With its vast shimmering lake, pick of pristine coastal beaches, swathes of unspoiled wilderness, and a cornucopia of quiet and cosy holiday towns – all just 90 minutes by road from Sydney, and 45 minutes from the heart of the Hunter Valley’s wineries – there’s no shortage of things to do in Lake Macquarie with kids.
Now, when it comes to lovely Lake Macquarie – or Awaba as it is known in the language of the Awabakal people, the area’s traditional owners – I have to admit to being a touch biased. And by a touch, I mean completely and unapologetically. You see, blood runs thicker than water and though there is a load of water up here at Lake Macquarie (given that it’s home to the largest permanent coastal saltwater lake in the southern hemisphere) my blood ties also run deep as my ancestors were among the area’s first European settlers.
Along with the lake and an embarrassment of gorgeous beaches, there is a wonderfully yompable state forest and a lookout named for an English Convict who was one of the pioneers of the area. This rather unsavoury individual was sent to Australian for his crimes as a highwayman (I’d like to envision a face-painted circa 1981 dandy Adam Ant type, but it’s highly likely that he rocked more of a stinky scumbag aesthetic) before being issued a certificate of freedom and settling in Lake Macquarie as a timber cutter. Along with chopping wood and being a bit of a thieving douche, this man was my great, great, great etc etc granddad. 179 years on my dad, his great great etc grandson, still calls Lake Macquarie home.
But my affection for the lovely lake runs deeper than just family connections. From surfing and sailing to trekking through rainforest in the surrounding mountains, there are ample great places to stay and dine to keep visiting families very busy indeed – on and off the water. Here are our pick of the best things to do in Lake Macquarie with kids
Best Lake Macquarie swimming spots with kids
Its enormous lake (four times the size of Sydney Harbour), meandering waterways and 32 kilometres of coastline provide many a dazzling patrolled beach, long stretches of sand dunes, intricate networks of sea caves and secret bays that the locals love.
1. Catherine Hill Bay
Catherine Hill Bay, one of our favourite haunts in the Lake Macquarie region, is a town that is gloriously frozen in time. The State-Heritage-listed historic mining village, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is the oldest continuous settlement in the area. Along with wildflower dotted bushland and a gorgeous stretch of beach renowned for swimming and surfing, you’ll find the remnants of rusted machinery and a rickety historic timber coal loading dock, sadly damaged by the bushfires in 2018. The kids and I love exploring the area around the rusting remnants of the old dock and making up stories about its history – a necessity given I am completely clueless to the realities of it.
2. Naru Beach Reserve, Marks Point
A hidden gem located down a windy dirt road between Blacksmiths and Belmont, this white sand beach is one of Lake Macquarie’s best kept secrets. Perfect for paddle boarding, paddling in clear waters or lazing on the sand, this hidden, dog friendly spot is fab for families.
3. Caves Beach, Swansea
Caves Beach, a 300-metre surf beach located in Swansea, is as popular for its critter filled rock pools and the network of sea caves at its south end as it is for its surfing. My kids regularly hunt for crabs and collect bucket loads of “jewels” (and by jewels I mean mean ugly grey rocks) and wriggle their little bodies in and out of kids-sized pools of water.
Home to the Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club, a kiosk, bathrooms, barbecues, picnic tables and plenty of shady space to protect young skin from the harsh Australian sun, its patrolled by the Swansea-Caves SLSC from September to April.
4. Lake Macquarie Sand Islands
Keen to get marooned on your own private sand island? The Lake Macquarie Sand Islands are a favourite with the locals. Experienced kayakers can tackle the open water, or simply hire a boat to skip between the islands to stop and paddle in the tranquil blue waters surrounding them.
5. Blacksmiths Beach, Swansea
This patrolled beach is great for swimming and especially popular with families, with its sheltered inlet, known as Grannies Pool, providing perfect conditions for littlies. A breakwall, which acts as a border between the beach and the Swansea Channel is also popular for walking, cycling and fishing. Picnic tables, barbecues and the Swansea Belmont Surf Lifesaving Club complete the picture for a perfect day out by the sea.
