Aquatic playground

Graham Lloyd | VOLUME 29, ISSUE 2
The entry to Lake Macquarie from the sea is through the Swansea Channel marked by Moon Island (shown in the lower left of this photo).
Sail, power and paddle; big boats and small, Lake Macquarie is a paradise for all.

The NSW Central Coast between Sydney and Newcastle has been a holiday haven for aeons. Growth and development in recent decades have added a bustling busyness to the area, but Lake Macquarie remains relaxed and pristine; a veritable scenic wonderland and boating paradise.

Renowned as the largest coastal saltwater lake in Australia, its 178km of shoreline offers everything from totally unspoiled natural bush­ land, interspersed with beaches and islands, to residential suburbs ranging from fishing weekenders to luxury mansions. Countless inlets within the 110sq km of the lake provide sheltered anchorages. Depending on the direction of the breeze, there’ll be a bay close by where you’ll find sanctuary.

The lake is easily reached from Sydney (about 90 minutes by road) and Newcastle (30 minutes or less) and is also conveniently central for many country townspeople. Access from the Tasman Sea is through the Swansea Channel.

Lake Macquarie is large enough for luxury cruisers yet sheltered enough for paddle boards and kayaks; it’s open enough for big yachts to sail freely, yet its numerous bays offer fun sailing for dinghies. Friendly shorelines are popular bases for waterskiers and wakeboarders.

There’s every style of accommodation available, from budget camping to luxury resorts; there are plenty of ramps and places with all the facilities boaties need, plus boats of all sorts to hire or charter. Any number of walks and reserves around the shore mean you can even enjoy and appreciate the lake without a boat.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Lifetime afficionado for the lake, Les Binkin, invited Club Marine to explore its attractions aboard his Carver Voyager Pilothouse and we had no hesitation in accepting. Les is on the local council’s tourism board and is co­owner of Marmong Point Marina, the largest on the lake.

On a truly gorgeous summer day, we headed out from the marina with Les and his wife Di, along with their sons Jarvis and Alex, and daughter Aria. Also on board was Jarvis’s friend Jake and keeping company alongside was Fred Black’s Maritimo 60, with his wife Cheryl and son Stevie as crew.

Marmong Point is at the north­western extremity of Lake Macquarie and, as we cruised east toward Warners Bay, two long­staying residents were effortlessly slipping through the water less than a metre in front of Fred’s Maritimo. This pair of dolphins has been here for 10 years or so and they regularly make their appearance around boats. Seeing those beautiful creatures so happily playing in the lake gave a good indication of the health of the waterway.

In such waters, fishing is a major attraction, with strong schools of green­back tailor, kingfish, small snapper, flathead and whiting as well as plenty of bream. Some monster jewfish have been caught, too. Sand crabs are a local delicacy, and skippers need to keep an eye out as the floats used above traps can be tricky to see at times.

Idling into Warners Bay brought into view a grassy shore, a delightful entrance through which to explore the locality. On Friday evenings, through the months of summer daylight saving, a crowd gathers to enjoy music in the park. Boats anchor offshore so crews can appreciate the atmosphere.

This part of the lake is a favourite for waterskiers and wakeboarders, while paddle­ boarding has become popular in recent times, too. Continuing south down the eastern shoreline past Croudace Bay, we headed off from Green Point, which is a good spot to shelter from a nor­easterly breeze. Ashore, there is a natural park reserve with walking tracks. Belmont Bay curves away to the east and is home for the very impressive Belmont 16 Foot Sailing Club, which has a proud heritage dating back to 1920.

Also at Belmont is the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club, with a marina sheltering a forest of masts. Visitor berths are available and there’s a good bistro in the clubhouse, while the shopping centre of Belmont is a short stroll away. The bay offers more grassy reserves and walkways as well as boat ramps. The southern end of the bay is formed by Marks Point with a marina offering full facilities.

It is out from Marks Point that the channel into Swansea starts and then leads into the Tasman Sea. This is the one part of Lake Macquarie where some navigational care is needed as shifting sand banks change the channel. It is well­marked, though, and dredging keeps the depth at around three metres.

