Wedged between NSW’s premier wine region and the coast, Maitland often gets overlooked. But here’s why Maitland is one of the best Sydney weekend escapes out there.
Maitland is in a unique and – on one hand – enviable position. Only a couple of hours north of Sydney, it’s easily close enough to get to for a weekend away from it all. On the other hand, it’s a little bit in the no man’s land between the wine regions of the Hunter Valley and Newcastle.
In fact, we’ve heard locals call it the Thirty Minute Town, as in half an hour from the Hunter and about the same to its Novocastrian neighbour.
But Maitland is much more than a lily-pad town. For quite some time now it has developed its ethos into a modern, interesting, lively destination that’s just there waiting for people to discover it.
Trips to the beach and the NSW coast have become a bit of a trope for Sydneysiders getting out of the city. Thankfully we’re all starting to realise the incredible value – the depth and beauty of heading to more authentic, regional areas of the country.
Jim and I recently had the pleasure of visiting Maitland and its surrounding towns to explore this historically, culturally and ‘epicureally’ significant part of the state.
Check out our video of what Maitland has to offer here:
Where to stay
Bronte Boutique Hotel, Morpeth
Once the home of Caleb Soul of the Soul Patterson Pharmacy empire, this beautiful heritage home sits on the main street of what once was one of the most important towns in Colonial Australia.
Beautiful, vaulted ceilings and large, comfortable rooms lead on to winding corridors and a balcony overlooking the town. The breakfast alone here is worth the stay.
The Barracks, Tocal
With four suites to choose from in this renovated 150-year-old farm homestead, The Barracks in Tocal, a few kms north of Maitland would make for a memorable, romantic stay in this beautiful part of the world.
Where to eat
For a more detailed wrap of where to eat in and around Maitland, check out our foodie tour of the city here, but here’s a summary:
Within the walls of the award-winning Riverlink building in Maitland’s reimagined entertainment quarter, Coquun delivers a remarkable array of food that tells the story of the community and of its nearby namesake, the Hunter River.
Being the First Nation name for the river, Coquun has a firm grasp on ingredients native to the area and uses them intelligently in its beautifully crafted menus – whether breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Our tip: The gnocchi and the banana pudding.
Beautifully styled and elegantly lit, the Rigby has the feel of a cool eatery you’d expect to find in Melbourne’s popular suburbs. However, in spite of its funky facade, this restaurant maintains the down-to-earth country manner you’d expect.
Dishes are hearty and well-balanced, and the wine list is good enough to have confidence in the wine-paired degustation dinner. This father-and-son team have created a unique place for locals and visitors to come for excellent food in Maitland.
Our tip: The buttermilk southern fried chicken and the rhubarb crumble.
Icky Sticky Patisserie
Across the Hunter River from Maitland in the village of Lorn, the Icky Sticky Patisserie makes not only the best coffee in the area, but pastries that are as delicious as they are beautiful.
Every morsel from the ovens and fridges of Icky Sticky is Instagram-worthy and a potential Master Chef phenomenon. Go here at your peril… and arrive hungry.
Our tip: The lemon berry meringue tart – it’s life-changing.
Working in perfect symbiosis with the Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Seraphine Cafe is the excuse you need to come to admire the exhibits of the MRAG. Likewise, the gallery rewards its patrons with some of the most delicious breakfast and lunch options in the area.
All too often with cafes and galleries, one tends to outshine the other, but not here. The food is wonderful and unlike anything you’re likely to find elsewhere in Maitland, service is fast and friendly, and there’s plenty of space for bigger groups here too.
Our tip: The house-made gnocchi with beetroot and goat’s cheese.
The Cunning Culinarian
From the genius of Sydney’s very own Little Marionette, the coffee here at the Cunning Culinarian is excellent and the food is even better. A bright, airy cafe set in one of the heritage mansions lining Maitland’s historic high street, this cafe is a must for brunch and lunch.
There is also a florist attached to the cafe that makes the beautiful table pieces and also sells floral displays as well.
Our tip: The ultimate brekky roll packed with everything you love about breakfast!
