Hidden and Local Gems of Newcastle, Australia

Things to do in newcastle australia

Newcastle’s pretty cityscape.

What can I say about Newcastle?

For years after an earthquake wreaked havoc across the place (in 1989), the city seemed to sit rotting in its foundations.

Fast forward thirty years and the seventh biggest city in Australia is certainly one of the country’s most underrated places to visit.

It’s only “up the road” in Australian terms from Sydney and feels like a mini-Melbourne at times – but with decent beaches (sorry Melbourne, everything else about you is nice, but your beaches suck).

Something for certain – there are plenty of things to do in Newcastle, NSW – some of which are touristy, others known mostly to locals.

These activities are all quite varied. Yes there is the ocean, but there are also hip cafés, restaurants and bars. There’s art, history and culture hidden around every corner, for those who are less beach-inclined.

And if you do indeed fall into this camp, I highly recommend visiting the nearby Hunter Valley for a day trip – or even a weekend!

So, I’m going to spill the beans on a few of the city’s best spots – some well-known, others that tend to be frequented by locals only. Either way, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time in this city, no matter what it is you end up doing.

Merewether Ocean Baths

Things to do in newcastle australia

Iconic Merewether Baths.

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

The ocean bath house.

Have you ever swam in ocean baths? If not (and presuming that you actually like the ocean/swimming), I advise you to make it an immediate priority in your life.

When I lived and worked in Newy, I’d finish up each work day in the summer with a dip in the baths, swimming a few lazy laps, or hanging out at the edge of the pool, staring off into the sea and thinking about life. They are days I look back on, fondly and I try to head back to the baths for a dip whenever I’m in town, even in the winter months!

The Stockton Ferry

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

The Stockton ferry crossing the harbour.

Stockton is a suburb of Newcastle that is separated by the harbour itself. To reach it, you can either drive the long way around through Newcastle’s industrial estates, or simply hop on the Stockton ferry, which can take you across the harbour in a handful of minutes.

Sometimes, when heading into the city, I drive to Stockton and dump my car there, before catching the ferry across. Parking in Newcastle can be quite expensive, so I save myself a bucketload of cash by doing so.

Plus, the ferry is fantastic fun. Who doesn’t enjoy a good boat ride now and then? No one, of course, because they are good for the soul.

The Big Penis (aka The Queen’s Wharf Tower)

Things to do in newcastle australia

Queen’s Wharf Tower. Delightfully phallic.

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

The observational deck has perhaps seen better days.

If you do catch the ferry into Newcastle, you can kick off your day there by climbing the Queen’s Wharf Tower.

The 30-metre tall tower offers 360° views of the city, although you have to squint some to see them, as local hooligans have thoughtfully left their mark on the viewing platform by scratching their initials and the like into the glass. It’s great that you “was ‘ere” in 2005 “Wazza” – but you’ve destroyed my view.

The Tower is affectionately and simply known as the “Big Penis” amongst locals and you can’t deny that its shape is decidedly phallic.

Edit: Queen’s Wharf Tower is no more – it was pulled down in September 2018, after local council rejected the $1.6 million bill for much needed maintenance. Although scrapped, it will forever live on in the minds and hearts of Novocastrians – those who loved it most and slagged it off best.

The Breakwalls (Stockton and Nobbys, respectively)

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

The wreck of The Adolphe along Stockton Breakwall.

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

Looking back on Newcastle from the Nobbys Breakwall.

To get a good scope of the city, why not walk along one of the two breakwalls around the harbour and breathe in that fresh, sea air?

Nobbys boardwalk will take you down past the iconic lighthouse, along the boardwalk itself, where you can stare out at the sea (I’ve seen dolphins from here), or enjoy the view of the sprawl of the city behind you.

I found Stockton’s boardwalk (also known as Shipwreck Walk) to be a bit sad, in comparison. It’s littered with plaques commemorating dearly departed locals of the area, as well as the various ships that were wrecked within Newcastle Harbour (200-odd vessels all up).

There’s even a preserved ship, The Adolphe, which was wrecked on Stockton breakwall in 1904, existing now as a local attraction.

The Regal Cinema

The Regal Cinema is run by husband and wife duo Jo and George and is definitely the best cinema in Newcastle and quite possibly the whole of Australia (but then, I am prone to hyperbole).

The couple are film enthusiasts, with the cinema being a longtime dream of Jo’s. For $8-$10 you not only get a ticket to one of their carefully programmed films, but you will be fed and watered with an array of edible delights. The couple and their helpers work hard to ensure all patrons take their seats laden down with goodies of a sweet, savoury and alcoholic nature, which can change depending on the genre of film, or simply day of the weekend. A French film will call for champagne and Saturday is cheese and port night, which happens to be my personal favourite.

The Regal is open Friday-Sunday and it’s best to book your tickets in advance. It is particularly popular amongst pensioners, but all ages are welcome!

