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My Favourite Spots: Lake Macquarie

Helen Hopcroft shares seven favourite places and two events on one of NSW's most favourite inland destinations Ð Lake Macquarie just south of Newcastle.

Someone once described London as a collection of small villages that had grown to the point where their boundaries merged, and Lake Macquarie on the NSW coast has a similar feel. The shores of the large saltwater lake are dotted with small towns, each with their own particular character and many of which are easily accessible by boat.
Although I have lived in this area for about seven years it wasn't until I started researching this article that I really began to appreciate the beauty and history of the lake. During the summer I usually race on a friend's boat and so I'm not really concentrating on the landscape. When we cruise on the lake on our own boat we tend to be creatures of habit, returning time and time again to our favourite spots. So here, for the record, are my favourite nine spots/events.

Gwandalan
At the southern end of the Lake, on the western side of Crangan Bay, is the small town of Gwandalan. Gwandalan Bowling Club is right on the waterfront and they have a free jetty where you can tie up, though be warned it is very shallow. We have a draught of 1.4 metres and only just made it, and it was especially tight coming off the jetty in a northerly direction.
The club's bistro-style restaurant is upstairs and has a good view of the lake. Portion control doesn't seem to be an issue, and they have lunch specials and kids' meals every day, except Monday when the restaurant is closed. A 300g T-bone steak will set you back $17.50 and the large daily lunch special is $9.90.
Across the road from the club is a small convenience store, ATM, takeaway, chemist, bottle shop and butcher. A short distance away is a boat ramp and swimming pool, and there is a service station about 2km from the club. If you stop at the club and have a meal or a drink there is a courtesy bus available to take you to your next destination. The friendly bus driver said that he sometimes drove visiting yachties to the pool to use the showers or the service station.
Sadly, with Gwandalan and the southern end of the lake, it might be a case of catch it like it is now soon, or miss out. A 312-house estate is planned and a 600 one for nearby Catherine Hill. Both are being strongly opposed by local residents and the sailing community.

Pulbah Island

Pulbah Island is a good spot for a Point Wolstoncroft to the southwest is a popular anchorage and fishing spot. We spent a delightful New Years Day there anchored up close to the shore in the company of a 12-metre catamaran, swimming and lying on the deck to dry, then swimming some more. The presence of sharks in the lake is something of a hot to

Wangi Wangi

Wangi (rhymes with swan-gee) is well known to sailors for two things: the cheap breakfasts at Wangi RSL and the local bakery. The breakfasts have become something of a local legend. They cost $6 and are available from 8.30-9.30am seven days a week, except for Sunday when a fancier a-la-carte version is available. Wangi Bakehouse does a good range of bread, pastries and quiches and is a good place to Wangi RSL has a jetty where you can tie up for up to three hours for free, or berths with electricity are available for $10 per night (max four nights stay) and this fee includes the use of nearby showers. Close to the RSL is a service station that does bait and ice, a couple of takeaways, bottle shop and supermarket. A short distance away is Dobell Park, where you will find electric barbecues, children's playground and a good view of the lake. To the west of the RSL is the Workers' Club, which has a jetty and restaurant.
If you fancy a race the Wangi Sailing Club, which is next door to the RSL, runs a social twilight series on Wednesday and Friday during daylight savings and a regular series on Saturdays.
Twilight racing costs $4 for visitors and non-spinnaker racing starts at 2pm on Wednesday and 5.45pm on Friday. Saturday racing costs $6 for visitors and starts at 1.30pm.
Wangi Workers' Club jetty is free during the day if you are using the club's facilities, but if you stay overnight there is a $10 charge and this includes power, water and showers.

Dora Creek
There is really nothing to do in Dora Creek, but it's a very pretty spot. The creek is difficult to access because it is mostly shoal water but if you have a shallow draught, retractable keel or a tender with a good outboard, it's worth a visit. At this time of year black swans and pelicans are enjoying the mudflats near the entrance to the creek and the crabbing is reportedly excellent. A boat ramp can be found on the northern shore, close to the mouth of the creek or with a decent tender you can anchor in nearby Bonnells Bay.
Farther up the creek you will find a small jetty, shops and a railway bridge. If you walk under the railway bridge and turn right you will come to the Dora Creek Workers Club, which does reasonably priced meals and as a result gets extremely busy on the weekend. The creek is a great place for kayaking and the southwest side of the bridge is a popular launch spot.
The shops include a butcher (very good sirloin steak), newsagent, green-grocer, service station, chemist and doctor's surgery. A gang of ducks has taken over the high street, and they will regularly waddle across, causing a mini traffic jam: it's that sort of place. A popular stone-grill restaurant recently opened, but that's as cosmopolitan as it gets.
Kayak hire is $33 for a half day and $44 whole day, double kayaks are $77 half day and $88 whole day. Hire costs include paddles, life vests and free delivery if hired for whole day or longer.
Trains run north to Newcastle or south to Sydney. Supermarket, banks etc available at Morisset, which is one station south of Dora Creek.

