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Sunday, May 1, 2011

April 26th – May 1st, 2011 Exploring Newcastle

Gosh what a great city Newcastle is! The waterfront is being refurbished into an upscale living, dining and entertainment area. The boardwalk that begins just beyond our marina runs along an area called Honeysuckle, which meanders along the Foreshore, past Queen’s Wharf to just beyond the Bus terminal, ending at a grassy knoll known as the Convict Lumber Yard. We noticed so many historical markers just along the boardwalk that we decided to backtrack to the visitor’s center realizing there was much history to be revealed here.  We picked up several brochures and meandered through the maritime museum, then walked into the older part of town where the streets become pedestrian shopping areas. The first day out we just got the lay of the land as we often do. We discovered a little gelato shop called G & G Gelato in the old town and naturally gave it a taste test. It was by far the best gelato either of us has eaten outside of Italy! It surpassed our previous favorite. We must make an effort to visit G & G again. After a while our feet grew tired so we hopped onto the free shuttle bus, which delivered us close to the Coles grocery store not far from the marina. After a quick restock we ended our day back on Destiny.

Wednesday, we decided to embark on the self-guided Heritage Walk (tour).  The tour takes visitors over 200 years back in time to an era (of strife) for the indigenous Awabakal people, Newcastle’s original Aboriginal inhabitants. There isn’t much information to be gleaned about them, so my assumption would be that they were treated the same as all Aborigines we have read about which is not something today’s Australians are proud to advertise.  The walk led us into the convict industrial working areas such as the lumber yard, and the rail depot up the hill to Fort Scratchley and its underground tunnels, then out to the ocean baths, along some of the lovely beaches, down the old piers and wharfs, through the original settlement.

We veered off the prescribed 3K-walk course so that we could also take in the Christchurch Cathedral, an imposing structure along the periphery of our tour no matter where we ventured. Because our eyes were constantly drawn to its towering bell tower, we detoured to investigate this magnificent landmark. The grounds are beautifully and lovingly maintained. The cathedral has been being restored for quite some time and looks inviting. Upon entering its cavernous sanctuary I felt awash in warmth, love and peace.  As we wandered through the naves and up toward the alter, my eyes were drawn to the remarkable pipes of the organ that proudly dominated at least one-third of the structure. I could almost hear and feel the vibration and sound of these lofty pipes that ranged in size from that of my finger to a lodge pole pine, as they stretched far up into the cathedral ceiling. Wow! We took the stairs up to the second level that housed the organist and the choir. Then we noticed the door to the bell-tower and continued onward and upward into the dark, narrow passageway that rounded and rounded on small steep flagstone steps, until we emerged some 50-yards upward into the bell room which housed several bells, chains, cranks and shafts. From there led an even narrower, steel stepped staircase through the floor above. We followed it emerging on a parapet that resembled the tower of a castle with four bastion-like structures at the corners. The view from up there was breathtaking. Descending the tower, I felt sad to leave. This cathedral had a real spiritual impact on me. As we passed the front desk, we dropped a donation into the box on our way out.

Next stop was a very late lunch at one of the historic and beautifully built local hotels that is now a restaurant/pub situated among the government and judicial buildings, where men and women dressed in flowing black robes and powder-white wigs scurried about among others in business suits carrying briefcases. We knew that this hotel must be a favorite eating and drinking hole for this crowd.  The interior was rich with dark, heavy wood, brass and marble structures. We immediately decided we liked it whether the food was good or not. The food was good. What a nice way to round out our day of exploring Newcastle. From there we just walked. It was yet a good 3 miles (5K) back to the marina. Not a bad day at all!

The next couple of days were spent – as always – getting chores done, walking a bit and then planning our next stop. The tide tables and weather determined that we would make a late morning departure for Port Stephens on May 1.

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