Shiny New Newcastle

Shiny New Newcastle

by Roderick Eime – OUTthere Magazine

Smelly, smoky buses, noisy old cars and shabby, grimy storefronts is what I remember of Newcastle when I first visited the no-nonsense steel and coal city in the late 1970s. Definitely not the sort of place you’d ever consider for a holiday.

Today, I can barely recognise Hunter Street. A stylish, harbourside promenade graces the foreshore along with sparkling new apartments, Scratchley’s exclusive restaurant and the immaculate, brand new Crowne Plaza – all part of a multi-million dollar facelift for this once glum industrial city.

In line with similar waterfront rejuvenations like Port Adelaide, Wollongong and even Cardiff in Wales, these once simply utilitarian ports had all the appeal of a post-industrial scrapyard. Newcastle is in the midst of beautification scheme that is more than skin deep.

Newcastle Council’s Economic and Tourism Development team are working overtime to present their city as an attractive hub, not just for a quick weekend away, but also as a vibrant business hub for new investment.

Whilst retaining the crucial functionality of Australia’s oldest commercial port, Newcastle is reinventing its marine and nautical lifestyles in way more conducive to the needs and expectations of the modern world. Beautifully renovated Victorian and Edwardian buildings retain the charm of downtown, while smart hotel developments exploit the fantastic beachfront environment.

Australia’s second oldest city has plenty around town for the history and art buffs – and it’s all within easy walk from the centre of town.

• Cooks Hill: the local art precinct, stroll amongst the many funky galleries, cafes and boutiques.
• The Junction: at least window-shop this upmarket retail precinct, the haunt of Newcastle’s increasing population of the well-to-do.
• Hamilton: Newcastle’s cosmopolitan hub was largely rebuilt after the 1989 earthquake. Loaf along colourful Beaumont Street and soak up the Mediterranean lifestyle.

For those looking for something a little more immersive, a range of very accessible activities include:

• Scenic helicopter joyflights: Spot whales and dolphins off shore, or take a longer trip to the Hunter Valley or Port Stephens
• Learn to Surf: Hook up with a former world circuit pro, Daniel Frodsham, and learn to hang ten.
• Go kayaking: Jump in a sea kayak and explore the harbour up close.
• Youloe-ta: Explore a 5 hectare bush tucker garden with local Aboriginals. Book ahead for ceremonial dancing and other activities.
• Fort Scratchly: the only Australian coastal fort to fire its guns in anger. This historic Crimean War-era fort is now an enthralling museum.

Just out of the town is the world famous Hunter Valley with all it has to offer, and to the north, the vast and highly significant 2500 year old Stockton sand dunes of Port Stephens.

Based in an oasis in the middle of this vast sea of rolling dunes is “Sand Safaris”, an adventure tour operator with a distinct difference. After a short, but intense safety and riding instruction, we spent two hours aboard 350cc ‘Quad Bikes’ exploring the seemingly endless expanse of sand that continues to grow and consume the coastal forests at Stockton Beach.

Far from a free-for-all “hoonfest”, Sand Safaris encourages you to enjoy your ride and have fun without resorting to wild, hair-raising exploits – not that you need be tempted. The near vertical drop into the massive sand bowl was enough to keep the adrenaline junkies quiet for a moment or two!

In a convoy of up to twelve machines on the “Coastal Desert Discovery Tour”, you’ll see the fascinating WWII defence relics, the largest shipwreck on the shores of Australia (Sygna) as well as the sheer beauty of these huge sand formations.

For More Info:

Newcastle Tourism
Ph: 02 4974 2999

Crowne Plaza Newcastle
Ph: 02 4907 5000

Sand Safaris Active Adventure Tours
Ph: 02 4965 0215

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