Newcastle is the gift that keeps giving for producers of popular reality television show Travel Guides.
The show kicked off in 2017 with the hilarious Fren family from Newcastle, who soon became fan favourites.
This year, five groups of Aussie travellers become travel critics, going on the same week-long holiday, reviewing the cuisine, accommodation, activities and local sights.
This time, though, they are catching domestic rather than international flights.
We've been pretty spoilt by Travel Guides and almost forgot how beautiful our own backyard is.Mark Fren
The Aussie Event series of Travel Guides, as it is known, encompasses four homegrown episodes that showcase unique Aussie destinations, such as an active wellness holiday in Byron Bay, a Whitsundays escape, a Tasmanian discovery and an outback adventure through the Red Centre.
Joining familiar faces the Frens, cowgirls Stack and Mel, "posh" couple Kevin and Janetta, and best mates Kev, Dorian and Teng are newcomers and Novocastrians Matt and Brett. Like the Frens, they love a laugh and don't have a filter when it comes to sharing thoughts and opinions.
The newest Travel Guides have been together for 18 years and married for close to seven. Matt, 45, works for a local council while Brett, 51, is a primary school teacher.
Matt is an organiser while Brett is happy to go along for the ride. They are both quick with biting commentary on everything around them but are generous, kind and love a laugh. Matt is not afraid to dance like no one's watching and rather fancies himself as a karaoke performer. Brett is most comfortable in a pair of Crocs.
They describe themselves as high-end travellers who also love a bargain and a discount rate.
"Hi everyone, I'm the good looking one," Matt says, laughing.
"For us to be making our debut on an Aussie Event series is pretty special. You kind of forget how good your own country is when you've travelled as much as we have."
The couple, who married in New Zealand, share a wicked sense of humour but approach a holiday in vastly different ways.
"Matt starts organising our holidays 12 months in advance and gets the spreadsheet out," Brett says.
"By the time the holiday's booked we know exactly what we're doing, where we're going, where we're eating and how much it will cost. And it's already paid for before we leave.
"I tend to pack the night before and just turn up."
Adds Matt: "Yes, I do all the planning, but once we're on the holiday Brett takes over. We're a good team."
Something Brett never forgets to pack, even at the last minute, are his Crocs. He is known to take several pairs wherever he goes.
"Every good holiday needs a good pair of Crocs. You can dress them up, you can dress them down. They really are an essential part of travel," Brett says.
Matt says he agrees with Brett about most things, but "the wearing of plastic shoes is not one of them".
When the couple first met, Brett didn't even own a passport. Matt quickly rectified that.
"That was one of the first things he bought me when we started dating. Then we went to Hong Kong for two weeks," Brett says.
"Another time we went to a travel expo just for a look, and we ended up with round-the-world tickets. The travel bug had bitten me."
As for Matt, he "left home and the country the same day" at the age of 20.
"I lived in London and travelled around Europe, Africa and the US before I came home. When I met Brett I was determined that he was going to become a traveller whether he liked it or not," Matt says.
The pair believe they bring a "fresh view and a different perspective" to the show.
"The great thing about Travel Guides is that there's five groups and they're all completely different," Matt says.
"All of the groups are just lovely people and so authentic. What you see is what you get."
The Fren family
Mark, Catherine, Victoria and Jonathon Fren have become household names through Travel Guides.
The endearing bargain hunters from Newcastle, who used to own and operate Oma's Kitchen in Newcastle's CBD, can always find the funny side of any holiday disaster and will stop at nothing to nab an upgrade.
Mark tells Weekender it had been refreshing to look closer to home for travel ideas on this series, especially given the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
"We've been pretty spoilt by Travel Guides and almost forgot how beautiful our own backyard is. To be given the opportunity to explore more of Australia was absolutely amazing," he says.
Prior to Travel Guides, Cathy says, they were a "go to the Gold Coast then go to Melbourne for the tennis kind of family". That has all changed since the Aussie Event series.
"People should explore their own country first, and that's the biggest mistake we've made in our time. We've got so many incredible places to see in every state of Australia," Mark says.
So, have the family acquired filters now that they are prime-time television personalities? In a word, no.
"Have you seen the ads?," Mark asks, laughing.
Says Cathy: "We've always been true to ourselves. We've been like that since day one. And we've found we can have just as much fun in Australia as we have overseas."
"If not more," Mark adds. "The kids still love doing the show so we're happy to travel as a family and have a great time - no script required. Maybe a bit of editing, but no script. The show really appeals to so many people, and it's been so humbling for us. People have told us that they miss the show; that it brought their family together for a laugh each week."