A family weekend spent lakeside held enormous appeal, so we packed up our smiling kids and journeyed north of Sydney to lovely Lake Macquarie, to soak up some coastal bliss.

When it comes to Lake Macquarie I might be considered a touch biased. After all, members of my family have been residing in the area since 1841 but, surrounded as it is by inviting and cosy holiday towns, it really offers plenty to explore and ample activities to keep families busy – on and off the water.

The vast blue saltwater Lake Macquarie is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and, at four times the size of Sydney Harbour, there’s a range of aquatic activities on offer.

We elected to keep our feet dry for the first morning of our weekend and headed west of Lake Macquarie to the beautiful Watagan Mountains – around thirty minutes drive from the fantastic Rafferty’s Resort, where we stayed. This stunning natural wilderness area has an extensive Indigenous and European history and is a place of immense significance to my own family.

On the scenic forest drive that loops through the mountains we found plenty of reminders of my pioneering ancestors. A stop at Heaton Lookout was a must, named as it was in their honour. For the other 20 million or so Aussies that aren’t interested in looking for signs of my relatives, Heaton Lookout is still well worth a stop for its stunning views over the lower Hunter and Pacific Ocean.

We also chose to stretch our legs a little on the Boarding House Dam walk. We figured the 20 minute loop would become exponentially longer with a little-limbed tot in tow so we popped her in a backpack to enjoy an adult’s eye view of the world. And what a world – the easy walk followed a stream through rainforest and curious rock formations to a remarkable moss covered cliff wall that stretched a staggering distance. Strolling back across a bridge through open forest we reached the Boarding House Dam picnic area for a rest and let our toddler happily toddle to his heart’s content.

The Watagans has several other easy walking trails for families with kids plus graded walking trails for the older and more adventurous. And for those who prefer to rough it in the great outdoors, there are well maintained camping areas with all the necessary facilities.

After a brief post lunch siesta there was still time for an afternoon of paddling in the lake and terrorising pelicans, our kids’ new favourite sport.

Day two saw us rising bright and early (more because of our tiny travelling companion than by choice) to enjoy breakfast to a soundtrack of twittering birdlife before a day of exploring the nearby beaches of the Wallarah (or Swansea) Peninsula. With the lake on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, the peninsula benefits from the best of both watery worlds.

Stopping first for a caffeine fix in busy Swansea – the largest of Lake Macquarie’s towns – we ambled around Pelican inlet, noteworthy not only for its picnic and playground facilities but also, unsurprisingly, its abundance of pelicans. At Caves Beach we paddled around rock pools, happily filled buckets with seashells and explored the network of caverns at its south end before grumbling tummies suggested it was time for lunch.

A ten-minute drive later we were downing refreshing beer and pub grub on the verandah of the wonderful Catho Pub. This original weatherboard pub overlooks the quiet mining village of Catherine Hill Bay, a tiny and historic coal mining village nestled in the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Heritage-listed timber cottages front a picturesque beach that is also home to a coal loading dock, a reminder of the town’s unique working history and something small boys find eminently fascinating! The beach is patrolled and is a great spot for swimming and surfing. Lucky snorkelers might even find themselves face-to-face with the giant fishy pout of one of the friendly blue gropers who call the area home.

While Caves Beach and Catherine Hill Bay are just two of the great sun-drenched beaches along the coastline, gently lapping waters were more to our bub’s taste. We found a placid lakeside swimming spot in nearby Summerland Point – which was perfect for paddling, toddler style, and where we whiled away the rest of our afternoon.

172 years after the first of my ancestors made Lake Macquarie home, my family is still living by and loving the lake, so we had one final but all important pit-stop on our way home. A visit to Grandma and Poppa’s, to ensure our weekend ended with as many smiles as it began.

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