Gap Year Days 1 – 5

Finally our long awaited gap year begins! Our first stop is a local one, only a short flight to Sydney and a drive north to Newcastle. We were spending a few days with friends we had not seen for years. With our gap year in front of us, we were looking for budget things to do in Newcastle. Here are some of the things we found to do.

I had been to Newcastle once before, but last time we caught the train from Sydney. We hadn’t thought through our idea to hire a car very well, as we were driving north along with thousands of other Sydneysiders as they escaped the city for the Easter long weekend. The roads were crazy, and our drive took around four hours. It did include a detour onto a side road to find a place to grab some food. We picked the wrong side road, as it was another 10km from the motorway before we found a small cafe.

In Newcastle we spent a fair bit of time out walking. Our friends have two young energetic boys who love to be outside, and the weather was absolutely perfect. It was also our last chance to get out into the bush.

We visited well known Merewether beach regularly, with the surfers out in numbers trying to catch the best waves. While we live near the beach, Adelaide does not have waves like Australia’s east coast, so I always find just watching them interesting. We investigated the rock pools, searching for sea creatures, fish and shells, much to the delight of the boys. Too cold for me, but some swimmers were making the most of the autumn sunshine and taking a dip at the Merewether Ocean Baths.

Merewether Beach

The Merewether Ocean Baths

Merewether Beach

The rock pools are a great place for the kids to explore

Since we were last in Newcastle, the ANZAC bridge has been opened. High up on the cliff face, it connects two sections of the oceanfront walking path. It’s a commemoration of our servicemen from World War One. There is a great view along the coast, and this would be the perfect place to watch the sunrise. During the whale watching season, this again would be a great place to watch from.

ANZAC Bridge

ANZAC Bridge

Even though Newcastle is a decent sized city with a population of around 300 000, only a few minutes away is a national park with some walking and mountain biking trails. The Yuelarbah Walking Track in the Glenrock State Conservation Reserve provides a great escape from the bustle of the city. It is a short 700m walk to the Leichhardt’s Lookout, and another 1.3km to the lagoon.

Yuelarbah Walking Track

The start of the walking track

Bushwalking

A waterfall in the bush

Lagoon

Looking over the lagoon where the path eventually takes you.

Newcastle

Enjoying the serenity of the Australian bush.

The Newcastle Museum is worth a quick visit, especially if you have young children with you. It has the best children’s area I have seen in a museum anywhere. An interactive area has fun displays and activities to explain science and how things work. When the kids have finished looking here, there is an adjoining indoor playground. The main area of the museum shows local history, with displays on the steel and coal industries amongst other things. There is a short demonstration of a working steel mill, but unfortunately is wasn’t on during our visit. Entry to the museum is free.

Newcastle Museum

Children’s play area

Newcastle Museum

Pull the ropes to see if you can use the leverage to lift the car!

Newcastle Museum

Museum displays

BHP Newcastle

BHP played a big part in the history of Newcastle

Newcastle Museum

The coal display

A visit to Speers Point Park should be on the list for families in particular. The playground is paradise for kids. Perhaps the only issue is that the playground is too large. A visit with multiple young children that need close supervision would require one adult each to confidently keep an eye on them. The surrounding area is perfect for a family BBQ, a lake front walk or bike ride, or even sailing or kayaking.

Speers Point Park

Part of the Speers Point Park playground. I would have loved this as a kid.

Lake Macquarie

The banks of Lake Macquarie near Speers Point Park. Perfect for a walk or bike ride.

From Newcastle it’s an easy drive out to the Hunter Valley, so we spent an afternoon doing just that. On the way we went up to Sugar Loaf Mountain lookout so that we could admire the views across Newcastle to the sea.

Suger Loaf

The view from Sugar Loaf out to the sea.

In Cessnock in the Hunter Vally we discovered not a lot open since it was Easter Sunday when we visited, so we had a short look around and jumped back in the car for some more driving. The area is well known for its wineries, but we didn’t stop at any on this occasion. We investigated a few small towns, and had an enjoyable walk around Kurri Kurri. See my post on it here to find out why this small town took my interest.

Kurri Kurri

The big Kookaburra in Kurri Kurri

Our last day in Australia started with the drive back to Sydney airport. It was now Easter Monday, so all the holiday makers would be heading home after their break. We anticipated bad traffic, so left early giving ourselves plenty of time. Of course that meant the traffic was okay, and we made it to the airport in about 2 1/2 hours.

In case you have somehow missed it, we were flying to Singapore in Suites Class on Singapore Airlines. I have been looking forward to this flight for months, after securing an award booking with my frequent flyer points. I will soon be adding a blog post with all the details and showing off the luxury.

Our gap year begins in Newcastle, Australia, where we were looking for budget activities to enjoy with friends with young children.

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