Ultimate guide to things to do in Hunter Valley & Newcastle with kids
Australia’s seventh largest city packs a huge punch when it comes to family holidays. While it is best known for its beautiful beaches, Newcastle, on the NSW North Coast, is also a haven for history buffs and packed to overflowing with great activities and attractions for families.
At Fort Scratchley, perched high on Flagstaff Hill, kids can check out the cannons on top or head underground to tunnel through more than 200 years of history. Head further up the hill to Nobby’s Lighthouse, first operated in1858, for some of Newcastle’s most spectacular views. If you’re keen for more history, Newcastle Museum brings the past, present and future to life with fantastic interactive kids’ zones.
Take a stroll along the pretty Newcastle Memorial Walk for the chance to spot a whale or dolphins splashing off the shoreline, though for your best chance at sighting the gentle giants at play, take a cruise with one of the local whale and dolphin watching operators.
Getting around is easy as Newcastle is one of the first cities in NSW to offer a bike hiring system, and you will find automated stands conveniently located around the city for pick up and drop off.
If you’re planning on taking a dip, Bar Beach is one of Newcastle’s ultimate family beaches and the historic Newcastle and Merewether baths are two other great spots for kids to take a swim. If you’re looking for a little more action in the water, why not take a surf lesson on Nobby’s Beach.
Top things to do in Hunter Valley & Newcastle
From the surf and sand of Newcastle to the vineyards of the Hunter Valley you’ll find plenty to see and do. Here are 10 of our favourites.
- Take a step into the past along the Newcastle ANZAC Memorial Walk.
- Take a dip at the Bogey Hole.
- Spot the local wildlife at the Hunter Wetlands Centre.
- Explore the magical nooks and crannies of Hunter Valley Gardens.
- Hire a bike at one of the automated bike hire terminals to cycle the city.
- Unleash your inner Tarzan at Treetops Adventure Park.
- Ride the replica of the city’s original 1923 tram.
- Take a tour of Fort Scratchley, a nineteenth fort and history museum.
- Let the kids run wild while they learn at Supernova at The Newcastle Museum.
- Take a hike up to Nobby’s Lighthouse.
Things to do in Hunter Valley & Newcastle with…
There is no shortage of parklands, playgrounds and green spaces in Newcastle. Nobby’s Beach Reserve is a favourite and King Edward Park has great play equipment along with plenty of shade. Foreshore Park is another great space perfect for a picnic or to play. There’s a shaded modern playground including play train and ponds complete with ducks the kids will love.
Animal loving littlies will also have a great time at Blackbutt Reserve. Here they can spot koalas, emus, wallabies, wombats and other native animals from a series of stroller-friendly boardwalks. The Hunter Wetlands Centre is another great spot for critter spotting with reptile talks and bird feeding and a great Discovery Zone treasure hunt.
And if the weather is not on your side, just take your tots inside at the Newcastle Museum where the fabulous Mininova soft play area will keep them entertained for hours.
You may think the Hunter Valley is a grown-up place that’s all about wine tasting, but there is a surprising amount of fun waiting for kids. At Hunter Valley Gardens kids can explore a storybook garden where timeless tales leap out of the pages of books. In June, the gardens transform into an icy paradise with skating, tobogganing and a snow play zone, and from November to January, the gardens sparkle to life for the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest and most breathtaking light display.
The Hunter Valley Zoo, located between Cessnock and Lovedale, is the spot to hand-feed kangaroos, pat koalas and meet meerkats. Or head to Hunter Valley Aqua Golf and Putt Putt for mini golf and more. And you won’t get any argument from the kids about a visit to Hunter Valley Chocolate for handmade chocolate and freshly made fudge.
Hire a bike from one of Newcastle City’s automated stands and cycle along the boardwalk past Nobbys Lighthouse. Now one of Newcastle’s premier attractions, the dramatic lighthouse is perched on a pretty headland that was spotted by Captain James Cook from the ship Endeavour in 1770 and first flashed its beacon in1858. On Sundays, you can visit the lighthouse grounds to learn about its history and to enjoy the sweeping views over the city and the Pacific Ocean.