The Bird Cage

The Bird Cage is the popular name for a sheltered anchorage just to the west of Bird Cage Point. During the summer groups of boats will often arrange to meet there and anchor overnight. Last time I was there it was a weekend night and about half a dozen trailer-sailers were tucked up on the bank with three keelboats riding at anchor. With no amenities, houses or shops close by, it's a good place for fishing, relaxing and enjoying the view.
One of the few buildings in the proximity of the Bird Cage is the old Morisset Mental Hospital, which began construction in 1906. After a peak in the 1960s, the number of patients gradually reduced and wards were closed until all that remains is a small number of patients in a recently constructed secure psychiatric unit.
In 1972 the hospital grounds were declared a wildlife refuge and nowadays are home to a large number of kangaroos and wallabies. Despite the peculiar resonance and atmosphere of the site, with the decaying old wards and abandoned buildings, it is still an interesting, though somewhat spooky, place to visit. The waterfront area is very pretty and has

Lake Macquarie Yacht Club
LMYC is best known for its competitive racing fleet and high-profile patrons like Tony Mowbray and Chris Nicholson. What is less well known is that the club is home to an active cruising division that organises a huge variety of activities throughout the year.
A popular cruising event is the annual Ivan Irwin Memorial Cruise. Irwin was reportedly a meticulous ex-Royal Navy club member who organised a cruise up to Grafton one year. Before the departure date he drove up the coast photographing and documenting every destination the fleet would be likely to stop at, and then circulated this information to club members.
After the success of this cruise he decided that there "was just as much fun to be had on the lake" and suggested to other club members that they run a fortnight-long cruise on Lake Macquarie. Unfortunately he passed away shortly after this so the cruising division organised the event he had proposed and named it after him.
The cruise is a drop-in/drop-out event, which runs for either a week or a fortnight. They usually have a barbecue in a park every second night and a meal in a waterfront pub or hotel on the other evenings.
LMYC has a regular live music program: they will be holding a blues festival on Australia Day.
Visitors are required to have a category seven certificate for racing on the lake and a category four certificate for offshore racing. If required LMYC can inspect visiting boats for category seven certification.
Wednesday races start at 3pm and Friday twilight races start at 6pm: both are non-spinnaker races. Saturday races start at 1.20pm.
The nearest chandlery is within walking distance.

Rathmines
Rathmines Memorial Bowling Club was built in 1940 and was used as the officers' mess for the Rathmines RAAF seaplane base until 1961. It was the largest seaplane base in the southern hemisphere and is the most intact example of a RAAF WWII seaplane base in Australia.
Today the walls of the club are covered with WWII memorabilia and model seaplanes hang from the ceiling. The club celebrates its heritage by hosting a Catalina seaplane festival each year.
Styles Point at Rathmines is the meeting point for Newcastle and Hunter Trailer Yacht Association activities. Their events include a family friendly mix of non-spinnaker racing, social events and cruising. On Australia Day they usually start the morning with a barbecue and champagne and games for the kids. The next day the fleet moves off to a different location, and they spend the day pottering about on the lake. Throughout the year the association runs an active cruising and racing program, which visitors are welcome to join.

Heaven Can Wait 24-hour yacht race
The Heaven Can Wait 24-hour yacht race was held on Lake Macquarie for the first time in 2005 over the October long weekend. The popular event helps fundraise for cancer research, and it's likely that the race will be held again in 2008: see the website for dates, entry conditions and race instructions. For crews that don't want to commit to the full 24-hour race there is a shorter one-lap dash. Last year a pre-race breakfast and post-race function were held at Rafferty's Resort, with the one-lap dash presentations hosted by Mannering Park Yacht Club.
Local sailor Shaun Lewicki had the idea of organising a 24-hour race while stuck in a bed receiving treatment for cancer. The accomplished sailor was bored out of his mind and looking at paint chips flaking off the ceiling above his hospital bed. "That looks like a race course," he thought. "It would be a nice reach up to the first chip, then a run down to the second." The inspiration for the Heaven Can Wait race was born.
The event attracts a huge range of boats from the very fastest sports boats in Australia to comfortable cruisers and tiny trailer-sailers. Host club Mannering Park Yacht Club runs a Saturday race series over the summer and a Wednesday twilight race series during daylight savings which visiting cruisers are welcome to attend.

