If you’re planning to come to Newcastle with your family for a weekend or a short break, here’s some suggestions for things to do while you’re here.
This former steel city, located 2 hours drive north of Sydney, boasts amazing beaches, fun-filled parks, fantastic restaurants and unique shopping. Whether you have a baby, toddler or school-aged child, you’ll be sure to enjoy yourself in this family-friendly city.
Start your tour of Newcastle at one of the city’s many beaches. Nobbys beach is a favourite with tourists and locals alike for its views of Nobbys headland and Stockton Bight. Work up a sweat walking to the end of Nobbys breakwall and then cool off with a swim at Nobbys beach. The kids will love building sandcastles and frolicking in the surf.
The beaches in Newcastle are patrolled meaning that there are lifeguards or lifesavers on duty. Always swim between the red and yellow flags at the beach. The red and yellow flags indicate the safest place to swim. Be aware of rips that can drag you away from shore. If you get into trouble in the water, stay calm. Signal for help, by holding up one arm and waving, float and wait for assistance.
If the waves are a bit rough, take the kids for a swim at the nearby Newcastle Ocean Baths. With its historic Art Deco façade, it’s a great place to float and count the coal ships moored offshore. There’s plenty of room to swim laps or splash around and the sandy bottom of the pool feels lovely squished between your toes. For younger kids, the Canoe pool next door is ideal.
It’s a safe, shallow sandy pool that’s rumoured to have a concrete map of the world buried deep underneath. Let the kids splash around and chase the resident seagulls and pelicans who hover nearby.
Swap ocean views for harbour views and walk along Newcastle’s working harbour. The wide harbour path is perfect for walking or cycling. Children will love the hustle and bustle of the working harbour. If you’re lucky, you might spot a massive coal ship entering or leaving the harbour dwarfing the tugboats besides them. If you have time, the five-minute ferry trip to Stockton is a real treat for kids. With ferries running every 15 minutes, you can check out a bit of Stockton by foot before returning on the ferry.
For more harbour views, continue walking down to Honeysuckle or else jump on the free Newcastle shuttle bus which loops around the Newcastle CBD to get you there. Honeysuckle is a waterfront dining precinct featuring numerous cafes and restaurants with cuisines including Modern Oz, Seafood, Italian, Thai, Japanese and Korean. Nearby is the shopping precinct of Darby Street which offers numerous boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
While in Honeysuckle, be sure to check out Newcastle Museum. There’s free admission and is worth a visit.
The interactive Supernova science exhibits will keep children entertained while the Newcastle exhibition will educate parents on the history of the region. Don’t miss the BHP Steelmaking Show. It’s educational and entertaining.
For a close-up look at Australian animals, visit Blackbutt Reserve in New Lambton where koalas, emus, wallabies, wombats and peacocks reside. Blackbutt Reserve is a 182 hectare reserve in the middle of Newcastle’s suburbs which features walking trails, children’s playgrounds and tranquil picnic areas with free gas barbeques. However, its wildlife exhibits are the main attraction. A series of boardwalks make it easy to push a stroller and let young ones view the creatures up close in the enclosures. Older children can participate in the Koala Encounter every day at 2 p.m. where they can get up close and personal with one of the resident koalas. Admission is free but there is a parking fee.
Nearby is beautiful Lake Macquarie, one of Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lakes. As you can imagine, there are plenty of water-based activities to do on the lake such as boating, fishing, kayaking and sailing.
There’s also plenty of areas to play with lots of wonderful playgrounds around the lake. A standout is the Lake Macquarie Variety Playground, one of NSW’s best playgrounds at Speers Point. The playground offers numerous playground zones catering to all ages and abilities including special equipment for children with disabilities.
The park includes all the usual favourites such as swings and slides as well as water play areas, flying foxes, climbing tower and a giant 9 metre spiral slide. This park is sure to exhaust even the most energetic of children, so be sure to follow up with rest time.
There’s also plenty of family walks. A popular walking track is between Eleebana and Booragul. This 8.9km on-way track adjacent to the lake is a great walk for families. You’ll see plenty of families walking and biking along the path. You can stop at rest areas or at one of the lakeside cafes while you enjoy the stunning lake views. Do as little or as much walking as you want as the views are wonderful no matter where you are.
You can also walk along Green Point Reserve between Belmont and Valentine.
For a spot of hiking, we visit Glenrock Lagoon.We enjoy the Yuerlarbah Walk at Glenrock State Conservation Centre where you hike through the bush ending up at a secluded beach. This 500 hectare area between Dudley and Merewether is a wonderful nature escape so close to the city.
To the north of Newcastle is Port Stephens. This area is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. “Blue Water Paradise” as the area is dubbed features 26 beaches and bays ideal for a swim or surf.
Our favorite is family-friendly Little Beach, just around from Nelson Bay. This peaceful harbour beach is perfect for families with little ones who love playing in the sand or splashing in the calm water.
There you’ll see all the boats heading out on dolphin cruises. Port Stephens is known as the dolphin capital of Australia with over 70 bottlenose dolphins swimming in the area. It’s worth doing a cruise to get up close and personal with dolphins as well as enjoying the spectacular views of the area from the water.
For more fantastic views, visit some of the vantage points around the area. One of our favourites is the view from the lookput at the top of Tomaree Headland. It takes approximately 30 minutes to the top and can be taxing especially in the heat. However, it’s worth it for the magnificent views of Port Stephens.
If you would prefer to drive to the top of a hill, visit Gan Gan Gan Lookout for a panoramic view of Port Stephens and surrounds. At 160 metres, this is Port Stephen’s highest and most accessible lookout so it’s ideal for families. There are actually two vantage points, one south and one to the north. To reach the lookout, drive up to Lily Hill Road and follow the signs. Up at the top, paths lead to viewing platforms and spectacular vistas.
From the top, you’ll see the Worimi Conservation Lands otherwise known as Stockton Bight Sand Dunes. These dunes stretch for 32 kilomentres and offer activities such as 4WD tours, sandboarding and quadbiking.
Another area to visit is the Hunter Wine Region. This area is the place to go if you enjoy fine wine and food with renowned vineyards and restaurants. Local varieties of wine include Semillon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Verdelho. There’s also galleries and boutiques to visit as well.
One popular tourist attraction is Hunter Valley Gardens which covers over 60 acres of beautiful flowers, trees and shrubs. You’ll love the colours and fragrances as you explore the ten feature gardens including the Rose Garden, Sunken Garden and the Italian Grotto. However, the main attraction for kids will be the Storytime Garden featuring fairytale characters. There’s Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep and of course the Mad Hatters Tea Party. Sit down and enjoy a conversation with Alice in Wonderland.
These are just some of the things that are available in the area to do while you’re here. Enjoy!
For more suggestions on activities and events, keep visiting the Newy with Kids website, a guide to family-friendly Newcastle & the Hunter.
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In 2012, Reena founded Newy with Kids to share information about family-friendly Newcastle. Originally from Canada, she had no idea about what to do with her toddler and after searching unsuccessfully for a local family guide, decided to start her own. Since that time, both the toddler and Newy with Kids have grown keeping Reena busy. If you see her out and about, say hi.