IT'S 2020, the state is in a COVID-19 lockdown, and Ben Ogden is driving his friends and family nuts.
The jaunty 33-year-old was spending hours cycling through Newcastle's streets - "about 300 per cent more", he says, than before.
Ogden was returning from his trips brimming with pride for his hometown, to the point where "friends and family had kind of got sick of me talking about it," he laughs.
"I thought: 'how can I combine this love of riding my bike, and this love for Newcastle, to put together something great where friends and family can discover my version of Newcastle'," he says.
"And perhaps I can convince a few visitors to Newcastle to jump on a bike as well."
Newy Rides was born: a cycling tour of iconic sights as curated by Ogden himself, a veritable wellspring of quirky facts about the city.
Ogden says the tour is perfect for Newcastle newbies, tourists looking for insider knowledge or locals with a keen pride-of-place.
So tighten that helmet strap and make sure you've applied sunblock to your nose - Ogden is taking Weekender readers for a ride.
This tour, which spans 11 kilometres over about three and a half hours, is known as The Essentials.
The second half of the tour is known as The 'Burbs, where Ogden and the crew continue on to sample some of Newcastle's quintessential local produce.
Tickets are priced at $125 per person, which is all-inclusive of bikes (Ogden upcycled them himself complete with themed paint jobs), equipment, food - and drinks, of course.
I thought: 'how can I combine this love of riding my bike, and this love for Newcastle, to put together something great where friends and family can discover my version of Newcastle' And perhaps I can convince a few visitors to Newcastle to jump on a bike as well.Ben Ogden, founder of Newy Rides
"To do so I've brought this bottle of wine along with me," Ogden says, whipping out a bottle of Dirt Candy Wine, made by his favourite inner-city winemaker, Daniel Payne.
"They really shy away from the stoic, traditionalist wine style that's well known in the Hunter, like the big shiraz grapes and the semillons.
"This one's a bit weird and a bit funky, but I think you're going to like it, so I'll open the bottle and pour you a glass now"
FIRST STOP: The Nobbys Breakwall
"We're standing at the very end of the breakwall, looking back over the city, and in front of us you can see Nobbys Head where the lighthouse stands, and behind us on that big green hill is Fort Scratchley," he says.
"I often describe this place as one of the most important places in Newcastle that makes Newcastle the city it is today."
Nobbys breakwall is one of the reasons Newcastle has become the largest exporter of coal in the world, Ogden says, and one of the busiest working harbours in Australia.
But before the breakwall was completed in 1857, the harbour and ocean beyond was a graveyard for numerous ships, with wreckage remaining scattered beneath the surface today.
Ogden says it's a common misconception that Newcastle is the second oldest city in Australia - "Hobart beat us to the punch!" - but we are the second oldest city in New South Wales, settled in 1804.
Fast-forward to December last year and a $3.2 million investment has seen the re-opening of Macquarie Pier, from the beach all the way up to the lighthouse towering over us.
"You'll see lots of people cycling like us, running up and down or going for walks," he says.
SECOND STOP: Fort Scratchley
Ogden says Fort Scratchley, which was decommissioned in the '70s and is free to visit, serves as an "incredibly important place in Australian military history".
"It's the only place in Australia that we actually fired from Australian soil out to an enemy."
Australian Gunners at the fort were locked into a firing exchange with two Japanese submarines in 1942, known as The Shelling of Newcastle.
In the early hours of June 8, 34 shells were fired at Newcastle, and four shells were fired back at the submarine, but both caused little damage.
The guns stand frozen in time at the fort, a relic from the past, while the vista sparkles below: the lemon-coloured sand of Nobby's, the stoic lighthouse, and the green park below.
THIRD STOP: Nobbys Beach
"One of the most significant things that's happened in my time was in 2007... and it's actually modelled by that red bike you're riding on there," Ogden says.
"The Pasha Bulker: a big Japanese cargo ship that landed on top of Nobbys Beach in June, during a big king tide storm."
Ben recounts the story: Newcastle's coastguard commanded 52 ships lurking on the horizon not to enter the harbour as the dangerous storm raged, but 12 of them "gave it a crack" anyway.
"Eleven got away in time, and one, being the Pasha Bulker, ending up smack-bang on Nobbys Beach," he says.
A total of 22 crew members were on board, and it took three tries, two months and one Japanese super-tug to free the heavy red ship.
It was renamed The Drake in 2008 - "not after the Canadian rapper", Ogden assures us - which was the same year the ship was immortalised in a sculpture down at the beach.
But Ogden, a twinkle suddenly appearing in his tone, says one of the most defining years in Newcastle's history was 1997.
"Probably the most important date for Novocastrians was when the Newcastle Knights beat Manly in, at the time, the ARL [Australian Rugby League grand final]," he tells us.
"You'll still be able to find a pub here in town every year who'll play that same premiership game before that year's grand final."