Heritage Afloat festival: Toronto
Heritage Afloat is an annual wooden and traditional boat festival held on the waterfront in the small town of Toronto at Easter. Last year it attracted a nice mix of much loved timber vessels, some show-stoppingly beautiful ones and a few immaculately turned out James Bond-style powerboats. As well as the boats there was live music, an open-water swim, treasure hunt, model yachts, putt-putt parade and a barrel race.
A perennial favourite at the festival is the Quick 'n' Dirty boatbuilding competition. Teams are given a limited range of materials and two hours to build a boat, which they then decorate and race. Deliberately sinking other teams is verboten and results in the offending team's disqualification.
Toronto is on the west side of the lake with a high street that runs perpendicular to the water. You will find a number of shops including a Chinese antique furniture import business, a good bookshop, supermarkets, service station, chandlery and a number of restaurants all within easy walking distance of the water.
Eating out in Toronto is an experience that can range from the sublime to the ridiculous: last Easter we took some French friends out for afternoon tea and were served hot-cross buns with garlic butter.
The Royal Motor Yacht Club runs a sailing and cruising program. Overnight berths are available at a cost of $30 per night and this fee includes electricity and showers. There is no jetty charge for casual visitors using the club's facilities. RMYC advises that the draught at their jetty is approximately seven metres and visitors are welcome.
The public jetty at Toronto has an approximate draught of two metres. There is a boat ramp next to Hirecraft Marine but limited parking for boat trailers.

A to Z of contacts
* Morisset Hospital Historical Society, ph (02) 4973 1667, www.morissethospitalhistoricalsociety.websyte.com.au
* Dora Creek Workers Club, ph (02) 4973 1499.
* Gwandalan Bowling Club, ph (02) 4976 2522
* Heaven Can Wait race, www.heavencanwait.com.au
* Heritage Afloat festival, www.heritageafloat.com.au
* Lake Macquarie Kayaks and Camping, ph (02) 4973 2028.
* Lake Macquarie Yacht Club, ph (02) 4945 0022, www.lmyc.com.au
* Marks Point Marina, ph (02) 4945 4965.
* Marmong Point Marina, ph (02) 4958 3333.
* Newcastle and Hunter Trailer Yacht Association, 0414 223 654, Email: nhtya@bigpond.com
* Pelican Marina (in Swansea Channel), ph (02) 4972 0790
* Rathmines Memorial Bowling Club, ph 02) 4975 1955.
* Royal Motor Yacht Club Toronto, ph (02) 4959 2051.
* Wangi RSL Club, ph (02) 4975 1433.
* Wangi Sailing Club, ph (02) 4975 4212.
* Wyee Point Marina, ph (02) 4359 1800.

Courtesy moorings

There are six courtesy moorings on Lake Macquarie: two on the eastern side of Swansea Bridge, and one each at Green Point, Pulbah Island, Wangi Wangi and Kilaben Bay. The Pulbah mooring is on the southwest side of the island, the Wangi one is outside the RSL and the Kilaben Bay mooring is to the west of Styles Point and on the Styles Point side of the bay.

Swansea Bar
Entrance to Lake Macquarie is via the Swansea Channel and cruisers are strongly advised to contact Coastal Patrol Lake Macquarie for current information about crossing the Swansea Bar and maximum depths. At the lake end of the channel is an area of shallow water known locally as the Drop Over, which was last dredged about two years ago*. The maximum depth at the Drop Over is currently about 1.5m, although this does fluctuate.
Swansea Bridge spans the channel and requests for opening are taken by the Coastal Patrol: they need at least one hour's notice to raise the bridge between the hours of 0600-1800, then six hours' notice between 1900-0600. The bridge will not be opened in winds above 30 knots and Coastal Patrol confirmed that it can jam during excessive heat. Radio frequency: 27MHz, VHF, MF/HF, ph (02) 4971 3723, http://coastalpatrollakemacquarie.org.au

* EDITOR'S NOTE: Extensive dredging took place in 2009/10 and depths are currently quoted as "good" at the Drop Over. Contact Marine Rescue for current conditions BEFORE setting out on your cruise.

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