25 Cool Things to Do in Lake Macquarie, NSW
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Read more: Things to Do in Newcastle, NSW
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!).
Visit Dobbell’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.
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.
Visit the Watagans National Park
One hour from Newcastle and not far at all from the Lake itself, is the Watagans, as the park is colloquially known.
There’s so much to do here that you could easily spend the day exploring (or even camp overnight!).
At the very least, don’t miss out on Gap Creek Falls (hidden deep within the rainforest, accessed by the Gap Creek Falls Trail), or the Moss Wall at Boarding House Dam.
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.
Read more: Things to Do in Maitland, NSW
Go formal dress shopping in Toronto
For some unknown reason, Toronto has long been considered the regional hub for formal dress shopping.
Come October, the main street will be full of teens, flitting from store to store, trying to find their dream dress.
Thankfully, the stores there have largely kept with the times. Gone are the wide-skirted taffeta nightmares from the early noughties, replaced with dresses that are a little more chic.
I’ve actually purchased the last two dresses I’ve worn to friend’s weddings from Toronto and the expense has been pretty reasonable.
Snap pictures of urban art
As it turns out, Lake Macquarie is quite the hub for artists and this is becoming evident in the sheer amount of urban art, which is popping up all over the town.
My favourite spots for art are the suburb of Teralba and Toronto. There are some bigger murals popping up as well, such as this one in Dudley (on Boundary St) a similar one at the Blacksmiths Beach Surf Club and the wildlife mural adorning Café Macquarie in Belmont.
3D murals are beginning to pop up around the Lake, with one to be found on the rotunda by Toronto’s foreshore and another by the jetty in Belmont.
Take a dip in the Belmont Baths
The newly refurbished Belmont Baths opened for business this summer and are an excellent place to head to if you want to cool down from the oppressive heat.
Lake Mac is a salt-water lake and so swimming in it can often be dangerous, as bull-headed sharks are occasionally spotted swimming around its perimetres.
The new baths are netted, so that families can enjoy the facilities risk-free.
Explore the CREATIVE Lake Art Trail
I haven’t had time to check out the new art trail around Warners Bay, but I’ve been hearing good things about it.
This part of the lake is already stunning to walk around at any time of the day, so the addition of the sculptures that now litter the foreshore can only be a plus.
Climb Mount Sugarloaf
Mt Sugar Loaf (an extinct volcano) is worth journeying to if you want 360 degree views of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the surrounding area (both countryside and ocean).
It’s not a harrowing walk, as the mountain is only 48m high. It takes around 30 minutes to summit, a walk which can be enjoyed by families and those with a moderate level of fitness.
Snap a picture of the Shark Tower on Redhead Beach at sunrise or sunset
Redhead Beach is nice to visit in itself and its shark tower is recognised as a local icon.
It makes for a nice prop for photos during sunrise or sunset, but you can also pretend to lean on it from afar.
Check out the Swinging Bridge at Dora Creek
Hidden behind the Sanitarium Factory in Dora Creek is the very cool swinging bridge.
It’s great fun to cross, provides plenty of awesome photo ops and the spot where its located is ideal for kayaking!
Explore the caves at Caves Beach
Caves Beach is, funnily enough, known for the caves which line its shores.
They’re lovely to look at and explore any time of the day and as you can imagine, look quite nice during sunset.
Tour the Lake via boat
It seems almost mad that a cruise company have only just started running a tour of Lake Mac – better late than never, I suppose!
The cruise runs every Sunday, departing at midday and taking patrons as far south as Swansea.
A buffet lunch is included, with tea and coffee on hand and cake for dessert. There’s also a bar onboard, where you can purchase additional drinks.
Tickets for adults are $59 and make sure you jump on board early – as it’s new, it’s been selling out, two weeks in advance!
Take a Helicopter ride over the Lake!
You can also see Lake Mac from the sky! What a sight that would be.
There is a range of options on offer – you can sit back and enjoy the view, or even fly the helicopter yourself.
Shorter tours explore Lake Mac from the air, with some taking you further affield – to the Central coast and even as far as Sydney Harbour.
Book your scenic flight over Lake Mac here
Phew! I spend a lot of time in Lake Macquarie and even I’m impressed by this list.
It’s a fantastic spot for families, couples or even those just looking to get out and explore nature. It makes for the perfect day or weekend trip from Sydney. And best of all – it’s quiet.
Where to Stay in Lake Macquarie
Have you visited Lake Macquarie? If not, is it something you’d be interested in doing?