From ocean to lake to forest, Lake Macquarie is a natural playground. Explorer Sophie lets us in on where the locals play in the gorgeous Lake Macquarie, just 90 minutes from Sydney.

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the we Awabakal people who have occupied and cared for these lands, waters, and inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded and extend our respect to elders past, present, and emerging. 


If you’ve never heard of Lake Macquarie, let me introduce you to this underrated beauty. Growing up I was lucky enough to have this natural playground right on my back doorstep, and now it’s my pleasure to give you a little tour. The area is host to a massive variety of raw, natural landscapes. One moment you’ll be on a sandy beach and a short drive later you’ll find yourself in the electric forest-green centre of the Watagan National Park.

Quick Overview

Just a quick drive south from Newcastle and 90 minutes’ drive from Sydney lies the region of Lake Macquarie. Home to the largest coastal saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere, the area is teaming with life and makes for the perfect place to plan your next getaway. 

About Lake Macquarie

Lake Macquarie is a fabulous spot to try new activities or polish up some old ones, from hiking, mountain biking to climbing. If you want to dip your toes in, the lake offers a range of fun things to do like fishing, kayaking, or stand up paddleboarding (get ready to use your core muscles!). 

For the coastal folk, you’re spoiled for choice between surfing, swimming, snorkelling and exploring the coastline through a beautiful hike.  

The community of folk that surround the lake are always up for a chat. Whether I was getting ready to fish or looking for a good brew, friendly faces greeted me and made me feel welcome. I felt really grateful for the opportunity to support small local families and businesses not too far from home. 

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

Lake Macquarie History

For more than 8,000 years, the Awabakal people (Awabakal meaning ‘people of the plain/calm surface’) have inhabited the lake and the areas surrounding it, thriving off the region’s rich natural resources. Europeans then came upon the area by mistake in the early 19th century, thinking it was the Hunter River.

After a century of population growth in the area, it was named after Governor Lachlan Macquarie and became an official shire in 1906. From here, the town developed as a coal mining hub and continued to thrive into what it is today. Many of these buildings and historic areas are now heritage listed.

How to Get to Lake Macquarie

  • Drive: About 90 minutes north of Sydney, or 20 minutes from Newcastle
  • Public transport: Options of trains and coaches are available with the train line running from the Central Coast to Newcastle stopping at Morisset and coaches running from either Sydney or Newcastle
  • Fly: The closest airport is Newcastle, with plenty of options for public transport from the terminals
  • Bike: If you’re keen to get around and explore on two wheels instead of four, whack your bike on the back of the car or on the train from the major cities and enjoy plenty of the linking bike paths around the lake.

If you’re local to Newcastle or the Central Coast, then you’re lucky enough to have this place as your backyard.

Where to Stay in Lake Macquarie

No matter what your style is when it comes to a place to rest your head, there’s a variety of options to pick from. If you’re looking to stay coastal or camp closer to the lake itself, there are plenty of holiday parks where you can pitch a tent or pull up a van for a night or two. 

  • Blacksmiths Beach is a gem of a holiday park – only 200 metres from the beach and a short walk to Grannies Pool, a calm swimming spot if you want to unwind 
  • Wangi Point – a lake-front holiday park where you can get away from the crowds and enjoy throwing your fishing line in and exploring the shorefront
  • Ingenia Holiday Parks – for larger groups of 5-6, you can get the option of booking a waterfront villa or my favourite, the Boat Shed, positioned right on the water in prime position for an afternoon BBQ. The best option for your crew if you’re on a budget; this one comes to about $33 bucks a head!

There are also some beautifully secluded forest campgrounds to the west can be found in Watagans National Park. Some of these have been affected by closures so check the national parks website for the latest advice before heading out.

My advice is to make the most of the outdoors and certainly plan ahead to make sure you and your crew can book a campsite for the night no matter where you go. Many of these holiday parks and campgrounds are locally run, sometimes by families who love the support. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself having a yarn with some happy locals.  

Where to Eat in Lake Macquarie

There are so many options, but I’ve picked my top four:

  • The Yard Brewery and Smokehouse in Morriset gets an 11/10 in my books… and it wasn’t because I was talking about smoked brisket and mac and cheese all day during our hikes. This place is serious about beers and meat, and has a specialised range of high-quality craft beers for you to try



  • The Yoga Place Cafe in Blacksmiths is somewhere I’ve frequented for a long time for its plant-based cafe as well as the yoga studio. Its wholefood plant-based menu is refreshingly delicious and offers a big range of healthy options for hungry travellers. Not to mention the team brew up a great coffee to get you going in the morning! 
  • MIZUMI in Toronto is a must-try for traditional Japanese and hands down has the most insane ramen around town. There’s really nothing like slurping up noodles and hot broth after a long day of strenuous adventuring 
  • Catherine Hill Bay Pub or Catho Pub is a classic style small town pub that’ll satisfy your hunger and thirst for a beer and a schnitty

Essential Gear for Lake Macquarie

  • Watersports equipment: snorkelling gear, surfboards, SUPs, a kayak (if you’ve got one lying around!) and your swimmers and towel
  • Camping: tent, sleeping bag or swag, and of course any hiking gear
  • Hiking shoes and extra socks
  • Rock climbing gear or mountain bike (only if you’re experienced)
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Jaffle iron (you should always have one of these in the car, to be honest)
  • Camera 
  • Jetboil for your morning coffee
  • Plenty of food and water 

Lake Macquarie Activities (Itinerary Musts!)

