Even though the Watagans state forest is technically in Cessnock council area, you won’t get a better aerial view of Lake Macquarie. Well, unless you jump out of a plane that is. Might be good for some of us, but I’m more of a nature lover than skydiver these days.
I hadn’t been to the Watagans since I was a child, and I’m guessing most locals who grew up here in Lake Macquarie would be the same. I can honestly say at first I felt vulnerable because of how isolated and lost I felt in the natural world. It gave me the feeling I was out of control simply because we were so immersed in the surroundings. That feeling quickly turned to gratitude and appreciation as we breathed the crisp clean air and the adventure of our day.
History of the Watagans state forest
For the Awabakal and Darkinjung people these mountains are of great significance. Art and engravings have been found and are now protected throughout the forest.
Logging started in the early 1800s and the industry thrived because of how close this area was to the coal industry and timber markets. World War 11 depleted the area of even more timber and then again after the war for housing.
Conversations around conservation began in the late 2000s – 2001s by environmentalists concerned about the extinction of some of our local flora and fauna in the mountains.
The Watagans state forest landscape
You’ll be amazed at the diversity of flora and fauna you’ll discover during your experience in the forest.
It’s said that the Aboriginal meaning of the word is “many ridges” and you’ll come to appreciate this as you plan your route through the Watagans state forest.
This coastal rainforest is simply breathtaking with dense layering of ferns amongst the mossy rocks and the eucalyptus forests as you overlook our stunning Lake Macquarie.
The intense smell and sheer size of the pine trees in a popular picnic area will leave you with an appreciation of just how small we are among these giants.
Planning your trip to the Watagans
Definitely do some research and plan exactly where you are going for the day and how long it should take. The roads are dirt, so although very doable in a two-wheel drive, it will slow you down. When it’s heavy rain, the park’s roads will be closed for safety and that’s a good thing.
We planned a round trip and took in 3 stops:
- The pines picnic area
- Boarding House Dam
- Heaton Lookout
Things to check and take with you:
- Check your car is up to date with a service
- Full tank of fuel
- Plenty of water
- Toilet paper (you’ll find toilet facilities scattered throughout the park)
- Lots of food for the kids (snacks, lunch, more snacks)
- Good walking shoes and caps
- Warm clothes including gloves (forests can get cold, especially in the cooler months)
- Thermos (especially in winter)
- Car phone charger (note: mobile reception goes in and out)
- Printed map (for when you phone drops out)
- Binoculars for the lookout and bird spotting
The Pines picnic area in the Watagans
One of the most popular stops in the Watagans is The Pines picnic area. Scattered among the slash pines are numerous picnic tables, wood BBQs and a covered shelter.
It’s a great place for the kids to run around and stretch their legs while you set up for morning tea or lunch. Breathe in the clean pine scent while underfoot the ground is a blanket of fallen needles cushioning your every step. Our kids took the opportunity to play a game of hide and seek among the pines while we were there.
The walking trails lead off from the picnic area where you can discover waterfalls, wildlife, bubbling creeks, eucalyptus forests and even rock pools. There are lots of little short walks you can explore off the picnic area, or check out the longer walking trail here and learn all about the nearby camping grounds.
Boarding House Dam
Our next stop was at Boarding House Dam, which really gave us an historic snippet of the logging industry and how it operated back in the 1800s.
Once the accommodation of the longest operating logging camp, you’ll quickly come to appreciate the manual process of transporting logs downstream in this era.
The boarding house is a great spot to stop for lunch with ample picnic areas and toilet facilities.
I especially loved the trails in this area which were bursting with lush rainforest canopies. The kids loved exploring along the creek and dam, jumping over rocks and investigating all the nooks and crevasses they could find.
You simply can’t take a trip to the Watagans without stopping to check out the view over Lake Macquarie. It really does put life back into perspective and make you appreciate how lucky we are to live here. Our last stop for the day was at Heaton lookout, however, you’ll find many viewpoints along this ridge to stop and breathe in Lake Macquarie.
We spent quite a bit of time taking turns with the binoculars trying to work out the landmarks down below. From the sheer size of the lake and the proximity of the ocean, you will be mesmerised by the breathtaking landscape of our city.
Useful links for the Watagans state forest
Watagans state forest app: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/watagans-national-park
The Pines picnic and camping: https://www.forestrycorporation.com.au/visit/forests/olney
Heaton Forest (Lookout): https://www.forestrycorporation.com.au/visit/forests/heaton