For those who still think of Newcastle as a gritty and industrial city, it’s definitely time to visit. From it’s origins as a steel city, Newcastle has reinvented itself as a thriving and vibrant hub after the closure of the BHP Steelworks in 1999. I maybe a tiny bit biased but I reckon it’s so underrated. Located 2 hours north of Sydney, this chilled-out harbour city boasts stunning beaches, fun parks and playgrounds, gourmet dining precincts and a lively arts and culture scene. But don’t just take my word for it. Lonely Planet selected Newcastle as part of its Top 10 Cities to visit in 2011 and trust me, it’s gotten better since then!
But make up your own mind and come for a visit. Newcastle is an ideal place for a family holiday. Whether you have a baby, toddler or school-aged children, it’s a great spot to visit with loads of things to keep the whole family happy.
As part of Voices of 2015 program, Kidspot has invited Australian bloggers like myself to showcase their best three family-friendly things to do in their corner of Australia in their Put Yourself on The Map Challenge. And indeed it was a challenge as there are so many family-friendly attractions and activities in Newcastle and the Hunter to choose from. But after much deliberation, here are my Top 3 places to visit for #ShareAustralia
#1: Views on Newcastle Memorial Walk
My first recommendation is the Newcastle Memorial Walk which recently opened on April 26, 2015 to commemorate the 100th ANZAC centenary and 100 years since the commencement of steelmaking in Newcastle. Not only does this clifftop walkway boast amazing ocean and city views, it’s a poignant tribute to local men and women who enlisted during World War 1.
The walk features steel silhouettes of ANZAC soldiers engraved with 3,860 family names of almost 11,000 known Newcastle and Hunter Valley men and women who enlisted during World War I. There’s also history panels which explain the different conflicts of World War I and the stories about locals who fought and died in service.
From the walkway, there are 360 degree views of Newcastle from the coast to city and out to the hinterland.
The beauty of Newcastle’s beaches is obvious with views of Bar Beach and Merewether Beach stretching out before you.
From this vantage point, dolphin pods can often be seen riding the waves with local surfers and during during whale watching season, humpbacks can be spotted off the coast.
It’s definitely worth a visit for the history and the views. Best of all, it’s ideal for the entire family with the walkway being flat and pram-friendly from the Strzelecki Lookout side all the way to the viewing platform.
If you don’t need to loop back to the car park, go down the series of clifftop steps linking it to the Bather’s Way – a popular walk that leads all the way down to Merewether Ocean Baths, the largest outdoor ocean baths in New South Wales.
In summer, combine your walk with a refreshing dip in this beautiful family swimming spot. It features a main swimming pool plus a shallower, sandy area which is perfect for babies and kids to splash around.
#2: Nature at Blackbutt Reserve
Equally beautiful is Blackbutt Reserve. Located in the middle of Newcastle’s leafy suburbs, Blackbutt Reserve is a 182 hectare nature reserve which features native animal reserves, a series of walking trails, children’s playgrounds and tranquil picnic areas with free barbeques.
The park comprises of five main picnic areas but the most popular with families is the Black Duck Picnic Area. This popularity is due to the free Australian wildlife exhibits including koalas, emus, wallabies and wombats.
A series of boardwalks make it easy to push a stroller and let young ones view the creatures up close in the enclosures. Older kids will love running up and down the boardwalks from one enclosure to another.
These enclosures include birds, lizards, snakes, wombats and koalas. Kangaroos and emus are nearby in an enclosed paddock.
Be sure to buy some emu food from the Blackbutt Kiosk but watch little fingers as those emus can get a bit overeager!
Up near the kangaroo enclosure is the start of walking trails, ideal for a family hike in the picturesque Blackbutt Reserve. There’s over ten kilometres of walking trails in the park ranging from the easy Rainforest Walk to the challenging Bower Bird Creek Trail. It’s nature at its best with tall trees, fresh air and a cacophony of bird sounds.
On the subject of birds, let your kids have a play at the Bower Bird playground designed for ages 2 to 10. It features a large climbing structure, roundabout, see saw, a group swing, 2 slides and musical instruments as well as covered picnic shelters and BBQs.
#3: Play in Speers Point Park
If your kids can’t get enough of playgrounds, visit the epic Speers Point Variety Park. It’s a parent’s dream as there is something for children of all ages. This 2 hectare, fully fenced park sits on the shore of Lake Macquarie enabling you to enjoy family fun with scenic views and lake breezes.
The park features extensive play equipment including a giant 12 metre climbing tower which leads to a 9 metre spiral slide. There are swings and slides galore as well as a double flying fox and a spider web net.
Keep an eye out for all the musical features scattered around the park such as a xylophone and an area where kids can stomp on buttons on the floor to make music.
If the temperature starts to rise, let them cool off in the water play area. (Just be sure to bring a change of clothes).
For a change of pace, bring the kids’ bikes or scooters and let them practice their riding on the oh-s0-cute bike circuit. It has a series of roads, a roundabout and even road signs and petrol station.
Built in part with funding and support from Variety, the Children’s Charity, the park is designed to accommodate special needs including a wheelchair accessible play boat, tactile orientation totem poles for people with visual impairments and a quiet zone retreat specifically designed to enable children to play in a more passive environment. It’s lovely to see such an inclusive park, which accommodates children of all abilities.
Don’t leave the park without seeing more of Lake Macquarie which is one of Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lakes covering 110 square kilometres.
It’s a popular spot for watersports such as sailing, swimming and fishing as well as land-based activities like walking and cycling. The lake features wide walkways on the foreshore with plenty of room for families with strollers, bikes and scooters. Join other families on the popular 5km lake walk between Speers Point and Warners Bay. It’s a flat and easy walk with lots of places to stop and enjoy the views. If you’re feeling energetic, there are longer walks too around the lake.
These are just three of my favourite family-friendly places in my little corner of Australia. There’s loads more family-friendly places to visit in Newcastle and the Hunter region so stop by soon for a weekend or a longer break. Check out more of The Mummy Project for ideas on places to go and things to do.