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!


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!

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