Heritage Gardens Cafe and Tea House
Tucked away in the grove of trees in the Heritage Gardens, the cafe is in an old Queenslander style wooden homestead. Find a seat on the deck or outside on the path overlooking the gardens and enjoy the views.
Food here is excellent, though it’s the wonderful leafy vibe that really takes you.
Our tip: The high tea served here is well worth the visit.
Orange Tree Cafe
A reader recommendation, the Orange Tree Cafe is right on the river in the heart of Maitland. Food is said to be great and, if you’re feeling like a longer lunch, this is a licensed premises too!
Also a reader recommendation, next door to the Rigby, Fratelli Roma is known for its excellent Italian fare and is a worthy candidate when considering lunch and dinner options.
What to do
For such a little village, Morpeth punches way above its weight in historic terms. Once one of the most important towns in the colony, Morpeth was the shipping hub for goods coming in via Newcastle Port.
There’s still a strong feeling of magnitude about Morpeth, and Aussie icons like Arnotts and Soul Patterson Pharmacies budded and bloomed here back in the mid-1800s. Exploring the main street here is fun and a stop at one of the pubs is highly recommended.
This historic edifice on the outskirts of Maitland city was a prison and correctional centre for some of the worst criminals in the country from 1848-1998. It was home to bank robbers, assassins and murderers – most notably the serial killer Ivan Milat.
Taking a tour through the gaol and learning about life here is not only fascinating, it’s a stark reminder not to break the law! In seriousness, the history behind the gaol is so interesting, from the conditions early prisoners were kept in to the daring and confounding prison breaks that happened here.
The architecture through the gaol is like a journey of 150 years as you see the buildings and their designs change as you move through the compound.
The Maitland Regional Gallery and its impressive three-storey redbrick facade facing Maitland’s high street is an imposing sight. Before it became a gallery, the building was – appropriately – a museum and a technical college.
These days, displays of all manners of art and media adorn the historic walls and sweeping marble staircases. From traditional Aboriginal artworks to modernist sculptures, exhibits change seasonally and maintain a diverse, interesting range to keep visitors on their toes.
Of course, downstairs the Seraphine Cafe is a destination in itself and compliments the adventurous collections of artwork with exquisite creations of its own.
Running through Maitland’s high street where it comes closest to the banks of the Hunter River, the Levee is a semi-pedestrianised area that’s all about reconnecting the community with its retail, entertainment and leisure industries as well as championing what is and always has been Maitland’s finest asset: the proximity of the beautiful Hunter River.
This rejuvenation of Maitland’s high street has seen some amazing creative elements enter the fray. Street art installations, skate shops making honey with bee hives on the roof, boutiques, cafes restaurants and architecture.
The Riverlink building, which we mentioned before talking about the restaurant Coquun, is a wonderful piece of modern architecture. It’s non-parallel atrium creates an archway that frames the river as you look from the street, while looking through the arch from the riverbank, it feels like looking through a portal into the street beyond.
Both the Riverlink and the Levee have won a number of design, architecture and civic awards recently.
Far more than your average garden centre, the Heritage Gardens a little out of town feels more like a beautifully curated living art gallery. Flowers, plants and trees create pathways through this pretty landscape and lead you eventually to the Heritage Gardens Cafe.
Beyond the cafe and the impressive range of plants for sale, the lawns, flowerbeds and even a little woodland make for a relaxing stroll if you want to walk off the meal you’ve just had at the cafe.
For longer stays…
If you’re lucky enough to be in town for longer and you’re looking to go a bit further afield, you have a multitude of options open to you.
Only 30 minutes away are the rolling hills and highlands of the Hunter wine region. Here are some wineries of the Hunter Valley we were recommended by a wine maker in this beautiful part of the country.
Also, from Maitland you’re only 30 minutes from the busy city of Newcastle, which has also seen some huge changes in its tourism outlook in recent years, has one of the most dramatic coastlines in the area.
With so much to see and do in Maitland and its surroundings, it’s a wonder people haven’t started flocking there already. In fact, if I were you, I’d get there quick before the crowds descend!