Have you ever splurged on a tour or experience while overseas that you wouldn’t ever consider doing in your home town? I certainly have. I’ve paid to go sailing in Croatia, done a cooking class in Barcelona and splashed out on a winery tour (or two) in France.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re experiences I’ll remember forever so it was worth every dollar. But the funny thing is I can experience this and more in my own town, Newcastle, yet I’ve never thought to do so.
But with overseas travel off the cards for the foreseeable future and even our local borders being too unpredictable to travel beyond my state, it’s time to up my staycation game. Here are 7 world-class experiences I (or you!) can do in the Newcastle region, just a two hour drive from Sydney.
1. Have a surf lesson at the iconic Nobby’s Beach
Surfing lessons are a popular holiday activity in places like Hawaii, but so many of us Aussies haven’t even hit the waves in our own backyard (at least not since we were kids on boogie boards that is). I see the group surf lessons taking place at the beach every weekend, but I admit that I always think it’s “just for tourists”. Of course, this is absolutely not the case.
If you’re living in Newcastle or simply stopping by on your travels along the coast, doing a surf lesson at Nobby’s Beach is a fun way to spend a few hours out in the water on a weekend. You’ll learn some new skills, get in a bit of exercise and meet new people while doing something that’s different from your regular weekend routine. And if you’re lucky, you’ll even see some dolphins catching the waves too while you’re out there.
You can do a two hour group lesson with Newcastle Surf School at Nobby’s Beach from just $45. So next time you’re looking for something a little bit different to do on your weekend, skip the fancy brunch and use the money to catch some waves instead.
2. Swim with dolphins in Nelson Bay
If you’ve spent time in the Newcastle area you’ve most likely seen dolphins cruising out in the ocean on your morning walk or beach days. But have you ever thought to dive in there and swim with them? This is something you can do in Port Stephens, less than an hour north of Newcastle.
This experience is offered by Dolphin Swim Australia from $329. You can swim in groups of about seven, so it’s the perfect thing to do with a few keen friends or family one weekend. You’ll be in a guided group with an instructor, and you’ll be fitted out with all the gear you need including wetsuits, a snorkeling kit and fins.
3. Do a sunrise (or sunset) hot air balloon ride
If you’re looking for something romantic to do with your significant other in Newcastle, perhaps to celebrate an anniversary or another special occasion, a hot air balloon ride could be just the thing. Hot air balloons are a lovely way to see the town from a different perspective, even if it’s your own town that you’re already very familiar with.
There are many options for hot air balloon rides in the Hunter Valley above the wine region, just a 30 minute drive from Newcastle. If you’re an early riser you can choose to do a sunrise ride, or there’s a sunset option for people who like to sleep in. You can even opt for a ride that includes champagne and nibbles too, to make it extra special.
4. Wine and dine in the Hunter wine region
Speaking of the Hunter Valley region, us Novacastrians are incredibly spoiled for choice when it comes to wineries. The region is home to multiple award-winning wineries that people travel from all over the country to visit, and it’s right on our doorstep. I’ve visited some of the wineries for various birthdays, hens parties and music events, but I can’t say I’ve truly explored the region and I know little about the wine makers there.
If you’re got a day free while you’re in the area, you can do a guided tour of some of the best wineries with iHop. Choose between a food and wine pairing lesson, a tour of the wineries via bus or splurge on an Italian cooking class among the grapevines. It’s a fun alternative to weekend drinks at the same old pub, and you’ll feel like you’re on holidays in Europe.
5. Do a sailing lesson in the harbour
For a different way to experience Newcastle’s harbour, you can book a private sailing lesson from Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club. Instead of watching the boats sailing though the harbour while you’re on the boardwalk, why not jump on and learn the ropes (literally) yourself?
Seeing the town from the water provides a whole new perspective that you might not have seen before. Plus, doing something that’s a bit out of your comfort zone and allows you to try something new is a great way to give you that travelling vibe without needing to actually travel. And who knows, you might even discover that you’re a natural sailor.
6. Skydive over the expansive Lake Macquarie
There’s something about travelling that makes us do things we normally wouldn’t, like jump out of a plane that’s 15,000 feet above ground. Being in a new place can give you a heightened sense of adventure and motivate you to get out of your comfort zone, and these things are often what you end up remembering the most.
So why not do something crazy right here in Australia? Whether you’ve lived in Newcastle your whole life or if you’re just passing by on a camping trip along the coast, you’re sure to get that sense of adventure and excitement by skydiving over Lake Macquarie.
The lake is one of the biggest in the country, so if you’re not too busy screaming with your eyes closed (like I would be) you’re promised an amazing view of the lake and the ocean. You can skydive over the lake with Skydive Australia from $339.
7. Go on a camel ride in Stockton sand dunes
No Egypt trip? No worries. Believe it or not you can ride a camel across the sand right here in the Hunter region. Except unlike in Egypt, you’ll have the ocean at your feet too (which is arguably better, in my opinion).
The Stockton sand dunes between Newcastle and Port Stephens are the largest moving coastal dunes in the southern hemisphere, and extend 32kms along the coast. If you’re familiar with the area, you’ve probably walked along the dunes during a visit to Birubi beach. But chances are you’ve never ridden a camel across them.
If you’re looking for something a bit more exotic to do during your Newcastle staycation, you can book a camel ride with Oakfield Ranch with options for sunrise or evening rides available.
If you’re looking for places to camp and more things to do while you’re in the Newcastle area, download the free CamperMate app and get planning.