Newcastle is prime for surfers and sun lovers, but it’s also a playground for hikers, nature lovers and everyone in between. Here are the many different ways you can enjoy the city’s beaches.
For nature lovers
The Newcastle coast is teeming with marine life year-round, including bottlenose and common dolphins. You may spot these playful locals at Nobbys Beach or in Newcastle Harbour, or even surfing alongside locals at Merewether Beach or Newcastle Beach.
From June to November, Newcastle’s waters are blessed with the arrival of humpback whales who pass by the coast as they migrate north. Land-based lookouts include Fort Scratchley, which overlooks Newcastle Harbour and Nobbys Beach; The Obelisk at King Edward Park; the ANZAC Memorial Walk; or Hickson Street Lookout in Merewether. Alternatively, head out to sea and get up close to these majestic creatures, along with seals and sea birds, on a cruise with CoastXP or Nova Cruises.
Pop on a snorkel and play hide-and-seek with marine life, including small fish, starfish and maybe even octopus, at Soldiers Baths. Located at the southern end of Nobbys Beach, the 19th-century-built baths were largely ruined by storms, but the remains are popular for snorkelling. For an underwater experience you’ll want to write home about, Fly Point near Nelson Bay is a must. Just an hour’s drive from Newcastle, this protected sanctuary of lush sponge gardens is one of the most diverse dive and snorkelling sites in NSW, where you may sidle up to octopus, wobbegong sharks, elusive seahorses, and tropical fish in summer. Let’s Go Adventures offers snorkel and dive-gear hire to explore the site on your own, as well as guided tours around Nelson Bay.
Back on land, the region is made up of a medley of landscapes, including one of the last surviving pockets of coastal rainforest in the area at Glenrock State Conservation Area. It’s 5km from the city but a sanctuary for more than 140 birds including the yellow-tailed black cockatoo, echidnas and blue tongue lizards, as well as being home to the secluded and unspoiled Dudley Beach.
Koala country is a little further north in Tomaree National Park, a protected area of eucalypt forest (koalas can often be seen in the trees around One Mile Beach carpark), spring wildflowers and a dramatic coast of beaches and coves. There, you can sift sugar-white sand through your fingers and dip your toes in turquoise water at Zenith Beach; weave through eucalypt forest to reach peaceful Wreck Beach; or feel the freedom of a skinny dip at clothing-optional Samurai Beach.
For thrill seekers
Who knew that the largest shifting sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere were a stone’s throw from Newcastle? Located in Port Stephens within Worimi National Park, the Stockton Sand Dunes stretch up to 30m above sea level and the dune landscape goes for 32km along the coast. This epic landscape doubles as an adventurer’s playground: feel your stomach flip as you fly down the dunes on a sand board with Sand Dune Safaris, zip around on a quad bike with Sand Dune Adventures, or explore the undulating golden landscape on a four-wheel-drive, which will give you access to Tin City, a 19th-century abandoned village of tin huts built for shipwrecked sailors – you may recognise them from the movie Mad Max.
Surfing is ingrained in the local culture and a rite of passage for newcomers to the region. Book a lesson with Newcastle Surfest Surf School or watch the masters at play during Australia’s largest surf festival, Surfest, at Merewether Beach.
For those who prefer to paddle atop calm waters, a trip to Horseshoe Beach is a must. Nestled between Newcastle Harbour and iconic Nobbys Lighthouse, this dog-friendly beach is prime territory for launching a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard. You can also learn to sail the keelboats that you see flitting about the harbour with Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club.
Aquatic activities aren’t the only fun to be had by the beach. Enjoy a game of volleyball at the permanent court at Newcastle Beach; practice skate or blade tricks at Empire Skate Park, a stone’s throw from Bar Beach; tackle some 34km of mountain bike tracks that wind through forest and woodlands in Glenrock State Conservation Area; or pack a picnic and head for King Edward Park, to enjoy a friendly game of cricket or soccer with your mates.
For chill seekers
Feel the calm and rejuvenation of slow-moving saltwater in one of the city’s charming ocean baths. The 1935-built Newcastle Ocean Baths are currently undergoing revitalisation and major improvements, due to reopen in summer 2023. Next to the baths is the tidal Canoe Pool, a large, shallow and sandy spot perfect for cooling off. Or take a 30min drive south to sheltered swimming spots Grannies Pool or Naru Beach.are the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and comprise lap lanes as well as a shallow pool for wave-free relaxation. The Art Deco
Swap your swimsuit for sneakers and stroll along Bathers Way, a scenic 5km journey that traces the coast from Nobbys Beach to Merewether Ocean Baths. In Tomaree National Park, the new 20km Tomaree Coastal Walk is opening in 2023 and is set to be one of the state’s most spectacular new walks, leading from Tomaree Head to Birubi Point. Swap the sounds of the surf for the stream of a waterfall on the Yuelarbah Walking Track, which weaves 7km through wet gullies and coastal rainforest before culminating at Glenrock Beach.
At the northern end of Worimi National Park, let a camel lead the way with Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides. This fun tour offers a unique way to explore the coastline of Birubi Beach and watch the sun set behind the colossal sand dunes.
Fill your grid with the sites and scenery of Newcastle, so your mates back home can see you’re living the dream. Newcastle and Merewether’s ocean baths are both Instagram-worthy, especially at sunrise or sunset when soft light bounces off the Art Deco starting blocks or big surf is raging behind the iconic dome of the Merewether Pumphouse. The turquoise-water-filled Bogey Hole, hand-cut by convicts in the 19th century as an ocean bath, is a dream locale, especially with a drone. The ANZAC Memorial Walk, a 450-metre-long boardwalk that was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, is not only a poignant place to pause but a spectacular site to photograph, particularly when lit up at night.
For first dates
Take your date for a stroll along the 900m breakwall that leads to Nobbys Lighthouse as the sky morphs into a striking palette of pinks, purples and fiery reds. Or head up to Hickson Street Lookout for sundowner drinks, it’s a secluded headland that overlooks the beach and Glenrock State Conservation Area.
Channel old-school romance with a dinner date by the shimmering ocean. Dine on Italian cuisine at beachfront Merewether Surfhouse or book a table at Rustica in Newcastle Beach, a cosy Mediterranean spot with ocean views. If you prefer casual vibes, grab some takeaway fish and chips from Scottie’s or a coffee and toastie from Estabar, both in Newcastle Beach, and enjoy a beachside bite.