Carve out some space in your Newcastle itinerary to experience the abundance of nature experiences the city has up its sleeve.
The coastal attributes of Newcastle are well appreciated by locals and out-of-towners alike: NSW’s second largest city is famous for its golden beaches and iconic ocean baths. And with a raft of cool and quality and a year-round roster of arts festivals including soon-to-launch New Annual, its dynamic urban scene is establishing the reputation it deserves.
But what you might not realise is there is a wealth of nature and outdoor spaces to explore that complement these drawcards: from a gloriously hidden conservation area with leafy trails down to secluded beaches, to an oasis of wildlife and bushwalking in the heart of the city. Here’s how to soak it all in.
Glenrock State Conservation Area
Harbouring the last surviving pocket of coastal rainforest in the region, Glenrock State Conservation Area is the crown jewel of Newcastle’s hidden gems: a natural wonder just five kilometres from the city that’s brimming with bushwalks, mountain bike trails and quiet beaches accessed only by foot. And although you’re really just a stone’s throw from the breezy seaside suburb of Merewether, once here you’re ensconced in a truly wild place that feels far removed from anywhere.
Follow the stunning Yuelarbah walking track to a secluded beach
This beautiful trail forms part of the Great North Walk (which runs for 250 kilometres from Newcastle to Sydney) and makes for a pitch-perfect day out in the Glenrock State Conservation Area. You’ll need two to three hours to complete the 10-kilometre return walk, but allow for beach time and picnicking en route.
Descend from the trailhead at Yuelarbah car park through a lush valley of rainforest gullies, waterfalls and tumbling creeks. About a third of the way along is Leichhardt’s Lookout, with its spectacular view and tantalising glimpse of your destination to come: turquoise Glenrock Lagoon, the golden strip of Burwood Beach and Pacific Ocean beyond.
Before long you’ll be at the beach itself, dipping your toes into the warm lagoon waters or walking the blissfully secluded shoreline between headlands. Two beaches along from Merewether, Burwood Beach (also called Glenrock Beach) is only accessible by foot; pack a picnic to enjoy here before you begin your ascent back up through the bush. Picking your way over rocks and padding along the sand, it is also possible to walk to Merewether from here at low tide.
The Yuelarbah walking track is suitable for most ages and fitness levels, with some steep inclines and declines.
Set out on Glenrock’s series of blissful short bushwalks
Glenrock has a series of shorter walks that also meander through fragrant bushland, giving way to tantalising ocean glimpses, including the two-kilometre Leggy Point loop walking track and the one-kilometre return Bombala walking track.
And for an insight into the area’s 19th-century mining history, take the 1.5-kilometre return Burwood trail. Beginning on Scout Camp Road, this walk will lead you through tranquil forest with bellbirds whistling in the wings, before opening up high on the escarpment to a view of the historic Burwood Colliery.
This old coal mine site was first excavated around 1861 and remains well-preserved and part of the State Heritage register.
Fly through the forest on some of NSW’s best mountain biking trails
If you like a shot of adrenalin to go with your nature intake, Glenrock also has you sorted. With 34 kilometres of bike tracks and trails, it’s a paradise for mountain bikers – who fly along its winding routes through open forest and woodland. The trails take in some jaw-dropping views of the rugged coastline that fringes the conservation area and dip down onto Burwood Beach, too.
With trails graded – green circle for beginners, blue square for intermediate and black diamond for advance – there are options here for all abilities and ages, including children. You can hire mountain bikes for the day from local outfits including Metro Cycles and Drift Bikes.
Did you know?
Glenrock – once regarded for its abundance of food, including marine life and bush tucker – is the traditional land of the Awabakal people and protects a number of ancient Aboriginal sites including campsites, middens and axe-grinding grooves. In the 19th century, an expert Awabakal bushman named Birabahn brought a succession of colonists to Glenrock Lagoon, including the scientist and explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. The Birabhan Cultural Trail is a sign-posted walk that honours Birabahn and outlines the long association the local Aboriginal people have with the University of Newcastle.
