Feeling exhausted after a family wedding, I needed to get away from Sydney. By myself. But where to go? A two hour drive from home would be the max.
“Why don’t you come and meet me for lunch in Newcastle?” my dear friend, Melody texted.
“Great idea! When!” I texted back.
Located in the Hunter region of NSW, the beachside city of Newcastle is situated 162 kilometers (101 mi) NNE of Sydney, at the mouth of the Hunter River. Famous for its coal, it is the largest coal exporting harbor in the world. Surrounded by eight beaches, it boasts a popular surfing and fishing scene, along with a quirky arts culture and thriving dining and shopping. But that’s not what I was heading to Newcastle for. I wanted to do.... nothing. Yep. Not a single solitary thing. Except to get a dose of valuable “me” time and catch up with my dear friend, Melody.
“I can get away early in the week. But I have to warn you, there are roadworks before you get into Newcastle so the drive could end up taking you more than 2 hours,” Melody responded.
Hmmm, I thought. This little getaway is meant to be all about self-care. I’ll be damned if I come home even more drained than I’m already feeling, I told myself. Already battling a head cold, it had inched its way down to my chest and developed into an irritating cough.
“I’ll stay overnight. It’ll do me good and Peter won’t mind,” I continued. “Where’s a good place to stay?”
“Not sure where to suggest as I’ve never stayed in ‘accommodation’ in Newcastle. But have a look somewhere near the beach Crown Plaza or Noah’s on the Beach,” she texted.
Based on Melody’s response, I Googled Newcastle (NSW) accommodation (as you do). Spotting Quality Hotels Noah’s on the Beach, I looked at their Expedia rates. $169 per night for a city view. Not bad. Not wanting to break the bank on an overnight stay on my own, I clicked “book.”
Leaving home by 10 am the following day, the drive was an easy one once I got through the congestion of Sydney’s North Shore and the parking lot that is the Pacific Highway. Packed with all my favorite tunes, my Honda Civic’s Bluetooth system had me in the “zone” in no time, jiving to George Michael, Bob Marley, Bruno Mars, Aretha Franklin, Yasmin Levy and Maroon 5 as I cruised along the highway to Newcastle. With a steady supply of speeding cameras and random hidden patrol cars behind bushes, I kept my speed to under 110.
Reaching Newcastle CBD in good time, I turned right at the railway then left towards Newcastle Beach, slowing down to a crawl as I hit Shortland Esplanade. I gazed longingly at the expanse of ocean and the deserted golden stretch of sand to my left before slowly turning right into Zaara Street, where the entrance to the hotel parking lot was located. Pulling into the first guest parking lot that I spotted, I parked, turned off the engine, and grabbed my black overnight bag before locking up and taking the lift up to reception.
“Hi, Denise,” I said, reading the name tag on the staff member’s shirt lapel. “I have a booking for an overnight stay at your hotel.”
Looking my name up on her computer, Denise pleasantly replied, ”Ahh, here you are! You’ve already prepaid, I see. With our compliments, we’ve upgraded you to a room with an ocean view. The whales are migrating at the moment, so with any luck you may be able to spot a few.” On hearing Denise’s words, I exhaled the tension that I had accumulated over the past few days. Thanking her profusely, I gathered my luggage - after she’d taken an imprint of my credit card, of course - and took the lift to Room #315.
The first impressions of a room are what count the most for any guest in commercial accommodation. And my room at Noah’s on the Beach had me feeling embraced from the get-go. While hardly huge and sporting the latest in hotel chic, it spelled cozy, spotlessly clean, and comfortable. With bedspread and soft furnishings featured in a Teal Blue color palette, the throw cushions were attractively accented in a rich gold braid, adding a touch of luxe. Testing the mattress, it was firm and supportive. A bucket shaped armchair by the floor to ceiling windows invited slouching in, so I propped my feet on it from my position on the bed. Jumping up, I checked out the bathroom. The white wall and floor tiles glistened. Turning on the shower, the water pressure was acceptable. I’d be very happy here.
