Lake Macquarie (also known by its Indigenous name of Awaba) is Australia’s largest coastal salt lake (which makes it bloody big, I’ll tell you that much for free). Despite being a “short” (in Aussie terms) 1.5 hour drive from Sydney, the area often gets overlooked by travellers heading to better known destinations, like the city of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.
MORE FOOL THEM because the Lake Macquarie region is packed full of fun and unique things to do. The area is teeming with good food, art and a helluva lot of natural beauty – you could easily spend an entire weekend there and barely scratch its surface.
Need some ideas? Here’s a few, coming atcha now.
1. Go to the beach
When in Australia, one must head to the beach. We’ve got over 10,000 of them, so why wouldn’t you?
Lake Macquarie is connected to the Tasman Sea by a short channel, making it a salt water lake, as mentioned above. The area is known for its beautiful beaches (notably Catherine Hill Bay, Redhead Beach, Caves Beach and Blacksmiths Beach amongst many others).
Many of these tend to be much more less populated than those of Newcastle (and certainly Sydney), making them ideal for a day out at the beach.
2. Have brekky on Toronto’s foreshore (followed by a dip in the Lake)
When I was a teen, the suburb of Toronto (or “Tronno” as locals call it) was considered to be on the ‘wrong side of the lake’. It wasn’t a place you went to unless you were formal dress shopping, as the area weirdly had a proliferation of shops featuring a range of dresses that could help make your must tulle-ridden 15 year old fantasies come to life.
Fast forward more than a decade and Toronto is almost unrecognisable – although the dress shops are still quite good! Some pretty decent cafés have popped up along The Boulevarde (which is the suburb’s main street), where many locals and visitors go to while hours away.
Tinto Espresso Bar & Infuzion Cafe is one of my favourites – it is situated right on the Lake. Get there early for a good seat, sip a coffee, dig into some brunch and watch the world go by. There’s also a jetty right by the café, so you can go for a quick dip after if you feel so inclined. Although keep in mind that the area is not netted, so you may get more up close and personal with local wildlife than you initially bargained for.
3. Hunt down some gorgeous antiques in Teralba
Teralba is a small town near Toronto with a heck load going on. The entire main strip is covered in art – from the laundrette pictured above, to random fire hydrants on the street.
As well as being a damn good sight to look at, Teralba is home to several excellent antique shops. Unlike other antique stores in the region, hipsters don’t really know about this area so the prices are not inflated. I may have just let the cat out of the bag and for that, I apologise.
It’s really quite difficult to visit Teralba and not walk away without having spent money, but you will definitely be satisfied with your bargain. As a
professional hoarder collector of antiques, I know I am.
4. Score cheap tickets at the Lake Cinema in Boolaroo
Sometimes I think I would like to go to the movies in Melbourne where I live, then I remember how much tickets cost here and I cry.
This is certainly not the case in Lake Macquarie, which is home to the Lake Cinema in Boolaroo. This independent cinema showcases a range of films and tickets are a mere $8 (I remember the days when they used to be $6… damn you inflation!). Tickets are cash only, making it a great way to dispense of your spare change!
5. Kayak on the Lake
As a part time resident, I am of the strong belief that you can’t go to Lake Macquarie and not go kayaking and many other locals feel the same way. It’s a popular past time among many who live in the area. Some go out to fish. Others get out and paddle first thing as part of their daily exercise.
It’s a big social activity too – I’ll never forget last Christmas when a group of retirees turned up at my local park, their kayaks decked out in tiny fairy lights and proceeded to have a BBQ, before paddling off again. It was a very Australian moment indeed.
Visitors can enjoy a similar experience – just hire a kayak out! Lake Macquarie Kayaks for example, will drop off kayaks and stand-up paddle boards at your location of choice, charging by the hour or day.
6. Soak up some culture at the Lake Macquarie Art Gallery
The local Art Gallery is a true gem. Although it does feature touring shows from time to time, the art that is shown there is generally of artists who have a strong connection with the Hunter Region (of which Lake Macquarie and Newcastle are a part of). There is also a strong emphasis on Indigenous art and exhibitions.
I highly recommend visiting the Awaba House Restaurant Cafe for a quality feed after (with lake views… you may be sensing a theme here!).
7. Visit Dobell’s House
Sir William Dobbell is one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. I know I was surprised to find out that he hailed from Newcastle!
After spending some time abroad, Dobbell settled down in a little house in the suburb of Wangi Wangi, where he painted piece after piece in his attic studio. After his death his house was opened up as a museum, which is run by very knowledgeable volunteers.
Although the rooms are littered with prints of Dobbell’s famous artworks, there is a door in the house on which he painted designs of flowers for his sister. Museums around Australia have offered oodles of cash to purchase and exhibit the door themselves but the House has refused, choosing instead to keep the room as intact as was during Dobbell’s life as possible for the enjoyment of visitors to the museum.
8. Explore the numerous nature trails in the area
The Lake Macquarie region is a bushwalker’s paradise.
There are tonnes of cool walks to do around the area, from the popular to the lesser known. Fernleigh Track, which extends into Newcastle is a heritage rail trail, favoured by walkers and cyclists alike. Awabakal Reserve takes you through dense bush, to coastal cliffs where you can enjoy views of nearby Dudley Beach and perhaps even spot whales during migration season. Stroll beside the water’s edge along the Rail Trail in Toronto, or enjoy sunset views of the Lake along the Warners Bay Foreshore.
A full list of the walks available to do can be found here.
Lake Macquarie also acts as a gateway to the nearby Watagans National Park and Mount Sugarloaf, which I think we can all agree is a most excellent name for a mountain.
9. Meet the local wildlife
The Lake Macquarie area is teeming with wildlife – particularly of the marine and feathered variety.
As a #birdnerd myself, I positively froth at the mouth every time I come home and find myself surrounded by kookaburras, rosellas, cockatoos, sea eagles and cormorants. I even saw a Tawny Frogmouth sleeping in the trees once and got so excited I nearly wet myself.
You’re pretty much guaranteed to come across wildlife in some form or the other in Lake Macquarie, because in regions like this, nature prevails.
So, if you are looking to get off the beaten track and you’re into things like good views, good food, nature and having fun – Lake Macquarie might just be the destination for you.
Where to Stay
Lake Macquarie encompasses a massive region – I’d recommend staying in either Toronto or Warners Bay, using these town centres as a base and driving to where you need to go from there.
Here are some options:
The Brighton – Located in Toronto, The Brighton is right next to the main drag of Toronto (including shops, restaurants and cafes) and overlooks the water. Click here for availability and prices.
Pippi’s at the Point – located in Speers Point, Pippi’s also overlooks the water and provides the best of both worlds, being a 15 minute drive from Newcastle.Click here for availability and prices.
The Esplanade Motel – being such a big car nation, motels are an ideal form of accommodation for those travelling by road around Australia. Located in Warners Bay, you’ll be right on the water and within cooee of shops and restaurants. Click here for availability and prices.
Have you visited Lake Macquarie? If not, is it something you’d be interested in doing?
Pin me baby one more time.
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