6. Redhead Beach, Redhead
At the northern end of a 12 kilometre stretch of Pacific coastline, Redhead Beach is renowned for its stunning landscape of cliffs and red rocky outcrops as well as its iconic 1930’s era shark look-out tower, thought to be the only remaining purpose-built shark tower on the eastern Australian coast. Patrolled in the warmer months, the beach is also home to the Redhead Surf Life Saving Club and is popular with both surfers and swimmers.
7. Sandy Beach, Summerland Point
Sandy Beach is a small beach in Sandy Beach Reserve, running north from Black Neds Point in Summerland Point. While it is one of the area’s quieter swim spots, you’ll find a safety netted pool, calm waters that are perfect for paddling tots or paddle boards, plus barbecues and a playground, making it a fave with the kids.
Best Lake Macquarie bushwalks
Lake Macquarie is home to an incredible range of natural wilderness areas that combine national park and state forest that separates the Hunter River catchment from the Tuggerah and Macquarie Lakes systems.
8. Boarding House Dam Walk
In the 7751 hectares of mountain range that make up Watagans National Park, one of our favourite Watagans’ walks is the Boarding House Dam walk. The 20-minute loop is ideal for younger kids, the easy walk follows a stream through rainforest and curious rock formations to a remarkable moss-covered cliff wall that stretches a staggering distance. Strolling back across a bridge through open forest you’ll reach the Boarding House Dam picnic area, a perfect spot for a family picnic.
9. Glenrock State Conservation Area
Glenrock State Conservation Area is a natural playground, spanning over 500 hectares of stunning headlands, rainforests and lagoons. Tackle one its bushwalking and mountain bike trails, soaking up spectacular views along the way, and cool off at one of its glorious beaches and waterways.
10. Gap Creek Falls
The glorious Gap Creek waterfall, also within the Watagans National Park, is arguably the best waterfall in the Hunter. Follow the winding track through the rainforest until you reach the spectacular 40-metre drop, surrounded by red cedars and Illawarra flame trees. There are also picnic tables, barbecues, toilets and there is free overnight camping at three unpowered sites.
11. Heaton Lookout
With its extensive Aboriginal and European history, The Watagans is a place of immense significance to my own family. On the scenic forest drive that loops through the mountains there are plenty of reminders of our pioneering ancestors. For us a stop at Heaton Lookout is a must, named as it was in their honour. For the other 25 million or so Aussies that aren’t interested in looking for signs of my relatives, the lookout is still well worth a stop for its stunning views over the lower Hunter and Pacific Ocean and to tackle the Heaton Lookout to Heaton Gap walk.
12. The Fernleigh Track
The Fernleigh Track is a popular 15-kilometre shared walking and cycling path between Adamstown and Belmont. The point-to-point trail is dog friendly and suitable for most fitness levels. It follows a former rail corridor through beautiful bushland and wetland areas, past former stations and heritage railway relics including the famous Fernleigh Tunnel
13. Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia, Shortland
Hunter Wetlands Centre is a tremendously diverse 45-hectare wetland site that offers opportunities for families to discover, learn and relax in a natural setting. Take to the water in a two-person canoe to explore the wetlands, enjoy daily Magpie Geese feedings, try dip netting to discover some of the critters that call the wetland ponds home or simply ramble about Ironbark Creek on foot to spot an incredible variety of birds, reptiles and animals.
Best Lake Macquarie Playgrounds
There’s always somewhere to stop and slide and swing in Lake Macquarie with kids, with a plethora of waterfront kids play spaces and award winning playgrounds.
14. Lake Macquarie Variety Playground, Speers Point
Parks and Leisure Australia named this epic playground at Speers Point the “Best Play Space in Australia” and for good reason. The all ages, all ability state of the art playground has it all. There’s a rock climbing wall, flying fox, huge nine-metre tube slide, water play zones, climbing frames, bike paths and a wheelchair accessible play boat.
