Northern Neighbour: a Sydney to Newcastle Driving Holiday

Surfers at sunrise at Nobbys Beach on the Bathers Way in Newcastle

Eager for an easy Sydney getaway, Chris and Sarah take three days to head north to NSW’s second largest city, where the waves are big, the adventures numerous and the atmosphere relaxed.

We might live close to the ocean in Sydney, but when Chris and I are searching for an escape we nearly always head to the beach. We’ve got plenty of friends who grew up in Newcastle, moved to Sydney to study and work then moved back again to start businesses and families. We’re keen to see what the attraction is so have picked up a car from Apex Car Rentals at Sydney Airport and are heading north.

Northern Attraction: Sydney to Newcastle

A couple enjoys a seafood platter overlooking Brisbane Water at Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant

It can be a long haul getting out of Sydney through the leafy northern suburbs, so by the time we’ve cleared the outer limits we’re ready to get out of the car for a while. Just for a change, Chris is hungry, so we head into Woy Woy – so good they named it twice – to seek out lunch. And we find a great one at Woy Woy Fishermen’s Wharf. You can get takeaway to eat in the park, but we decide to treat ourselves and take a seat in the waterfront restaurant. We can’t decide what to order, so settle on the platter for two, which comes loaded high with fresh and cooked seafood. What can I say? It was an excellent decision.

It’s not too much further to Newcastle and, after we’ve checked in, we head out to explore. On the beachfront, we discover Newcastle’s Famous Tram and jump on board to get a ride through the city and past many of its historical sights. It’s a great way to get our bearings in a new town.

Beach Babies: Newcastle to Port Stephens

A group on quad bikes on Sand Dunes Adventures Aboriginal cultural tour near Port Stephens, Central Coast NSW

We’ve planned on spending the whole day outdoors, so go to Sanbah Surf, hire a couple of boards and head to Merewether Beach. We figure we’re on to a good thing because the annual Surfest competition is held here. Of course, we’re not the only ones who’ve had that idea, but we head out and settle in for a good session. An hour on the waves does me in, so I head back to the beach, grab a coffee and settle on the sand until Chris decides he’s had enough. He comes back stoked, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s amazing what a couple of hours out on the water can do to your mood.

Because surfing isn’t enough adrenaline for one day, we’ve booked a tour with Sand Dune Adventures. Run by the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council, it combines riding over huge dunes near Port Stephens – this is Aboriginal land and the only way you can access it is on one of these adventures – and learning about the culture and the significance of these sand hills. I am petrified at first, but soon get into it and can’t believe we’re zooming over this incredible landscape. At the top of the dunes, we all stop while the Aboriginal guide points out midden sites and freshwater lagoons. Then we go looking for bushfood before there’s the chance to sandboard down the largest sand dune in the southern hemisphere. It’s an incredible feeling to have the wind rushing through your hair as you race down the seemingly never-ending hill.

After a long shower back at the hotel, we meet some friends at Honeysuckle. This precinct facing the marina is lined with bars and restaurants. They’ve suggested The Landing, where there’s great bistro food coming out of the kitchen, as well as craft beers and creative cocktails from the bar. But – apart from the excellent company, of course – the best thing is the sunset views over the working harbour.

Cruise Control: Newcastle to Sydney

A seal spotted resting on a marker buoy by Newcastle’s CoastXP tours

Despite the evening’s frivolities, we manage to get up as the sun rises and go for a walk along the beachfront. No wonder our friends love it here. The beach and city sit side by side, so you don’t have to travel far at all to enjoy them both. Plus, the beaches really are something else – long stretches of sand separated by headlands and cliffs, surfers on the breaks, and early-morning joggers exercising their dogs along their lengths.

Suspecting this impressive landscape stretches much further than we’ve managed to walk in the past couple of days, we’re heading out with CoastXP on its morning adventure tour. The zippy little boat takes us along the Hunter coastline and, as I imagined, it’s beautiful. We’re accompanied by a pod of dolphins at one point, before getting to a spot where we can get up nice and close to Caves Beach. All along the coastline, as well as magnificent scenery, there’s also a lot of history: World War II forts, lighthouses and an old mining village at Catherine Hill Bay. I suspect it won’t be long before we make a return journey to Newcastle.