Newcastle, or Newy as it is known to locals, is the second largest city in the state of New South Wales. Once a hotbed of industry, Newcastle has reinvented itself. It is now a vibrant city with a reputation for spectacular beaches, delicious food and great coffee. It’s also close to the world famous Hunter Valley wine region. More and more people are recognising Newcastle as a great place to visit or even settle down (like us!). If you are planning a road trip up the Australian East Coast, Newcastle is a great spot to break your journey two hours north of Sydney. There is no shortage of things to keep the whole family occupied. Here are our top 10 things to do in Newcastle with kids:
Newcastle’s beaches are spectacular and unlike Sydney you won’t have to fight for space! If you are in the city centre, Newcastle and Nobbys Beaches are just a stones throw from the restaurants and coffee shops of the CBD. South of the city centre, Merewether Beach is the home of Surfest, a professional surfing contest held annually in February. If you want to learn to surf yourself, there are a number of operators in Newcastle. They will have you catching a wave in no time! If you like your water a bit flatter, both Merewether and Newcastle beaches have ocean baths.
Lifeguards patrol all of these beaches. Look out for the red and yellow flags which indicate the supervised area of the beach when the lifesaving service is in operation.
During the winter, there is an added bonus of spotting passing whales during the annual humpback migration.
For more information on Newcastle’s many beaches and water activities, check out Visit Newcastle.
Originally built in 1882 to defend Newcastle against a possible Russian attack, Fort Scratchley became the only Australian fort to engage in a maritime attack. A Japanese submarine shelled the city in 1942 with the Fort returning fire. To see one of Fort Scratchley’s guns in action, make sure to visit when a cruise ship comes to town. A three round salute is fired to bid farewell to the visitors as they sail away to their next port. You can take a paid guided tour of the subterranean tunnels built into the rock of the fort or you can enjoy a free self guided tour above ground using your mobile phone.
If you are looking to stretch your legs, Bathers Way stretches for 5km from Nobbys Lighthouse to Merewether Beach. Following the coast, the views are magnificent. A highlight of the path is the Newcastle Memorial walk, a 450m clifftop walkway commemorating the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in 1915. At the end of your stroll, treat yourself at one of Merewether’s fabulous cafes or restaurants.
You can download a map of the route at Visit Newcastle.
In the city centre, Newcastle Museum is fun for all ages. Supernova is designed for younger visitors with hands-on science activities and the little ones have their own special section, the Mininova. The Fire and Earth exhibition is a dramatic, immersive experience which highlights Newcastle’s industrial past. Visits to the museum are free, but there are often paid exhibitions which particularly appeal to children and these are detailed on the Newcastle Museum website.
Newcastle Art Gallery
Newcastle Art Gallery is also found in the CBD and showcases some interesting Australian art. There are children’s art trails and, if you visit at the weekend between 10.30 and 12.30, your kids can take part in the Art Cart, an activity themed to one of the works on display. Admission to the Gallery and the Art Cart activities are free, although some special exhibitions may have a charge which you can check on the Newcastle Art Gallery website.
If you haven’t had any luck spotting a koala or kangaroo in the wild, then head over to Blackbutt Reserve where a number of native species are on display. Don’t miss the feeding times, which are detailed on the Blackbutt Reserve website. If you are visiting at the weekend or during the school holidays, you can enjoy a Reptile Show at 11am where you meet some Australian reptiles up close. Admission to the Reserve is free, but there is a charge for parking and for the reptile show. You can also purchase an activity pack for kids to complete as you explore the Reserve. Blackbutt has a network of paths for you to explore the bushland setting, as well as two excellent playgrounds.
Speers Point Park
A 30 minute drive from the centre of Newcastle, Speers Point Park is on the shores of Lake Macquarie, Australia’s largest saltwater lagoon. You can take a pleasant stroll along the lakeside path and enjoy the views, but the highlight for children is the enormous Lake Macquarie Variety Playground. At almost 2 hectares it will keep the kids occupied for ages. The centrepiece of the playground is a 12m climbing structure designed to look like a coal mine tower, a nod to the area’s mining heritage. Having two energetic boys, I have been to my fair share of playgrounds across the world and Speers Point Park is up there with the very best!
Hunter Wetlands Centre
The Hunter Wetlands Centre is a haven for wetland animals and birds. Come at 10.30am for the daily feeding of the magpie geese before setting off on an exploration of Ironbark Creek in one of the centre’s canoes. Kids can burn off some excess energy in the Discovery Playground or, for a gold coin donation, they are able to hire a dipnet and explore the wetland’s ponds. Check out the Hunter Wetlands website for up to date admission and canoe hire costs.
Glenrock State Conservation Area
You don’t need to travel far to experience stunning bushwalks and waterfalls. Glenrock is located just 5km from Newcastle CBD. It is one of the last surviving pockets of coastal rainforest in the region and is a great place to spot some native Aussie creatures in the wild. If mountain biking is your thing, there are a number of adrenaline pumping trails. After all that exercise, cool off in the crystal clear waters of Burwood Beach before heading back to the car. Glenrock is part of the network of NSW National Parks throughout the state and it is well worth having a look at their website to see what other parks you might like to visit during your trip.
If you are flying in or out of Newcastle Airport, Fighter World is just next door. It is an aviation museum where visitors can get up close to some famous aircraft. A particular highlight for kids is the Observation Deck overlooking RAAF base Williamtown. On the day we visited we were able to watch RAAF planes roaring through the sky from the outdoor deck of the museum’s café, while mingling with Air Force personnel from the base as they enjoyed their lunch! Visit the Fighter World website for latest admission costs.
This is my opinion on the top 10 things to do in Newcastle. Have you been to the city before? What did you enjoy most about your visit?