15. Belmont Lions Playground, Belmont
Located right on the water at Belmont with lovely views, this community park boasts barbecues, seating and tables, an easily accessible jetty ideal for fishing, footpath for the kids to scoot and bike around and a softfall play area with swings, a slide, rockers, and climbing equipment.
16. Pelican Inlet, Swansea
Pelican inlet is noteworthy not only for its picnic and playground facilities but also, unsurprisingly, for its abundance of pelicans. There are plentiful picnic and barbecue facilities, boat ramps, a great little play area, and rather lovely views along the channel to Lake Head.
Best Cultural experiences in Lake Macquarie with kids
17. The Museum of Art and Culture (MAC), Booragal
An exceptional cultural and tourist destination, MAC – The Museum of Art and Culture – located on the site of both a traditional camp and the former Awaba House, is significant to both the Awabakal people, the area’s traditional owners, and non-Aboriginal people. The museum is dedicated to contemporary art and respectful Aboriginal projects including, Yapang, a dedicated Aboriginal program and space promoting contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture to a wider audience.
Best active fun in Lake Macquarie with kids
Active families will find plenty of things do in Lake Macquarie from rock climbing and horseriding, to jet boating and kayaking
18. Bicycling, Warners Bay
Get on your bikes with a rental from Boomerang Bikes at lively, lovely Warner’s Bay. Families can enjoy a leisurely ride along the water’s edge, soaking up the panoramic lake views from the elevated over-water Redbluff Boardwalk.
19. Abseiling, Wangi Wangi
Take the leap from the spectacular sandstone cliffs at Gap Creek Falls on a rock-climbing or abseiling adventure with Out and About Adventures. Experienced staff use safe, well maintained equipment, and conduct programs for all ages with sequenced programs tackling small cliffs and progressing over a series of steeper descents.
20. Jet Boating, Cams Wharf
Daring families can take a high-speed spin on the lake with Jet Buzz to get the heart pumping as you spin, brake and fish tale around the lake. Those who prefer their thrills to be more chilled, might prefer to hire a JetBuzz’ stand up paddle board or kayak and take on the lake at a more leisurely pace.
21. Horse riding, Cooranbong
From one-hour trails to full day rides through beautiful rain forests, the team at AAA Horse Riding will guide you along incredible trails taking you riding into the foothills of the mountains, through rainforest and past some of the most spectacular scenery in Lake Macquarie. Pony lovers will especially love the children’s day camps, lessons, and overnight camping packages that are also available.
Best places to eat out in Lake Macquarie with kids
From waterview fine diners and sprawling beachside clubs to cute cafes and quirky weatherboard pubs, there’s plenty of choice for dining in Lake Macquarie with kids.
22. Café Macquarie, Belmont
Belmont’s Café Macquarie is a popular hub for families, with great food and good vibes. Open for all day breakfast and lunch, the menu showcases seasonal produce. There’s a great kid’s menu too, so every size belly will be satisfied. Don’t forget to stop to snap a selfie in front of a panda, giraffe, snake or sea creature along the massive mural on its outside wall!
23. The Catho Pub, Catherine Hill Bay
Located in the historic township of Catherine Hill Bay, The Catho Pub is a ridiculously cute timber number with stacks of atmosphere, an old school bistro and ice-cold beer with a view! If you’re looking for me on a sunny arvo, you know where I’ll be…
24. Crusoe’s on the Lake, Belmont
Crusoe’s on the Lake is a waterfront venue at Lake Macquarie Yacht Club and the perfect spot for a long leisurely lunch. There’s no better way to spend a sunny Lake Macquarie day than on the sprawling deck with an epic seafood platter and a chilled bottle of wine.
25. Greg & Audrey’s, Toronto
Rock into retro lakeside diner, Greg & Audrey’s, for a 50s vibe and fab food. Join the queue at to nosh on American style hot dogs, brilliant burgers, sundaes, soda floats, and the tastiest ice-cream in Lake Macquarie.
