Planning your next weekend away? Just 90 minutes from Sydney, we reckon Lake Mac should be top of your list.
Lake Macquarie gives you an abundance of activities to squeeze into a weekend. Kayak the lake, hike the hinterland and camp in the quiet and calm valleys.
Chase Waterfalls At Gap Creek Falls
Whoever said that ‘it’s not the destination but the journey’ must have hiked the Gap Creek Falls walking track. There needs to be significant rain for the waterfall to completely ‘turn on’, but that doesn’t stop it from being a magical adventure.
The morning fog dances through the vines creating a mystical passage down into the heart of the Watagans. To get to the bottom of the waterfall, take a left at the sign and eventually the single track will open up into an amphitheatre of deep greens, distinguished against the sandstone walls.
The 40m cliff face is belittled by the enormous trees that surround it. It’s hard not to feel like you’re hundreds of kilometres away from civilisation. The track is only 700m long, but there’s plenty to see. Take your time, soak in the ancient wilderness and enjoy.
Paddle Out To Pulbah Island
Pebbled beaches, towering cliffs and unreal fishing locations make up Pulbah Island – one of Lake Macquarie’s best-kept secrets and a significant place for the local Awabakal people. The island rests near the southern end of Lake Macquarie, so your best bet is to begin your paddle adventure from Wangi Wangi.
Leaving at sunrise, you’ll be allured by the golden sandstone cliffs. But like most secret islands, it is guarded. White-bellied sea eagles can be seen circling the island and flaunting their impressive wingspan.
The northern side of Pulbah Island provides pebbled shores that are perfect for a rest and cheeky coffee break (BYO thermos). Make sure you do a loop of the island to see all its features, including the cave. (I’ll let you find that one yourself!)
Need a kayak? You can rent one from Lake Macquarie Kayaks, no sweat!
As this is a sacred place for the Awabakal people, recreation on the island should have a minimal impact, meaning camping and domestic animals are not permitted.
Safety tip: Check the wind. Lake Macquarie can get pretty rough, especially with a southerly. Trust me, I’ve been there!
Hike Up Mount Sugarloaf For Sunset
I have quite a soft spot for native flora and fauna, so it’s hard to not feel the love on the Sugarloaf Circuit. The landscape will seize you as you wander across the waterless creeks and between the dusty gumtrees. No matter what time of year it is, you can’t help but feel like it’s summer 24/7.
The appropriately named Northern Lookout overlooks the northern corner of the Hunter Valley. This place is perfect to write a poem, draw a sketch or even tee up a sunset date; the rocks provide front row seating to a natural cinema as the sun goes down.
The 3.8km walk continues to the top of Mount Sugarloaf where you’ll be rewarded with 360 degree views. You can even see the coastline off in the distance! Pack binoculars if you don’t want to stretch the old eyes. All up, the walk takes around two hours.
Fun fact: On 10 May 1770, Captain James Cook referred to Mount Sugarloaf as ‘a remarkable hill shaped like the crown of a hat.’
Base Camp – Take Your Pick!
Camping is all about getting away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. And there’s nothing worse than arriving at your expected destination to find 15 other campers who’ve all had the same idea… Luckily between Watagans National Park and Heaton and Olney State Forests, there’s a plethora of campsites, all found within a short distance from each other.
So no need to worry about finding the perfect campsite or getting in early to beat the crowds. There’s just no such thing in the Watagans. My personal favourite campground is Headquarters Camping Area in Heaton State Forest. Amongst stunning rainforest, there’s plenty of space to pitch a tent, particularly if you’re a part of a large group.
If you want to go camping but only have a 2WD, no need to worry! In dry conditions your car will be fine, you just have to take it slow. If my Toyota Corolla can do it, so can you!
Each campsite comes with its own stunning lookout. The best lookout for sunset is the Hunter Lookout; the view stretches over the Hunter Valley as far as the eye can see.
- Sleeping set-up
- Sturdy shoes
- Kayak! (here’s where to rent)
How To Get There
1hr 45mins drive north from Sydney
45mins drive south from Newcastle