Broken Bay to the Port of Newcastle

Broken Bay to the Port of Newcastle

Port of Newcastle

Entrance to Port of Newcastle.

With the end of school holidays fast approaching we decided that a quick run north to the Port of Newcastle for a week’s break was in order. My wife and I have never actually been to Newcastle before so we thought it was high time that we rectify this as well as provide the challenge of entering an unknown, busy commercial port.

With departure planned we decided to overnight in our regular haunt of Refuge Bay, before starting out early the following morning. My wife and I have got into the habit lately of wanting to get away at first light when we travel. There are a couple of reasons for early departures but if the truth be told, it really comes down to being able to witness yet another beautiful sunrise. We never tire from seeing the sunrise from the comfort and safety of Pendana’s pilothouse while sipping on a latte’.

on open sea

Another perfect sunrise!

While in Refuge Bay a smallish fire (by Australian standards) took hold and as such we were treated to an aerial display of helicopter piloting skills usually reserved only for air-shows. Refuge Bay is part of the much larger Mount Kuringai National Park which covers a large area to the north of Sydney. Within the park itself there are some 800 aboriginal rock paintings and cave drawings, together with literally kilometres of walking tracks. 

One of over 800 Aboriginal artworks within the national park.

The waters within the park are some of the finest in the world for their sheer beauty and the feeling of remoteness when, in fact, the suburbs and city are basically within a stone’s throw!

refuge bay

Helicopter coming in for some more water!

As you can imagine a fire in a national park is attacked with some vigour as if left to get out of control it could easily spread, which would, no doubt, bring with it sways of destruction and devastation to the outer Sydney suburbs.

refuge bay fire

America Bay (next to Refuge Bay) Ablaze.

The following morning as planned, we were underway bright and early and heading for Newcastle some 50nms north. Allowing for the exit from Broken Bay and entry into Australia’s busiest commercial port I allowed between 6-7hrs for the trip. The Port of Newcastle is Australia’s largest coal export port with some 120million tonnes of coal departing Australian shores per year. With a planned $3B spend over the coming years this figure will only increase.

Pendana at sea

Pendana underway.

Entering Newcastle Harbour is all about timing and being a stickler for the rules at sea I decided to make a full approach rather than short cut the approach to save what may be ten – fifteen minutes. As we approached the port entrance we could see on our Automatic Identification System (AIS) that there were four boats leaving the harbour entrance in close formation. I assumed this would be three tug boats and one 300mtr bulk coal carrier. As Pendana cleared the headland it was obvious that the channel to Newcastle was playing host to one very, very large bulk carrier.


Large bulk carrier exiting port.

I was glad we had made a full approach as this not only allowed me to slow Pendana allowing for sufficient time for the bulk carrier to exit the port entrance and turn from a northerly heading to a north, north easterly heading but it also allowed enough time for the three tug boats to return from the confines of the port entrance. As such, the entrance was now clear of all traffic and it was time for Pendana to enter, for its maiden time, the Port of Newcastle. Well, that’s what we thought as before we knew it there was a rather large dredge approx. 100metres in length shortcutting the harbour entrance and heading directly for us at 9.5kts. As I watched, Claire selected the vessel on our radar system so that we could see if its speed would reduce. Rather than reducing, its speed was increasing, making it crystal clear to us that this vessel was not about to give way. I ran a 360 degree circle to our starboard allowing enough time for the David Allen to enter the port without having to contend with our presence. 

on the open sea

Pendana following the David Allen into Newcastle.

As we entered Newcastle it was clear that the city was far from a coal induced coma but rather a cosmopolitan town that could hold its head high. Entering Newcastle from the water was beautiful as on her starboard side lived its heart being the ports commercial coal operations while on the port side lay a modern city filled with trendy restaurants, bars and apartments. Both seemed to exist in perfect unison which is a credit to the city and its people. 

Port of Newcastle

Entering Newcastle

As we motored upstream towards the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club and turned to our starboard it was clear that the Marina was going to impress. Howard Keegan the Marina Manager was on hand, true to his word, to help with our lines as we turned to port to set up our approach on the ‘T’ end of arm E. Once tied up and with Howard thanked it was time to explore!

Port of Newcastle

Berth sighted!

Newcastle has a bit of a reputation for being a town built on coal and a town with very little to offer that being said, both my wife and I can attest that nothing could be further from the truth, with our only regret being, not making the journey north far sooner. Newcastle is a cosmopolitan city that blends both its commercial requirements, its heart with the modern needs of man in a balanced and almost perfect blend. The restaurants are world class, cafes superb and beaches faultless. Wow, what is not to like about Newcastle, we even had a rainbow!

Beach at Newcastle

Abi and Bianca enjoying the beach!


Rainbow makes it perfect!

With another low depression (not quite strong enough to be called a cyclone) heading our way from the north we decided to head back to Sydney today and as such post this from sea via VSAT comms. Current conditions are nice and calm with 1.5mtr/5feet NNE rollers. That being said, it won’t be like that in less than 48hours as Brisbane to our north is being hit by the low depression which is now travelling south. This low depression will hit Sydney bringing with it 9 metre/30 feet seas. Glad we will miss that!


NINE metre seas headed to Sydney!

Dolphins are once again travelling south with us. Never ceases to amaze me how incredibly beautiful these creatures are in their natural environment. 

at sea

Claire and Abi on the foredeck watching the dolphins play in our bow wave. 

We also spotted a few Sea Lions or are they Fur Seals? Incredibly, these little guys have leapt out of the water and lodged themselves on top of the rudder of a commercial coal bulk carrier waiting its turn to enter the Port of Newcastle. This was a first for the crew of Pendana and from this moment on we will pay more attention to the rudders on the large bulk carriers as one never knows what may be hitching a ride!

Seal on container ship

A few seals taking some well deserved R&R

I guess with so many bulk carriers at anchor, along a 40nm stretch of coast these little guys have wised up and worked out a well-deserved rest can be had on top of the rudder! Picture below shows the AIS feed into our NAVnet VX2 all these ships (twelve in all and one underway heading north) on screen are bulk carriers. In fact we often see as many more waiting and once counted as many as thirty ships waiting their turn!


NAVnet VX2 screen above clearing showing all bulk carriers

That is all for now as we head back to our home port and Marina. We will be going back to Newcastle in the very near future! Pendana currently humming along not missing a beat!

at sea

 Norah Head lighthouse visible if you look really hard!

Safe travels




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