OUT AND ABOUT

Free fun for the whole family

As a local, I know there are tonnes of places to go out and relax in with many of them for free. From fun at the park, scenic walks and fantastic festivals there’s plenty to keep locals and visitors entertained. Here are my top five freebie experiences.

Parks of Maitland
Maitland’s excellent picnic areas have lush surrounds, play equipment and BBQ facilities. As a nineteenth century pumping station, Walka Water Works is steeped in history. Discover antique machinery, striking architecture, 140 species of birdlife, miniature railway and walking trails surrounding the lake. The centrally located Maitland Park boasts Victorian period landscapes and architecture, sporting fields and is home to Maitland Aquatic Centre. Ray Lawler Reserve, Morpeth Common is a treasure for those seeking tranquillity which I find is only disturbed by the rustling of water birds and a person walking their dog.

Picturesque Walks
Walking, whether that be a stroll or a jog, is one of the best ways to experience Maitland. The Riverside Walk demonstrates the majesty of the Hunter River and is both disability and pram friendly. The Riverlink is my pedestrian gateway to cafés, restaurants and boutique retailers. Be sure to also enjoy the shimmering sculpture ‘Clouds Gathering’ by Hunter based artist Braddon Snape. Another walk that also delves into the past is The Morpeth Heritage Walk. Meander down stone paved footpaths and through corridors to experience yesteryear.

Creative Fun
For hands on thrills and artistic inspiration Maitland Regional Art Gallery or MRAG, is not to be missed. Entry to the gallery is always free. The free children’s art trails encourage exploration through code breakers and treasure hunts. MRAG also runs free public art programs all year round. Free Art Sunday can be enjoyed by all the family every Sunday from 11.00am till 1.00pm. Drop in and create a work of art inspired by current exhibitions. With a new activity each week there’s always something to explore at MRAG for busy hands and curious minds.

Library Activities
Maitland’s local libraries provide free holiday programs. The activities, workshops, games, movie screenings and shows are engaging and perfect for families looking for something educational and fun. There are also weekly programs like Storytime and Baby Book Club. A variety of giant games for the whole family to enjoy from Jenga to chess and I don’t know about you but I need more Lego in my life. Get amongst these colourful bricks and become a master builder in the Lego Clubs. For ages five to 12 but a great opportunity for parents to also flex their building muscles on a Lego family project. Don’t forget these libraries are also welcoming spaces with great places to snuggle
up with a book or listen to stories told through audiobooks.

Markets
I love the feeling of heading to the markets with the anticipation of what I might find, and the unknown of what I could be taking home with me. Maitland is home to a variety of markets, so whatever I’m looking for, I know I’ll find it. The Maitland Markets feature over 600 diverse stalls from local baked goods to artisan gifts and bric-a-brac, and are held on the first Sunday of every month excluding January. For produce fresh straight from the farmer, I head to the Slow Food Earth Markets on the first and third Thursday of each month at The Levee from 12.00pm. I also like to meet fellow artists and craftsman at The Olive Tree Art and Design Market at MRAG and the Sunday Muster Artisan Markets at Mortels Sheepskin Factory in Thornton, both held seasonally.

Community Festivals
I love enjoying the number of unique festivals in Maitland throughout the year. In autumn I satisfy my rumbling tummy with the many delights on offer at Maitland Taste. Celebrating food from paddock to plate, enjoy free children’s activities, an array of cooking and gardening demonstrations, interactive displays and live music.

Also in autumn, Steamfest revs up as an impressive display of vintage machinery, motoring history and, of course, steam trains. This festival has everything for diehard enthusiasts and loads of family friendly entertainment for those seeking a fun day out. I was fascinated by the vintage cars in the Show ‘n’ Shine, the Rally Ground displays of all things machinery from the era of steam and of course the food trucks. Whilst most of Steamfest is free, you can discover even more for a small fee.

During winter, the Aroma Coffee and Chocolate Festival is my mecca offering all things richly decadent and caffeine fuelled. I try free samples from expert chocolatiers, grab a coffee from one of the many talented baristas and sample some of the region’s best wines. In spring, The Riverlights Multicultural Festival parties through cultures sharing the fabric of diversity that makes up Maitland and the whole world. I love exploring the many stalls with culinary delectation unique to each country and dance amongst the live music learning a new step or two. Language classes, cooking demonstrations and lantern making turn The Levee into a global village. I recommend this not to be missed event which packs the riverbank with people, the colourful festival parade and the twinkling lantern flotilla featured on the Hunter River. This festival showcasing diversity is a great way to get together and meet the community.

Story by Genevieve Graham