Newcastle is a cosmopolitan, artsy city with heaps of beautiful beaches and a large working harbour. Since Newcastle’s discovery by European settlers it has been a penal settlement, pioneer town and industrial base (coal and steel). It’s now the second-largest city in New South Wales (after Sydney) and the seventh-largest city in Australia.
The beaches are the draw for Novocastrians and visitors. Nobbys, Newcastle, Bar, Dixon Park, Merewether and Stockton are all patrolled. Nobbys Beach marks the start of the Bathers Way, a 5km (3 mile) signposted coastal walk that extends to Merewether Beach (site of Surfest, the country’s longest running international surfing competition).
There are several historic buildings around Newcastle, such as Christ Church Cathedral, seat of the (Anglican) Bishop of Newcastle, Fort Scratchley, the old Customs House, City Hall, the Longworth Institute (late 19th century) and the University House (late 1930s).
Blackbutt Reserve is just 8km (5 miles) from the Central Business District. There are 450 acres of bushland – trails, a bat habitat, boardwalk with kangaroos, wombats, koalas and birds, and a restful picnic area.
Less than an hour’s drive inland from Newcastle is the Hunter Valley, the renowned wine-making area. Barrington Tops, a national park situated on the Gloucester Ranges, is less than a two-hour drive from Newcastle.
Like much of central and northern New South Wales, Newcastle’s climate is oceanic/humid subtropical. Summers (December to February) are warm, daily temperatures range between 28 and 32 C (82 and 90 F), and winters (June to August) are mild, with temperatures between 14 and 18 C (55 and 65 F). Autumn (March to May) gets most of the rain.
December to January is the peak season in Newcastle. Other high-season times are April (graduation time at the University of Newcastle), Surfest (April/May), Newcastle Jazz Festival (August), This Is Not Art (arts and media festival – October), Mattara Festival (late September/early October). Whale-watching season starts in June and runs until October. For surfers, the biggest swells are in winter.
The winter months (June to August) are, in general, low season, however, this is whale-watching and surfing season.
Car-rental companies are available at the airport. Port Stephens Coaches travel from the airport to Newcastle Railway Station every hour or so. There are also other shuttle bus services and taxis available.
A fare-free zone operates (seven days a week, 7:30am to 6pm) and extends from Selma Street in the west, north to the Tree of Knowledge corner (Hannell Street Wickham), east to the beaches then along King Street. The zone loops south into Darby Street and along Bull Street, then back to King Street. Newcastle Buses & Ferries operates the ferry service from the Central Business District to Stockton. A car is necessary if you’re intending to get around the Hunter Valley.