Things to see and do in Newcastle, Australia

Memorial Walkway, Newcastle.
DANIEL SCOTT

Memorial Walkway, Newcastle.

Newcastle is a city on the up-and-up, with culinary, cultural and social evolution at the heart of change. In spite of the gentrification of inner city areas such as Wickham, it hasn't lost sight of its origins as a coal and steel port.

1. VISIT: NEWCASTLE MUSEUM

 The excellent Newcastle museum, behind the harbour, brings its industrial past to life, with an atmospheric audio-visual re-creation of life at Big Harry's Place (BHP steelworks). It also features footage from the 1989 earthquake, 5.6 on the Richter scale, that destroyed much of the centre and killed 13. Another section brings science alive with interactive exhibits allowing visitors to lift a car on pulleys, create a whirlpool and make iron filings dance. See Newcastlemuseum.com.au

View from Fort Scatchley.
DANIEL SCOTT

View from Fort Scatchley.

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2. DINE: SURF HOUSE GRILL MEREWETHER

Merewether Beach is to Newcastle as Bondi is to Sydney, as much a social focal point as a strip of fine city sand and with its ocean baths another draw. While Bondi has the Icebergs complex at its southern end, Merewether has the Surfhouse, with its restaurant, cocktail bar, cafe and pizza shop, right on the beach. It's a striking glass-encased modern building full of intriguing design details like the swirling lightshades above the restaurant and all facilities full on weekends. Reserve a table at Surfhouse Grill for dishes like spanner crab spaghetti entree, with cold pressed lemon, chilli and garlic breadcrumbs and the pan-fried duck breast, from the Upper Hunter Valley, brussels sprout leaves and warm marmalade. See surfhouse.com.au

3. STAY: CROWNE PLAZA

Situated on the Honeysuckle harbourfront, amid promenade bars and restaurants, this all-suite property feels more like a boutique than chain hotel. It's walking distance to the centre, Newcastle Museum is two minutes away and it has an inviting outdoor pool running parallel with the foreshore. See crowneplazanewcastle.com.au

4. CYCLE: THE HARBOURFRONT

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Swipe your credit card and take a bike, from outside the Crowne Plaza, for a spin along the waterfront. Ride as far as Fort Scratchley and then follow the breakwall, at the mouth of the Hunter River. If you're lucky you'll spot a resident female Australian sea lion, lazing on the rocks at the far end, testimony that Newcastle is cleaning up its waterways. See Swipenride.com.au

5. TOUR: NEWCASTLE'S FAMOUS TRAM

Hop aboard this replica of the city's original 1923 tram for a city tour, including the beaches and historical sights. Built in 1994, the bus is the creation of local Chris Kepreotes, who provides an insightful commentary on Newcastle old and new. Departs from Wharf Road, on the harbourfront, 10.30am and midday weekdays and, on demand at weekends. See Famous-tram.com.au


Credit: Daniel Scott

6. TASTE: TABLE 1 ESPRESSO

Occupying the site of a former car wash at a road junction in Merewether, a special mix of social media marketing, darn good service and scrumptious food have made Table 1 Espresso one of Newcastle's top cafes. A breakfast favourite is Persian poached eggs rolled in dukkah with hummus, goats cheese and chorizo while at lunch, tasty paninis and burgers jostle for attention with inventive salads featuring Moroccan chicken, broccoli, snowpeas, olives and feta. But those with a sweet tooth (or children) will be unable to bypass the Tim Tam or Maltesers pancakes and waffles at any time. See Table1espresso.com.au

7. STROLL: NEWCASTLE MEMORIAL WALK

There can be few more inspiring ways of remembering your war dead than in a cliff-top walkway. Completed in 2015, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, the walkway is made, appropriately, from 64 tonnes of steel. It spans 450 metres from Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach and has outstanding views of the coast and the city. See Visitnewcastle.com.au/see-do/Newcastle-city-centre/Newcastle-memorial-walk


