Beaches, adventure, nature, fine food and wine. Newcastle, Port Stephens and the Hunter Valley have much to offer.
Postcard-perfect ocean pools, a working harbour and an intriguing history make Newcastle, a favourite travel destination. But it's also the gateway to the Hunter Valley and some of the state's best wines, and yet more beaches and whale-watching waters in Port Stephens.
Here is a guide to discovering Newcastle - and beyond.
Have a dip: There are more than 100 ocean baths across NSW, but none are as enticing as Newcastle's Bogey Hole. Splash about in the turquoise water or soak up the coastal views from any number of cliffside perches.
Swish spot: inner-city Cooks Hill is distinguished by its leafy streets lined with grand Victorian mansions and timber cottages home to some of the city's most happening restaurants, bars and cafes. In between you'll discover Newcastle Art Gallery (with more than 6000 works), bookshops and independent galleries. Small wonder it draws an eclectic crowd.
Harbour watching: Once a busy industrial area, the Honeysuckle precinct is now a hip waterfront hangout full of buzzing restaurants and bars. Many visit to walk, cycle or rollerblade along the foreshore promenades. You'll also find the Newcastle Museum, where you put on your hard hat and sense the heat, danger and hard work of coal mining and steel production
Encounter with giants: Every year between May and November, more than 25,000 humpback and southern right whales steam up and down the east coast on their annual migration. You can see them breaching and blowing from the shore but spotting by boat is an option.
So much sand: The longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere, the Stockton Sand Dunes reach heights of more than 40 metres, often on an incline of 60 degrees. Sign up for dune surfing, explore by camel or learn about Indigenous lore and bush foods.
Tuck in: The retro Salamander Shores motel has been reborn as Bannisters Port Stephens, its 80 barefoot-luxe rooms and suites done up in a coastal palette of blue and white. Slide into the infinity pool overlooking the bay, dine on fresh seafood by Rick Stein or explore the national parkland and waterways.
Flora galor-a: More than 6000 trees, 60,000 shrubs, and a million other plants and bulbs create a floral wonderland at the Hunter Valley Gardens. Across the 14 hectares there are eight kilometres of walking trails, leading to cool waterfalls and themed areas, including an Italian grotto. After your wander, pop in to Harrigan's Irish-themed bistro for the signature beef-and-Guinness pot pie.
Raise a glass: Leave your car behind at your hotel and explore the Hunter Valley's top wineries on a custom tour. The range of offerings is diverse, from chauffeured vintage vehicles cruising between cellar doors - perhaps with an indulgent lunch included - to soaring above the vines at sunrise in a hot-air balloon, with a champagne breakfast when you touch down.
Stay and dine: Set in the heart of the valley, Spicers Guesthouse is the ultimate country retreat, from the elegant manor house to the stylish rooms. After a day hopping between cellar doors, return for a dip in the infinity pool overlooking bushland and a meal at modern-Italian e Remo Restaurant.