NEWCASTLE, NSW – the world’s 9th hottest destination?

Hunter Street, Newcastle. Better than Barcelona?

Lonely Planet listed Newcastle, the town a couple of hours drive north of Sydney, among its Top Ten Destinations of 2011. New York was #1 – no surprises there. Newcastle (#9) was listed ahead of London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona and, most gallingly of all, Sydney and Melbourne.

Before anyone gets too offended, please note that Wellington, New Zealand, a town many would regard as a pleasant stepping stone to nicer destinations on the Shaky Isles, came in at #4 on the list. Newcastle was placed between Delhi (#8) and Chiang Mai (#10). ‘

I had a day’s work at the Newcastle Kids’ Comedy Festival this week, so I took the camera with me and in a free hour or so before my hilarious storytelling sessions were due to start, did my best to find out what all the fuss was about.

The pool by the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre. Eat your heart out, Roma. Your Trevi Fountain is rubbish compared to this!

Nobby’s Beach Newcastle – what Sydney’s Bondi Beach would be like without the backpackers. Or the surf.

Darby Street, Newcastle. Just like Paris’s Boulevard St Germain but without all those American tourists.

My verdict? Newcastle is a perfectly pleasant town, and is probably a great place to live. It has a reputation as an industrial town, a place where the coal from the Hunter Valley mines is loaded onto ships.

Newcastle’s role in World War Two is celebrated in information panels on the waterfront. On June 8th, 1942, a Japanese submarine sent several shells into the town, taking out the switchboard of Ryland’s Port Waratah works. The only other casualty of the shelling, according to newspaper reports, was bombardier Stan Newton. He was a passenger in a taxi when the shelling started and the cabbie made him get out and walk, saying ‘You’re on your own from here, mate.’ He suffered no further damage. So much for Newcastle’s history.

If I worked for Lonely Planet (and yes, I’m open to offers) I too would want to be hip enough to discover unusual places to visit. If my top ten included Paris, London, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Cape Town, they’d think I wasn’t trying hard enough. So instead I’d try to find reasons to visit Dijon, Birmingham, Haarlem and Durban. Maybe Tamworth too.

However, a list like Lonely Planet’s puts pressure on Newcastle to be something that it’s not. It has some history, friendly residents, a few attractive older buildings, excellent uncrowded beaches, interesting arts festivals, decent food and damn good coffee, but unless your parents live there it’s not somewhere you’d choose for your annual holiday. Not if Barcelona was also an option.

18 Comments

Filed under Travel-Australia

18 responses to “NEWCASTLE, NSW – the world’s 9th hottest destination?

  1. Helen

    I stopped in at New Castle for a couple of hours. After a quick lunch, the rest of the time was spent playing the Stuart and Sons piano, which are made there!

    • Actually that is quite a recommendation, Helen. A Stuart piano is well worth stopping for. I knew they were Australian but I didn’t they were Novocastrian. I wonder if Lonely Planet knows this too?

      • Helen

        I was fortunate enough to meet the maker and designer of these pianos, Wayne Stuart. It is worth seeing these instruments as they are very different from the ordinary piano, and have a wonderful sound.

  2. Coming out to Sydney for six weeks over Christmas and New Year. Should I visit Newcastle then? :)

  3. Will

    IF you’re there, the Newcastle Region Art Gallery is certainly worth a look, or more.

    • I was right next door to it, Will, but unfortunately didn’t have time to step inside. I hear they have an impressive collection of Aboriginal art (your speciality, I know) and interesting work by local artists.

  4. Definitely Barcelona! If only for the magnificent architecture of Antoni Gaudi (La Sagrada Familia cathedral and Guell Park, in particular). But I digress. I have a fondness for Newcastle (Newcastle brown ale not withstanding) because I was born there. But wait….wrong Newcastle. Mine is one of the two biggies in England. Bothers. Perhaps Lonely Planet would consider adding my Newcastle. At any rate, I enjoyed your post and will be dropping by for more.

