So this was it, we were leaving Sydney and heading towards Newcastle with not much more to guide us than a Lonely Planet book from 2009, which we’d had for a while but only just started using. I got into the habit of reading a few pages ahead as we went so if there was anything of interest, we wouldn’t miss it. But mainly what we were interested in was finding good surf beaches!
Once out of Sydney we soon got off the highway and headed for the Bouddi National Park to check out the Central Coast. We spent the day exploring the beaches and stopped at Little Beach for a picnic on the sand. But with not much surf around we continued on to the town of Avoca, where although the waves looked a bit messy, there were plenty of surfers in the water showing it was possible.
I really liked Avoca, the beachfront was made up of a couple of cafes and a Surf Lifeguard Club. There was a nice amount of people milling around drinking coffees and enjoying the beach without it feeling busy. After school the beach was full of kids and parents from the surf club, out on their paddle boards and practicing lifeguard drills, it seemed like a nice place to live.
Before Avoca, Chris and I had only surfed once before at Manly Beach in Sydney when we bought the surfboards. As far as first times went it had been pretty good! We’d even got to our feet a few times. So we had high expectations going in for the 2nd time.
We grabbed our boards and went in to join the kids. This, as it turned out, was a bit demoralising. These kids were making everything look so easy, they paddled out fast, duck diving under the oncoming waves effortlessly. One boy in particular, who couldn’t have been any older than 12, was happily popping up on waves, riding along them, hopping off the end, only to spin his board around and get back into position for another wave in no time.
I, on the other hand, was using every ounce of strength I had splashing around like a fish out of water. As each oncoming wave hit me I was pushed back, spluttering and wiping salt water from my eyes. Finally I made it out the back panting and arms aching. But the waves were coming fast and breaking everywhere randomly. There was no time to hang around I just had to go for it. But by this point I was so exhausted I couldn’t get to my feet. I felt paralysed lying on the board and before I knew it, I was heading in towards the shore and would have to start it all over again.
I’d read that surfing took a lot of physical strength, and now I knew first hand just how much! I’d say I’ve got a good level of general fitness, while working on the farm I used to run 5 miles 3 times a week. But this is different, surfing uses muscles I’ve never used before, a lot of upper body strength is require which apparently I don’t have!
When Chris and I finally gave up and got out we felt pretty deflated, but we had to remind ourselves it was only our 2nd time surfing and although it didn’t feel like we’d achieved much, just paddling in the water improves your balance and builds up your arms. We spent another day at Avoca struggling to surf before continuing along the coast towards Newcastle.
Newcastle is a cool laid back city. Here, you’ll find plenty of surf beaches, chilled out people, and hippy shops. Unfortunately there are also a few religious types, preaching loudly and handing out flyers on the streets, but that was just comical more than anything else.
We spent most of our time at Bar Beach. It’s a popular surf beach, so popular, that I came to the conclusion that not many people in Newcastle work or go to school. During the week there was just a constant flow of people making their way to the beach to swim or surf. But the main reason we hung around Bar Beach was because it had free public hot showers!
We spent a good few days here chilling out, surfing, and talking to the local old guys. Surfing itself went much better, but the waves were breaking pretty close to the shore which freaked me out when one sent me nose diving face first into the shallow water. And Chris definitely wasn’t happy to find that one of his fins was ripped out after a pretty bad wipe out. His board had a small ding (hole, crack etc) in it and the fin couldn’t be found.
The next day we went into town to a surf shop to buy a repair kit and a new fin. The guy in the shop told us a 2nd hand fin would cost $30 while a brand new set of 3 would cost $60. I was a bit shocked by how much these small bits of plastic were worth! Reluctantly Chris bought a set of 3.
Things to do in Newcastle
One good thing about Newcastle is there are plenty of free things to keep you occupied for at least a day.
Queens Wharf Tower: This is a 40.3 metre tower that gives 360degree views of the city. The windows at the top are pretty scratched and dirty, but on the climb up you can peek out for a clearer view.
Fort Scratchley: This place played a vital role in defending Newcastle when a Japanese Submarine attacked on 8 June 1942. You can walk freely around the fort and pop into different rooms that have been turned into a mini museum. There’s also an underground maze of tunnels but you have to pay for a guided tour if you want to see them. You can get a good view of Nobbys Beach and Newcastle from the fort.
Nobbys Head: Nobbys used to be an island but now you can walk along a manmade sand spit towards the lighthouse and then on a bit further. It can be a pretty refreshing walk on a windier day and there’s a good chance of spotting some seals in the water.
Newcastle Ocean Baths: These saltwater outdoor swimming pools are right next to the ocean. With the old architecture, permanent diving blocks, and concrete it feels so old school. Apparently this spot is a favourite for wedding photographers too, I saw 2 weddings while I was there.
We spent 4 days in Newcastle surfing, sightseeing, using the library and going to the cinema. But the local surfers told us there were some very beautiful and much quieter beaches just north of us. So we woke up one morning and decided it was time to move on.