Related: Road Tripping From Newcastle to Melbourne

Fort Scratchley

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

The guns of Fort Scratchley.

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

And here’s the view.

If you’re a history buff (or simply enjoy lovely views of the ocean), then Fort Scratchley is the place for you.

The Fort is perhaps the most historically important site within Newcastle, as it is the only place in Australia to have fired heavy guns at hostile vessels, from coastal defences.

You want to hear the story, right? Of course. Well. During WWII, Japanese forces sent a submarine (I-21) into Newcastle Harbour, where it fired 34 shells upon the city. Luckily, few exploded and minimal damage was caused.

Fort Scratchley fired four rounds at the submarine, before it escaped. Interestingly, the fourth may have very well hit, but a civilian ship was heading to port at the time and her smoke obliterated the Fort’s target.

I could go on about the Fort for quite some time and may very well do so in a future blog post. All you need to know for now is that the army vacated the premises in the 1970s and it was eventually restored. Entry to the museum and the Fort itself is free and for an inexpensive fee (of around $12), you can go on a guided tour of the tunnels below.

If you do plan to see the Fort, try to time your visit so that you’re there at 1pm, when a gun is fired, per tradition (not so much during the summer months, as it’s usually put on hold due to the fire-ban that is enforced in the peak of the season, for fear of bushfires).

The Press Book House Cafe

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

What’s on your mind, mister seagull?

After more culture, or perhaps a good cup of coffee?

Look no further than the The Press Book House Cafe – where you can grab a cup of char or joe, while having a browse of their collection of secondhand and Penguin books.

Some would say nothing beats the stench of coffee – but for this bibliophile, it’s all about the smell of books. Yum.

The shop is located midway down Hunter Street, Newcastle’s main road. It’s worth popping into if you’re ever in the area and having a stroll down through town.

The Bogey Hole

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

Locals braving the Bogey Hole in wild weather.

The Bogey Hole is one of Newcastle’s oldest attractions – a pool that was cut into the cliff rocks by convicts in 1819, for the personal use of Lieutenant-Colonel James Thomas Morisset, who was Commandant of Newcastle at the time.

Now the pool is open to all patrons (after a recent refurbishment) and perfect for those looking for a quick dip in the ocean, without the threat of waves. Unless it is a particularly windy day, in which case the waves will be breaking hard over the rocks and I’d advise you strongly to linger at the back.

Beaumont Street

Newcastle has two streets that are best frequented for both restaurants and nightlife – Darby Street in town and Beaumont Street, in the suburb of Hamilton.

Beaumont St. is easily accessible, as it’s where the train station terminus is now located, with shuttles running frequently from Hamilton Station into town. It’s my favourite of the two – I find there to be a better range of restaurants and pubs.

Darby has more of a cafe scene, making it the better choice for lazy weekend brunches, before heading off to the beach.

Blackbutt Nature Reserve

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

Who’s a pretty boy (or girl)? ALL OF YOU.

Fancy seeing native Australian animals? Head straight to Blackbutt Nature Reserve.

The reserve is free to enter (although you do have to pay for parking) and is an excellent place for families to congregate, celebrate birthdays, or simply throw a few slabs of meat onto any of the available BBQs.

Don’t have any kids? Neither do I, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Wander around, say hi to the local inhabitants, feed a kangaroo, or go for a bushwalk around the area.

Where to Stay

So, have I managed to convince you that Newcastle is the bomb diggity? I certainly hope so!

You’d do best to spend at least a weekend in the city, although you’d need a few days to really show the area justice.

Here are some options, for every type of budget.

hidden gems Newcastle Australia

Darby Street, a great place for boutique shopping or brunch.

For a luxury weekend – Rydges Newcastle

Located right in Honeysuckle on the foreshore, this hotel is close to restaurants and bars and has beautiful harbour views.

Click here for availability and prices.

Mid-Range Accommodation – Clarendon Hotel

The Clarendon is situated in the centre of town, a short walk away from the very hip Darby St, which is a popular brunching spot.

Click here for availability and prices.

Budget in the city – CBD Hotel

CBD Hotel is located on Hunter St, the main street in Newcastle and is close to both the Newcastle Museum and Civic Theatre.

Click here for availability and prices.

Plus, if you’re looking for more beachy goodness, consider checking out some of the lovely areas close by. Here are a few things to do in Port Stephens as well as in the nearby town of Maitland.

Have you been to Newcastle? What were your favourite sights?

PS. All prices are in AUD and this post contains affiliate links.

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Heading to Newcastle, Australia? Here are some of the local and hidden gems you can find around town.