The tide run can be strong and thus requires attention by the skipper. There are sandbanks and islands where smaller boats can pull ashore. Fishing is excellent along the channel as well as where it starts, at the drop­off into deeper water.

The local Marine Rescue station is on the port side of the outgoing channel and shares its spot with NSW Waterways (now part of Roads and Maritime Services). Run entirely by volunteers, Marine Rescue does an outstanding job; they also operate a radio base on Swansea Heads and are happy to help with advice about the lake, including about entering the channel (see break­out P98).

At Swansea, a road bridge on the Pacific Highway crosses the channel. Clearance beneath the bridge is only around two metres, so an ‘opening’ span caters for yachts and large cruisers. Pink­coloured public moorings either side of the bridge are convenient while waiting for the bridge to open. For bridge opening times, call Marine Rescue on channel 16 and advise one hour before your required passage.

Heading out to sea, there is a bar to be crossed, but it is tamer than most. Coming in from the sea, there are readily picked­up entrance leads that navigate into a channel to approach the bridge. If caught by unexpectedly bad conditions, Newcastle Harbour is an all­weather alternative, 12nm north.

STRATEGICALLY PLACED

Lake Macquarie makes an excellent stopover point for coastal cruising. At 20 knots (37km/h), it takes about two and three­quarter hours from Sydney Heads; it’s just over 90 minutes from Pittwater and about 45 minutes from Newcastle. Port Stephens is about three hours away.

At Swansea, there’s a good shopping centre, a water­side RSL Club, holiday accommodation and a caravan park. As we headed back into the lake, we passed Swan Bay to starboard. This is another good anchorage for big boats, although the entrance is a bit shallow; once inside, though, you can pull in quite close to the shore and the waters there are perfect for swimming.

In the lake itself, the average depth is around eight metres and most of the bays are around three metres. From north to south the lake is 23km long and about eight kilometres at its greatest width.

We turned south and cruised through the narrowest section of the lake, between Swansea and Wangi Wangi, then to the south­west for a look around Pulbah Island. This is a nature reserve, right in the middle of the lake, which offers protected anchorages. With a nor­easter picking up strength, Les chose a favourite spot on the western side of Point Wolstoncroft and the two boats rafted together. No sooner were the boats secured than the youngsters were off the transom and swimming in the clear, warm waters.

Pulbah Island is 1.6km long and its 68 hectares are uninhabited … apart from goannas. Sea eagles are often seen soaring over the island’s cliffs. Camping is not allowed, but there are walking tracks to admire the natural bush and the views across the lake. After we enjoyed lunch on the aft deck, Les lowered the Carver’s tender and Di took its wheel to tow the young ones on wake­ and kneeboards.

To the west of Pulbah are more fascinating cruising grounds, past Balcolyn and Shingle Splitters Point into Bonnells Bay and Dora Creek. However, we up­anchored and spun the compass rose to point south­east until we re­joined the eastern side of the lake past the growing residential development at Murray’s Beach. There’s an excellent jetty there and a short walk up the hill is a delightful cafe/restaurant.

A bit further south is Rafferty’s Resort and there’s an excellent ramp at Cams Wharf with large water­side parks and netted swimming areas. Nords Wharf is next – try the general store there for supplies and top­class take­away food.

UNTOUCHED BEAUTY

And then you could almost be Captain Cook when entering Crangan Bay in the south­eastern boundary of Lake Macquarie – it is untouched Aussie bushland that looks the same as it would have been in the 1770s. Beneath the surface it’s a different story, though, as decades of coal­mining have wrought riches from the natural resources that were shipped out from famous coastal villages such as Catherine Hill Bay.

In fact, it was coal­mining that led to the discovery of Lake Macquarie. In 1800, Captain William Reid was on his way from Sydney to Newcastle to collect a load of coal when he miscalculated and turned west too soon, into the lake. Until 1826 the lake was known as ‘Reid’s Mistake’ before it was re­named in honour of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

Crangan Bay is yet another favoured area for anchoring. On the western side is Gwandalan, with boat ramps, jetties, kids’ playgrounds, waterside parks, and a small shopping centre.

