It's been a year of amazing pictures for our Newcastle Herald photographers.
From fierce storms, to a global pandemic, to the local heroes that make the Hunter such a special place to live.
And yes, there was even some nude swimming.
Just as naturists like to disrobe to relax, lots of Herald readers like to turn to Weekender for a lighter take on the happenings in the Hunter.
Herald photographers Simone De Peak, Jonathan Carroll, Marina Neil and Max Mason-Hubers captured Newcastle's lifestyle and feature stories in the surreal year that was 2020. Here are some highlights from Weekender assignments.
1: Alternative milk options that became lockdown's latest gift
ALMOND milk, soy milk, oat milk.
There is no shortage of dairy-free milk alternatives out there these days. Perhaps lesser-known is tigernut milk, a naturally creamy, sweet variety of nut milk that impressed Helenah Sinclair so much that she decided to create her own range of homemade nut-based milks.
"I wanted to make nut milk that doesn't have any sugar in it, so I can actually enjoy my morning coffee and not feel guilty," Sinclair says. Read the full story by contributing writer Jade Lazarevic
2: A decade of cooking on his terms
A year in the restaurant biz is a long time. A decade is an age, an era, an epoch.
"When I first opened, my goal was for the restaurant to be at least 10 years' old," says Emerson Rodriguez, chef and owner of Emersons restaurant, located in Lovedale, in Hunter Valley Wine Country.
"I felt like if I closed my restaurant before 10 years, that I would have failed, that I wouldn't have achieved anything. I don't know why," he says, "It's just my mindset."
Through the fire, to the limit, to the wall. Emerson Rodriguez has risked it all. Read the fill story by contributing writer Daniel Honan
3: The Hunter offers up its bounty
The Hunter Valley ranges from the sea, to the plains and mountains. From farms, to vines and back out to oyster leases. Our stunning region is home to some of the standout food, wine and produce being grown and made across the state and our many visitors are starting to discover this for themselves.
Whether you're new to the Hunter or perhaps you need to remind yourself how good it is, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. The best part is discovering it all, one glorious bite and swallow at a time. Read the full story by Judith Whitfield
4: Are there more birds?
Funny things happen when society is caged in. Some turn to religion, some watch Netflix, some bake bread, and some people look at the sky. Has anyone else been noticing birds everywhere, like never before? Pre-pandemic they were as arbitrary as street lights, but now every time I step onto my balcony I'm searching and listening for my friends.
I thought perhaps the slowed traffic and industry were encouraging colourful green parrots back into my neighbourhood in Newcastle West, but Birdlife Australia ecologist Mick Roderick thinks it's because we've had more time to observe and also the recent flowering of the spotted gum trees in the region. These trees provide a huge nectar flow and only bloom every three-to-four years, bringing in the honeyeaters like the lorikeets I've been spotting. From contributing writer Alex Morris
5: 'Boob to food'
As a registered nurse, midwife and birth and parenting educator, Newcastle-based Luka McCabe has always had an interest in the health and wellbeing of babies and mothers.
However, it was when she became a mother to her two children, five-year-old Flynn and two-year-old Florence, that she discovered her passion for baby and post-partum nutrition.
"I've always been interested in nutrition," McCabe says.
"When I had my daughter Florence, my second child, I studied to become a certified nutrition consultant through Oh Baby Academy, which specialises in pregnancy, babies and postpartum nutrition." From contributing writer Lisa Cugnetto
6: 'Look at this!'
Trevor Dickinson's sense of humour is never far from the surface. His face tilts towards a natural smile, and his wit is quick in conversation. And that spirit pours out in his drawings, full of small details, rough edges and the reality of the silliness of everyday life in the man-made world.
The Englishman who has called Newcastle, Australia, home for nearly the last 20 years has finally packaged up his considerable collection of his own drawings of our Newcastle - showing our warts, our age, our cheekiness and modest beauty - into a single book. Read the full story by Jim Kellar
7: Sjana Earp's quest to find herself with 1.6 million followers
Sjana Elise Earp is a woman not easily forgotten. She makes an impression.
Always searching for the silver lining in life, the Novocastrian yogi has the ability to make people feel valued. Appreciated. Special, somehow. She finds the beauty and strength within.
At the age of 25, Sjana has built an inclusive and empowering online community and taught yoga all around the world. She has cleverly and enthusiastically chosen a path in life that revolves around her passions - yoga, travel, writing, modelling and photography - and devised ways to make a living from them.