Fort Scratchley, situated at the eastern end of Newcastle, offers a unique opportunity for kids to learn about Australia’s involvement in WW11.The fort was built in 1821to protect the coastline in the event of an attack and is designed around a battery of big guns facing the ocean and Newcastle Harbour. When you’re not checking out the cannons you can visit the Barracks and take a guided tour of the tunnels to lean about the site’s complex history.
There’s plenty to keep action loving teens amused in Newcastle and the Hunter. A learn-to-surf class at Nobbys is a popular choice or you can head to The School of Yak for guided historical and eco tours of Newcastle Harbour, The Hunter Wetlands National Park by Kayak.
If you’ve a head for heights, TreeTops Adventure Park offers 96 challenges including 20 scream-inducing flying foxes. And for the ultimate in fun head to nearby Stockton Beach to fly down the dunes by sand board, ride a camel or wheel your way over the sand with Quad Bike King.
Gather the crew and head for Hunter Valley Paintball for a day of messy combat, tour the Hunter Valley on the back of a trike, take a sunrise hot air balloon flight or test your driving skills on the go-karting racetrack at Go Karts Go.
Best time to visit Hunter Valley & Newcastle as a family
Newcastle lies in a temperate zone, so is generally free from extreme temperatures, and you’ll find something happening all year around. Winter runs from June to August and daytime temperatures fall so you’ll need to rug up. The warmest time to visit is from December to February, with an average maximum temperature of 26 degrees Celcius, but this also coincides with the summer school holidays which bring with them an increase in pricing and the need to book early. Summer is harvest time in the vineyards of the Hunter Valley but autumn is the time to celebrate nature’s bounty and in spring the vines come to life with delicate light green foliage and pleasant weather. It’s worth considering visiting both Newcastle and The Hunter Valley outside of peak holiday seasons including Easter, NSW school holidays and the Christmas and New Year period for more affordable accommodation.
Family-friendly places to eat in Hunter Valley & Newcastle
Newcastle’s flourishing food scene means there is a great selection of cafes, takeaways and restaurants and kid friendly pubs for families.
It would be positively unAustralian not to stop for a pie at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels on Wharf Road. And you’ll find some of the best fish and chips in town at Jeremiah Jones Boutique Fish and Chips. The Salty Squid and Scratchleys On The Wharf offer menus that will keep kids and their parents happy. The CBD Hotel features an indoor kids’ playground in the beer garden to keep the kids entertained after lunch. And don’t let the name of Grain Store Beer Cafe fool you, its old-fashioned arcade games, board games and America diner-style eats offer something for the whole family.
In the Hunter Valley, Harrigan’s Irish Pub is a great spot for hearty food and a visit to Hunter Valley Cookies and the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company won’t get many arguments from the kids.
Things to do for free in Hunter Valley & Newcastle
- There’s plenty for families to do in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
- Walk the Bather’s Way, a pretty coastal walk from Glenrock Reserve to Nobby’s Point Lighthouse, or along the inspiring Newcastle ANZAC Memorial Walk.
- Take the free bus around the CBD and visit the acclaimed, and free, Newcastle Museum and Newcastle Art Gallery.
- Head up the hill to Fort Scratchley, a fascinating historic and educational site, which also offers some of Newcastle’s most spectacular views.
- Hit up one of the city’s many glorious beaches for sun, sand and surf.
- Swim at Newcastle Ocean Baths, an outstanding historical landmark with areas for swimmers of every ability.
- Merewether Baths is another popular place for a dip, as is the Bogey Hole, an incredible ocean bath cut straight into the ocean rocks by convict laborers in 1819.
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Janeece Keller is the founder and editor of Family Travel. She mostly travels with her husband and two young kids. She has a large blended family that lives in Australia and Europe. She has visited 52 countries and lived on 3 continents. From camping to luxury resorts Janeece tries to make sure her family has diverse holiday experiences each year. She is an avid hiker and ocean swimmer who loves good food, margaritas and heading off the beaten path.