The city of Lake Macquarie is a surprisingly big city that no one seems to know exists. Located between Newcastle and the Central Coast, about 1.5 hours from Hornsby in Sydney, Lake Macquarie is also Australia’s largest coastal salt-water lake.
At 110 square kilometres, Lake Macquarie (also known as Awaba by the local Aboriginal people) is double the size of Sydney Harbour, and this means it has a pretty massive shoreline to get around and explore. Like, enormous. We’ve lived in the city for four years now, and we are still discovering parts of the shore and unique areas of the city that we didn’t know existed. Not to mention, there are plenty of activities we haven’t tried yet, like the Jet Buzz jet boat from Rafferty’s Resort.
That said, we do aim to go out and explore the city a little more almost every week, so I feel like we now have a pretty excellent idea of what the must-do things in Lake Macquarie are, especially if you are only here in our beautiful city for a short stay.
Read more: Best of Newcastle Walking Tour
Now, to be clear at the outset, these are my top, absolute, must-do things IN Lake Macquarie. In other words, these are the things I reckon are worth doing within the confines of Lake Macquarie City Council area. I’m not talking about something across the border in Newcastle. I don’t care about things on the Central Coast (ok I do, it’s beautiful there too). I’m not going out West either, not up to the Hunter Valley and Maitland region. Lake Macquarie only.
That means this area:
So, now that we are clear on where our must-do things are located, let’s get exploring!
Caves Beach is perhaps the most well-known destination in Lake Macquarie. It’s certainly the most recommended (although for some crazy reason, TripAdvisor’s number 1 for Lake Macquarie is actually the Hoyts cinema. It’s a great cinema, definitely our favourite one, but #1? Seriously?), and Newcastle often tries to take credit for it, but it’s not in Newcastle, it’s in Lake Macquarie, get it right Novocastrians! Sorry about that 🙂
Since Caves Beach is pretty amazing, I’ve actually written a dedicated post just for it. You can check it out here.
Caves Beach is a long white sandy beach that joins up to Hams Beach to the north, and every visit is unique.
As you might expect, Caves Beach gets its name from the caves that have been worn out of the cliffs by the ocean at the southern end of the beach. What makes it change each time we go is the tide.
You want to make sure you get there at low tide for the easiest access to the caves, particularly the ones further south. You can usually get into the main cave without too much trouble on either side of low tide for a couple of hours, so don’t stress too much about time. Just don’t go at high tide, and take care not to get caught by the incoming tide.
I’ve also seen more than one wedding nearby with photos down in the caves, so with any luck, you just might get to see one too, especially on weekends.
You do have to climb over rocks to get into the caves, the water does come in if the tide isn’t all the way out, so if this isn’t for you, head to the cliff-top lookout instead. Boom. Wheelchair accessible and beautiful views of the beach in the north and cliffs in the south. You’re welcome.
On a side note, if you are not in a hurry and would like a great meal with gorgeous views and a not too hefty price (depending on what you order), check out Caves Coastal Bar and Bungalows. The restaurant has a chilled beach vibe and looks out to the ocean, oh, and the food is excellent! Definitely one of the better places to eat in Lake Mac.
Check out Caves Beach on TripAdvisor for more photos and tips!
Heaton Picnic Area / Lookout
This one is pretty special, but it often doesn’t get a look in. The official Visit Lake Mac visitor information guides don’t even list this in the top 10. In fact, it’s not even in most of the guides (although TripAdvisor does list the Watagans National Park as #4 and Heaton State Forest as #10, so it’s sort of listed there at least). I’ll admit, it is just, barely still in Lake Macquarie, but it is within the boundary (at least what Google Maps declares as the boundary), and even if it isn’t, the central focus is the lake, so it really should be a must-do.
I suspect it is often left out because it is well off the beaten track
Heaton is deep in the Watagans National Park and access is by gravel roads. If you are only venturing into the mountains for Heaton Lookout, I would recommend entering via Mount Faulk Road. This is the shortest way in. Just be very aware of other vehicles going in the opposite direction as the roads are narrow. I would also advise against going after rain unless you have a 4WD as it can get slippery and boggy. If it’s dry though, 2WD vehicles can get in with no trouble.
Should you make the journey though, you will be well rewarded.
