|Stealing beauty in Newcastle - Quick Facts|
Newcastle is 160km north of Sydney via the Pacific Highway or F3 Freeway.
January: 19-26°C, July: 9-18°C
Swimming is best between September and April.
Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia
New South Wales's second-largest city - once best known for its smokestacks - is reinventing itself as one of the State's most exciting cities with its blend of convict and colonial heritage, a bustling harbour foreshore, and some excellent restaurants, galleries and beaches.
Much of Newcastle has a wonderful time-warp feel about it - many old workers' cottages and grand Victorian buildings have been preserved or recycled as museums, offices or studios.
Quite a few of the city's interesting features are hidden away down leafy side streets - pay a visit the tourist office to get maps for self-guided walks. There are city walks, heritage walks and even a shipwreck walk. If your feet get sore, jump on Newcastle's historic tram ride for a 45-minute tour around town or take a cruise up the Hunter River to the historic town of Morpeth.
Newcastle's past is alive at the Bogey Hole, an early swimming pool cut out of rocks by convicts. There's also the art deco swimming pool, and behind it, Fort Scratchley with its massive walls and moat. Built to protect the city from invasion, the fort had to fire its cannons in anger only once - in 1942 at a Japanese submarine. Visit the Military Museum at the fort to learn about the site's history.
On the arts scene, you'll find world class exhibitions - some of which are shown nowhere else in the State - at the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery. Check what's on at the refurbished Civic Theatre or plan your visit around festivals such as the National Maritime Festival or the Christ Church Cathedral Music Festival.
If modern sounds are more your thing, you'll be pleased to hear there's a thriving live music scene here. Bands to emerge from Newcastle in recent years include Silverchair, and a vibrant pub scene is well supported by the city's large student population.
Queens Wharf comes alive at night - restaurants and the fashionable drinking hole the Brewery offer striking views across Port Hunter to Stockton's disused steelworks.
Other favourite night-time haunts can be found along Beaumont Street, Darby Street and The Junction. Even if you're not interested in the pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants, it's still well worth venturing out after dark; the city looks great, with many buildings - including Fort Scratchley, the Cathedral and the old bandstand in King Edward Park - floodlit.
During daylight hours the foreshore area around Newcastle East is a lively place at weekends, with locals walking, running, riding bikes and picnicking here and out along the breakwater to Nobby's Head lighthouse.
Parts of the city are hilly, and there are great ocean views and cliff walks. Hotels along the Esplanade overlook the ocean and Newcastle Beach and some of Australia's best surfing beaches - including Bar, Nobby's and Mereweather - are nearby, so as well as countless grommets you might see some of the nation's top surfers in action.
The hang-gliders you see will have taken off from Shepherds Hill south of King Edward Park - you can try it for yourself if you're game.
Just north of Newcastle, Tomago House is a fascinating National Trust property dating back to 1843. Just 10km west of the city centre the Shortlands Wetlands Centre has walking and canoe trails, and 10km south-west of the city, Blackbutt Reserve is home to native flora and fauna - it has bushwalks, aviaries, fern houses and a koala enclosure.
Watching the koalas - snoozing, no doubt - the belching smokestacks of Newcastle's industrial past seem a long way away.
A must when visiting Newcastle is heading down to the sea baths for a lovely refreshing splash. Once you've done that wander along the coastal walk to the lighthouse and learn about the history of Newcastle as you go. It's fascinating. After you've worked up an appetite head on down to the Boat House Restaurant for a delicious seafood extravaganza that will set your tastebuds tingling. Caz, Surry Hills