With a little help from a new friend,Wynne Gray makes it to his hotel in Newcastle.

My friend Garmin and I had a rocky start.

We were introduced in Sydney by a bloke in a tiny office attached to one of the more swanky downtown hotels. This bloke was very diligent. Everything he did seemed to have quadruplicate copies which needed to be filed in special ring-binders before he would attend to his next inquiry.

When I got to the window, he counter-checked my credentials before asking for 732 signatures (all mine) to confirm I was taking a car with a Garmin talking navigator up to Newcastle.

Job done, I was directed to a lane behind the office where his sidekick checked off the few dents in the bodywork and suggested I tune into Garmin around the corner where reception was stronger.


It sure was but I was unable to translate the Asian dialect which had obviously been useful to the previous customer. If I didn't turn left to return to the car-hire office, I'd be on the one-way system to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It was a great view up there, one of the must-dos in the city as I discovered the day before but I did not need some foreign chatter on the trip north. A bus-lane became a car lane too as I manoeuvred my way back to the rental office.

With a conciliatory shrug then a couple of minutes reconfiguring. I was on my way. Garmin sorted my route to the bridge, up the Pacific Highway and out past the northern suburbs on to the freeway.

The new-found confidence was comforting. At a coffee stop I looked up my itinerary and set Garmin to take me to my hotel in Wharf St, Newcastle. At least I thought it was Wharf St. Garmin did his job but my careless typing meant he delivered me to Wharf Rd at Cooranbong which was 42kms south of my target. Delightful part of the coast but I needed Wharf St another hour's scenic drive north around the bays.

My Crowne Plaza Hotel was right on the harbour with a cycle path out the front and numerous swipe and hire bikes to discover the local surroundings. In between my hotel and the famous Hunter St - the main drag made famous 40 years ago in the Newcastle Song, which discussed the car etiquette and mating habits of those in the area - was the disused rail line. That transport route used to choke off any connection between the harbour and the shopping precinct but its silence is now helping grow commercial interest on both sides of the tracks.

You can try the Newcastle Museum, the arts space at the Lockup or some of the 30 nearby bars and restaurants like the Bowery Boys where Austin, the friendly owner who had relocated from Sydney, came over to chew the fat and suggest some choices on the menu.

For breakfast there is Papa's Bagel Bar where owner Johno Quinn shares his passion for food, and his sense of history in the old Star Hotel building, which was at the epicentre of the riots in 1979, before he indulges in his surfing interests most afternoons.

He's also kitted out a couple of old motorcycle courier bikes to deliver lunches.

Before you breeze out of Newcastle you should take in the new Memorial Walk - a spectacular coastal pathway commemorating the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli, steelworks in the city and the names of 4000 families from the region who enlisted in the Great War.

There is a 450m steel walkway built over the cliff top near Strzlecki Lookout which offers great views of the hinterland as part of the 6km stroll from the city beaches to Nobbys Beach.

Around these parts it's easy enough to navigate by eye or by sniffing the coastal breeze out the car window, but my old mate Garmin was a necessary companion on the return journey to deliver the car, via a tricky turnoff, to a different hire depot in Sydney.


Getting there: Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Sydney.

The writer travelled courtesy of Destination NSW.