The local bowling club has a jetty and a good restaurant. A tree­studded reserve runs for kilometres around the village shoreline.

North of Gwandalan, the long promontory of Point Wolstoncroft stretches back toward Pulbah Island. This, too, is mainly natural bush as it is part of the Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area. It also houses a Sport and Recreation Centre with facilities that can be hired by groups who wish to stay in a very scenic setting. We cruised down the western side (with more protected anchorages) toward the village of Summerland Point.

Here there are waterside mansions to admire, along with a good jetty that has one of the 10 or more pump­out stations on the lake. This is probably the best spot to come to if you are visiting with a trailerboat as it has a superb ramp set in a protected lagoon, plus an adjacent shopping centre with petrol station and cafes. Kids playgrounds and yet more waterfront reserves add to the appeal of the area.

The lake continues south into Chain Valley Bay and west past the power station at Vales Point to Wyee Point, where there’s another marina. Mannering Park, between Chain Valley and Wyee Bays, has a good ramp and other facilities.

The western side of Lake Macquarie is more convoluted than the east, with long headlands projecting out between small and large bays.

In Wangi Wangi Bay, protected from westerlies, is an RSL Club as well as the Wangi Workers Club. Both are happy spots to head onto dry land for a while, and there’s a small shopping centre near the RSL Club.

Northward again is Kilaben Bay and to the west of Styles Point is Australia’s largest boat ramp, at Rathmines. Actually, this is the famous WW2 base for Catalina ‘flying boats’, which did sterling service on long­range reconnaissance missions. The huge ramp and concrete apron they used are still there and, annually, there is a Catalina Festival to celebrate their achievements. To the west of the Catalina base is a delightfully peaceful area to moor and relax.

Another marvellous place to visit is Toronto, where there’s a picturesque shopping village with cafes and a beautiful foreshore. A large set of jetties is host each year to a wooden boat festival. Also here is the Royal Motor Yacht Club Toronto – its clubhouse is in what was historic ‘Lake Holme’. This was once the home of William Arnott of Arnott’s biscuits fame. The RMYC has a large marina and a top­class restaurant.

From Toronto it was only a short cruise back to our starting point at Marmong Point Marina. When Les acquired it just on 10 years ago there were 121 berths – but now there are 265, catering for craft up to 30m. Visitor berths are available along with a full range of services; a cafe offers light refreshments while a 90­seat restaurant is planned for completion later this year. Train stations are close by as is a putting green – surely a unique facility for any marina!

Supportive of the environment, the marina maintains some 7000sq m of adjacent public foreshore and has invested $1m on the area, including boardwalks and other facilities.

In a nutshell, Lake Macquarie has it all; it’s conveniently located and has a wealth of attractions, whether you are exploring it by boat or car. It’s away from the rush of the big cities yet has every facility you may need. And it’s simply beautiful.

Sincere thanks to Les Binkin and Fred Black and their crews and superb boats – you made it very easy to truly appreciate the local catch­cry of ‘love the lake!’

LAKE MACQUARIE – SUMMARY

Located between Sydney and Newcastle on the NSW Central Coast.

178km of shoreline, 110sq km area, 23km from north to south; 8km at its widest.

Average depth, three to eight metres (apart from Swansea Channel and some bays).

Access from sea at GPS location S33”05.08’ E151”39.93’ (visit the Marine Rescue website at: marinerescuelakemacquarie.com.au for helpful details).

Boat ramps:

There are numerous boat ramps around Lake Macquarie:

For a list of them, go to: marinerescuelakemacquarie.com.au and look under the ‘Info’ tag.

Recommended ramps:

Summerland Point: excellent ramp in sheltered lagoon, shops, food, fuel and pump­out facilities adjacent, good parking.

Marmong Point: excellent ramp, good parking, near full­facility marina with food, fuel and pump­out.

More information:

For details about Lake Macquarie, including accommodation, what to see and do, etc, go to: visitlakemac.com.au.

For a NSW waterways map of Lake Macquarie (Map 8A):

maritime.nsw.gov.au/publications/maps.html.


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