7 things you didn't know about Newcastle (and some that you probably did)

With glorious beaches, a thriving arts scene and the Hunter Valley wine region on its doorstep, there are many reasons to visit the scenic harbour city that's full of surprises.

Two women with surfboards standing on beach in Newcastle
  • Peta Murray
  • March 2020

Hold on to your hard hats. We mine the misconception from matter-of-fact in the former Steel City.

Myth 1: Local sand is exported to Hawaiian beaches

With no less than six beaches situated a few minutes’ drive from the CBD and Stockton Bight to the north, home of the largest shifting sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, Newcastle has plenty of golden grains to share but tales of sand being shipped over to replenish the shores of Waikiki are just that.

Myth 2: Newcastle is still in the shadow of smokestacks

Once dubbed “Steel City”, Newcastle has cleaned up its act since bidding adieu to industrial giant BHP two decades ago. Initiatives include the Community Greening program, tough emission controls placed on local industry to improve air quality and former industrial zones such as the Honeysuckle Precinct converted into harbourside apartments, restaurants and bars.

The bustling waterfront of Honesuckle Precinct in Newcastle
The Honeysuckle precinct is a former industrial area now gentrified into a trendy waterfront promenade.

Myth 3: It’s a small town

The second-largest city in New South Wales behind capital Sydney, Newcastle also ranks as the seventh largest metropolis in the nation, making it bigger than Canberra, Darwin and Hobart.

Myth 4: Pasha Bulker was Newcastle’s first shipwreck

When the 40,000-tonne Danish-operated bulk carrier lobbed up on Nobbys Beach at the height of 2007’s destructive east coast low, it was not the first ship to come unstuck – more than 200 vessels have wrecked around the harbour entrance over the last two centuries. View the Pasha Bulker sculpture, which includes a portion of the ship’s rudder, on Nobbys Beach Promenade, or take a boat tour along Newcastle’s coastline to see other famous shipwrecks along with marine life and rugged cliffs and caves.

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A shipwreck on the sea near a beach
The Pasha Bulker shipwreck is just one of 200 along this coastline.

Myth 5: It was Cold Chisel on stage during the infamous 1979 riot

One of the largest riots in Australian history took place in Newcastle on the night of 19 September 1979 over the closure of a popular pub, the Star Hotel. While this event was later immortalised in song by Cold Chisel on their 1980 album East, Chisel never played a gig there. The band performing on the night of the riot was local group, Heroes. These days you can catch Newcastle’s best acts at The Cambridge Hotel, voted the state’s Best Live Music Venue in 2018.

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Myth 6: Newcastle is too light on attractions

Often viewed as bridesmaid to glamorous big sister Sydney, the Newcastle area lays claim to some of the state’s most enviable beaches as well as Lake Macquarie, Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake and the world-renowned Hunter Valley wine region. One of Lonely Planet’s top 10 international cities to visit in 2011, Newcastle also hosts major sporting events such as Surfest, the largest surf competition in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Supercars Newcastle 500, held December 4-6, 2020.

A pro surfer in action at Surfest
Newcastle is the home of Surfest, the largest surfing competition in the Southern Hemisphere.

Myth 7: It has always been called Newcastle

The Awabakal and Worimi peoples are acknowledged as the traditional custodians of Newcastle, and the earliest Indigenous reference to the naming of the area is Muloobinba, meaning “place of the edible sea fern”. European settlers and convicts arrived at the turn of the 18th century to dig coal mines and a convict camp called King’s Town was established. The area was named Newcastle after Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1804.

And 3 intriguing facts about Newcastle that are true

Newcastle is home to more artists than any other city in Australia. The city also claims the most art galleries per capita. Newcastle Art Gallery says it houses one of “Australia’s most substantial public art collections” outside the major capital cities while the past decade has seen an artist-led inner-city regeneration campaign (Renew Newcastle), converting empty buildings into studios for emerging young talent.

4 people walking along a street in Newcastle against a wall of graffiti
Don't miss the vibrant street art across Newcastle.

The city is full of underground mineshafts, with centuries of coal mining having left subterranean Newcastle honeycombed with abandoned mineshafts, mostly rendered impassable due to subsidence and rock fall.

And, finally, you still don’t want to be taking coal to Newcastle with the city ranking as the world’s largest coal port. Newcastle coal was the first substance exported from the colony of NSW in the late 18th century. Today, it makes up about 90 per cent of Newcastle Harbour’s output with annual exports of about 160 million tonnes to Asia.