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Lake Macquarie, NSW

Largest coastal saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere

Lake Macquarie is the largest coastal saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere. It covers approximately 120 square kilometres (four times the size of Sydney Harbour), is 24 km long, 3.2 km at its widest point and 9.7 m at its deepest. The lake's foreshore consists of 174 km of bays, beaches and headlands. There are 92 towns and villages, 29 public boat ramps, 28 public jetties and wharves and 7 marinas around the lake.
Lake Macquarie reaches the ocean by a narrow channel at Swansea Heads. It has never really developed as a port or harbour because the entrance is narrow and it has been almost enclosed by dangerous, shifting sandbars. Also the proximity of Newcastle Harbour to the north ensured that there was a good local alternative.
The eastern shore, which stands on a relatively narrow strip of land between the lake and the ocean, is well-developed and popular as a holiday destination. The western side is quieter and more rural with bushland along the shores and the Watagan Mountains rising to the west. The southern shore is characterised by bushland and wetlands while the northern shore dissolves into the Newcastle suburban sprawl. At the northern end there are flotillas of bobbing boats and white, flapping sails which crowd the lake and fishing and swimming are popular. At the southern end small towns nestle into the wilderness. Most of the destinations are designed to take full advantage of the views across the lake. It remains a largely unspoilt holiday destination with few overseas visitors and locals tending to prefer the warmer resorts in Queensland, Thailand or the South Pacific.


Lake Macquarie is located 134 km north of Sydney via Highway 1 (the Pacific Highway).


Origin of Name

The lake was known briefly as Reid's Mistake because the first European to explore it was Captain William Reid who was sent from Sydney in 1800 to explore the economic potential of the Hunter River. He did not realise that he had entered the mouth of Lake Macquarie and it was not until he returned to Sydney Town that he realised his mistake. The amusing error was corrected in 1826 when the lake was renamed in honour of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.


Things to See and Do

The Starting Point
There are a number of towns which lie on the shores of Lake Macquarie. The towns covered by Aussie Towns are Belmont, Catherine Hill Bay, Cooranbong, Morisset, Swansea, Toronto and Wangi Wangi.
The Lake Macquarie Visitor Guide lists twenty places of interest. It is a good list which covers most of the local attractions.
The list is:
Catherine Hill Bay (see Catherine Hill Bay)
Wallarah National Park
Murrays Beach
Caves Beach (see Swansea)
Blacksmiths Beach
Pelican Foreshore Reserve
Fernleigh Track (see Belmont)
Belmont Bay Foreshore (see Belmont)
Green Point Foreshore Reserve
Redhead Beach (see Belmont)
Charlestown Square
Warners Bay
Speers Point Park
Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery
Toronto Foreshore (see Toronto)
Rathmines Park (see Toronto)
Wangi Wangi (see Wangi Wangi)
Watagan Mountains National Park (see Cooranbong)
Dora Creek (see Cooranbong)
Pulbah Island (see Swansea)

Many of these destinations are mentioned in the specific entries on other towns. Of particular interest (and not mentioned elsewhere) are:

Warners Bay
One of the highlights at Warners Bay is the 2 km Sculpture Walk which runs along the shoreline from Eleebana to Boolaroo and Booragul. "Visitors can meet at the first artwork, ‘Beach Blossom,’ at Eleebana Lions Park, and walk or ride a bicycle, stopping off at sculptures on the way to the Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery. Artworks on the trail include a flying pig, a Buddhist monk, a mauve bust of Charles Darwin and a hooded figure surveying the view across the lake," notes the Street Furniture website. Check it out at https://streetfurniture.com/projects/warners-bay-foreshore. They describe, in great detail, the impressive range of seats and benches they have installed along the foreshore. The sculptures include Guy Maestri's (an Archibald Prize Winner) bronze bust – painted pink – of Charles Darwin; hai sculptor Naidee Changmoh's three-metre-tall bronze statue of a young Buddhist monk and Chinese artist Guan Wei’s bronze sculpture of a flying pig on top of a cloud – called No.1 Sky Pig. There are 3D murals by Scott Jansen at Belmont and Toronto, the ends of the walk.

Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery and Sculpture Park
The Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery is surrounded by a 5 ha park which runs down to the lake shoreline. It has an impressive collection of sixteen sculptures. Check out https://mac.lakemac.com.au/Visit/Sculpture-Park where there is access to a downloadable brochure, with a detailed map, on the Sculpture Park and a brochure titled Sculpture Park Discovery Trail.
The three examples included in the photos on this site are Tarifa O Tagaloa by Fatu Feu'u; Aeolian Tree by John Turier and Cardinal Point by Braddon Snape. The brochure provides detailed histories of the sculptors and specific descriptions of the materials used in each sculpture.


Other Attractions in the Area

Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area
The Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area comprises 650 ha of bushland in a number of separate pockets of land on the western and south-eastern foreshores of the lake. The State Conservation Area conserves important remnant bushland around Lake Macquarie. These bushland areas are popular for bushwalking, fishing, swimming, boating and bird watching.