There are so many awesome things to do in Lake Macquarie no matter your skill level or exploration experience, there’s something for everyone.

Watagans National Park

On the western side of the lake is Watagan National Park, a stunning excuse to get your hiking boots out of the garage and grab your camping gear for an adventure.

Read more: Watagans National Park is Lake Macquarie’s Adventurous Hinterland

You can choose to stay there for the night if you’re looking for ultimate seclusion, peace, and quiet or you just want to be immersed in nature! To best enjoy the park I recommend grabbing some mates and spending a night at one of the campgrounds. You can even make a wooden BBQ and master the art of the campfire jaffle.



Scoring Some Local Produce

On the way back down from the Watagans, I passed so many humble farmlands and properties selling their produce, from incredible bush honey, vegetables, and herbs to native flowers and plants to take home. My advice is to bring some spare change for the roadside honesty boxes!




The fish in the area are biting! Hobby fishermen (and women) have plenty of luck in this region because there are so many protected calm areas within the lake. Throwing a line in as the sun is setting just might mean you get to catch your dinner. You may get lucky and spy some bream, flathead, squid, and even Yellowtail kingfish (yum). Just make sure you’ve got a current fishing license and you’re good to go.



Stand Up Paddleboarding and Kayaking

Why not explore the shores of the lake via a stand up paddleboard or kayak to see how much there is to enjoy? It’s a great workout for the abs too. Our suggestion for a full-day adventure would be to start up at the northern end of the lake at Speers Point (home of the Lake Mac SUP Club), then head down along the shoreline through Eleebana and to Naru Beach for a swim.  For lunch, you can paddle across and park up at Wangi Point for an awesome feed at the local RSL.

(Extra points if you make it to Pulbah Island, the secret island in the middle of the lake!)

Boards and kayaks can be hired from Lake Mac Watersports at Cams Wharf. Join a lesson and SUP at Warners Bay or BYO.


Coastal Walk at Sunrise: Caves Beach to Pinny Beach

Distance: 3km (6km return)
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Grade 4 – previous experience is needed as the trail can get a little rough at some points

For a hike a little closer to the ocean, look no further than the Coastal Walk. You can pick and choose what sections you’d like to do, maybe it’s a nice half-hour stroll to the beach for a swim or taking on the full track from Caves to Pinny Beach to admire the scenic views.

Starting at the south end of Caves Beach, there’s an incredible hollowed-out cave that you can walk right through. Bring your morning coffee and a camera here for an epic sunrise shot.



Along the walk you’ll find some great geological vantage points to see how Mother Nature has warped these landscapes over time, just be mindful of your step! The multiple lookouts along the way also give you the best chance of spotting Humpback whales during the migration season in the winter months.

During the warmer months, bring along your swimmers to dip in the shallows at Spoon Rocks or walk right out to the end of the rocks for the ultimate picnic spot. Keep an eye out for dolphins and whales here! Allow 2-3 hours to complete the full walk as it ranges from paved pathways and stairs to rocky eroded tracks. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to get your legs burning you can take it all the way to Catherine Hill Bay…

Catherine Hill Bay

On the south end of the Lake Macquarie region is Catherine Hill Bay (or Catho, as the locals call it), a perfectly secluded little town and an absolute paradise for ocean lovers.



To continue the walk from Caves all the way to Catho would be a 1.5-2 hour walk. As a State Heritage-listed historic village, the area is renowned for a particular photography spot: a perfectly preserved relic jetty still standing from the town’s coal mining days.

You can either walk here from Caves Beach or take the drive down and explore the bay on foot from any of the car parks. This is a great opportunity to scope out the rock pools on a hot day, bring your surfboard or snorkelling gear and take advantage of the lack of crowds.


Tips for Visiting Lake Macquarie

  • Always book your accommodation ahead of time as holiday parks and campgrounds can book out pretty quickly in busy periods
  • Be prepared for weather changes and bring layers!

Lake Macquarie FAQs

Where is Lake Macquarie located?

Lake Macquarie is located on NSW’s East Coast between the city of Newcastle and the Central Coast.

How do you get to Lake Macquarie?

You can get to Lake Macquarie via car or public transport. It’s a 90 minute drive from Sydney or 20 minutes from Newcastle.

When is the best time of year to visit Lake Macquarie?

There’s a reason to visit Lake Macquarie at all times of the year. During the cooler months you’re more likely to enjoy nature without the crowds, but summer is a great time for swimming and watersports.

How many days should I spend at Lake Macquarie?

I suggest spending at least a weekend in Lake Macquarie, but longer if you can! There’s enough to check out to fill an entire week.

Can you swim at Lake Macquarie?

You can! You can swim both in the lake itself and in the beaches along the coastline.

Do you need a 4WD to get to Lake Macquarie?

You don’t need a 4WD to get to Lake Macquarie, however you may need a 4WD to reach some more remote areas of Watagans National Park.


Now it’s time for you to wrangle your mates, line up your calendars, and plan an amazing weekend away in Lake Macquarie. Looking back at some of the shots it feels like I was on the other side of the globe, when in reality I was only a short drive from my front doorstep. There really is something for everyone to explore here and the wild beauty and charm of this area will stay with you for a long time.