Great Lakes Summer Escape
Great beaches, great boating, great fishing, great wildlife; David Thorndike discovers the Great Lakes of NSW.
Just two hours from Sydney lies one of NSW's most amazing family holiday destinations, a water wonderland consisting of white sandy beaches, pristine rivers and five amazing lakes. Such is the size, beauty and natural biodiversity of these waterways that the area has become known throughout Australia as the Great Lakes region. Stretching from the northern shores of the whale-spotting capital of Port Stephens to the twin-town holiday mecca of Forster/Tuncurry, the coastal and hinterland region between is home to some of the best and most diverse family-friendly holiday destinations anywhere in Australia.
What's on offer
The five lakes consist of Bombah Broadwater, Boolambayte Lake, Myall Lake, Smiths Lake and Wallis Lake. All offer a selection of family holiday options ranging from bush camping to family-friendly holiday parks, and holiday house rentals to luxury resorts. Such is the proximity between the lakes and the ocean, there are many places where walking access is possible to both the beach and lake, providing suitable swimming options for all ages.
The Great Lakes area is an outdoor-loving family's idea of paradise. There is so much on offer including bush walks, bike rides, fishing, swimming, surfing, boating, snorkelling, canoeing and just hanging out at the beach to name a few. With two glorious weeks at our disposal, we manage to get through all of these experiences and still have plenty of time to spend just relaxing around our campsite.
We base ourselves at Jimmy's Beach Holiday Park at Hawks Nest. The park is perfect for young kids with safe swimming on offer in the bay. The small shopping village is only a five-minute walk or the big supermarket at Tea Gardens is a five-minute drive.
Day trips provide some time together for just the immediate family and we spent a couple of full days exploring parts of the Great Lakes district. For families on their first visit to the area, the tallest tree in NSW is worth the quick side trip off The Lakes Way. Named the Grandis, it is 76.2m tall and estimated at over 400 years old. Follow The Lakes Way as it winds around Smiths Lake until you come to Wallis Lake, where you will discover a magnificent spot to go to swimming, canoeing and sailing along the eastern shore in front of the sailing club. With a white sandy beach and shallow depth of less than two feet for 50 or so metres out into the lake, families with toddlers and smaller kids will love this spot. You can park right at the lake's edge and set up for the day with a picnic or BBQ. The water is crystal clear and the palm trees along the shore line make you feel like you are on a tropical island.
Close to the sailing club is the Sundowner Tiona Holiday Park, which is a great option if you prefer to stay at the northern end of the Great Lakes area and closer to the main town centre of Forster/Tuncurry. With plenty of family friendly facilities, access to both Wallis Lake and Seven Mile Beach, Sundowner Tiona is one of the most popular parks on the mid-north coast, and even hosts a music festival every year in May.
Another 15 minutes will bring you into Forster, a hub of activity and the major town in the Great Lakes area. With a long-held reputation as the premier coastal holiday town on the mid-north coast, it has been a favourite retreat for Sydneysiders looking for somewhere to escape that is less than a four hour drive. The twin towns boast numerous accommodation options including BIG4 Great Lakes Holiday Park at Tuncurry, or if you are looking for something a little more on the luxurious side, the 4.5-star Sevan Apartments in Forster. There is also a great selection of restaurants (try the Aztec Mexican if you get a chance), a cinema, two fun parks and beautiful beaches and waterways. A small fun fair is set up during the holiday periods with rides and a sideshow alley. Although the clowns will probably take dad for a few dollars, it is worth it for the smiles on the little faces.
The Pacific Highway offers the scenic route through the country on the return trip and for families who prefer farm stays to hotels, there are a couple of great family options in the Great Lakes area hinterland. Honeycomb Valley Farm at Nabiac has two cottages set up for guests as well as plenty of activities and animal encounters for city kids including collecting fresh eggs from 'chickens on holiday' (they even live in a caravan) and lessons in beekeeping and bread making. Wind River Ranch at Dyers Crossing has a farm house that sleeps up to 12 people. You can choose to explore the many walking trails on the 40 hectare property or just chill out on the private deck and take in the view.
If you don't have a lot of time, the area is close enough for Sydneysiders to make a long weekend trip worthwhile as well. In fact, we're thinking of heading up this way again in July for Stroud's annual brick and rolling pin throwing contest - apparently it is a worldwide event!