A weekend guide to Newcastle, NSW
*This guide was originally published in partnership with Sitchu.com.au
Just a two-hour drive from Sydney, up the M1 or along the Pacific Highway, will lead you to Newcastle; a laid-back city home to the largest coal shipping harbour in the world, and also known for its surf beaches, historical architecture and a creative community responsible for this city’s renaissance.
Like Sydney, Newcastle centres around a harbour and a bounty of beautiful beaches, but its population of just over half a million makes it a quieter alternative for a weekend getaway, a long summer holiday, and even perhaps a permanent sea change. After all, you can still find a free car park next to the sand here, and that in its own is enticing enough.
Newcastle — or, as the locals call it — ‘Newy’, has seen an almighty resurgence over the last several years, with a new cafe, bar, or restaurant opening its doors almost every week. So forget the Sydney and Melbourne rivalry, the dark horse city vying for your attention may just be this one.
WHERE TO EAT:
From a lazy lunch at a newly opened cafe to a fine dining experience by the water, there is no shortage of choice when it comes to eating out in Newcastle. It’s the type of place where you can rely on the seafood being fresh, the pub meals being generous, and the vegan options aplenty.
Start your day right by venturing toward the beach-end of Darby Street where you’ll find yourself at Hubro, a crisp white cafe with a wooden interior that takes its no-fuss food seriously. Although this local hangout is popular for its cold brew coffee, it’s also known for its hearty smashed avo, serving it on thick, nutty sourdough, with a healthy dose of avocado, delicate crumbles of salty feta and drizzled with organic honey.
Located along Newcastle’s reviving Hunter Street, the menu at Momo feels fresh, catering for all dietary requirements, from vegan to carnivore, this well-curated cafe places importance on organic sustainable produce. What’s more, the setting of Momo feels fresh too, being housed in a beautiful former bank, flooded with sunlight accenting its period features and delightful design and decor.
If you’re after a quick and easy meal that doesn’t involve the deep fryer, then head on over to Lulu’s Cafe & Poke on Crown Street where you can order a poke bowl that is both easy on the eye and on the stomach. What is a poke bowl you may ask? It’s a Hawaiian delicacy (hence ‘Lulu’ taken from ‘Honolulu’), served with sashimi, rice and fresh fruit and raw vegetables.
WHERE TO DRINK:
Whether you’re searching for your morning dose of delicious caffeine, or a place to meet for an afternoon cocktail by the water, Newcastle have really upped their game on the drinking front, spoiling locals and passers-by alike.
Sometimes, the best type of local hotspot is the type that falls into many different categories — the Newcastle Flower Markets, along with its newly opened kiosk cafe is such a spot. Here you can shop through the beautiful blooms that are on display in their warehouse, before sitting for a cappuccino with a side of sweet or savoury delicacy. The kiosk even welcomes you to bring your four-footed friends along, with puppy-chinos and doggy bowls readily available.
Treat yourself to an afternoon of harbourside gazing at The Landing Bar & Kitchen, located along the Honeysuckle foreshore; a beloved waterfront precinct of Newcastle. Along with its idyllic views, this chic venue offers a summer-inspired cocktail list, making it a perfect place to relax and watch the harbour activity unfold come sunset. There’s also a modern-Italian menu with plenty of sharing-type meals on offer.
Behind an unassuming shopfront along Hunter Street is The Flying Tiger 231, a multi-level venue that transports you to another world upon entering. Inside, there’s a jungle-themed courtyard on the ground level, with an old military aircraft displayed above. There are two bars available here, serving cocktails, a selection of wine, and craft beer; one next to the courtyard, the other, upstairs, past the oversized tiger mural, where the fine dining section can also be found. This hidden gem is a great example of Newcastle’s creative knack.
WHERE TO STAY:
Newcastle has a fine collection of historic terraces that have been transformed and renovated into modern short-term rentals. As such, staying in a hotel during a visit in the area may just be a wasted opportunity, particularly when visitors can instead get a taste of a key part of Newcastle’s history; by experiencing first-hand what modern updates homeowners have made to these historic structures.
A unique and impressive example of Newcastle’s accommodation offering is Hayes House, a stunningly renovated Victorian home, located in the heart of Cooks Hill, and just a 30-second walk to the ever popular hub of Darby Street. Boasting three generous bedrooms, this boutique Airbnb listing features a magazine-worthy interior design, as well as custom high-end finishes throughout. This short-term rental is truly a home away from home.
WHERE TO EXPLORE:
Get to know Newcastle properly by doing as the locals do; like waking up early to take a dip in one of the ocean baths, or shopping at one of the many boutique stores speckled along Darby Street. And if the stars align perfectly, you may just visit when the popular monthly Olive Tree Markets are on, in which case, you’re in luck!
Bondi's Icebergs ocean baths may be Australia's most famous seaside pool, but Newcastle may just have two of the finest. First, there’s the Newcastle Ocean Bath, opened in 1922, and stands unique thanks to its beautiful art deco facade and short walk from the CBD. And second, there’s the Merewether Ocean Bath, opened in 1935, and is thought to be the largest in the southern hemisphere, consisting of two large pools (100m x 50m, and 100m x 27m) dug in to the rocky outcrop at the southern-end of Merewether Beach.
Ask any local for recommendations on where to shop in Newcastle and most likely they will point you toward the direction of Darby Street, a trendy village-type atmosphere with a collection of independently owned boutiques. A new addition to this happening hub is Pushing Pansies, a clothing store and florist, housing boutique fashion labels and florist offerings.
Held once a month, Newcastle’s creative community gathers together for the Olive Tree Markets where you’ll find over 130 makers, designers, and gourmet artisan producers, within the grounds of Civic Park. All bases are covered from the makers of the ceramics brand, Clay Canoe, to the creatives behind the kindness project, Secret Book Stuff, all the way to a gelato food truck and freshly squeezed lemonade stall. The Olive Tree Market is held on the first Saturday of the month, and operates rain, hail, or shine.