    • Yes, Gaudi’s architecture wins, though La Sagrada Familia is a perpetual building site and Guell Park was unbelievably crowded when I was last there. Newcastle NSW definitely has the better beaches and, I suspect, better coffee. Newcastle UK wins a point for its persistently heartbreaking football team. If you’re a supporter, my commiserations.

      • Haha, no. My parents emigrated from the UK when I was 7, and mine was the other Newcastle (Under Lyme), so I’m all American football now and follow Peyton Manning wherever he goes :) As for beaches, I live in Hawaii, so, nuff said about that. We have pretty good coffee (Kona, Kauai), too.

  5. I would choose Barcelona, but then I lived in Newcastle for several years while studying and was lucky to experience the great beaches, wine region and make several day trip to Sydney and the Central Coast. As a student we used to visit Beaumont Street in Hamilton for good Italian and Turkish food and the art scene was a strong one given that it is also a University town. If you’ve seen Australia’s major cities and want something a little more laid back and still interesting I’d recommend staying a couple of nights and exploring the region.

  6. Raichel Williamson

    Newcastle is a swampy backwater with deep problems. I was born here and after living in gorgeous European cities for most of my life, have wound up back here (don’t ask). I am tired of people, including Lonely Planet, trumpeting a false idea of the city. The CBD is an ugly mishmash of deserted buildings, grotty pubs, tattoo parlours and $1 dollar shops. A handful of brave and beautiful romantic souls have opened up excellent cafes and boutiques selling arts and crafts. So yes, you find sweet smelling roses surviving in the squalor. Perhaps the Lonely Planet journalist ran into this clique? Most of which are saving their pennies to go see Barcelona.
    Yes, Newcastle has glorious beaches which a minority use: the healthier, wealthier, middle classes that live in the most expensive beachside areas of Bar Beach, Merewether, The Junction and pockets of Newcastle East and Cooks Hill. Culturally, Newcastle can shine, and it is one of the best places in Australia for seeing first class theatre productions and art exhibitions – but that appeals to a tiny fraction of the local population and the same people show up at the same events. Most Novocastrians are thong-wearing, singlet-wearing, shockers! – lazy and badly behaved. We have one of the highest alcohol-related violence rates in the country and so much anti-social behavior that I think we have invented a few new categories, eg. “verandah sex” – getting drunk and hopping over people’s fences to bonk on their doorstep. That is the kind of mindless activity the pub scene partakes of every weekend in Beaumont Street, Hamilton. Its no point talking of vineyards and quaint country towns etc., that is NOT Newcastle, the destination.

    Lonely Planet need to research their researchers before they publish such tripe.

    • Now that’s the sort of discussion I like to see on the blog! Thanks for the insider’s point of view and sorry for your tribulations. Lonely Planet-inspired tourists could soon flock to Newcastle to see (or try) verandah sex. Beats bungee-jumping. Maybe they could combine the two.

      But seriously, travel writers, self included, delight in discovering destinations that aren’t considered obvious tourist meccas.

      I always thought Glasgow was grimy and slightly scary compared to elegant Edinburgh and was surprised when it was declared European City of Culture in 1990. I went there that year, and was pleasantly surprised.

      This year it’s Marseilles. I’m going there in May. Next year it’s Kosice. It’s in Slovakia I’m told.

  7. Raichel

    In support of your argument for discovering neo-termini, I notice Newcastle has been usurped by Darwin (?!) on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Destinations of the world for 2012.

    • Oh yes, Darwin. Perfectly pleasant for a day or two before you go on to somewhere else. Maybe Lonely Planet could give us jobs looking for places that will knock Darwin and Newcastle off their lofty perches.

  8. Raichel

    Capital idea! I don’t know Australia well but at least 5 places spring to mind that would leave Newcastle for dead any time…Torino, Antwerp, Hydra (Greek island), Bristol, Auvignon…for starters.

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