Newcastle was most certainly not on our radar, we ended up here because Blair looked at a map then randomly picked a town on the coast, 1 hour away from the famous Hunter Valley Wine Region. It turned out to be a very interesting place to spend a week, and just 2 hours north of Sydney. Newcastle is Australia’s oldest seaport, currently the second most important port in the country in terms of overall tonnage. It is also the world’s largest coal exporting port, evidenced by the endless piles of coal we saw waiting to be loaded on ships. We also discovered a few other interesting places during our week here.
Our first excursion was a walking tour of Newcastle itself. Due to the coastline and road layout, the drive takes 30 minutes from Stockton (where we are staying) to Newcastle, whereas the ferry across the Hunter River takes 3 minutes, easy decision…take the ferry which was a 15 min walk from the house. The route we planned took about 5 hours including photo stops and a lunch break at the Newcastle Surf and Lifesaving Club. The pin on the map below shows the location of our house.
Our first stop was the Convict Lumber Yard, which was exactly that, a lumber yard from the early 1800s staffed by second offense convicts forced into hard labour under monotonous and harsh conditions. There was not much to see at the site, but it was another reminder of the brutal convict history in Australia. Our next stop, Fort Scratchley, was closed so we continued on to the Newcastle Breakwall, passing the landmark Nobbys Lighthouse built in 1858. The breakwalls were built in the mid-1800s by convicts to provide a safe entry past the moving sand bars into the Hunter River and port facilities. Along the north breakwall are commemorative plaques for the many shipwrecks in this area, before the breakwalls were built.
From Nobbys Lighthouse we walked past the ocean baths and along the boardwalk to the Newcastle Surf and Lifesaving Club. It was quite busy both on the beach and in the water, there were a lot of surfers out today. Our exciting wildlife encounter happened here! While walking the boardwalk Blair spotted a humpback whale off in the distance and shortly afterwards a large pod of dolphins appeared. It is currently migration season for the humpbacks as they journey north to their calving grounds. While we were at the beach watching the surfers, the dolphins came in very close and were surfing the waves, how joyful they appeared riding the waves and leaping out of the water. It was the perfect entertainment during our lunch break.
Leaving the beach, we hiked up the cliff to the Newcastle Memorial Walk, a spectacular coastal walk with a personal connection for thousands of locals. The Anzac walk was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in 1915 and the commencement of steel making in Newcastle. For those of us unfamiliar with Australian and New Zealand history, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzac’s. We have come across this acronym many a time during our tour of New Zealand and Australia. Most notably at the Gallipoli exhibit in the Te Papa museum in Wellington, New Zealand, we wrote about our visit to this stunning exhibit here. The Newcastle Memorial Walk is a magnificent memorial to the men and women of this region who served their country, and the views, well they were a bonus.
Our final stop was the Christ Church Cathedral, a historic gothic revival church and garden sitting proudly above the town. The cathedral took 100 years to complete with construction beginning in 1883, finally consecrated in 1983, but it has been used for 80 of those years. Churches are still closed under COVID rules so we were unable to see the inside. “Closed” has been a common theme of our last 2 months in Australia 😢
On the Tasman Sea just north of Newcastle are the Stockton Sand Dunes. Created thousands of years ago the spectacular dunes are 32 km of the longest moving coastal dunes in the southern hemisphere. The beautiful sandscape is forever changing with dunes reaching heights of over 30 metres, ideal for sand-boarding. We would have loved to give it a try but alas this activity was still restricted. Another fun activity to consider would be a camel ride on the dunes. Our visit had us parking at the entrance to the Worimi Conservation Lands, a place of cultural significance to the Worimi people. It is a beautiful 2km walk through the forest before reaching the dunes. We were the first people here since the park closure 9 weeks ago due to COVID restrictions and even though the park gate was still closed, the wardens said we could walk to the dunes before the official opening at 11 am. The dunes are a very popular place for dune buggies, off-road bikes and all-terrain vehicles, all of which were fortunately absent during our walk.
Between the Hunter Valley and Newcastle is the village of Kurri Kurri, renowned for its outdoor murals. It is an old mining town, originally serving many of the coal mines in the area, but with only two mines operating it’s similar to many other small towns. The Mural Project was developed to showcase the rich and diverse history of the area and encourage visitors to the town. While viewing one of the murals a gentleman asked if we knew that every mural had a Kookaburra hiding in it and there was a tour where people searched for the bird in all the murals. I must say, the mural we were looking at had the Kookaburra well hidden, we may not have found it without his help. From then on we searched to find the Kookaburra in each one. There are over 55 murals in Kurri Kurri and the surrounding towns, we saw just a small sampling of what is there. Can you find the Kookaburra in the murals? They can be hard to find in some.
It has been a pleasant surprise how much we enjoyed our week in Newcastle, especially the suburb of Stockton where we stayed. We arrived here with no plans or expectations and discovered some wonderful local treasures. Added to our enjoyment was the lovely afternoon we spent with our Airbnb hosts, drinking wine and discussing the world travels we had in common. Leaving Newcastle we are off to Sydney where we will spend our final few days in Australia. The countdown is on…..
Stockton is a lovely quiet suburb of Newcastle and if you stay there, the ferry is an ideal way to cross the Hunter River into central Newcastle.
If you are interested in a guided Kurri Kurri mural walk you can contact the visitor center here.