Newcastle is a cosmopolitan, artsy city with heaps of beautiful beaches and a large working harbour. Since Newcastle's discovery by European settlers it has been a penal settlement, pioneer town and industrial base (coal and steel). It's now the second-largest city in New South Wales (after Sydney) and the seventh-largest city in Australia.
The beaches are the draw for Novocastrians and visitors. Nobbys, Newcastle, Bar, Dixon Park, Merewether and Stockton are all patrolled. Nobbys Beach marks the start of the Bathers Way, a 5km (3 mile) signposted coastal walk that extends to Merewether Beach (site of Surfest, the country's longest running international surfing competition).
There are several historic buildings around Newcastle, such as Christ Church Cathedral, seat of the (Anglican) Bishop of Newcastle, Fort Scratchley, the old Customs House, City Hall, the Longworth Institute (late 19th century) and the University House (late 1930s).
Blackbutt Reserve is just 8km (5 miles) from the Central Business District. There are 450 acres of bushland - trails, a bat habitat, boardwalk with kangaroos, wombats, koalas and birds, and a restful picnic area.
Less than an hour's drive inland from Newcastle is the Hunter Valley, the renowned wine-making area. Barrington Tops, a national park situated on the Gloucester Ranges, is less than a two-hour drive from Newcastle.