Nothing says summer to the Eats World quite like a Lake Macquarie family break. But when it comes to the lovely Lake, I’m what you’d call a tad impartial. And by impartial I actually mean completely, unapologetically biased. You see, blood runs thicker than water and though there is plenty of water up here, my blood-ties also run strong as my family has been residing here since 1841. But, surrounded as it is by cosy holiday towns and pretty beaches, my affection for the lovely lake runs deeper than just family connections.
The salt water lake, at four times the size of Sydney Harbour, is rather large!
Linking the lake, beaches and mountains are more than 90 villages and heritage-listed towns. There’s fishing, beaches and boats of all shapes and sizes.
Plus loads of water sports and gorgeous soft-sand beaches, mountain adventures and wilderness walks. And so many playgrounds. Of the epic variety.
This time around we’re staying at Mercure Lake Macquarie Rafferty’s Resort in a fab two-level three-bedroom cottage.
The beautiful resort has a day spa, restaurants and playgrounds plus four swimming pools and lakeside beach games to keep the kids amused but – though the resort’s watery temptations are alluring – we elect to keep our feet dry and head west of Lake Macquarie to the Watagan Mountains – a stunning natural wilderness area that combines national park and state forest.
Given Raffles penchant for all things indigenous, The Watagans extensive Aboriginal history is definitely part of its appeal but we are here for a history lesson of a different kind. And this time it’s personal. The Watagans are a place of immense significance to my family and on the scenic forest drive that loops through the mountains there are plenty of reminders of my pioneering ancestors, who were among the area’s first settlers. For us a stop at Heaton Lookout is a must, named as it is for my great great, great, great etc grandparents. For those not interested in looking for signs of my relatives, Heaton Lookout is still well worth checking out for the amazing views over the lower Hunter and Pacific Ocean.
Family history lesson complete we head back to Rafferty’s Resort via Speers Point Playground, an enormous tangle of climbing ropes, climbing towers, slides and flying foxes.
Only the promise of sand, sea and food can lure them away.
We stop for a Seafood platter at Lake Macqaurie yacht club. Raffles even considers sharing it with us.
Then on to Caves Beach, a 300 metre stretch of glorious soft sand and patrolled swimming that is most loved by my two little explorers for the network of sea caves clustered at its southern end.
As usual we lose hours as the kids scamper among the rocks and through the tunnels and openings that connect them.
Raffles searches for crabs and Sugarpuff collects bucket loads of “jewels” (and by jewels she means ugly grey rocks) and wriggles her little body in and out of perfect Sugarpuff-sized pools of water until, with sand stuck in orifices I didn’t know they had, we head back to Rafferty’s to clean up for dinner.
We continue the seafood fest over dinner with a view at Sesames Restaurant, a Thai/Cambodian fusion restaurant in Toronto that, according to Raffles, is so good his head could explode. Luckily his noggin’ remains intact and dinner ends explosion free, but from the salt and pepper soft shell crab to the chef’s signature whole deep-fried salt and pepper snapper the meal really does prove mind-blowing.
Over breakfast at Rafferty’s we meet a clingy cockatoo with a gruesomely pointed beak who has the kids at “hello”, squawked though the salutation is. Repeatedly.
Seems the feathered freak has a thing for Sugrapuff and is his devotion is such that he follows her by foot all the way back to our cottage. The smitten stalker is still waiting outside for her when we come back out half an hour later for a swim. Can you get an AVO out on a bird?
The kids are more than a little keen to hit the water so we head to the resort’s private beach area where Sugarpuff and I paddle in the shallow water… and terrorize pelicans. Raffles and his dad commandeer a kayak to paddle around the lake… and terrorize pelicans. What can I say? Every family needs a hobby…
After a morning of splashing about, it’s time to do the time-warp. But rather than putting our hands on our hips and bringing our knees in tight we just down a couple of cold beers on the verandah of the gorgeous weatherboard pub that overlooks the historic mining coal village of Catherine Hill Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This is a town that is gloriously frozen in time.
Heritage listed timber miners cottages overlook Catho’s picturesque patrolled beach and a massive old coal loading dock, a reminder of the town’s working history. Raffles and I enjoy exploring around the old dock and making up stories about its history – a necessity given I am completely clueless about any of the realities of it. Raffles decides it’s a runway for alien spaceships popping by for their intergalactic beach holidays while Sugarpuff is too busy building sandcastles with her dad to care about any impending alien invasions.
Caves Beach and Catherine Hill Bay are just two of the many family-friendly beaches along the coastline, but gentle waters are more to our kids taste. And where better to paddle than at Sandy Beach in nearby Summerland Point, conveniently located about a block from the home of my utterly awesome parents who, 174 years after the first of my relos first did their pioneering schtick in Lake Macquarie, are still living here and loving visits from their doting grandpups.
Especially when one of them is prepared to whip up some chilli crab for their dinner.