We first discovered Heaton completely by accident after living in Lake Macquarie for three years and were completely flawed as we drove into the clearing.
Once we got out and went to the lookout fences for a better view, we were just gobsmacked that we had never heard of this place before.
If the weather is clear, and even if it’s not, you can see so far!
This is the only place I know of, besides flying, where you can see all of Lake Macquarie at once. You can also see all the way north across Newcastle and the Hunter River to the massive sand dunes at Stockton Beach.
Looking south the vista continues across the Central Coast lakes. Of course, you can also see the ocean and the many ships lined up to enter the Port of Newcastle.
It is mind-boggling to me that this is not on more must-do lists. This should be on your list of must-do things in Lake Macquarie, full stop.
The MAC, aka “The Museum of Art and Culture” and Booragul Foreshore
The council-run Museum of Art and Culture, affectionately known as the MAC at Lake Macquarie changes regularly with exhibits featuring local artists. Art galleries are not always things I’d put on a must-do list. In fact, if I’m short on time myself, an art gallery is probably one of the first things I’d cut. However, I find the size of the Lake Mac gallery combined with the careful curation means that it doesn’t take long to see everything, and what you see is quite fascinating, regardless of the theme of the current exhibitions.
Also, it’s free. Sooooo, that’s always a good thing, right?
It’s not just what’s inside that makes the MAC worth visiting though. It is situated on the Booragul foreshore behind Awaba House, and the surrounding parklands have been turned into an extension of the gallery making it a hub of creativity and inspiration.
There are art installations outside, and while the historic Awaba House (which is worth seeing but is currently in need of significant repairs after being damaged by recent fires) is closed off to the public, the fences have been turned into a public art space with council inviting people to add their own mark.
On weekends it isn’t uncommon to find artists markets along the foreshore here as well, and even if that isn’t your thing, the view across Cockle Bay towards Speers Point can make for some great photos.
Oh, and here’s a map, just in case:
Check out The MAC on TripAdvisor.
Redhead Beach and Cliffs
Another beach? Yep. There are a number of beaches in the Lake Macquarie area, but after Caves Beach, I reckon Redhead Beach is the next best. Make sure you head to the end near Readhead Point where the Redhead Surf Lifesaving Club is located.
From here, you can do the walk to the point from the top of the cliffs, or, you can head out onto the beautiful white sandy beach below the red cliffs that Redhead is named for.
Oh, and that tower thing on the rocks, that is a shark spotting tower (or so I’m told anyway). Somehow, that doesn’t fill me with confidence about jumping in the water. That said, I’ve never heard of any shark attacks in the 4 years we’ve been here, so what are the odds? 🙂
Check out Redhead Beach on TripAdvisor.
Speers Point and Warners Bay Foreshore
Following the B57 road around from Speers Point to Warners Bay, there is a walking path right on the water’s edge. This is a great spot for a walk, and if you end in Warners Bay, there are some excellent dining options.
If you happen to be here in the evening, it’s an ideal spot to watch the sunset as well! You’ve got the lake in the foreground, mountains in the background, and a glowing, slowly dozing off sun disappearing beyond the peaks.
Nice, right? And to be completely honest, this isn’t the best sunset I’ve seen here. Unfortunately, most of the best ones are while I’m driving! I really need to sit here and watch the sun go down more often.
Have a picnic by the lake
This leads me to my last must-do thing in Lake Macquarie.
Chill out, find a good spot and have a picnic, even if it’s a bought one – there are stacks of good fish and chip shops to choose from at the very least!
There are so many parks and great picnic places around the lake, no matter what meal it is. It’s worth taking the time out and just being there, enjoying your food, maybe putting your feet in the water, and watching things go by. Many of these parks are in such peaceful places. I just might have to do a list of the best ones in another article. Let me know if that is something you would be interested in.
Need somewhere to stay in Lake Macquarie?
Most of the options around the lake are on the eastern side (furthest from the Pacific Motorway, of course), and the northern side rolling into Newcastle.
I can definitely recommend Raffertys Resort at Cams Wharf on the east side (I’ve stayed there a couple of times).
If you would prefer to stay on the west, check out my blog post on accommodation in Morisset.
That’s it though, that’s my top 6 must-do things in Lake Macquarie. Which one is your favourite?
Find more things to do in Lake Macquarie on TripAdvisor.
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