Make Artsy, Budding Newcastle Your Next Weekend Destination

The coal city has changed over the years, catering for a younger crowd with trendy restaurants and nightclubs.

things to do newcastle

Newcastle is Australia’s second-oldest city and was previously referred to as Coal River, thanks to its famous coal port. Today you will still find a thriving industrial scene and military operations, but rather than being known as a sleepy coastal town, it’s now a budding destination.

There is a young demographic roaming the streets of Newcastle. Some attend the University of Newcastle, and others work in the mines and port. This has paved the way for trendy eateries, a buzzing nightlife scene, and some very colourful corners to discover.

The city is a magnet for foodies, history buffs, and adventurers. One could spend weeks exploring its landscape, but even a weekend trip is enough to believe Newcastle is on the up and up.

things to do newcastle

Explore eat street

Eat street, more correctly known as Darby Street, is a strip of eateries, bars, and shops where one can get a cup of coffee on one end and a box of tacos on the other. A few standouts include Three Monkeys Cafe, any burrito from Beach Burrito, a serving of dumplings from Mr. Rice, a bucket of saucy wings from Wings & Tins, and beers and pub grub from 5 Sawyers.

Wander off Darby Street and head to Antojitos on Steele Street. They’re known for their burritos, but the street tacos are also legendary. Upgrade to super-style for cheese tortillas, beans, and sour cream.

things to do newcastle
Photo: Destination NSW

Feel the artistic call of the streets

Walking around Newcastle is like walking around an outdoor art gallery. There are walls upon walls of art dotted around the city, thanks to a major urban regeneration project initiated in 2008.

You can embark on a walking street art adventure using this site, which pins every piece of art to a map and has information about the artwork. We recommend taking a trip to Beresford Lane in Newcastle West to see a series of murals and the incredible art around Foundry and Greenway Streets in Wickham.

An iconic Newcastle mural can be found in the tunnel leading to Newcastle Beach. There’s also plenty to see at Hunter Street Mall, where it all started back in 2008. Honeysuckle’s Lady on the Wall is an impressive artwork that lights up at night. Even in the city centre, visitors will find paintings of different scenes and figures on walls.

things to do newcastle
Photo: Destination NSW

Ride the waves and swim in baths

There are six beaches in the city. Newcastle Beach is the main beach, close to hotels and the mall. Nobbys Beach is popular with surfers and families. Right next to Nobbys is Horseshoe Beach, which is dog-friendly, so expect to see furry friends wading into the water. Dixon Park Beach and Merewether Beach are just outside of Newcastle’s city centre and offer an excellent choice for families, with a playground and public barbecues. The Merewether Ocean Baths is a photographer’s dream and a popular place to take a dip.

things to do newcastle
Photo: Destination NSW

Toast the city’s best brewpubs

If you didn’t already know, Newcastle’s brewpubs are some of the best in the state. Most beer enthusiasts travel to the city just to beer crawl. So if you want to discover a favourite watering hole, follow us. The first stop is Modus Operandi, which only opened earlier this year. This brewpub is an architectural marvel located in Merewether, with multi-purpose spaces for functions and 36 frosty taps to try. Cattleyard Brewing Co. is also a great craft brewery slinging lagers and pale ales, accompanied by music and mates.

If you want an expert to guide you, book Ted’s Brewgustation Tours, which includes paddles, tasting, and snacks. They provide the local knowledge.

things to do newcastle

Where to stay in Newcastle

QT Newcastle has just opened its doors in the East End precinct. Known for its designer features, the QT Newcastle is no exception. Housed within the heritage-listed 113-year-old former Scotts Limited and David Jones building on Hunter Mall, the hotels draw cues from the city’s rich history.

One hundred four guest rooms and suites highlight coastal drama, natural beauty, and QT’s penchant for the unexpected. Inside, the building’s iconic dome and clock face steal the scene. Book the Clock Suite, which has harbour views and a designer bathroom dripping in indulgent extras.

The ground floor’s Jana restaurant focuses on fine, modern Australian food, such as Hiramasa kingfish with fresh citrus and Pukara Estate Lamb Backstrap. The Rooftop at QT is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail, the views, and a library of Japanese Whisky.

Book a stay here.

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Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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