Blackbutt Reserve is a much-loved spot for Novocastrians and visitors alike and offers more to explore than you might at first realise. Its 182 scenic hectares of land – just six kilometres west of the city centre and somewhat surprisingly smack-bang in the middle of the suburb of Kotara – is split between the Carnley and Richley reserves. Between them, they boast ample opportunity for family picnics, wildlife encounters and nature walks through lesser-explored reaches that will truly have you feeling off the beaten track.
Meet the animals at Blackbutt’s amazing wildlife exhibits
Make a beeline for the Wildlife Arena in the Carnley Reserve area of Blackbutt for its fantastic and modern native animal exhibits. This includes an elevated timber boardwalk that winds through different wildlife habitats with interpretative signage along the way. Here you’ll see rock wallabies scampering by in the bush, rainbow lorikeets flitting in the treetops, koalas hanging out in the gums and wombats going about their daily business, as well as nocturnal animals, such as possums, plus all manner of reptiles and frogs.
The boardwalk is open between 10am and 5pm daily (last access is at 4.30pm) and is wheelchair and pram-friendly. Nearby, you’ll also find kangaroos and emus, which you can feed with food – cones filled with seeds and grains – purchased from the on-site kiosk. There’s also daily wildlife feeding and a reptile show held at 11am on weekends and daily during school holidays.
Spend a lazy summer’s day picnicking and playing with the family
On a sunny day you’ll find families enjoying leisurely picnics and barbecues in Carnley’s shady shelters and kicking a ball around its big grassy lawn, all in the company of roaming peacocks.
Elsewhere in Blackbutt you’ll also find more secluded picnic and barbecue facilities, such as Lily Pond Picnic Area, best visited on summer days when the white lilies are in flower, and the intimate Dead Tree Picnic Area.
Another family highlight here in Blackbutt is its two playgrounds: Blackbutt Reserve Playground in Carnley and Richley Reserve Mega Adventure Playground, which is every bit as exciting for kids as it sounds.
Go bushwalking through Blackbutt’s less-visited terrain
Explore Blackbutt Reserve’s gently undulating terrain on foot – there are more than 20 kilometres of nature trails here that meander through a diverse range of habitats and ecosystems.
Try the 1.5-kilometre Rainforest Walk that wends its way alongside a natural creek, the 1.6-kilometre bushland walk, Forest Way, that trails through dry and wet forests, or the 2.8-kilometre Tall Trees circuit walk through the Richley picnic area – once an underground coalmine before the local council purchased the land and turned it into the beautiful scenic reserve it is today.
Did you know?
Access to Blackbutt Reserve, with its picnic areas, wildlife exhibits, playgrounds and bushwalks, is totally free (parking fees may apply), which makes it a no-brainer for a family day out. Call into the Blackbutt Kiosk for more information on how best to explore when there.
Where to eat and stay in Newcastle
Fit some sustenance and slumber into your nature-based Newcastle itinerary.
After all that wholesome outdoors time you’re bound to feel like eating healthily, too. This huge, light-filled and artistically decorated cafe set within a beautiful old bank building on central Hunter Street serves inventive vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Located nearby on Wharf Road, Signal Box makes the most of Newcastle’s Victorian railway heritage. Today this decommissioned signal box is a contemporary space that serves excellent fare from breakfast through to dinner and nods to its industrial past with ample use of steel and concrete, and a steel spiral staircase that leads to the rooftop with views out over the harbour.
All that activity left you needing to recharge your batteries? Head to the Press Bookhouse – an eclectic coffee shop and second-hand bookstore on Hunter Street to find yourself a quiet nook to settle in with a book, good-quality coffee and a comforting toastie.
Flotilla, Criterion Hotel and The Edwards
Silverchair’s bassist Chris Joannou and business partner Zach Scholtz are local hospitality entrepreneurs responsible for some of Newcastle’s best venues: from hip fine diner Flotilla, in the up-and-coming suburb of Wickham, to cool neighbourhood pub the Criterion Hotel in Carrington, and community-minded bar and restaurant The Edwards in Newcastle West.
