Newcastle can often be overlooked, with it’s proximity to the ever-popular cultural mecca that is Sydney, but this growing harbour town is not to be missed. Originally established as a penal colony where prisoners were sent to live out harsh sentences mining coal and steel, the city has a dark and tumultuous past. Market crashes have hit this industry-dependent community hard in the past, but the turn of the century has cast a new light of hope. There is a cultural renaissance occurring in the Hunter Valley, and Newcastle is at the forefront of this exciting development.
Getting a Place
Hostels ($1,110 - $2,640 per month)
Being a smaller city that is just now developing as a tourist destination, there are only a few options as far as hostels go. YHA and Backpackers by the Beach are the most popular choices amongst budget travelers. YHA can go as low as $37/night for dorms, up to $88/night for private double. They offer a great Yoga and Surf package if staying for at least seven consecutive nights, which gives you unlimited yoga classes for up to ten days, plus free surfboard and bodyboard hire.
Hotels ($1,770 - $6,420 per month)
There are not a ton of hotels to choose from either, but there are enough to pick you price (to an extent). Rates start at $59 for a single room in The Oriental, which has pretty basic accommodations, but the benefit of being near the mouth of Hunter River. If it is in your budget, the Quest Newcastle Serviced Apartments will run you about $214/night. The rooms are truly spacious apartments, plus the site includes a pool and breathtaking views of the harbour that cannot be beat.
AirBnB ($866 and up per month)
AirBnB has some enticing options, the best value being an entire level in a multi-story home, with a private bedroom, sitting room, and deck which overlooks the rainforest and a stream—a steal at $866 per month. If your budget allows, there are many nice beach and lake houses to choose from.
Food and Drink ($10 and up per meal)
Newcastle’s budding culture is apparent in the local eateries. The coffee scene includes some local roaster and shops who are really harnessing the craft. Another sign of the young and conscious that are bringing new life to this little city are the many walking markets that are popping up, providing organic produce, sustainable products, farm fresh cheeses, and more. There are plenty of pubs and cafes where you can get a bite for under $15. Budget eaters can find a spot serving up Australia’s favorite savory pies, or just look for the food cart Harry’s Schnitzel Joint, who has perfected the schnitzel game. Fine dining is certainly an option for taking out a date or celebrating a special occasion. Newcastle already has the ingredients and talent to be a foodie destination, and you will be blown away by the fare that is to be enjoyed in this unexpected gem of a city.
They say the best things in life are free, and Newcastle seems to live by this idea when it comes to keeping its citizens and visitors entertained. Here are just a few ways to spend your days in and around town, all for the can’t-be-beat price of free!
If you enjoy the outdoors, there is plenty that you can see and do in the area. Blackbutt Reserve is a popular place to go take in the local wildlife, and to hike around or stop for a picnic. Koalas, wallabies, wombats, and more reside in this park. Admission in free, or suggested donation. Newcastle’s geographic location gives the city the advantage of having no shortage of nice beaches. A favorite of locals and tourist alike is Merewether Beach. Although this beautiful destination, with excellent surf and “ocean baths”, is not in Newcastle proper, it is easy enough to get there via the 201 Marketown bus. There are also the Newcastle Ocean Baths, if you prefer to stay in closer to town.
Another interesting place to spend an afternoon is the Lock-Up Cultural Centre. This art gallery and event space is in the historic police station. The space has been renovated since its days of holding criminals, but cells and general atmosphere remain in tact. On that note, there are an almost endless amount of activities involving the arts year round in the city. Check out one of the many film festivals, like the RFF (Real Film Festival), which is designed to foster the art of telling true stories, and which showcases short, independent, and documentary films. If you are a visual arts enthusiast or appreciator, there are many opportunities to volunteer throughout the city, year round!
If you wish to come to Newcastle to further your education, there are a few paths you can take. The University of Newcastle is the primary institution for higher education in the city. Since Newcastle is historically an industrial success, you might want to come check out the Newcastle Business School, if you are wishing to complete you postgraduate studies. For undergrads, there are endless fields in which to immerse yourself—but it all comes at a price ranging between $20,300-$28,000 per year.