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.


Filed under Travel-Australia

26 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? ๐Ÿ™‚

  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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 (donโ€™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 โ€“ 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. โ€œverandah sexโ€ โ€“ getting drunk and hopping over peopleโ€™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.

    • Farooq Yousaf

      I was recently selected for a PhD programme at the University of Newcastle, so searching for what the city could offer, bumped into this Blog and the comments. The comments (from locals) sound scary and giving me second thoughts on how my 3/4 years would be in Newcastle ๐Ÿ˜ฆ . I have lived in London, Germany, and travelled to 18 countries, both Asia and Europe, but somehow what I saw in pictures of Newcastle, told me that Newcastle could be a place I always wanted to live in. It’s tropical weather (just like my native country Pakistan), less congestion, fewer people than Sydney and Melbourne, were all the aspects I was positive about. But the blog and comments made a tad sceptical . But I will still trying keeping all my positivity about Newcastle, and hope it would turn out to be an amazing academic and cultural experience for me ๐Ÿ˜€

      • Rachel Williamson

        Dear Yousaf, wow!, did I write that? must have been having a ‘why did i ever leave Oxford’ day. What Faculty will you be with at University of Newcastle? It is quite a different experience living in Newcastle as a student rather than just being an average local. If you have a good supervisor, you will have a wonderful academic experience. It is a large campus set in natural landscape, beautiful to walk around. Yes it is hot and humid (tropical) from about November – April. Chilly in Winter, my favourite time of year here. I welcome you to this quirky city and am confident you will make friends at UoN which is multicultural. We have many Indian restaurants and even Indian supermarkets, if you like to cook! Beaumont Street, Hamilton is the location for this. Do you have accommodation sorted out? I would be honest in my response as to where to live. Best regards and every success for your research.

      • Rachel Williamson

        whoops! just realized you may not be a fan of Indian cuisine, curry etc. but more Halal? we have that too…

    • Farooq Yousaf

      Thank You Rachel for such a detailed reply. I will be doing my PhD in Politics, because of having worked as a development consultant and also a journalist. Actually I was just being melo dramatic :D. Believe me I have lived in a city in Germany where any foreigner was being stared at daily, so I am sure Newcastle would be far better than that at least ๐Ÿ˜€ So I am all positive about Newcastle.You mentioned Oxford somewhere, and If you have been there I am sure you would agree that it is one of calmest and most pleasant places on Earth, I spent a week there for a conference (St Antonys) and cant forget that experience.
      As for food, I am not much into meat so Halal.Non Halal wont matter. Indian Cuisine is almost identical to Pakistani one, and many Indian restaurants in Europe had Pakistani chefs :D. But I would loved to try Australian steaks (considered a luxury food item in Pakistan). What concerns me a bit are higher Alcohol prices, as I am a Scotch lover, and can’t complete my weekend without watching a movie with a shot of scotch and a smoke. As long as there are decent pubs serving Scotch, and a couple of good nightclubs to chill on an odd weekend, that is all I would need.
      Accommodation: In Germany and UK, I was able to pre arrange rooms before my arrival, but I guess Australia is turning out to be different due to lease rules. So I have booked a night in Youth Hostel, will leave my luggage, visit a couple of property agents and inspect rooms on site.
      The weather? Chilly for me now means -15 degrees with snow, anything between 1 and 10 degrees is pleasant :D. All in all, what you explained about Newcastle, I guess it should be a great experience for an average political journalist, traveller, and a PhD student like me.

      • Raichel Le Goff

        Hi Yousaf! did you make it to Newcastle? If so – are you doing OK?

      • Farooq Yousaf

        Hey Raichel,

        Yes doing great so far, It has been 2 months now. Still getting used to the quietness and after-dark spookiness ๐Ÿ˜€ But over all , I have to say, it is a pretty calm place. So no complaints.

      • Raichel Le Goff

        Gosh, never thought about after dark ‘spookiness’ ? as we are involved in the local theatre and art scene so there is something lively and noisy and colourful on nearly every night of the week. In fact, Winter is high season for such activities. But I know what you mean…in general, walking around the CBD. Think you will find the warmer weather October onward and daylight saving which means it is not dark till 9pm or so, means more people out and about. Cheers!

      • Farooq Yousaf

        Local theater and Art sounds nice? Where do these activities take place generally? I usually visit CBD during the weekends, if its sunny. Considering the close proximity of the Uni, I had to live around Uni, which is an outskirt of Newcastle, and thats why I was talking about the after dark spookiness… CBD is always bustling…. errr Bustling is a strong word I guess for activity in Newcastle, sorry ๐Ÿ˜€ But CBD always has something going on, you are right. I attended the Winter Heat festival, which was fun, and a couple of other things as well. But to be honest, the Hunter Street, HoneySuckle and the whole CBD has some magic spell, it attracts me whenever I am free. Its has a pretty calm and soothing effect, unlike Charlestown or other commercial areas.

  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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