There’s a wealth of first-time experiences to be
found in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, as former local Bronwyn Eley discovers.
Take the road to Newcastle and beyond to Lake Macquarie and dazzling flashes
of the shimmering Hawkesbury River, deep gullies of gum trees and tunnels of
sandstone will be your constant company. As a former resident of Newcastle,
NSW’s second largest city, I know this drive well.
What surprises me, and my mother who has joined me for the journey home, is
just how much there is to rediscover in our old stomping grounds – and just
how much is made to kids.
After checking into the reinvigorated houses and apartments at
Terraces for Tourists, we make for nearby Fort Scratchley
(everywhere is nearby in Newcastle). Situated on Flagstaff Hill overlooking
the city and the mouth of the Hunter River we head underground to tunnel
into 200 years of history. Our tour guide, John, brings the history of the
fort to life with wartime stories inspiring visions of the heroes who fought
to protect Newcastle harbour.
Visions of the city’s past continue on a 450-metre-long cliff top stroll along
the Newcastle Memorial Walk, built to commemorate the centenary of the ANZAC
landing in Gallipoli. The walk links Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach, where
my mother shares the more recent, and personal, past of growing up cycling
to Bar Beach before school with her five sisters, recalling it as the perfect
play area for kids.
Hooked on the region’s history, we consider a swim in
the Merewether Baths, opened in 1922 and 1935 respectively, or taking a
stroll up to Nobbys Head Lighthouse. Now one of Newcastle’s premier attractions,
the lighthouse first operated in 1858 and is perched on a headland that was
spotted by Captain James Cook from the Endeavour in 1770.
On my first ever visit to the Newcastle Museum, I’m astounded by the quality
exhibitions. Not only do the collections bring significant moments of the past,
present and future to life, but there’s stacks on offer for little visitors.
The kids wonderland, Supernova, takes interactive-learning to a new level, and
make sure you snap a photo of your mini superheroes lifting a car with nothing
but their own strength and might.
There’s a substantial dose of culture on offer, too. The Civic Theatre,
which houses The Playhouse (where Mum took the stage in her youth), is
dedicated to producing an array of shows, from the dramatic to the hilarious,
with a particular focus on performances for kids.
If you’re looking for something with a little more edge, you can test the kids’
(and your own) driving skills on the racetrack at Go Karts Go or squeal your way
down the dunes on nearby Stockton Beach, an endless stretch of sand, situated at
the southern end of Newcastle Bight. You can fly down the dunes by sand board,
take a trek by camel with Oakfield Ranch camel tours or wheel your way over the
sand with Quad Bike King. If you’ve a head for heights, TreeTop Adventure Park
in Minmi offers 96 challenges including 20 scream-inducing flying foxes and
four epic courses for children aged three to nine.
Newcastle's Food Scene
Full of knowledge but with healthy appetites we make a pit stop at the
Grain Store Beer Cafe. If you’ve got young kids, don’t let the name of
this eclectic local haunt fool you. The old-fashioned arcade games,
board games and America diner-style eats are evidence of how owner and
family man. Corey Crooks, understands how to please the whole tribe.
In fact, Newcastle’s food scene has me utterly impressed. There are a variety
of kid-friendly cafes and restaurants to choose from, all of which are
entirely new experiences for these ex-Novocastrians. Do yourself a favour
and start your day with the oozy, golden eggs at Estabar and hit up the
Mediterranean-inspired Rustica on King Street for warm chocolate fondant
with salted popcorn, burnt marshmallows and ice-cream.
Having fallen in love with Newcastle all over again, we bid our goodbyes and
drive 30 minutes to Swansea. The gateway to Lake Macquarie, this is a great
spot for families and the ideal extension to a Newcastle getaway.
We make ourselves at home at the Swansea Gardens Lakeside Holiday Park.
With its swimming pool, lake access, tennis court and mini-golf course, the
park offers endless entertainment for both little and big kids. Best known
for its fishing, boating, kid-friendly beaches and, of course, the black swans
you'll spot on the lake. Caves Beach is one of NSW's best swimming spots
for families. Not only does the stretch of glorious sand offer patrolled
swimming, there's also a fascinating network of sea caves clustered at its
Beyond the famous beach caves, Lake Mac Kayak & Bike Hire offers a hassle-free
service; simply call Nick and tell him where you want to go and he will meet
you with bikes, kayaks or paddle boards. For a change of scenery, trot through
undulating landscapes with AAA Horse Riding.