My partner and I fell in love with the Hunter after discovering its awesome gravel riding experiences about 12 months ago.
As an active transport and cycle tourism professional I was stoked to be offered a job last year in Newcastle. The role has allowed me to relocate and explore by bike to my heart’s content!! The bonus is making a positive contribution to inspire and enable others to enjoy the freedom and joy of riding for transport or for fun.
I was struck by Newcastle’s opportunity – and the vision to become a 15-minute neighbourhood (where a person’s everyday needs are met by a 15-minute walk, bike ride or by public transport). Newcastle’s density, climate, lifestyle and existing city and suburban layout position it well . There has already been some great work, aided by the advocacy of local community groups such as Newcastle Cycleways Movement.
To name a few initiatives – the Fernleigh Track which extends through to Lake Macquarie as an off-road shared path following the former rail corridor; shared paths across the city; and reallocation of road space including contra-flow cycleways, quiet-way treatments and trial separated pop-up cycle lanes. The city also has a range of data collection methodologies to inform transport planning to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists. Newcastle’s Strategic Cycle Plan 2021-2030 guides the planning and delivery of a coordinated, connected cycle network across the city.
Don’t get me wrong - there are some missing links, and there’s a lot of work to be done and opportunities ahead to transform the city to make cycling the safe, convenient and easy choice for everyday purposes. And to improve the culture of acceptance for different road users. E-bikes are rapidly, and positively, changing the culture and landscape and everything that can be done – policy, regulation, incentives and more – should be done.
Elsewhere across the Hunter it was great to see Barrington Coast valuing and promoting their gravel riding experiences. The Barrington Coast and broader Hunter region also host numerous cycling events, particularly gravel but also mountain biking. Dungog is fast developing a reputation for its mountain bike trails.
The Hunter region has potential to become one of Australia’s leading cycle tourism destinations, and the premier gravel destination – with the right vision, collaboration and investment!
The Hunter Joint Organisation coordinates across all the region’s councils and is a strong supporter of active transport and cycle tourism. They have prepared a detailed project proposal for the Shiraz to Shore cycle trail, largely on disused rail trails from Newcastle and Belmont to Pokolbin and beyond. The trail would be a game-changer for the region, especially as the area transitions its economy away from coal toward more sustainable industries.
There is also real opportunity to engage regional towns throughout the Hunter to embrace active transport as a way of life. Many small Hunter towns are 15-minute neighbourhoods by default but, often, hopping in the car to grab a carton of milk from the local grocer is a habit hard to break.
The Hunter is on its way to a sustainable future with bikes a signature feature. To get there we need louder community voices and continued infrastructure funding for road safety as well as improved narrative around cycling. The Hunter is a hidden gem!
-Anna Gurnhill, Jan 2023
n.b. - this article has been written in Anna’s private capacity and the views expressed are her own.