Taking a break on the lake

Graham Lloyd | VOLUME 31, ISSUE 3
Looking across Cockle Bay at the northern end of Lake Macquarie to Speers Point, with Marmong Point Marina in the foreground.… you’d be hard pressed to improve on Lake Macquarie.
We hitched up a trailerboat and hit the road to explore the aquatic delight that is Lake Macquarie.

Upon picking up a brand-new BMW X5 xDrive30d, we began our trailer trip by heading north out of Sydney for 90 minutes, to the captivating shore of Lake Macquarie.

Located on the NSW Central Coast between Sydney and Newcastle, Lake Macquarie is a vast waterway in a prime location that’s easily accessed by air, sea, road and rail. It boasts 110sq km of pristine boating, 178km of shoreline, and any number of boat ramps and waterside parks – not to mention the clubs and restaurants, marinas small and large, and accommodation ranging from caravan parks to upmarket apartments, all in a tranquil, un-busy atmosphere.

Every aspect of boating is well provided for: kayaks and canoes, sailing dinghies to yachts, personal watercraft, tinnies and runabouts, cruisers, houseboats … you name it, you’ll find it. The fishing is sublime, too, and there’s plenty of room for watersports without disturbing those seeking quieter times afloat.

You don’t necessarily need a boat to enjoy it, though, with countless expanses of shoreline devoted to grassy, tree-shaded parks harbouring barbecues, shelters, playgrounds, lengthy walkways and foreshore cycle paths. Hire craft of all types are available, too. If you were to custom-design a perfect aquatic paradise from scratch, you’d be hard pressed to improve on Lake Macquarie.

This large coastal saltwater lake is seeing progressive development, yet remains unspoilt, with a variety of attractions making it an ideal boating destination. For trailerboats, there are excellent ramps all around the shoreline, mostly with good parking and facilities. For larger craft or for those making a port-of-call during a coastal voyage, there are extensive cruising opportunities.

The lake’s entrance from the sea is through a channel at Swansea, 60nm north of Sydney. It has a mild bar that’s largely protected from the more serious southerly winds by Moon Island and Swansea Heads. The channel is well marked by entrance and crossover leads, which a good chart will show. There’s also a road bridge with low clearance, but it can be opened on request. Just radio or call the local Marine Rescue station on (02) 4971 3498 one hour in advance. There are public moorings on both sides of the bridge.

The channel into the lake is well marked, with an average depth around 2.8m. Once in the lake, there are mostly clear waters with around 11m-depth through the centre and 2m in the bays.

Visiting trailerboats can approach from the M1 motorway, taking the Toronto exit for the north of the lake and the Doyalson/Swansea exit for the south and east. There are ramps and facilities along the shores at every quadrant of the compass.

Coming down from Newcastle are multiple alternate routes, including along the Pacific Highway. When travelling from Newcastle, Warners Bay, at the north-east top end of the lake, is an excellent starting point. Its already appealing foreshore is about to be further improved between North Creek and the rotunda – the plans include more cycleways and seating as well as a better interface with the water. Behind the current commercial and retail area is a large carpark which is earmarked for development, possibly for a 4.5-star hotel and conference centre. Every Friday evening in the summer months, Warners Bay Business Chamber presents free music entertainment in the rotunda that attracts crowds of around 4000 and up to 50 boats anchored in the bay.

Warners Bay has a long, sweeping shoreline with good ramps just to the south. The water is only about 2m deep for 100m or so out from the shore and is popular for watersports such as paddleboards and skiing, as well as for fishing. There’s a small jetty in the centre where boats can load/unload and an elevated walkway around Eleebana, which is part of some 45km of cycleways around the lake.

CLUBS AND MARINAS

Heading a bit further south, the Belmont 16s Club on the eastern shore has bars, poker machines, a function centre, bistro and restaurant. It also has a very active sailing club – the ‘16s’ refers to 16ft racing skiffs. Youngsters from age six are taught how to sail and can start in the club’s 9ft Pelican sailboats, or join the Recreational Squad or the Race Squad.

The club also offers a range of larger and higher-performance boats that everyone can graduate through before hitting the F16s, the ultimate in 16ft skiffs. The club has been represented at state, national and world championships with top results over the years. Meanwhile, it also has Sailability activities enabling those with a disability to learn to sail or to compete in events. You’ll also find impressive outdoor areas to relax in beside the water. It’s a top spot for boaties to find food and there’s a jetty where small boats can moor. However, the immediate waters are shallow, so larger yachts and cruisers need to anchor 50m or so out and commute in by tender.