Heading to Newcastle, Australia? Here are some of the local and hidden gems you can find around town.
Heading to Newcastle, Australia? Here are some of the local and hidden gems you can find around town.
Heading to Newcastle, Australia? Here are some of the local and hidden gems you can find around town.
Heading to Newcastle, Australia? Here are some of the local and hidden gems you can find around town.
Posted by LC
March 20, 2017

LC can often be found nursing a cup of green tea, with her head in a book. She is a writer, video editor and professional cheese eater. Her life's aspiration is to one day live on a farm in Tasmania with 11 dogs, a Shetland pony and several pygmy goats.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Kati - March 21, 2017

I didn’t realise that Newcastle is a “destination”! 😀 See how addicted I am to your blog?! I read every single post from start to finish, now I just need to enter the giveaway! 😀 😀 (Am I creepy?!?!?!?!!!)

    LC - March 22, 2017

    Haha no, I am grateful!

Josie - March 21, 2017

Just the post I needed to see! I’ve been to Newcastle before, but visiting friends, and it was the middle of winter, so we didn’t do much. We did see my first (and only!) rugby game as we froze to death watching the Knights. For my visit in a couple of weeks we will still be staying with our friends, but will have a car and time to explore, so I want to get out and see some of these sights! Thank you. (No need to enter me in the giveaway.)

    LC - March 22, 2017

    Haha one NRL game is often enough… hope you have a grand time there. It’s a lovely city.

Si - March 21, 2017

Count me in! Its always exciting to get something through the post the old fashioned way! I’ve not seen a whole lot of Newcastle but the bits I have visited, some have been fantastic, it definitely is one of those places where the highlights are numerous, but also hidden diamonds in the rough, so local info is essential, more please!

    LC - March 22, 2017

    I will be putting your name in the hat for sure! Guess you’re going to have to make a few return visits ?

Henry - March 21, 2017

I loved Newie when I was briefly posted there half a lifetime ago when barely out of my teens. Now, still barely out of my teens, reading your insights brings back good memories of a really chilled out place that completely agreed with me. I’m so happy to hear its still not lost that vibe. Yes, Melbourne is cool as that’s where I grew up. I miss Melbourne and places like Newie more now as I live in London for the last decade + and have forgotten what a mild winter is really like.. keep up the posts, love reading them.

    LC - March 22, 2017

    Oh, cheers Henry. Sounds like we have the same taste in cities! I’m really glad you loved Newy too when you lived there. I missed it immensely when I was in London too and there’s nothing like an Aussie winter, is there? Thank you for commenting.

Ali May - March 22, 2017

Love this! I grew up in Newcastle. I even remember when that giant penis was built in the late eighties. I don’t visit this place near as much as I should, even though my family are all still living there (and Melbourne is not THAT far away). I have always loved the views from Fort Scratchley and also spent much of my childhood at Merewether Beach. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, its so nice to see others appreciate my home town!

    LC - March 23, 2017

    Oh, I didn’t know you were a Novacastrian! One of the guides at Fort Scratchley said they were sitting on the best view of Newy and I have to agree – although there are a lot of strong contenders. Have you been back there since the ANZAC Memorial Bridge was built? I was quite surprised by how much had changed in the years I spent O/S. And yes, we are lucky that Melbourne is not far away at all.

Hope - March 24, 2017

I love snail mail! And I must admit, I love to hate to miss this place. xx

    LC - March 26, 2017

    Haha, it will always be home.

Rhiannon - March 27, 2017

Definitely didn’t open this thinking it was about Newcastle, UK. Nope, not at all! Not to be childish or anything but – Blackbutt, Nobbys, The Bogey Hole and The Giant Penis – I am chuckling.
I’m already subscribed and liked because I’m super creepy and stalker-y! But if it’s not too late, but I’ve just gone on a FB stalking spree so if it’s not too late a name in the hat would be most appreciated 😉

    LC - March 27, 2017

    Haha sure, I’ll chuck it in! Nope, not childish at all. I regularly chuckle at names in the UK too. My favourites are Upper and Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds.

Sarah - April 13, 2017

A friend comes from Newcastle and doesn’t have very nice things to say about it. I haven’t visited but would like to one day. I like to think the place might have some charms to it that my friend doesn’t see because she’s from there and has her own take on things 🙂

    LC - April 13, 2017

    Oh dear! My brother lives there now and doesn’t much like it either. We agree to disagree. I lived there for years and still think it’s a lovely place. Each to their own.

UK Travel Visas - May 3, 2017

Awesome pictures! I have been in Australia once and I admit that it’s so lovable place and you’ve just given me a lot of ideas to explore it wider on my next visit, I would love to stroll along in The Bogey Hole.

    LC - May 3, 2017

    I recommend swimming in the Bogey Hole too! Australia is da best, in my biased opinion.

Rohini - January 12, 2018

Hello, A colleague of mine always tells me about New Castle and I have been Procrastinating. This is a useful post. I did not know about Bogey hole. It is awesome. It looks so natural.If I am not wrong you don’t do too much of editing on your photos, is it ?. I love the way it looks . very natural than photoshopped professional looks ..

    LC - January 12, 2018

    Thanks Rohini, that’s really sweet of you to say – and no, I don’t do much photo editing. Newcastle is lovely, I hope you make it there one day!

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