If the rest of the East Coast is as good as this then we're in for a good time. The people in Newcastle are really proud of their town, which is obvious. We checked into one of the best backpacker hostels we've stayed in so far (if only the wifi was free...) and had two free 'backpacker' dinners with after-dinner quiz, followed by a live music on one night, and a free bottle of 'champagne' (Tyrell's sparkling wine from the Hunter Valley) on another night; won not with our general knowledge, but for having the best team name; 'Enjoy Coca-Koala'.
Our host at 'Backpackers by the beach' was friendly and informative, joining us on the evenings out for food and a beer. There was no obligation for us to buy drinks, and we saved our money for an excursion to the Hunter Valley wine region.
Arriving in Newcastle from Sydney was similar to visiting Cornwall for the weekend from London. It felt like a sleepy little town, but after spending a couple of days wandering around the coastline, or 'foreshore' as the Aussies call it, and taking a ride on the local 'tram' with historical (1870 onwards) commentary, we grew to love it quickly. Still in disbelief about the free meals/quiz/live music/free bottle of Tyrell's sparkling wine, we felt a world away from Sydney, especially Kings Cross, and really began to appreciate the Aussie culture of service and respect for the backpacker community; either as recognition for the power of recommendations or the expected repeat business from future consumers, holidaymakers or settlers. This was certainly a different approach to being milked for money if Asia. Perhaps it was an understanding of the relative high prices in Australia compared to the UK and Europe due to inflation and an unfavourable exchange rate, but in any case we all appreciated it. Little did we know it would later be apparent that Newcastle is possibly the only place like this on the East Coast! More on that elsewhere in the blog...
The foreshore at Newcastle was spectacular, so much so we didn't really venture over to the other side of town during our 2 night/3 day stay. The town pays tribute to its convict history as the 2nd oldest city in Australia and a major convict settlement, before they were moved on further north again for more labour-intensive settlement-building. We visited the 'Convict Lumber Yard' and the 'Bogie Hole' that was cut out the cliff-face to create a large man-made rock pool as a Commandant's private bathing facility. Whilst overlooking the 'Bogie Hole' approximately 20-30 dolphins swam past the shore within a stones throw of where we were standing. This was an amazing sight. Walking back through Newcastle beach and Nobby's beach (where the Pasha Bulker ran aground in 2007) we enjoyed to perfect sand and the local surfers attempting to ride a wave.
Finishing up with our tour of the Hunter Valley Wine Region as a day trip from Newcastle, we left on the bus to Port Stephens.