Last weekend I left the state of Victoria – for the first time! – and headed to visit my lovely friend, Laura, who is currently living in Newcastle, New South Wales.
Laura and I met at a bonfire on a remote Cambodian island surrounded by strangers over two years ago. If it sounds like the beginning of an indie film, well, it’s probably because it should be…
I had recently finished my TEFL course in northern Thailand and had just celebrated my 26th birthday in northern Cambodia, where I was traveling solo.
Laura was similarly solo and exploring South East Asia before flying to Australia to begin her work and holiday year.
Regardless of where we were coming from or where we were headed, a friendship quickly blossomed over our bonfire chat, and after a day or two on the electricity-free island where we resided in tree houses, it was clear that we were soul sisters.
Without trying to sound like the rest of my generation, this particular Cambodian chapter of my life was nothing short of epic.
Though it has been over two years since we last saw each other (in person at least), Laura and I were excited for our next international meet up.Due to the fact that both of us are working in Australian hospitality, the planning was continually delayed because of shift changes and saving enough cold hard cash to make it happen.Eventually, we pinpointed a good time for the visit, which coincided with the Australian national day of remembrance, or Anzac Day.
From Melbourne, the direct flight to Newcastle was little over an hour and could not have been easier, especially given that Australian airport security for domestic flights is on par with a pre-9/11 rural airport in the US. The security process was so laid back that I debated with myself if it was optional after watching a woman pass through the metal detectors still wearing her purses. My confusion continued as I boarded the plane and was only asked to quickly scan my iPhone. I guess the joke was on me for assuming I’d need my Australian ID and US passport!
Newcastle is located on the eastern seaboard of Australia and is about 100 miles north of Sydney. As the bus into Newcastle pulled up to the city center train station where we had agreed to meet, it seemed that I had just left my apartment in Melbourne. Just the way you want to start a trip!I arrived on Friday afternoon and was staying with Laura in her apartment until Tuesday. During our days together we talked. And talked. And talked. And talked… Laura had to work a few shifts at her cafe during my time in town, which was perfect for exploring the nearby beaches and even enough time for me to quickly read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, a book Laura had on her bookshelf and highly recommended.If you haven’t read Big Magic, I would have to echo Laura’s high recommendation. In the short, lighthearted read, Liz Gilbert makes the argument for living a creative life outside of the confines of fear.
It was divine timing – or as Liz calls it “the workings of Big Magic” – that brought Laura and I together so many moons ago. This Cambodian rendezvous was the catalyst to bring forth my original travel blog, currently my most tangible and ongoing attempt at living creatively.I remember sitting in a small Cambodian cafe with Laura one morning and confessing my desire to begin blogging. She had been an avid blogger, sharing personal thoughts and her magnificent writing, for quite awhile at that point.
Unfortunately for my creative process, I was stuck in my own head and unable to begin. There were ceaseless questions – better known as fear – keeping me from moving forward with this personal goal.Was this going to be a journal? Or a strict travelogue? What was the difference? Was anyone going to read it? How do you get actually get started? How do you find followers? Do followers even matter? Most importantly, do I get to choose my own color scheme?
They were questions any beginner would have, but I remember Laura laughing at me and saying something along the lines of the infamous Nike slogan – Nikki, just do it. Thankfully it was just the push I needed, and so began my blogging journey.
A few months of posting to my initial Google Blogger platform, The Traveling Ginger, and I decided to buy my own domain name, The Globetrotting Ginger. Since that day about a year and a half ago, I have been able to share my thoughts on travel, resources and experiences I have gained from life on the road, network with likeminded travelers, and – most importantly – recognise my enjoyment of the process of writing and storytelling. Through Liz’s advice in Big Magic and Laura’s continued example of writing for enjoyment and improvement of skill, this past weekend was a great refresher for me and my personal goals for creatively living.
As for Newcastle, this charming, coastal city is surrounded by beautiful beaches, boasting an impressive variety close in proximity. There are ‘classic’ beaches with white sand, dotted with families and lifeguards, and teeming with seagulls. These beaches have ropes about fifty yards out to prevent any bold swimmers from getting, literally, swept away. Further along the coast, there are much more Australian ocean fronts. From the Anzac Memorial Bridge in Newcastle, we could look down at an angle towards the dauntingly steep slope that met the animated waves. Between the bridge where we were standing and the ocean were mounds of dried, red dirt and desert shrubs abruptly stopping as the rock face dropped towards the powerful, crashing waves. Every few seconds, a thunderous roar would echo up towards us, signalling the newest of waves breaking into the rock wall below.
When Laura and I walked along this route, we could easily see a pod of playful dolphins entertaining themselves in the break a few hundred yards from us. Australia, you truly are a beaut!
One interesting Australian “first” for me was to witness the Newcastle Ocean Baths. Many coastal cities have swimming pools, known as baths, where the ocean water is slightly filtered into large seaside pools, which are open for public use.The contrast of the rugged, natural coastline with the well defined baths was intriguing to me, as was watching the swimmers do laps indifferently to the foamy waves struggling to reach them from over the manmade divide.
As with most seaside cities, Newcastle has an incredibly laid back vibe. Even though it is autumn, barefoot adults biked down the streets balancing with their recently used surfboards while students sat outside cafes gossiping and making weekend plans over their afternoon coffee and beer.
One sunny afternoon we were joined by Laura’s boyfriend, Michael, and we purchased beers from a small restaurant named Scottie’s, where we were provided with blankets to use in a nearby garden while we enjoyed our drinks. Simply perfect!
Though the natural scenery is breathtaking, an equally exciting element to me was to witness the budding art scene of Newcastle. The main mall (in the ‘promenade’ sense of the word) area of the city was lined with small boutiques, studios, and galleries boasting varying types and levels of craftsmanship. I picked up a small packet of postcards by a local artist and marvelled at the larger prints and pieces available. As it could be expected for two girls, these endless shops provided ample browsing entertainment for the afternoon for both of us.
As for the Melbourne-ian in me, I was impressed by the array of unique cafes and delicious restaurants in Newcastle, many of which we visited during my time in town. A few of my favorite foodie stops were at The Tea Project for a unique house chai blend, a particularly delicious Ethiopian dinner of red lentils at Habesha Restaurant, and enjoying a delicious breakfast bowl (think savoury lentils, crispy kale, hummus, and cauliflower fritters) at Laura’s cafe and restaurant, Moor. Laura is a vegan and our weekend cuisine was chock full of fresh, healthy food both at home and when we dined out. After two days on this diet (particularly noteworthy for me since I consume meat at just about every meal), I decided to give vegetarianism a crack. Not quite on the vegan tier of dedication, but we’ll see how it goes!
All in all, I really enjoyed my time in the quaint, colourful city of Newcastle and absolutely loved my time hanging out and catching up with Laura. It was great to see how well she is doing in her current city and to meet the fun, unique characters in her life right now.
Soul sisters for life!!