Day tripper: Three NSW day trips on Newcastle’s doorstep
Newcastle's not only Australia’s coolest city by the sea, but a fabulous base for day tripping.
Now the Beatles song is stuck in your head, picture yourself exploring Australia’s largest coastal salt water lake, following the ‘Humpback Highway’ to Port Stephens or sipping your way through Australia’s oldest wine region. So with playlist ready to roll, jump in the car for these three day trips from Newcastle. Just don’t be a Sunday driver, yeah?
Old school seaside charm
Newcastle’s close neighbour offers buckets of old school charm. Empty beaches, bobbing boats and coastal walks await at Lake Macquarie with the southern hemisphere’s largest permanent salt water lake.
Holiday shacks perch on the water’s edge, hungry pelicans wait for breakfast and kids fish off wooden jetties. Sleepy lakeside towns and villages mix it up with with hip cafes and smart waterside restaurants lapped by the tide. With 174 kilometres of shoreline and 90 towns to explore, surprisingly many pockets including surf spots remain invitingly crowd free.
On the eastern shore explore the network of sea caves at low tide at Caves Beach, take a kayak out for a paddle or head for Pinny Beach at Spoon Rocks. Here you’ll find a protected and much loved swimming spot locals call Little Fiji.
On the lake’s western side you’ll find Dobell House, once home to Archibald Prize winning artist Sir William Dobell, Lake Macquarie Art Gallery and the Creative Lake sculpture trail with installations scattered along Warners Bay’s foreshore.
Dolphins, cavorting whales and seafood plucked from the sea
Set the GPS for Port Stephens – an idyllic holiday spot loved by generations of Australians. Aside from its natural good looks, you’ll find abundant wildlife (including adorable koalas), oysters by the bay, safe swimming beaches and deep blue waters home to playful dolphins and (in season) whales in their thousands. They don’t call the waters of Port Stephens the ‘Humpback HWY’ for nothing.
Aviation geeks should make a pit stop to see the F/A 35s take off from the RAAF Base at Williamtown and visit Fighter World. Another worthwhile stop is for a craft beer at Murrays Brewery or detour via Lemon Tree Passage for a lazy lunch overlooking bobbing boats. At the heart of this popular water playground is the marina at Nelson Bay where lunch at Bub’s Famous Fish and Chips is a must.
The best place to soak up the region’s beauty is from atop Tomaree Headland. Take in commanding views of Port Stephens and the North Coast all the way to Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah islands – the world’s only nesting sites for the endangered Gould's petrel. Nearby you can even take a camel ride across the Stockton Sand Dunes, the southern hemisphere’s largest moving coastal sand mass. Sundowners at Shoal Bay Country Club, the deck of the Little Boathouse or Bannisters Port Stephens is the way to end a magic day.
Cellar doors, bounding kangaroos and vineyard dining
It would be rude not to take a side trip to Australia’s oldest wine region. The Hunter Valley is literally Newcastle’s backyard (Novocastrians have it so good). What better place to try a crisp Hunter Valley Semillon, deemed “Australia’s great gift to the world of wine” or a full-bodied Shiraz than at its source. A warm welcome awaits at striking contemporary cellar doors and boutique vineyards many with sweeping vistas over vine covered hills to the craggy Brokenback Ranges beyond. It’s the perfect place for cellar door hopping, long lunches and drives down country roads where kangaroos bound through paddocks.
In the lower Hunter is the historic river port town of Morpeth. A mere 35-minute drive from Newcastle will see you having a schooner with the locals and marvelling at the rare timber truss road bridge which spans the Hunter River. Be sure and pop in for a wine tasting at Boydells Restaurant and Cellar Door housed in an 1850s slab timber building.
Top image credit: Destination NSW