(June 13, 2020 – written by Dave)
We’ve had a lovely rest day here in Newcastle, NSW. The hostel is nice and mostly quiet overnight. We found plenty of cafes for coffee and food, walked a good deal of the city, had some nice weather and got into the surfing vibe.
Newcastle was founded in 1797 and due to rich local coal deposits it quickly became a valuable resource for the rest of fledgling colony of NSW. From its earliest days it’s always had a hard edge. Early “miners” coming to work here were not volunteers, most were convicts who misbehaved elsewhere. Getting sent to Newcastle was not for the faint of heart.
Over time convict labour faded away but Newcastle kept its industrial edge. Coal mining expanded into the Hunter Valley, several shipyards sprang up along the Hunter River and a large steel works operated for close to 100 years. Newcastle was so important to Australia that it was targeted by the Japanese bombers during WWII.
Most of the heavy industries have faded away by now but the port remains very active, being a major export point for Australian raw minerals. Newcastle started with coal, which was the first ever export product from Australia. Coal exports have been passing through the port since roughly 1799 and they continue strong today.
While working in the mines, in the port or at the ship works clearly would have been a hard life for the workers, it obviously generated a good deal of wealth for the company owners. The city centre of Newcastle is full of gracious old buildings of significant scale and grandeur. It is nice to see that many of them have been preserved more or less intact. Gentrification projects in recent years have added many modern buildings but there seems to be a trend here to at least save the old building facades. The overall affect of mixing old and new gives the city a warm feeling as you stroll about the laneways.
The Newcastle of today continues a heavy focus on mining natural resources. Most of the folks around, however, appear to focus on water, or more specifically, the ocean. There are several baths (pools) along the foreshore and the water is full of people surfing. Lots of “rasta” men and women hanging out, drinking coffee and staring out to the waves helps create a laidback vibe. As noted in earlier blogs, we don’t have the bodies or in my case hair, to take up surfing. It’s a young person’s gig. Someone has to play the “oldies hanging in the cafe” role – tough duty but we’re up for it. Ocean photo overdose follows:
Tomorrow we head north again. We hop a ferry to Stockton, ride to Nelson Bay, then hop another ferry over to Hawks Nest. The forecast is iffy in the morning but clearing as the day progresses. The Nelson Bay ferry company claims that 95% of the ferry crossings are joined by dolphins. We are hoping for calm seas on both ferries. Of course dolphins would be fun also.
Gear has exploded all over our room and we need to get things re-packed. But in all honesty, this bikepacker style we are travelling has some advantages – not much gear means you have to spend less time packing. We may actually set the tent up tomorrow night. We’ve picked a campground that has a camp kitchen so it’s not really roughing it. Of course, you never know what’s open in the Covid world. Maybe we’ll end up under a bridge.
Closing photos from Newcastle: