Friend: "Where to?"
Friend: "In England?"
Me: "No, Newcastle, New South Wales"
Friend: "Why are you going there? What's there to do?"
Me: "Well it was voted Lonely Planet Top 10 Cities of 2011, there looks to be a lot to do according to the Newcastle Website, I got cheap Jetstar tickets, and accommodation is free."
So repeat that conversation about twenty times and you get the story. Everyone was asking me why I would want to go to Newcastle. To be honest, it wasn't really on my mind, but when a chance conversation with my friend Dan, who lives in Newcastle, coinciding with seeing an ad for cheap Jetstar tickets, I decided to go. Somehow, Lonely Planet had picked Newcastle as one of the top ten destinations of 2011, citing many great locations and activities. I was skeptical, but with free accommodation, I thought I'd go for a short relaxing trip.
So what was my final verdict about Newcastle? Was it worthy of it's top ten listing for this year? Not quite but there are many good points. I have to disclaimer that I didn't have a car, so obviously didn't get to experience many aspects of Newcastle that the Newcastlian (what do you call a person living in Newcastle?) told me about. It's not like Paris or London where you can catch public transport to all the numerous sites all within the city. Most of Newcastle's attractions need a car to get to. The city centre is pretty much dead, as I found out from day one. I was at the visitors centre and asked the staff what there was to do in the city centre, to which they replied "nothing, it's dead there". I was utterly confused when they clarified that most of the attractions are outside the town centre. The staff were so funny as it was rather quiet in the centre and they were more than happy for me to ask lots of questions. They were so down to Earth and did not oversell anything at all. In fact, they could probably take a lesson or two in marketing, with the Lonely Planet recommendation sign being just a tiny A4 poster stuck in a barely seen area.
I think the staff in Newcastle pretty much summed up the whole trip. People were very down to Earth and relaxed. Everyone seemed to be enjoying their time there, taking strolls, lying on the beach, riding their bikes, fishing and canoeing. It's like Geelong in many ways, with a big town but feeling like a sleepy small town at the same time. I had a very relaxing time once I gave myself into the mood and would spend hours just sitting on the balcony reading a book or walking along the river. The weather was glorious, with the sun out every day I was there and blasting away to 40C plus days. Newcastle is probably best for people who like to do less things, but again, I didn't have a car and if I did, I probably could have driven myself to more locations. The beaches at Newcastle are world class and so beautiful, there are parks, nature walks, sand dunes and the harbour promenade is great at night.
In terms of food, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the food was. It was simple fare, but done very well. There is four main areas for food, and I visited all of them of course.
* Darby Street - This is the main street which housed a lot of restaurants. It's a bit like Brunswick Street, with small cafes interspersed with boutique craft and fashion shops.
* The Harbour front, including Honeysuckle - The harbour front stretches quite long and all along it comprised many restaurants and bars. This area looked like Docklands, with many beautiful restaurants, but in contrast, it's very busy at night, with most people heading there at night for a good time.
* Beaumont Street - This area was strong in a Mediterranean feel with Greek and Italian restaurants dominating the street. Unlike Lygon street though, it's not opened at late but is less touristy and did good simple food.
* The Junction - This area is your posh posh type place. The surrounding areas are quite plain but once you walk into this area, there's leafy trees and the fancy cars all seem to pop up. Women wear scarves in the day time and cafe culture is very apparent.
One of the best meals I had was the French Toast with Caramelised Banana and Butterscotch sauce from Source Cafe. It was so rich but so delicious.
From Snow Patisserie in The Junction area, I had a nice but overprice Egg and Bacon sandwich, and a plum tart, which was too heavy and stodgy.
Zinc Cafe on Derby Street served me quite a few lunches, with simple Baguettes such as the Spicy Meatball with Yoghurt, Caramelised Onion and Salad being very delicious.
The trip to Nelson Bay, a seaside town, was a highlight of the trip. Imagine the most beautiful beaches you can, then imagine a climb across the rocks to a secluded beach where there is NOT A SINGLE PERSON. You own the whole beach and can swim in the warm crystal blue waters and walk across soft pale sand. That was a reality thanks to Yasmin, who knew of the secret location. The Fish and Chips at the local chippery was quite good, but I was most intrigued by the battered and fried dim sim. Ummm, why has no one thought of battering a dim sim yet. It's not bad.
Dinner at The Dockyard pub along the Honeysuckle harbour front gave fantastic views of the large mining ships and refreshing sea breezes. They also did an amazing Beef Rib with a BBQ sauce, some good Fried Calamari and surprisingly, curries.
A meal at Silo was also very good. Again, it was on the Honeysuckle harbour front. The antipasto plate was good and the Oysters Kilpatrick excellent. The Confit Duck was surprisingly good, with the duck being flavoursome and not dry. The Seafood Linguini was not too bad, with the seafood being fresh. A simple Steak was cooked well.
A final meal that I had was at the Albion Hotel, which actually won Best Pub in NSW last year. I was really surprised as there are so many pubs, so for it to win is a big deal. Initially I thought it was one of those silly awards but when I saw it was from the Good Food Guide for Sydney, it gave more weight to the award. At the pub I had a Lamb Shank while Dan had Fish and Chips. The lamb shanks was really really good, as was the fish, really fresh. I can see why they won best pub as the rest of the menu looked really enticing too. I had meant to go back to try more of the menu but as usual, too many places to eat, not enough time.
So that concludes all my eating and trip to Newcastle. Even though I don't think Newcastle is one of the Top Ten cities to visit this year, it is inducive for a relaxing time. You can't help but fall into the vibe and laid back attitude of the locals and the beaches are a great way to spend some relaxing time. If I did go back, I'd make sure I got a car so can visit all the other places just outside of Newcastle.
Thanks to Dan, Nandos, Ross and Yasmin for housing me, showing me around and generally looking after me.