Smaller clubs around Lake Macquarie also offer convivial stops for sustenance, many offering jetties or berths, with some being near ramps. These include the prestigious Royal Motor Yacht Club at Toronto, the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club at Belmont, The RSL and Workers Clubs at Wangi Wangi, the Workers Club at Dora Creek, the Bowling Club at Rathmines, another RSL at Swansea, and the Bowling Club at Gwandalan in the south. There are plenty of hospitable pubs, too.

While in Wangi Wangi, check out Dobell House, which is the home and studio of famous painter William Dobell. It houses a wonderful collection of memorabilia and a large exhibition illustrating his life’s work.

On the western side of the lake a major, international-standard project is underway. The Trinity Point development will feature a marina village, a 300-seat function/conference venue, shops, and a health and wellbeing centre. Also part of the plan is a 200-seat waterfront restaurant, a café and a resort-style, five-star Pullman hotel.

The first phase of the marina is already underway, with piles driven for 94 berths. Les Binkin, co-owner of Marmong Point Marina on the lake’s north-west corner, was invited to redevelop the marina design for Trinity Point and to construct the marina. All the construction materials for the new marina are being staged through Marmong Point Marina and barged 25km down the lake. Construction of the hotel and restaurant is due to start in 2017.

On a smaller scale, Marks Point Marina, on the eastern shore above the Swansea sea-entrance, has been redeveloped in recent times, too, with a full-floating marina now in operation.

Currently the largest marina at Lake Macquarie is Marmong Point Marina. Located in the far north-west corner, it provides full facilities to boaties, including 245 berths and a hardstand operation, while a 120-seat floating restaurant is planned for next year. There’s an excellent ramp there, with another not far away in Cockle Creek at Boolaroo.

THE FISH BECKON

Les Binkin is proud of the water quality in this part of the lake. The marina structure and the boats make an excellent habitat for fish that might otherwise not survive on the soft, silty bottom. Out in Cockle Bay, two dolphins have been in residence for more than a decade and frequently frolic around the boats.

Lake Macquarie is home to more than 280 species of fish, including flathead, bream, tailor and whiting, with seasonal jewfish, snapper and kingfish, as well as prawns and blue swimmer crabs.

“From Coal Point across to Belmont Bay is the best tailor fishing you’ll get anywhere,” says Binkin. “There are also kingfish and green-back tailor predominating through here, which are beautiful for eating.”

Near Marmong Point is Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery. It has exhibitions of famous Australian artists along with arts and crafts and Aboriginal projects, and offers excellent seminar facilities. The gallery is set close to the waterfront among lovely grassy grounds with a sculpture park and mosaic pathways, and a jetty for easy access by boat.

Right next door is the historic Awaba House Restaurant Café. The building and its surrounds have a fascinating past dating back to 1822. Lake Macquarie City Council purchased the site in 1993 and it operated as an art gallery until 2000. Now a restaurant, Awaba House still proudly shows off its elaborate roof, leadlight features, art deco interior and glass conservatory with silk-lined ceiling.

Another historic area is Rathmines, on the western shore. This was a Catalina flying-boat base during WW2 and the huge concrete ramp, where the big Catalinas taxied into and out of the water, is still in place – part of it is used as a boat ramp with a huge parking area. Nearby is a big jetty for larger boats to tie up to, while the local bowling club is a great spot for meals. There are walking paths and large parklands, and an annual Catalina festival that’s absolutely fascinating.

There’s plenty of accommodation to suit every budget around Lake Macquarie, including a number of waterside caravan parks. Several residential developments are also in progress, such as at Murrays Beach south of Swansea, which has a wonderful café/restaurant and enjoyable walks. Nearby is another holiday or permanent-lifestyle opportunity at Raffertys Resort, with a well-regarded Italian restaurant.

There’s so much more to discover on Lake Macquarie, including the excellent surfing beaches just across the peninsula between lake and ocean.

Thanks to Marmong Point Marina and Lake Macquarie Council for their help in our enjoyable exploration of the lake.

What’s on the bite?

Lake Macquarie is a huge tidal waterway made up of shallow sand flats, weed beds, rocky points and deeper sections with a mud bottom.

By Michael Guest

The southern end of the waterway is home to Pulbah Island and some of the deepest water on the lake – up to 12m in places. Quality squire, tailor and flathead are regularly caught right throughout the year, with the winter months yielding better quality fish.

Using overhead bird activity to help pinpoint bait balls is key to successful fishing here. Tailor to 4kg are possible, but 1kg to 1.5kg fish are plentiful. A great technique for tailor is on 90mm stick baits or poppers – the surface bite can be explosive, with several ravenous tailor competing for the lure. Kingfish in the warmer months and salmon when it cools off are also great sport on surface lures.

