2 HOURS BY CAR
The small port city of Newcastle, an easy two-hour drive north of Sydney, has it all: great beaches, good food and plenty of idiosyncracies (for Australia), with mercifully few tourists. The decline of Newcastle’s coal and steel industries in recent decades, allied with local government policies supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, has sucked in creative and foodie types.
On arrival, wash off the dust of the journey with a dip in the Newcastle Ocean Baths, a large saltwater swimming pool carved from rock near the shore or, for a rustic alternative, Bogey Hole, an ocean pool with dramatic cliff views. For those who want to wiggle their toes in the sand, there’s a choice of buzzy Nobbys Beach, Newcastle Beach (which has great surfing) and quieter Stockton Beach. For a spot of culture, stop in at the Newcastle Museum.
The relaxed vibe and independent spirit of Newcastle lead naturally to lazy afternoons in waterfront cafés. Sprocket Roasters is a carbon-neutral operation that uses biofuel to roast its beans (and makes great coffee, too). The Edwards is run by Chris Joannou, the bass player from Silverchair, the most successful Australian band of the 1990s. Both Subo and Restaurant Mason serve excellent Franco-Aussie food, but for straight-up steak and fish, cooked to perfection, head to the upscale Merewether Surfhouse.