After unpacking and arranging my toiletries, I made my way to the window and gazed outwards to the ocean. Hmmm, no whales. Giving Melody a call on my mobile phone, I announced, “I’m here!” when she picked up. Fifteen minutes later, she was knocking on my door. Opening the heavy door, I surrendered into a hug that only a dear friend can give, without conditions, explanations or expectations. She knew that I’d had a stressful week.
“C’mon, let’s eat!” I told her. “I’m starving!”
“I have a suggestion,” Melody told me. “It’s raining, and you’re tired and not well. Why don’t we just go downstairs and eat at the hotel restaurant instead of traipsing around the CBD?” Music to my ears!
Taking the lift back to ground floor, we waltzed into the hotel’s restaurant, Jonah’s on the Beach. Being two o’clock on a Tuesday, we had our pick of the tables. Settling on one by the vast expansive windows, we had an uninterrupted view of Newcastle’s magical coastline.
Our waitress, Larissa, commented to us as we sat down, “You just missed a whale! It passed before you walked in.” Gently placing our serviettes on our laps, she asked us good naturedly, “Are we celebrating anything today, ladies?” To which we responded, “A good friendship.” This brought on a smile from Larissa. Handing us our menus, we waved the wine list away. With Melody being a nondrinker, I normally don’t make a habit of drinking during the day.
After 30-odd years of friendship, Melody and I have rarely found ourselves with an awkward gap in the conversation. The fact that we live in separate cities and might not see each other for weeks, sometimes months, at a time makes our get-togethers all the more special. Covering every topic under the sun and catching up on our mutual life dramas, we consciously had to interrupt our verbal flow to put in our order before the kitchen closed.
At last, lunch arrived. I salivated as I studied my Salt & Chilli Spiced Squid, which sat on a spread of Tamarind Aioli. Garnished with Baby Coriander, the Caramelised Onion Jam on the side added a sweet and sour touch. Unable to get it in my mouth quickly enough, the flavors flooded my palate as it rendered me momentarily lost for words. Melody settled on the Morpeth Sourdough Rolls with Caramelised Balsamic Butter.
Our main meals consisted of the succulent Pan fried Barramundi Fillet with Salsa Verde, Citrus Salad and Garlic Kipfler Potatoes. As we relished every mouthful we were rewarded with an astonishing sight, a full rainbow that arched from one end of the horizon to the other, every color as vivid as the next. Every time we looked up from another mouthful, it seemed like the rainbow was inching closer towards us until it was seemingly resting on the waters just beyond our table. It was truly a rare gift.
A gift deserves a celebration, and a celebration calls for dessert. Like my segue? While Melody ordered the Orange Crème Brûlée with Fresh Strawberry Salad and Pistachio Biscotti, I chose the Warm Apple Crepe with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Cinnamon Caramel. The flavors were heavenly and sublime, a fitting tribute to 'our' rainbow. Paying the bill, we hightailed it back to my room for a cup of tea and serious chinwag until 6 pm.
Dinner that night for me was room service - I was exhausted from the drive and didn’t want to see a soul. Consisting of a wagyu beef burger with fries, the patty was small and overcooked. And at $22, it was expensive. Still, it wasn’t a deal breaker. Thank goodness for the couple of glasses of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, compliments of the bottle that Peter had managed to shove into my bag before I left our Sydney home. After watching television for 15 minutes as I reclined on the bed - I’m not a great fan of commercial channels - I settled on a hot shower before diving in between cool sheets and devouring my new mystery book. Asleep by 10:30 pm. Bliss!
Awaking after a restful night’s sleep feeling invigorated, I packed my bags after a brief shower and breakfast. Checking out by 10 am, I threw my bags into the car and locked it before taking a leisurely walk along the beach. Except for a lone figure staring out into the ocean, the shoreline was deserted. I watched the surfers gliding gracefully in a form of water ballet, navigating the waves with grace. And (Sigh) still no whales. Nevertheless, I filled my lungs with the crisp sea air as the sound of the waves and lilting cry of the seagulls spread over me like a healing balm. As my father used to say, “How wonderful it is to do nothing, and then relax.” It was precisely this that I looked forward to doing at Noah’s on the Beach, in Newcastle. Mission accomplished!