Credit: Daniel Scott

8. VIEW: STREET ART IN WICKHAM AND BELMONT

In laneways in inner city Wickham, once notorious for nefarious goings-on and at Belmont, beside Lake Macquarie, south of Newcastle, walls, fences and garage doors have been transformed by colourful graffiti. In Wickham, the art behind the old miner's cottages around Church Street has an edgy feel, with sea creatures depicted among industrial debris and one wall devoted to the Pasher Bulker container ship that ran aground on Nobby's Beach in 2007. In Belmont, the street art emanates from the "Block by Block Belmont" project, initiated by Cafe Macquarie owner Ana Benson and involving six local businesses. The project, behind Cafe Macquarie, sought to end vandalism and graffiti tagging by commissioning work from 10 artists, including two from New Zealand. See Cafemacquarie.com

9. DINE: SUBO

Fast garnering a reputation beyond Newcastle, Subo is an upmarket bistro presided over by former Australian Young Chef of the Year Beau Vincent, and his Polish/Malaysian Chinese wife Suzie. While the ex-Testsuya's and Bennelong chef creates masterpieces from seasonal ingredients in the kitchen, Suzie administers the wine and welcome out front. Dishes like Singaporean style spanner crab and Mandagery Creek venison in konbu and juniper are full of invention and Asian flavour while desserts like spiced fig ripple ice-cream are simply irresistible. See subo.com.au

10. TOUR: LUNCHTIME HARBOUR CRUISE

For all the talk of change in Newcastle, it is still a working port, as this tour with Nova Cruises confirms. You pass the city's huge grain export terminal, a swathe of waterside industrial infrastructure for loading and unloading ships and an array of vast container vessels like the 298m-long Kawasaki. With the slight hills of Port Stephens in the background, harbourside suburbs like Stockton, a five-minute ferry ride from central Newcastle, and the modern foreshore, also part of view, the cruise captures the essence of this evolving city. See novacruises.com.au

11. STAY: CAVES BEACH RESORT

A half-hour drive south of the centre, staying at Caves Beach Resort allows easy access to Newcastle, nearby Lake Macquarie and the hollowed-out sea caves at the southern end of the beach it is named after. Built into the dunes, the resort's villas and townhouses have a relaxed, sea-side feel that belies the proximity of NSW's second largest city. See Cavesbeachhotel.com.au


Credit: Daniel Scott

12. KAYAK: LAKE MACQUARIE

Newcastle is one of Australia's only major cities that is by the sea, on a river, the Hunter, and lies on the fringes of a large coastal lagoon, in Lake Macquarie. Exploring the lake by kayak and stand-up paddleboard is a delight. Nick Coyte, from Lake Macquarie Kayaks, makes it easy for you by delivering what you need to the waterside, enabling you, for instance, to put in behind Swansea on the eastern shore and paddle across to sand dunes on nearby islands. The clarity of the brackish lake water is remarkable given the proximity of a big industrial city. See Lakemacquariekayaks.com.au

13. QUAFF: INNER CITY WINEMAKER

While the Hunter wine region is close, you need not travel that far for a tasting, as Newcastle has its own inner city winemakers, the first of their kind in Australia. Opened in 2011, and part of the changing scene in previously downbeat Wickham, it is the project of vigneron Rob Wice and his artist partner Janine. Wice makes the wines on site, including a rich Spanish-style tempranillo, while his partner oversees regular art exhibitions at the former car workshop. See Innercitywinemakers.com.au