The State Conservation Area includes:

1. The Awaba Bay portion which consists of 43.2 ha with 1.6 km of foreshore on the western side of the lake between Bolton and Marmong Points.

2. There is 42.3 ha of bushland at Wangi Point with approximately 2.9 kilometres of foreshore. Wangi Point is also surrounded by residential development and provides recreation for locals, and cabin, van and tent accommodation for visitors in the Tourist Park.

3. At Myuna Bay, 11 ha and 1.1 km of foreshore are part of the State Conservation Area. The reserve seems to be used primarily for fishing.

4. The Morisset portion conserves 174 ha and 4 km of foreshore around the Morisset Hospital complex.

5. The Chain Valley Bay portion conserves 272 ha of bushland behind 600 metres of foreshore on the south eastern side of the lake. Locals and anglers are the main users of this section of the park.

6. Point Wolstoncroft conserves a narrow peninsula of 107.8 ha with 6 km of foreshore on the south eastern shore of the lake.

7. Pulbah Island Nature Reserve is a 70 ha nature reserve situated in the south of Lake Macquarie. Prior to 1917, the island was Crown Land leased for grazing. A trust similar to the Taronga Zoo Trust was formed in 1920 to manage the island as a sanctuary and a variety of native animals were introduced. This use ceased around 1942. The island was dedicated as a nature reserve in 1970. Pulbah Island is a significant place in Aboriginal culture and was declared an Aboriginal place in 1982. The island is used for bushwalking and picnicking.

8. Moon Island Nature Reserve is a small flat plateau lying at the entrance to Lake Macquarie, 600 metres east of Swansea Heads. The island is 250 metres long and 90 metres wide covering an area of 2.25 ha. Moon Island was declared Moon Island Faunal Reserve on 1 April 1960 under the Fauna Protection Act 1948. There is a navigational beacon on the northern side of the island. Rock fishing and bird watching are the main recreational activities.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans around the shores of Lake Macquarie the area was occupied by people from the Awabakal First Nations language group.

* In 1800 Captain William Reid became the first European to explore the shores of the lake. He had been sent from Sydney to collect coal from the mouth of the Hunter River. He mistook the channel into Lake Macquarie for the river estuary. Members of the Awabakal tribe directed him to some coal in the headland. When he returned to Sydney he realised that he had reached the lake and not the mouth of the Hunter River. The lake became known as Reid's Mistake until 1826 when it was renamed in honour of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

* Lieutenant Percy Simpson was probably the first European settler in the Lake Macquarie area. He received a 2000 acre grant in 1826, was assigned six convicts who cleared the land, grazed cattle, and built a homestead and stockyards near a ford over Dora Creek.

* Simpson departed in 1828 but one of his convicts, Moses Carroll, stayed on as a stockman and was made constable of the area in 1834.

* In 1825 the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, an ex-actor and businessman, established a 1000 acre reserve for an Aboriginal mission which extended from Pelican north-west to Redhead and north-east to Croudace Bay. Threlkeld learned the language of the Awabakal (in order to translate The Bible for them) and built a mission house, called 'Bahtahbah' overlooking Belmont Bay. It was connected to Newcastle by a rough dray track.

* Around 1840 Threlkeld started the first coal mine around the lake.

* In 1842 Threlkeld acquired ten acres at Swansea Heads for coal-loading and storage.

* The third European settler in the area was Thomas Williamson, of the Shetland Isles off Scotland, who bought 100 acres of land around present-day Belmont in 1863. He built two cottages, established a farm and grew grapes and bananas.

* Fellow Shetlander John Anderson bought 40 acres of adjacent land and began farming and dairying.

* By the end of the 1860s there were groups of fishermen in the district and a steam-driven sawmill was built at Cardiff Point, at the north-western tip of the bay.

* In 1868 Cornelius Moynahan began shipbuilding on the Lake Macquarie shore.

* By 1871 a timber industry had emerged in the area.

* In 1872 the first timber sawmill opened in the district.

* As Newcastle has continued to spread south, the desirability of lakeside residences has seen the population around the lake greatly increase.


Visitor Information

Lake Macquarie Visitor Information Centre, 228-234 Pacific Highway, Swansea, tel: 1800 802 044. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm


Useful Websites

The local council has its own website which offers advice on accommodation, attractions and eating. Check out http://www.visitlakemac.com.au.

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3 suggestions
  • The town of Cardiff, NSW is located within the Lake Macquarie shire, and has a population of 5,800.

    Liam McSeveney
    • Cardiff has an interesting coal mining history and is undermined with several tunnels … the remains of a building and machinery over a ventilation shaft stood near John st. Cardiff South until at least the late 1960 s … ? … is any information out there about this former piece of mining infrastructure …? ( please ).

      R. Dawson
  • I would like to know who owns the edge of the lake in lake macquire and can I walk around the edge completely

    Garry/Gloria Parfitt