Located just off the Pacific Highway, 20 minutes north of Taree, the internationally renowned Cattai Wetlands has been described as a 'hidden gem in our valley'.
After what feels like months of living life indoors, it was a treat to come into the office on Monday to be sent off to explore the hidden gem that is Cattai Wetlands, an area I could not believe I had never been to in my 22 years living in the area.
Just a short 20 minute drive north of Taree, photographer Scott Calvin joined me as we ventured to the wetlands - not a cloud in sight and only the sound of birds chirping to be heard.
I didn't have any expectations for the day, but within the first 100 metres I had already texted my dad to organise a return for our catch up.
It really was a hidden paradise.
As I perched up on a bench opposite the creek to send off the invite, I looked just above eye-level to see two eagles gliding over the wetlands not too far from where I was sitting.
I am no professional bird identifier but from looking at the picture we captured it looks like the square-tailed kite, which although a pair nest in the Coopernook State Forest and their hunting range includes Cattai, are apparently less common to the area.
Just below the pair of eagles, a family of five Purple Swamphen (also known as the Pukeko) were nesting in the shallows of the creek bed. You could sense the land was alive.
There were times I heard what I thought was a swan flapping in the water just beneath me, but in fact it was hundreds of metres away on the other side of the lagoon. That is how much noise echoes in the area.Sarah Chalmers
We continued on the wetland loop to the bird hide. It was a timber hut-like structure that reached out across the lagoon to a viewing platform that gave a 360 degree view of the area - it was almost movie like.
On any day, a stroll around the central wetlands will usually find 40 to 50 birds species, with another 20 to 30 species in the forested areas, not the mention the lorikeets and friarbirds that whizz through frequently.
The bird hide has cut out openings to give a close-up experience of the unique birdlife. I think I sat there in fascination of the landscape for almost half an hour while Scott took photos of the different birds we spotted - black swans, willie wagtails, pelicans and rosellas.
There were times I heard what I thought was a swan flapping in the water just beneath me, but in fact it was hundreds of metres away on the other side of the lagoon. That is how much noise carries in the area.
There's more variety of birds in Cattai Wetlands than in the whole of England.MidCoast Council's Bob McDonell
The variety of birds that call Cattai home has attracted a steady flow of visitors from across the world, MidCoast Council's environmental officer, Bob McDonell told Scott when he visited a few months earlier.
"A lot of English, Europeans, everywhere south of Norway and even people from Alaska have been here - and obviously Canadians and Americans," Bob said.
"There's more variety of birds in Cattai Wetlands than in the whole of England."
With a global pandemic still existing, we unfortunately didn't bump into anyone from Alaska. However, we did meet Quang Mai from Port Macquarie who has lived in the area for 14 years and was visiting the wetlands for the first time too.
Quang saw a red-bellied black snake just moments before seeing us, but that didn't stop him from making it around the loop to the bird hide. He told us he couldn't believe he had never been to the wetlands before.
If you are reading this thinking the hiking type doesn't sound like you - there is no need to worry. I had slip-on shoes and a dress and strolled the track fine. In fact, we had a lot of rain across the Manning region about a week ago but the area was dry and easy to walk.
After meeting a few more friendly faces - Joanne, Rai and Ross from Harrington, and Steve from Hastings Photography group and his wife Karren, off we went back to the office where I sit reflecting on the beautiful day that was.
I don't know how many times Scotty heard me say "I can't believe how beautiful this place is," but I hope reading this will give you even the smallest incentive to visit the Cattai Wetlands if you ever get the chance.
About Cattai Wetlands
Once farmland suffering the effects of land clearing, weeds and acid sulphate soils, MidCoast Council purchased Cattai in 2003 to restore the natural beauty and ecological value of the wetlands. The council was concerned with the export of acid from the site into our waterways which can impact on water quality, aquatic ecosystems, and the productivity of our oyster and fishing industries. The wetlands now helped restore the hydrology of the site and reduce the volume of acid runoff discharging into the Manning waterways.
Now, the beautiful coastal wetland provides a sanctuary for more than 180 species of birds, kangaroos, wallabies, and goannas. I did the self-guided walk around the wetland loop to a Bird Hide which gives a 360 view of the lagoon and allows visitors to get up close and personal with the wildlife without disturbing them. You can do also short hike to the lookout on Spring Hill, where you can see as far south as Cape Hawke, Crowdy Head to the east and the Three Brother Mountains.