Credit: Daniel Scott

14. VISIT: FORT SCRATCHLEY

Fort Scratchley has been a prominent part of the Newcastle skyline since 1882, overlooking Nobby's Beach and standing guard over the Hunter River mouth. Originally the site of Australia's first colonial coal mine, using convict labour, the strategic importance of its location, high above the harbour, made it perfect for a defensive fort, at a time of fears of attack by Russia. Scratchley was constructed around a battery of three guns, facing the sea. During World War II, it became Australia's only coastal fortification to fire on an enemy vessel, when a Japanese submarine attacked Newcastle, in June 1942. Open daily except Tuesday (10am to 4pm), tours of the fort, depart regularly, and the firing of the gun takes place at 1pm. See Newcastle.nsw.gov.au/Fort-Scratchley/Home

15. DINE: RUSTICA NEWCASTLE BEACH

Next to the Novotel, in a prime position overlooking Newcastle Beach, Rustica restaurant is an enjoyable slice of Mediterranean style and flavour in the city centre. Rustica's decor is so classically Hispanic, with wine barrels and lanterns hanging from the ceiling, that you'll be tempted to call for castanets rather than cutlery, and a guitarist adds a flamenco soundtrack in the evening. The food is trans-Mediterranean with a hint of Morrocan spice and includes tapas, mains like Fennel roasted pork belly with Italian sausage and irresistible shared plates like Braised "kleftico" lamb shoulder with oregano potatoes. See rustica.com.au

16. QUAFF: CRAFT BEER

Begin, prolong or end a chilled night out in Newcastle by visiting a craft beer bar. The longest established is The Grain Store – see grainstorenewcastle.com.au – with 21 independently brewed and exclusively Australian beers on tap and an atmospheric venue, including art deco tiling and flooring, in an old warehouse on central Scott Street. Also hot are The Blind Monk, on Beaumont Street in Hamilton – see theblindmonk.com.au – with local and international beers and ciders, and FogHorn Brewhouse – see foghornbrewhouse.com.au – on King Street, which produces several beers on site, has live music and serves New York diner-style food and pizza.

17. SHOP: EMPORIUM

Located on the ground floor of the former David Jones department store, the Emporium is an arcade of boutique shops featuring the work of local artisans. Developed as part of the Renew Newcastle project, which aims to make use of empty buildings in the CBD, it sells everything from bespoke millinery, ceramic jewellery and bohemian fashions to resin homewares. See renewnewcastle.org/projects/project/the-emporium/

18. EAT: THREE BEARS KITCHEN

If you like industrial chic design and clever coffee art – the bear face is brilliant – with your breakfast then head to Three Bears Kitchen. With frescoed walls that make it look like a 19th century station waiting room, exposed copper pipes and brickwork and even a steam boiler beside the bar, it's an anachronistic yet welcoming contemporary space, on Scott Street. A great place for the morning after, with a breakfast pizza laden with bacon, sausage and fried egg or The Green Machine, featuring roast mushrooms, poached egg, quinoa, kale, avocado, nuts and seeds on hand to aid your revival. See Threebearskitchen.com.au

19. EVENT: NEWCASTLE WRITERS FESTIVAL

This annual festival features at least 85 free and ticketed sessions with both local and international authors and is another cultural happening that's reviving the city centre, with many talks taking place at the elegant City Hall and Civic Theatre. Always an eclectic mix of writers, including Stan Grant, NSW Australian of the Year, and former child soldier Deng Adut and Michael Leunig in recent years, it also has a strong representation of female authors, including Clementine Ford, Tara Moss and Nikki Gemmell, in 2017. April 6-8 2018. See Newcastlewritersfestival.org.au

20. VISIT: HUNTER WETLANDS CENTRE

About 15 minutes drive out of Newcastle, this thriving wetland is another indication of the city's post-industrial health, with 217 species of bird, including magpie geese, and several types of mammal, reptile, frog and fish recorded at this bio-diversity hot spot. It's a lovely place for a stroll along boardwalks and beside waterways teeming with life and an invaluable educational resource for adults and children alike. Open daily. See Wetlands.org.auDaniel Scott was a guest of Visit Newcastle, Visit Lake Macquarie and many of the establishments listed.

- traveller.com.au

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