Newcastle’s dining scene is diverse, and nowhere is this better highlighted than at Habesha Ethiopian in the inner-city suburb of The Junction. This authentic and personality-filled restaurant serves an array of wots – a mixture of vegetables, meats, spices and sauces – with injera, the traditional spongey bread used as both plate and utensil.
Close to both cafes, restaurants and bars as well as idyllic coastal walks and one of Australia’s best surf breaks, four-star Novotel Newcastle Beach has you well placed to make the most of the city’s urban and natural attributes.
Book an ocean-view room, with floor-to-ceiling doors spilling out onto a balcony, and wake up each morning to the sight of the replenishing blue Pacific. With Newcastle Beach right on your doorstep, nip downstairs for an early morning swim.
A stone’s throw from Newcastle’s Foreshore Precinct for leisurely evening strolls, the Lucky Hotel offers comfortable boutique rooms in a 19th-century building above a pub of the same name with street-side seating and a Mexi-Cali-inspired menu.
Located along the waterfront Honeysuckle promenade, Rydges Newcastle Hotel has stylish rooms with harbour views, an outdoor swimming pool and contemporary waterside dining at Wharf 350 Bar & Dining.
Set in a 90-year-old period home, this beautifully renovated bed and breakfast is located in the seaside suburb of Merewether, only 150 metres from the beach and Merewether Ocean Baths – the largest baths complex in the southern hemisphere. Choose from one of its two en suite guestrooms and a self-contained cottage designed for a couple or small family of three.
More Newcastle highlights
A few more ways to explore Newcastle outdoors and as nature intended.
Tick off Newcastle’s famous Bathers Way Walk and other awesome trails
Newcastle’s brilliant network of walking trails take full advantage of the city’s natural attributes. Don’t miss the six-kilometre Bathers Way Walk, which covers the whole scope of Newcastle’s stunning coastline from iconic Nobbys Lighthouse to the Art Deco Newcastle Ocean Baths and from the rock-hewn Bogey Hole and Bar Beach to Merewether Ocean Baths. Allow three hours to complete the walk – but carve out extra time to recharge and refresh at the beach kiosks and cafes along the way.
Part of the Bathers Way Walk is the 450-metre ANZAC Memorial Walk, a tribute to the region’s ANZACs as well as Newcastle’s steel-making history. This stretch begins at impressive Strzelecki Lookout and, concluding at Bar Beach, takes in a clifftop installation of steel silhouettes of soldiers that have been inscribed with thousands of names of Hunter Valley men and women enlisted during the First World War.
For an insight into the city’s working harbour and maritime culture, set out on the 3.2-kilometre Shoreline Walk. The 2.2-kilometre Newcastle Architecture tour of the CBD takes in the city’s rich array of 19th and 20th century buildings. Meanwhile the five-kilometre Artist’s City Way around Honeysuckle and the harbour celebrates Newcastle’s artistic proclivities.
The Big Picture Festival tour, similarly, leads you to the spots around town where world-class artists have brought buildings to life with large-scale murals as part of the city’s major annual street art activation.
Hire an e-bike to whiz along Newcastle’s stunning coastline with ease
If while walking Newcastle’s coast-hugging Bathers Way you spot a cyclist navigating its headland hills with apparent superhuman ease, it might be because they’re on an e-bike. Newcastle’s electric bike share service Bykko has 19 bike hire stations throughout the city including in the CBD, in the harbourside suburb of Honeysuckle and at Merewether Beach, and offers a great alternative for taking in the length of Newcastle’s stunning coastline in all its elemental glory. You can register here to get riding or scan the QR code you’ll find at each station.
Check out the slick new Visitor Information Centre in an old railway precinct
A contemporary space set in the former Civic railway station in the heart of town, Newcastle’s new Visitor Information Centre is a great place to start your exploration. It’s close to some of the great Big Picture Fest street artworks and there is a Bykko rack conveniently placed at the Information Centre. Alongside its staff who will happily impart their local knowledge, the centre stocks city maps, walking trail guides and more.
Did you know?
Across the Hunter River to the north of the Newcastle CBD, within Worimi Conservation Land, you’ll find Stockton Sand Dunes – the largest shifting sand dunes in the southern hemisphere and yet another natural wonder to be found in and around the former Steel City.