There always seems to be a COVID outbreak right before I’m about to leave for an interstate house and cat sitting trip, and this time was no different.
In the days leading up to my departure, Sydney recorded some 50 locally acquired COVID-19 cases and Brisbane had about five. It wasn’t so much that I was travelling down to New South Wales, but the couple I was house and cat sitting for were coming up to Queensland. Queensland has been quick to shut the border to New South Wales residents in the past, but, thankfully, the Newcastle couple were able to make their way up to the Gold Coast without any problems.
Newcastle—much like Darwin—wasn’t somewhere I’d thought about going pre-COVID. However, because we’re *still* limited to domestic travel, I thought a week-long house and cat sit there didn’t sound too bad. Newcastle is about two hours north of Sydney, is Australia’s second oldest city and even got a mention in Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities list once. I read it’s the second most populated area in the state, but it still has that sleepy little town feel. Or that’s how I would describe Newcastle.
The Aussie House Sitters sit didn’t start until Sunday, but I went to meet the couple on Saturday afternoon to get the keys and go through a few things. I was also introduced to Cashew, their 10-year-old rescue cat, and briefed on her routine. They told me Cashew weighed 8kg when they got her, but they’ve managed to get her weight down to 5.5kg. She’s fed one can of wet food twice a day and gets dry food as a treat. The dry food is placed in a toilet roll and she has to move it around to get the biscuits out.
I quickly learned one can of wet food twice a day isn’t enough for Cashew. She would go back to her empty bowl and lick it clean. She did this both morning and night. Food-crazed Cashew also happens to be one of the most affectionate cats I’ve cared for. She would follow me around the apartment (not just at food time), jump on the bed as soon as I hopped in, and she had to sit on my lap if I was at the table or outside on the balcony. She would alternate between sleeping under the covers and up against my leg.
COVID restrictions reintroduced
Face masks became mandatory on my second day in Newcastle. I believe this was as a result of an increase in COVID cases in Greater Sydney. This meant wearing a face mask on public transport, at hospitality venues and when you went shopping. Newcastle’s cafes and restaurants then had to further restrict the number of dine in customers at any one time.
Things then started to get worse back home in Queensland. Despite the state’s numbers not anywhere near as bad as New South Wales’, a three-day lockdown was announced for Brisbane and surrounding areas. This included the Gold Coast. I messaged the couple asking what this meant for their plans—they said “we decided to cut our losses and come home today”. They planned to stay at the girl’s mum’s place, an hour out of Newcastle, until Friday so it didn’t affect my plans too much. I felt a bit guilty about this and said I’d change my flight to Thursday morning.
Things to do
I was lucky to have done most of the things I wanted to see/do before I left on Thursday. I did, however, really want to check out the Olive Tree Market on Saturday. And I didn’t make it out to Merewether either.
The couple’s Wickham location proved to be perfect for exploring Newcastle. The interchange—where I could get a bus, train or the light rail to most places I wanted to visit—was directly across from their apartment. Newcastle CBD was within walking distance, and popular shopping suburbs Islington and Hamilton could be reached in less than 15 minutes.
Newcastle Beach is pretty much in the CBD. It’s at the other end of what they call Hunter Street Mall. Start at the ocean baths, walk along the beach and up to the Bogey Hole.
ANZAC Memorial Walk
If you continue past the Bogey Hole, you’ll eventually end up at the ANZAC Memorial Walk. The ANZAC Memorial Walk is a 450-metre clifftop walkway that connects Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach. It opened in 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZACs landing in Gallipoli.
Shopping in Islington and Hamilton
You could easily spend a whole day shopping in Islington and Hamilton. They’ve both got plenty of stores selling antiques, vintage clothing, locally designed goods and homewares. My favourite shops were Eclectic Corner, edde, The Retro Wardrobe and Fever Dream.
Christ Church Cathedral
The Christ Church Cathedral is hard to miss as you walk around the city. I noticed it on my first day here, but I didn’t venture up the hill until later in the week. The church is huge. It even has its own park—Cathedral Park.
The Newcastle lighthouse and breakwall walk was mentioned to me by the lady who owns Eclectic Corner. When I told her it was my last day in town, she recommended I do it.
You can only go up to the actual lighthouse on Saturdays and Sundays, but the walk out to the breakwall is still very much worth doing.
The Corner at Charlestown Square
I planned to bus out to Charlestown Square solely for the Creative Village Newcastle store, but I learned about ‘The Corner’ prior to my visit. The Corner is described as a dynamic food and entertainment precinct albeit at a Westfield-like shopping centre. Creative Village Newcastle was great—I was able to get one of Teval’s lady vases (first spotted at a store in Leura while I was house and cat sitting in Sydney). As were the mushroom bao buns from Bao Brothers, and my salted caramel and hazelnut thick shake from Popolo Artisan Gelateria.
My next stop is home—two days earlier than planned, but that’s COVID-19 for you. I’ll still keep an eye on interstate house and cat sits, but who knows when everything will start to settle down.