From beach to bush
Dan Everett Explores australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake, lake macquarie, where you can go from the bush to the beach in half an hour.
Today’s society is too fast-paced. We’re constantly in a hurry, driving a million miles an hour with our blinkers on, oblivious to the world around us. That’s a huge part of why I love the outdoors – the opportunity to hit pause for a minute and take a step back from it all, reflect on what’s really important and appreciate the good things in life.
It’s something I think of every time I find another little slice of paradise hidden in plain sight – the perfect riverside campsite sitting empty while everyone else is busy trying to get nowhere very important. There’s a lot to be said for those hidden gems you can duck away to – if only for a few days – while the world continues on without you.
Lake Macquarie, NSW, is one of those places. Like most of the best spots in Australia, what was once the destination has now been turned into just another town we tend to bypass as we travel along the bland concrete freeways. But if you do make the effort to explore the area, you just might find yourself in paradise.
On this trip, I was lucky enough to be shown around by a local – Grant Joyce from Complete Campsite. A little local knowledge goes a long way, including being across the best spots to set up camp and where to grab the best lunchtime pie!
If lakeside camping with a backdrop of dense rainforest and mountains sounds appealing, you’ll want to point your headlights towards the peninsula of Wangi Wangi, smack-bang in the middle of Lake Macquarie. One of
New South Wales’ best-kept secrets, Wangi Wangi is about an hour-and-a-half north of Sydney along the Pacific Motorway, roughly 40 minutes past the Gosford turn-off. If you’re coming from the north, just jump off the M1 at Palmers Road 10min south of Newcastle and you’ll be just 19km from Wangi Wangi’s beachfront camping.
Our starting point for this trip was Wangi Point Lakeside Holiday Park. It’s right on the tip of the peninsula at the end of Watkins Road, and is home to some of the best views on the coast. The pick of the spots is one of the 28 unpowered sites nestled between the trees up on the hill overlooking the lake. But if you need to top up your batteries, there are a few dozen powered sites available, too. If you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll be kicking back outside your trailer with a cold drink in hand watching a pod of dolphins making their way through the lake.
The park is reasonably central, too – less than half an hour from Watagans National Park (NP), 45 minutes to Redhead Beach, and just under an hour to the iconic dunes of Stockton Beach.
It’d be near-sacrilegious to head to a lake and do nothing but look at it, so don the boardshorts and head down to the water. There are plenty of secret hideouts along the shoreline just begging to be explored by kayak or stand-up paddleboard. If you like your adventures running on premium unleaded, there are multiple places you can hire a boat (with an appropriate licence), or you can strap
yourself into a jet boat for an action-packed afternoon on the water.
Back on dry land, the area is littered with playgrounds and bike tracks for the kids, while the adults might be more at home taking on some of the trails on horseback, before heading off for a wine tour.
If you’re staying in the area for a second night or prefer to free-camp, there are plenty of good sites throughout the Watagans. We set up in the Pines campground in the Olney State Forest, smack-bang in the middle of some of the best low-range 4WD tracks in the country, with plenty of room to spread out. In peak periods, things can get a little cosy, though, so Gap Creek campground in the adjacent Watagans NP is the pick in summer, with easy trailer access and lower temperatures to the nearby waterfall. Both grounds are free to camp, but it’s best to bring your own firewood as the campsites are often picked clean.
In the Watagans, activities get a little more natural. The area is known as one of the best 4WD hot-spots near Sydney, but there’s plenty of family fun to be had outside of your rig.
The keen bushwalker will find no shortage of enticing trails, ranging from simple half-hour return treks along flowing creek beds through to multi-day hikes along the Great North Walk. As the Watagans is situated along the Great Dividing Range, there are stunning lookouts facing every direction, with views ranging from farmland to Lake Macquarie itself.
While stunning views and secluded campsites are one thing, there’s nothing like testing yourself and your 4WD when you head offroad. Watagans NP is one of those areas where there really is adventure waiting down every side track. With logging trails scattered throughout the park, you’re rarely far from a main track, so leave the camper back at base and get exploring. Most of the main trails are easily accessed in 2WD, although with a little rain the going can quickly become tricky, so time your trips well.
If you’re after some serious offroading, you’ll find plenty of trails that would challenge even the comp-truck crowd. A few of the more popular tracks, like Daniels Point Road, have recently been closed, but if you go in with a little local knowledge it won’t take long to find yourself on some of the toughest tracks in the country. Bring a winch!
ESCAPE THE RAT RACE
Some destinations will see you planning for months, if not years, just to get there. You’ll have a to-do list as long as your arm and you’ll need a holiday to recover from your holiday. Lake Macquarie and the surrounding area isn’t like that at all. It offers a quick and easy getaway from the hustle and bustle of daily life, with isolation, serious offroading, fun for the kids, and a few luxuries for the adults all available if you’re so inclined.
If you’re looking for a quick weekend away, a relaxing place to spend a week, or somewhere to drop off the map with adventure in every direction, then you just may have found your own little slice of paradise.
CloCkwise from above: Daily stressers are left behind with the bitumen; Cast a line into Lake Macquarie via a boat ramp at the Wangi Point Lakeside Holiday Park; Rumours of large, shady unpowered camps with raised river views brought us to Wangi Wangi; Adventure-seekers will discover plenty to do at the Watagans, such as the walks around Heaton State Forest.
CloCkwise from above: Lake Macquarie; Winding switchbacks through fern-covered gullies make this a hard-earned view; Hunter Lookout is minutes from camp; Lookouts and hiking trails add variety to the trip.
CloCkwise from top: The Pines campground is massive but gets busy in peak periods; The clay-rich soils can make things tricky in the wet, even on the 2WD access trails, so plan accordingly; An Aussie staple!