26. Sesames on the Lake, Belmont
This incredible Thai/Cambodian fusion restaurant, is a must for families who love flavour. Sesames on the Lake offers a jam-packed menu featuring Asian favourites (we love the salt and pepper soft shell crab, Cambodian yellow curry and the chef’s signature whole deep-fried salt and pepper snapper). There’s also good selection of children’s meals and a separate menu with an extensive selection of meals for vegetarians and vegans.
27. Wangi Deck Café , Wangi Wangi
The fabulous Wangi Deck Café in the Watagans boasts loads of atmosphere and a menu jam packed with delicious traditional favourites, bakery items and the best coffee in town.
Best family friendly accommodation in Lake Macquarie
Lake Macquarie offers a range of accommodation from indulgent resorts to budget friendly private villas and weekenders dotted along the lake.
28. Rafferty’s Resort, Cams Wharf
For us, it’s hard to look past Raff’s namesake hotel, Rafferty’s Resort. This sprawling resort is centrally located and offered us a great base for seeing the best of Lake Macquarie. The resort has four swimming pools, tennis courts and lakeside beach games to keep the kids amused, along with a children’s playground and a kids’ club for children aged four to 12 which is open on weekends and during school holidays. Mum and dad needn’t feel left out at Rafferty’s Resort either – parental pampering is on offer at the resort’s indulgent day spa. And the accommodation itself is excellent. Our two-level cottage offering a comfortable and private home away from home with a large living area and child proof gates to keep our tearaway tot safely off the stairs.
29. Big4 Ingenia Holidays Lake Macquarie, Mannering Park
Located just 70 minutes north of Hornsby, BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Lake Macquarie is nestled at the northern end of the NSW Central Coast. The park is secluded but still close to town, offering guests the perfect mix of comfort, convenience and serenity.
Located just a short walk from the foreshore of the southern end of Lake Macquarie and an enormous variety of fishing and water sports, this family haven offers accommodation options to suit all sizes and budgets. Whether you’re keen on a luxury waterfront villas or holiday cabins or would rather pitch your tent on a powered campsite, there’s something to fit every family. Along with excellent communal kitchen, barbecues and laundry facilities, there’s a jumping pillow for the kids and a swimming pool to cool off in during the warmer weather.
30. Caves Coastal Bar & Bungalows, Swansea
Enjoy a little Lake Macqaurie luxe at Caves Coastal Bar & Bungalows. Nestled in the dunes of Caves Beach, the hotel boasts 18 luxury beach bungalows and 34, 2 and 3-bedroom villas and townhouses. Surrounded by natural coastal greenery with incredible views across Caves and Hams Beaches, Caves Coastal offers access to white sandy beaches, excellent restaurant and bar facilities and a swimming pool just steps from your accommodation.
31. Swansea Lakeside Holiday Park, Swansea
Nestled on the shores of Lake Macquarie close to the many clubs, pubs and restaurants, Swansea Lakeside is an ideal spot for families to take advantage of the best of the lake’s fishing, boating and water fun. They offer a choice of luxury poolside villas, self-contained cabins and powered sites for caravans and campers, plus mini golf, tennis and basketball courts and a lagoon pool.
32. The Pines Campground, Watagans National Park
For those who prefer to sleep under canvas, there are well maintained camping areas in the Watagans National Park with all the necessary facilities for families. The easily accessible Pines is probably the most popular of the camping areas for families. The free camping area has large flat camping areas that make for a lovely spot to pitch a tent in the shadows of the giant pine trees,with wood-fired barbeques, tables, toilets and parking. Four-legged family members are also welcome.
Getting to Lake Macquarie
Lake Macquarie is easily accessed by road along the Pacific Highway and some rail services are available to selected towns. Direct flights are available into nearby Newcastle Airport on a daily basis from Sydney and other capital cities.