Coal Point, Fishing Point, Bolton Point and Green Point are rocky reef affairs and good fish producers from both the shore and boat. Weed beds and gravel patches run off the points and are home to all the lake’s regulars.

Belmont Bay covers a large area at the mid-eastern section of the lake. It’s made up of eel grass beds and sand patches famous for blue swimmer crabs and tailor trolling.

Talking of blue swimmers, pretty much everywhere throughout the lake produces good numbers of crabs in the warmer months.

There are thousands of moored boats throughout the waterways and some have been neglected for a few years, leaving a lot of growth on the hulls. These are the best boats to have a cast around if you’re keen to target bream. Dragging anchor chains provide big sand patches underneath the moored boats – have a look there for flathead, whiting and flounder.

Right around the lake, shallow weed beds can be found supporting big numbers of garfish. They are great fun to fish, especially for kids – grab a light line, a float, tiny hooks and a piece of bread or peeled prawn, and away you go. A good way to catch some of the bigger tailor is to troll a fresh garfish on ganged hooks with a pink squid skirted over the head.

The most popular area for fishing is known as the drop-over at the Swansea Channel – the main run of water entering from the open sea travels a couple of kilometres up to the drop. The area is made up of several small sand islands man-made from early dredging which, in my opinion, should be removed. Large sand flats and banks dropping away into deeper water form the drop-over.

Flathead congregate in numbers here, with soft plastics undoubtedly the best method to catch them. Fishing the edge of the drop can hold a few surprises: yellowtail, kingfish and cobia hunt the edge at times, especially at the end of the runin tide. They are awesome sport on light tackle and are a welcome bycatch.

Small to large mulloway on slab baits or livies are always a chance in the deeper sections, as well as the odd bigger estuary snapper, especially at night. The vast sand flats and banks contain big numbers of whiting. The best baits are blood, skirt and tube worms along with prawns and yabbies. Fish around 35 to 40cm are in good numbers, with others up to 50cm a real chance.

The main channel from the drop-over to Blacksmith’s Beach funnels the entire lake system to the ocean under the Swansea Bridge – another popular spot, particularly from the shore. Big numbers of squid congregate in the channel, especially on the ocean side of the bridge. This structure is home to kings from rats to 15kg … quite a challenge, to say the least, with the raging current, posts and pylons. Try using live squid, soft plastics and surface poppers on the tide change.

The start of winter heralds a mass-invasion of Australian salmon. The number of fish have increased over the last four years, to the point where they are just everywhere. The lake has several old artificial reefs along with the new Fisheries concrete ball structures, which have been installed as part of the NSW Fishing Licence system. These areas are definitely worth a crack. For exact locations, ask at a local tackle shop or check the Fisheries website (dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing).

There are two power stations on the lake’s fringe that disperse warm water as a by-product of power generation. This attracts a lot of the lake’s regular fish, especially in the winter months, as well as creating an environment suiting some more exotic species such as giant herring, big-eye trevally, mangrove jacks, moses, perch and cobia.

HOW TO GET THERE

• Access from sea via Swansea Channel at GPS location S33”05.08’ E151”39.93’

Find more information about safely navigating into and around the lake in the visitor guide on Marine Rescue Lake Macquarie’s website: MarineRescueLakeMacquarie.com.au.

• Access by road from Newcastle – many alternatives less than 30 minutes including:

° South down Five Islands Road between Speers Point and Teralba to Marmong Point or Toronto

° West along Warners Bay Road from the Pacific Highway in Gateshead to Warners Bay

• Access by road from Sydney – north on the M1 Motorway from Wahroonga:

° Exit to the south and eastern areas of the lake at the Doyalson Interchange and follow the Pacific Highway to areas such as Summerland Point (70 minutes) or Swansea (90 mins)

° Exit to the western side of the lake at the Morisset Interchange and head through Morisset to areas such as Bonnells Bay, Balcolyn, Sunshine and Dora Creek

° Exit to the northern areas of the lake at the Awaba Interchange and follow Cessnock and Awaba Roads into Toronto (90 mins) and on to Marmong Point (100 mins)

• Access by train to Fassifern or Teralba stations

• Access by air through Newcastle (Williamtown) Airport

DISCOVERING LAKE MACQUARIE

For more information about features, facilities and accommodation in the area, and information about how to get to Lake Macquarie, call the Visitor Information Centre at Swansea (tel: 1800 802 044) or go to: VisitLakeMac.com.au. An excellent visitor guide and a wide range of publications and maps are available from the visitor centre.

THE FACTS

• Located between Sydney and Newcastle on the NSW Central Coast

• 178km shoreline, 110sq km area

• 23km north to south, 8km across at the widest point

• Average depth is 3m to 8m (apart from Swansea Channel and some bays)


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