8: The beckoning call to go nude in the natural world
Most people don't proudly proclaim themselves nudists or naturists, but plenty of people have had the occasional skinny dip or naked encounter. These mostly clothed folks, (people like me) are called "textiles" by the nudist community.
While it might not be a hobby that everyone openly admits to, nudists, naturists and skinny-dippers are everywhere. Naturist Stuart Whelan has met nudists from all professions and walks of life. He told me the story of how he and his wife Lucia once dined with a crown prosecutor, a solicitor and a corrective services officer. All were naked, gathered around the dinner table. From contributing writer Alex Morris
9: Everything you want to know about yoga in Newcastle
Yoga is growing faster than high rises in Newcastle West, and Novocastrians have a variety of options from the gym to the studio to their own lounge room. Yoga teachers in Newcastle have wisdom to share regarding the universal power of the spiritual, physical and mental practice originating in ancient India.
Originally from the Central Coast, Tamara Coughlan started doing yoga in 2010 when she was searching for an enjoyable movement practice as she found exercise quite tedious. As soon as she tried yoga, it ignited something in her. She pursued the practice further in India for six months in 2012. From there she went to the Hridaya yoga school in Mexico and completed my original 500-hour training.
"I teach mainly Hridaya yoga. Hridaya is a meditative form of yoga. Holding postures for 5-10 minutes. Its foundation emphasises both awareness and energy, and connects to the subtle aspects of the posture including the mental patterns, subtle energy and quieting of the mind. Hridaya is a word that means Heart in the oriental language of yoga (Sanskrit), and so ultimately the contemplation and self-inquiry is how to meet yourself with love and compassion," she says. From contributing writer Alex Morris
10: The simple breakfast taco that started it all
Eric Flores is the player you want on your team.
Although he's only five-foot 10-inches tall (177cm), he was an outside hitter in the game he has always loved - volleyball.
"I was a very short outside hitter," he says. "But I could jump. I was five-foot-10, but I could play with the big boys. I've got very long arms and I can jump."
Flores grew up in Watsonville, California, in southern Santa Cruz county on the central California coast, a rich agricultural district with a year-round temperate climate (great for strawberries, apples, lettuce, mushrooms, broccoli and more). It was a cultural melting pot, with a large Latino workforce.
He was born in the US, the son of a single mum, Stella Flores, who was born in the Philippines and moved to the US as a child. He spent a lot of time with his neighbours, a Mexican American family, who influenced his love of Mexican food. From Weekender editor Jim Kellar
11: The wild and beautiful life of a Hunter carer queen
Judith Hopper's home at Millfield is not so much a house as an ark.
At the entrance to the kitchen, resting in a puppy pen, are a couple of young swamp wallabies. In the lounge room is a wombat. In the bathroom, there is an eastern long-necked turtle sauntering along the bath. Beside it, in a baby's bath, is a water dragon.
What was Hopper's home office is now an "animal room". It houses two more wombats, along with a sugar glider and a ring-tailed possum.
Out the front is a jumble of little wooden boxes, waiting to be installed in the bush to provide shelter for possums and birds. From Newcastle Herald writer Scott Bevan
12: Newcastle artist Myf Garven's journey toward the arts
Maker, photographer and designer Myf Garven is quietly, artistically expanding her knowledge and learning as much as possible.
"My voice is very little, I apologise," she says as I lean in to hear her.
Always a curious person, Garven didn't always know she was creative.
Growing up she thought she would be a receptionist or a teacher. She studied education and primary school teaching at the University of Newcastle, but didn't finish.
"I felt I didn't have the voice or confidence for it," she says.Read the full story from contributing writer Alex Morris
13: The roughriders of the National Finals Rodeo
As a storm rolls over head, a bronc rider sits in his saddle on the floor - eyes ahead to the light from the arena and the sound of the breakaway roping or steer wrestling.
The cowboys tell quiet jokes, make smalltalk about work they've picked up, bum the odd cigarette and strap their arms in bandages.
But for the rain, and the distant announces calling another event, it's quiet - slow and still and sensitive, as if every nerve is tuned to what's going on out there under the lights.
Kerry Wellington, a five-time Australian saddle bronc champion, puts his boot into the end of his rope, pulls it tight and throws his arm back.
"They all have their rituals," the on-call paramedic says, leaning on a gate. Read the full story from Simon McCarthy