Teresa Ooi finds an aquatic paradise at the largest saltwater lake in NSW.
There are 48 steps separating Serenity by the Lake from the street above. But it may as well be 100 miles. The former boathouse, meticulously refurbished as a charming cottage, sits snugly on the shores of Lake Macquarie with views of an island, a pontoon and its own tiny patch of garden.
Walk down its private jetty and peer into the water and you might spot two octopuses, one dark brown and the other light grey, lying side by side under a boat ramp.
I'd never thought of the octopus as a romantic beast. But these two definitely appear to be lovers. A tentative tentacle from one slowly reaches out to touch the other. She quickly recoils and swims away. He turns grey and follows in hot pursuit.
Just as we are about to walk back to the cottage, we have new visitors - a family of ducks, including five "teenagers". Curious and fearless, they swim around the pier and turn up their beaks at Helga's sliced bread but merrily devour every one of the offered duck pellets carefully provided by Serenity's owners in a bag labelled "duck food".
The cottage is on Marks Point, near Belmont, in east Lake Macquarie. The lake is a New South Wales wonder. An expanse of saltwater four times the size of Sydney Harbour, it's a two-hour drive, 150 kilometres north of Sydney towards Newcastle.
But when you arrive, you are blown away by an aquatic playground where pelicans gracefully swim across, fishing boats dart across the water, scooters race by and colourful parasailers float above.
We stop to have a late lunch at The Captain and Crew, a Marks Point cafe where Chef Steve takes great pride in churning out exotic Mediterranean dishes.
The cafe opened its doors in February just as the pandemic hit and had to close for a couple of months. Since re-opening in July, the eatery has reinvented itself and now offers a popular summer bottomless lunch with Frosé (frozen rosé) and share plates of lunch bites with a Moroccan twist. All are a big hit with locals and visitors alike.
We enjoyed the Moroccan pulled lamb and halloumi burger served on a Sonoma brioche milk bun with generous amounts of sweet potato fries and aioli.
It's low tide at 4pm and we rush to Caves Beach on the Swansea Peninsula. The beach is known for its labyrinth of caves and rock pools at its southern end. They are best explored at low tide.
What a spectacular find. Years of waves breaking directly on the rock cliff have eroded and carved various-shaped caves, many of which you can easily walk through. The squeals of delight ring out as children play hide-and-seek in the caverns. But you have to hurry, linger too long and you will be trapped by the rising tide.
As we leave the beach, we spot a wedding party, with bride and groom proudly striking a pose for the cameras. In a grand finale shot, the groom, in a white tuxedo jacket and evening pants rolled up to his ankles, swept up the laughing bride in all her finery and flowing gown and gave her a huge kiss. Ahh...
Back at Serenity by the Lake, we watch the sun set while sitting on the front yard facing the water. It is so serene.
It is too warm to light the fire pit but the sounds of the lapping waves, birds chirping and pelicans splashing past, easily convince us to stay home for dinner. Who needs to go out?
Everything at Serenity has been carefully thought out. A chilled bottle of sparkling with two flutes, triple-cream and cheddar cheeses, fresh bread, plenty of fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries have all been aptly provided. The fridge is well stocked with juices and two bottles of kombucha.
You have a choice of a healthy or full breakfast with eggs, bacon and avocado included in your stay. Vegemite and peanut butter are available in the pantry.
The air-conditioned cottage is spotlessly clean with a rain shower in the bathroom. Egyptian-cotton towels, bedroom slippers and two bathrobes are all neatly laid out. If you've forgotten your toothpaste or toothbrush, just open the bathroom's chest of drawers and take your pick.
In the adjoining rumpus room, there are two kayaks with life jackets, fishing rods, bait in the freezer, sun screen, mosquito spray and the most important of all - dried pellets to feed the ducks.
The next day, we take a lunch cruise on MV Lady Mac run by Lake Macquarie Cruises for a leisurely loop around the lake. In Toronto, we spot the RMYC (Royal Motor Yacht Club) which was the site of the former home of the Arnott's biscuit family. Close by, there's another 'famous' lakefront house with red and yellow awning, where HRH Edward, Prince of Wales stayed for several days during his visit to Australia in the 1920s. Then lunch is served - generous servings of chilled prawns, barbecued beef, sausages and salad.
After the cruise, we take refuge at the Museum of Art and Culture at Booragul in the lake's north to view the contemporary exhibits including several Indigenous artworks. It was a refreshing escape from the heat as temperatures hit 34C.
As we drive back to the cottage, we spot an eye-catching, well-restored 1973 VW Kombi van, all decked out as Lulu's Gelato, run by a young husband-and-wife team. How can you not stop for a gelato? The delicious raspberry sorbet was an obvious winner, followed closely by the coconut ice cream.
This has been a wonderful weekend of discovery. Like so many people, we were rediscovering places we'd been to long ago and finding pleasure in holidays at home.
As we make our way back up the 48 steps to reality, we look down on Serenity by the Lake and we know we will be back.
Fly: Flights arrive at Newcastle Airport daily from Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and the North Coast of NSW. From here you can hire a car or take a shuttle bus to get to Lake Macquarie.
Drive: From Sydney it's a 90-minute drive up the F3 freeway. Belmont is on east Lake Macquarie so take the Swansea exit. If you're coming from the north, follow the Pacific Highway into Belmont.
Stay: Serenity on the Lake sleeps two and includes breakfast provisions. It's priced from $275 per night with a two-night minimum stay. Book at visitlakemac.com.au
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