- An unexpected delight
by Joanna Tovia
I’m not sure what to expect when we hit the freeway and make our way to Newcastle. I’m curious to see how it’s changed since my last visit – it’s been years – and whether it really is a destination that’s fit for families. I don’t come up with any answers right away – we arrive after dark and grab a bite to eat downstairs at the hotel before getting an early night. An action-packed day is in store the next day and we all know an action-packed day with tired kids is a recipe for disaster.
The next day dawns bright and sunny and we drive the short distance from The Travel Lodge to Nobby’s Beach and Lighthouse and Fort Scratchley. The vista from Fort Scratchley over the ocean is amazing and we take some happy snaps and have a quick play at the playground before it opens at 10am. We then descend into the tunnels beneath the fort where military veteran Carl Christie takes us back in time with a guided tour. Fort Scratchley is the only Australian fort to fire on an enemy during wartime – the Japanese in 1942.
I grab a quick (excellent) coffee at Scotties café up the road and it’s on to the Wickham Motorcycle Co. for a tasty lunch. It’s a curious mix of motorcycle shop and café, but somehow it works. We’re running late for the harbour cruise but Jarrah, our three-year-old, is in no hurry to leave. He’s abandoned his nachos in favour of more play in the kids’ corner and needs some convincing to leave.
The Sights and Sounds Harbour Cruise is a winner for the whole family. Parents get to relax in the warm sun on the top deck, while the kids explore in between feasting on the lamingtons, biscuits and other goodies on offer for afternoon tea; it's a sugar fest and they're making the most of it. The commentary throughout the 1.5 hour cruise gives us a fascinating insight into the busiest coal export port in the world, and we learn all kinds of things we had no idea we didn't know. Simple but true: The plimsoll line marks how low a ship's hull can sink beneath the water when fully loaded.
I'm starting to realise there is so much to do in Newcastle for families that we can't possible fit it all in within our two-day timeframe. I can't believe we haven't ventured here with the kids earlier. Blackbutt Reserve is an unexpected delight - not only does it have a fantastic playground, the setting is nothing short of stunning, and the wildlife encounters in their natural habitats are a treat. The kids pat koalas, a snake and a wombat to a symphony of birdsong. I could have stayed here all day.
Another highlight is Newcastle Museum. We breeze through the displays showcasing Newcastle's history and head straight for the fun-filled interactive Supernova and Mininova exhibits, there are buttons to push, levers to turn, balls to throw. Science has never been so much fun! After the sun goes down, history buffs large and small will enjoy a guided stroll with Newcastle Walking Tours. With the help of Vivid-esque building projections (called City Evolutions) and a knowledgeable guide, you'll get real insight into what this city used to look like and how people used to live. The other option is to follow the online guide at www.cityevolutions.com for an explanation of each projection and where to go next. Fun!
Any trip to Newcastle would not be complete without a visit to Coco Monde Chocolateria on the very trendy boutique-studded Darby St. It has the best hot chocolate I've ever had - no fooling - and everything is hand made. Even the marshmallows. Needless to say, the smallest family members are in heaven. The only glitch is when Jarrah spills an entire glass of hot chocolate all over himself. A quick clean up and all is well and, luckily, he's completely fine wearing gumboots but no pants as we head out the door.
For more on what to see and do in Newcastle, and the best places to eat and stay, check out the next Holidays with Kids magazine! This vibrant city is truly a treasure trove of fun for the whole family and we can't wait to go back.