Recently I was thrilled to do some hometown touring through Newcastle, taking some time to see what my very own town has to offer. After lockdown, the idea of some excursions in the sunshine and spring seemed like a holiday!
Over the course of two sunny weekends, I was treated to three separate tours of the town and also a scenic lunch at the Kingsley.
The day began with Becky Kiil of Newcastle Afoot. Kiil started her walking tour business in 2017 and offers a range of ways to see the city including scavenger hunts, school excursions and public tours. Between lockdowns she's noticed a huge increase in domestic tourism and people looking for healthy outdoor leisure activities.
"I am full of hope and excitement as I'm already seeing a new interest in domestic leisure tourism in Newcastle. People are seeing Newcastle in a new way as they are looking for local travel opportunities," Kiil says.
Visitors or locals can choose from the following: "Architecture, Street Art & Hidden Secrets." "Seascapes to Laneways Walk", "Newcastle Gin Masterclass" and "The Big Picture Fest Street Art Walk".
Last year Kiil directed The Big Picture Fest, which brought 12 new large scale murals to the city. She showed me old and new street art around town. Not only did she point out the bigger murals from renowned street artists like Bronte Naylor and Fintan Magee, but also she stopped to point out smaller tags, "throw ups" and stickers from Newcastle graffiti artists as well. I came away with a better understanding of the art about town, both the big and the small.
Kiil has exciting news.
"I'm really excited to be supported by Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation to create an exciting new school excursion program and do some placemaking in 2022 - keep an eye on our socials for more details," she says.
"Newcastle is an amazing place to learn and we are excited to engage with youth and inspire them to protect our environment and explore sustainable ways to experience the city."
After our walk we headed to Romberg's at the Crystalbrook Kingsley hotel on King Street. I'd been inside when the building belonged to City of Newcastle, but this was my first time visiting to the top floor restaurant. I enjoyed sweeping views of the city and delicious antipasto. The food was gorgeous - 80 per cent of what they serve is grown within a three-hour drive of the hotel. Pretty and refreshing, the Hunter Spritz with orange and cucumber perked me right up and put me in the perfect mood for a bike ride.
People are seeing Newcastle in a new way as they are looking for local travel opportunities.- Becky Kiil
Bicycle tour guide Ben Ogden owns and operates Newy Rides. He offers three bike tours of Newcastle, featuring a three-and-a-half hour all-inclusive tour of the suburbs, and a two-and-a-half hour Morning Essentials tour that finishes with coffee. Soon they'll be launching their latest, a half-day ride along series. "One for sweet tooths and co-hosted by two notable Novocastrians," Ogden says.
Ogden launched Newy Rides it during the first lockdown. They offer both new and recycled bikes. (He started the business with upcycled bikes as a DIY start of the business, and eventually hopes to offer visitors all brand new bikes.)
"Newcastle is truly a hidden gem, one that shouldn't be overlooked. We're looking forward to working with other local businesses to really showcase how great this place really is," he says.
The tours come with helmets, bikes for every size, and packs to carry your gear. Ogden, the gang and I took off from The Kingsley and cruised to the Foreshore. A gusty wind kept things interesting, including the choppy water in the harbour. Then we were on the breakwall, pedalling towards Nobbys Headland. We'd stop to discuss interesting facts, the history of the breakwall for example, but mostly we were all just riding along enjoying the views. We turned around at the tip and headed back to the beach where Ogden surprised us by bringing out some artisanal Hunter Valley wine from Dirt Candy.
Originally the plan had been to do a boat tour, a bike tour and a walking tour all in one day, but the swell was high on the first Sunday, so I was happy to come back the next Saturday for a safer day on the waves.
My partner first took me whale watching with CoastXP for my birthday back in 2019, and I was dazzled, experiencing Newcastle from the new angles alongside the huge humpbacks flopping their majestic tails around. This time CoastXP owner Dominic May took us out on a different tour of the Hunter coastline, The Adventure Tour. May offers several boat tours, and his website also offers other experiences like hikes and even a helicopter ride!
"As borders open back up, we're looking forward to families and friends getting together again after such a long time apart," May says. "COVID-19, lockdowns and border closures have all had a severe impact on businesses and livelihoods as small tour operators, but I'm excited to see light at the end of the tunnel having the worst now behind us."
May first started the boat tour business in June 2018, accommodating up to 20 passengers on his custom-built vessel. Along with driving the boat, he offers commentary about what's happening at sea and on shore, and is impressively well-versed on the marine life.
May says his tours are best shared with loved ones, and it's true, I loved having my partner there to hold my hand. I was beaming as our boat jetted out on the water, heading toward Catherine Hill Bay.
On this tour we saw several pods of playful dolphins, sea caves, and many unique views of iconic Newcastle places. It was all quite surreal.
I had a glorious time seeing my city in so many different ways. I am so inspired by these local entrepreneurs who fell in love with Newcastle and decided to make a living out of it. Newcastle is good for them, and they are good for us.
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