guesthouse is the ultimate country retreat, from the elegant manor house to the stylish rooms. After a day hopping between cellar doors, return for a dip in the infinity pool overlooking native bushland, and a meal at modern-Italian éRemo Restaurant, its menu showcasing the region’s finest producers.
Take a tour: Leave your car behind at your hotel and explore the Hunter Valley’s top wineries on a bespoke tour. The range of offerings is diverse, from chauffeured vintage vehicles cruising between cellar doors— perhaps with an indulgent lunch included— to soaring above the vines at sunrise in a hot-air balloon, with a champagne breakfast when you touch down.