Though it’s wedged between the tourist hotspots of Newcastle and the central coast – and is absolutely huge – Lake Macquarie remains comparatively unsung.

We couldn’t say why. The area, which takes its name from the lake itself (the biggest coastal saltwater lake in Australia) encompasses not only that serene body of water, but also incredible beaches such as Redhead and Caves. There are also picturesque lakeside towns to discover, including bustling Warners Bay and Belmont to the east, and quieter suburbs on the western edge of the lake, such as Coal Point.

Just a 90-minute drive from Sydney, Lake Macquarie is a great stopover as you’re driving north, or a destination in its own right, with a clutch of old-school motels and lakefront resorts. Here’s where to jump in.

Eat and Drink
Start your day perched at the front window of cafe and homewares store Common Circus in Belmont, to soak up views of the lake beyond. Common Circus brews with beans from the central coast’s Glee Coffee Roasters and serves a tight menu of bread-based foods, including stellar toasties and bagels. Much of the space is taken up with homewares – ceramics, hand-poured candles and rattan baskets – as well as eco-friendly cleaning products, Hey Tiger chocolate and books (we’ve spotted the Broadsheet cookbooks on the well-stocked shelves from time to time).

Head to the small town of Teralba for cute cafe Maddz on York, which opened in March, right before the pandemic hit. It serves coffee from Newcastle roastery Glitch and has a cabinet packed with old school afternoon-tea treats such as orange and poppy seed cake with cream-cheese icing, iced doughnuts with sprinkles and miniature lemon-meringue pies.

Finish a day of exploring by pulling up a cane chair on the wraparound veranda at tapas bar The Mulberry, located inside the historic Toronto Hotel. While the diner claims to be Cuban-inspired, the menu’s a bit of a mixed bag, with dishes such as tomato and basil sausage rolls, onion and camembert tartlets and duck spring rolls.

See and Do
Lake Macquarie presents visitors with a double-whammy of the rugged, beautiful beaches that make Newcastle so popular and the still shores of the lake itself, which stretches for a massive 648 square kilometres. Lovely Redhead Beach can be reached by driving through the quiet suburb of Redhead, which is surrounded by tranquil bushland.

Caves Beach is one of the area’s most popular stretches of sands, thanks to its location close by the major town of Swansea. As its name suggests, one of the main draws here – apart from great surfing and fishing – are the beachfront caves, accessible via rock pools at low tide.

The nine-kilometre Warners Bay foreshore walk traces the lake from Warners Bay at the east edge of the lake to Booragul in the north-east. Part of the trail includes a stretch of boardwalk hovering over the lake itself. Once you’re finished pop into the Museum of Art and Culture Lake Macquarie, which houses works by local artists and has a dedicated Aboriginal art program.

Go bush and tackle the Yuelarbah walking track, a seven-kilometre (return) walk through Glenrock State Conservation Area. On your journey you’ll spot a couple waterfalls and wend your way through coastal rainforest and serene valleys. Hot tip: swing past Ringal Valley Deli beforehand for pre-made sandwiches to enjoy at the Glenrock Beach headland once you’ve reached the end point of the trail.

If easy walks and picnics are bit too low-adrenaline for your liking, Lake Macquarie offers plenty in the way of extreme sports. You can see the lake, beaches and Newcastle itself via a full-tilt skydiving experience with Skydive Australia. And if you’ve ever been curious about what the deal is with those jet boats that zip around Sydney Harbour, play the tourist with Jetbuzz.

The majority of accommodation in Lake Macquarie is nostalgia-inducing motels, as well as a smattering of polished resorts such as Rafferty’s. But if you’re after something a bit more stylish, you’re not without options. Set just back from the lake at Belmont is Bulc Boutique Bed and Breakfast run by a builder (who created the industrial-style digs) and a former antiques dealer who has filled the three suites with beautiful furniture and art. Each room has a king-size bed and Nespresso machines and breakfast baskets are available on request.

Nautical-themed, historic Selby Cottage basically has the lake lapping at its front doorstep. Sink sundowners in the front garden, before retiring inside where you’ll find the claw-footed bath of your dreams, a wood fire for chilly evenings and an incredibly plush queen bed.

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