Newcastle is Australia's sixth largest city, and is located on the NSW coast 160 km north of Sydney. Originally known as a 'steel city', it was a major player in the state's steel industry, along with Wollongong. However it has experienced much change since the production and transport of steel took on a diminished role in the life of the city. The NSW Government continues to work towards bringing the industry back to life here, but in the meantime the city is well and truly alive.
The city's main shopping area is in the area around the Hunter Street Mall, which is also quite close to the Newcastle Railway Station and Coach Terminal. The CBD is very walkable in size and grade, and sits on a tip of land bounded by the South Pacific Ocean to the east, and by Port Hunter to the north. A short walk from the CBD is Queens Wharf, a collection of restaurants, bars, a brewery, cafes and entertainment - from this vantage point you'll see that this is both a working harbour and one for leisure. A little further along from Queens Wharf is the new development the Honeysuckle precinct - an ongoing project, with hotels, marketplace, public spaces and more, and for which there are exciting things to be added in coming years. When finished it will be the city's major entertainment space.
Those seeking a beach will find six within 5 km of the city centre - Nobbys, Newcastle, Bar, Dixon Park, Merewether and Stockton. Of these Stockton is the only one across the harbour from the CBD - drive there, or catch a ferry from Queens Wharf. A 5 km trail called Bather's Way follows the coast from Nobbys Headland south to Glenrock Reserve. Along the way are yellow information signs, telling of area's indigenous and convict heritage, its culture and natural history. This path will take you past Fort Scratchley, which in 1942 had cause to fire upon a Japanese submarine shelling one of the BHP facilities. The fort also houses the Newcastle Region Maritime Museum. You'll also pass numerous ocean baths, none more of interest than Bogey Hole, carved by convicts out of the ocean rocks in 1819.
On the fringe of the CBD is the suburb of Cooks Hill, its quiet residential streets lined with Victorian houses and the occasional art gallery, while the area around Darby Street is the place to go for dining and entertainment. A good time to visit is in October, when the Darby Street Fair takes place - actually this festival is a small part of the Mattara Festival, a long-running local celebration in early to mid-October, featuring family events, market stalls, concerts and a grand parade. The neighbouring suburb of The Junction is also blessed with a variety of places to relax in the company of good food and drink, as is nearby Hamilton's Beaumont Street.
Other places of interest in and around Newcastle include:
- Newcastle Region Art Gallery - has a fine collection and hosts touring exhibitions as well.
- Newcastle Regional Museum - with permanent and temporary exhibitions and the hands-on science centre, Supernova. Entry to permanent exhibitions is free.
- Blackbutt Reserve - walking trails and excellent facilities to view wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos, emus, wallabies, wombats and a wide variety of Australian bird species.
- The Wetlands Centre - walking tracks, viewing locations for birdlife, canoeing, picnic area, BBQs and interactive displays in the visitor centre.
- King Edward Park, Dixon Park & Glenrock State Recreation Area - this string of parks runs south along the coast, offering excellent views of the coastline. Glenrock is the most southerly, a well-protected, coastal, temperate rainforest, alive with nature.
- Hunter Regional Botanic Gardens - to the north of Newcastle, admission is free, with guided walks available on Sundays.
- Fighter World - located in Williamtown, at the front entrance of the RAAF base, just north of Newcastle. Showcases over 100 years of Australian aviation history - fighter aircraft and engines, models, videos and weapons, plus an observation deck for a close-up look at the take-offs and landings of active military aircraft.
- Port Stephens - it's only 61 km from Newcastle to Nelson Bay, the unofficial capital of Port Stephens.
- Vineyards of the Hunter Valley - the centre of this famous wine growing region, Pokolbin, is only 70 km from Newcastle. Read more about the Hunter here.