Back to the future

As Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine celebrates its 20th anniversary, we are taking a walk down memory lane – and back.

Founders Phil and Marilyn Collins published the very first edition of what was then Hunter Lifestyle Magazine in 2003. They celebrated the launch with the appropriate pizzazz at the old Railway Sheds, now the Newcastle Museum.

Up the road, the Crowne Plaza (now Rydges Newcastle) had only just opened its doors. Advertisements in that first edition promoted off-the plan sales for apartment buildings that have long since become part of the city’s skyline.

The formidable Robert Molines, then head chef at Pepper Tree Restaurant, shared mouthwatering recipes for twice roasted duckling and tarte au citron. He went on to open Provençal inspired Bistro Molines in Mount View, to this day a must-visit destination for any food aficionado heading to the Hunter.

The experts from Heritage Gardens Nursery in East Maitland gave advice on how to create ”a sheltered retreat from the bustle of the outside world.” Named the Best Large Nursery in NSW/ACT last year, they have been offering horticultural know-how for over forty years.

Naturally beautiful

After a four-year construction period, Hunter Valley Gardens threw open their gates in 2003 and featured prominently in the inaugural edition.

More than 40 landscape gardeners, architects and engineers had transformed 14 hectares of horse paddocks and vineyards, planting 6,000 trees and 600,000 shrubs. 250,000 seedlings went into the soil in the weeks leading up to the grand opening.

Today, with more than 300,000 visitors every year, it is the Hunter Valley’s largest tourist attraction. Founder Bill Roche had been inspired by gardens he saw while travelling in Canada and decided to bring the concept to the Hunter. A lifelong advocate of “the spiritual experience of getting back to nature and into gardens,” it became his passion project.Still family owned, the story of the Gardens is one of maturing, ever changing natural beauty.

The ten themed gardens from the opening days are still there. “Everything has grown, and they look very different today,” said Roche Group Marketing Manager Kim Jacobs.

“Our team of over 20 gardeners are changing things up all the time. “We are constantly thinking about how we can offer visitors something new and exciting. We want to get people outside, to enjoy nature and the Gardens are special at any time of the year.”

Over the years, permanent rides and special events have been added. The Christmas Lights Spectacular draws massive crowds and Mega Creatures or Snow Time have become fixtures on the calendar. The latest addition, Amaze ‘n’ Play in the Garden with its inflatable obstacle course, maze and roving entertainers has quickly gained a following among families with school aged kids.

But there are plenty of attractions for the grown-ups too. Happy couples can say ‘I do’ in the Gardens. You can hit a few balls at the newly renovated Aqua Golf facility or leisurely browse the offerings at the quaint collection of stores that is the Hunter Valley Gardens Shopping Village.

Down the road, at Roche Estate, national and international headline acts regularly rock the iconic venue. Nearby Harrigan’s Hunter Valley and Mercure Hotel Hunter Valley Gardens are also part of the Roche Group, and the perfect place for a restful night’s sleep.

“We really are at the centre of wine country,” said Kim. “Whether you come with the family, as a couple or with a group of friends, base yourself here and savour everything the region has to offer.”

A hub for the maritime community

Another article celebrated the “home of Novocastrian yachting”, the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club’s (NCYC) brand-new commercial centre, floating marina and shipyard. The project, led by George Keegan OAM and Vice Commodore Tom Michilis, had been partially funded via job creation grants aimed at addressing unemployment after the BHP closure.

20 years on, the club’s CEO Paul O’Rourke congratulates the founders on their business acumen. “They were very smart and prioritised the commercial centre over amenities. That way they could generate income to fund further expansion,” Paul said.

“It was a longer and slower, but also more responsible way of doing it.”
With the final stage completed in 2020, the club now has offices and function rooms upstairs and a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen for the expanded restaurant and bar area.
“Our chefs make everything from scratch, using fresh, local produce and our menu is modern Australian, with a focus on seafood,” Paul shared. But NCYC is about more than tasty food with front-row harbour views.

“With the building works now complete, we can more easily connect with community groups. We are a base for marine rescue, for paddlers and for outriggers, really for anything that is water based. And with the rapid development of Newcastle’s west end, a lot more people are living in the neighbourhood and our membership has grown exponentially.

“The entry barriers to sailing are huge, especially for younger people. But with our Sailing Academy we have been able to buck that trend.
“Our tacker program for kids under the age of 12 and the keelboat academy for 15 to 20-year-olds are among the biggest in the country.
“We now own about 60 boats. We run regattas, we offer discover sailing programs for adults or Friday Twilight Sailing as a fun way to start the weekend.
“You can literally just walk in and do as little or as much as you like. You might even do the Sydney Hobart one day.”

Last year, NCYC was named Australian Sailing Club of the Year. In 2024, they will host the Australian Yachting Championships. They have even outgrown their sailing centre on the harbour and are looking towards developing an additional location in Nelson Bay for boarding and foiling.
“Hydrofoiling is a new boom, especially amongst younger people,” Paul said. With so much on the agenda, the future looks bright for NCYC.

Lasting connections

Looking back over 20 years and 111 editions of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine, we’ve seen spectacular dream homes, stories that put a wide grin on our faces and some that made us want to cry. We’ve featured hidden gems, award-winning wines and the flavourful fare at hatted restaurants and lesser known neighbourhood eateries.

With edition 66, Phil and Marilyn changed the name to Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine, signalling their intent to broaden the magazine’s coverage.

With edition 92, they handed over the baton, trusting that we share their vision of a high-quality publication for locals and those who would like to be locals, a magazine that celebrates the best of the region and that, above all, creates connections by telling local stories; stories that might otherwise not be told.

It hasn’t been an easy 20 years to be in print publishing, with many solemnly declaring print to be dead.
We have branched out into the digital space, expanding our website, our presence on Facebook and Instagram and keeping in touch with a fortnightly digital newsletter.

Yet, over the last few years we have also seen a renewed appreciation for stories that dig deeper, for thoughtfully composed layouts, and the authenticity, longevity and tactile experience of print.

A core strength of magazines has always been the ability to surprise and delight readers, to take them on an inspiring journey of discovery to stories, ideas and places they didn’t even know existed, and certainly hadn’t been searching for.

We are hugely grateful to our readers and commercial partners for joining us on this journey, for your loyalty and support, for your feedback and suggestions, for allowing us to tell your stories and to step inside your homes.
We can’t thank you enough and are looking forward to continuing this journey with you.

More stories in the Spring Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography courtesy of featured businesses.