Newcastle, two hours by car north of Sydney, is one of Australia's hidden beauty spots. Originally it was a 'steel city' permanently shrouded by the waste output of a noxious steelworks on the northern side of the city's harbour. But now the fumes are gone and Newcastle remains a great place to live, work, play and even visit.
The city is accessible either by driving up the F3 freeway from Sydney or by a beautiful two-and-a-half hour train trip from Sydney. The city has coach and train links north to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and coach tours to the nearby Hunter Valley wineries and coach links to Port Stephens are also available.
Newcastle is a harbour and beach city. There are lots of beautiful beaches to swim or surf at. Toddlers are well catered for with baths1 near Newcastle and Merewether beaches. Susan Gilmore Beach is known for nude bathing, while Bar Beach provides challenging body-surfing. Horseshoe Bay is where the locals take their dogs to play.
Newcastle's harbour is a working port and so you can see a constant stream of ships going in and out. A walk up Nobby's Head2 to the lighthouse and beyond to the harbour mouth is a pleasant way to work up an appetite for the many and varied culinary delights that await you harbourside.
Good food can be found around the harbour at The Customs House Café, Blue Water Pizza and Queen's Wharf Brewery. The Brewery has the additional advantage of serving in-house beers as well as all the local favourites. It's a great place to spend a sunny afternoon with friends.
More great food can be found in Darby Street, Cook's Hill3, Beaumont Street, Hamilton4 and at The Junction5. There are a huge number of pubs to choose from including the Delaney at Cooks' Hill, the Kent at Beaumont Street, Hamilton, and Beaches overlooking Merewether Beach. Newcastle is one of a few remaining places in Australia which still sports corner pubs on a lot of its street corners.
Shopping is easy. Central in Newcastle West are the supermarkets: Franklins for The Store, and Bi-Lo at Marketown. Charlestown, Kotara, Jesmond and Glendale all have large shopping centres that include discount department stores, supermarkets and speciality shops. As for buying special Newcastle things, well, you can't really - all the best things in Newcastle are free!
Newcastle is a sporting city - Novocastrians love their sport. In summer the locals are usually all down at the beach doing beach sports. In winter rugby is the residents' game and the local rugby league team - the Knights - has a huge following. Newcastle is one of the best places to see a truly Australian local crowd cheering on their own side. The city is due to host the Australian Masters' Games in 2002 and things are being geared up accordingly. Recent building of new training facilities for visiting Olympic teams has meant that the city now has world-class facilities for many sports.
Local accommodation ranges from basic to four-star plus - many hostels and hotels are located on or near the beach. Cheaper motels for those with cars are situated mainly along the Maitland Road as it leads into Newcastle and along the Pacific Highway towards Charlestown.
Internet access is available through some of the hostels, but also at various Internet cafés along Hunter Street towards Newcastle West.
Local hospitals include Belmont, the Mater and John Hunter Hospital. All offer 24-hour emergency treatment. The John Hunter has a children's hospital within it. Belmont and John Hunter both provide obstetric services.
There's another good thing about Newcastle. During the holiday period, locals, not realising how lucky they are, go elsewhere. That means that space suddenly appears on many of the beaches, you can get a seat at one of Newcastle's many cafés and you won't have to fight a million people for a parking space within easy reach of the beach. A very pleasant surprise for people who visit.