Heading south from Forster, the road dives into Booti Booti National Park of the Great Lakes region, with mesmerising views across the lakes and ocean beaches.
This feature was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s October 2012 issue
The plan is to explore Myall Lakes National Park, a blend of coastal rainforest, tall stands of mixed forest, ocean beaches, giant sand dunes and a large expansive lagoon system, inviting an endless number of family-based recreational activities.
Myall Lakes NP encompasses 47,593 hectares, east of Bulahdelah, with 40km of ocean beach frontage, stretching south from Seal Rocks towards Yacaaba Head, at the top of Nelson Bay; save for a few pockets of privately-owned land.
The Myall Lakes area is a significant contributor to the prosperity of the region, generating employment in mining, fishing, timber, farming, boat-building and tourism industries, which is evident throughout the park.
The timber industry dates back to the early 1800s when initially cedar and later hardwoods were milled from the area and transported over the lakes by barge. Timber mills have operated at Bulahdelah, Hawks Nest, Boolambayte Creek, Hawks Nest, Myall River, Bungwahl, Neranie and Mayers Point.
Large-scale milling continued in the area until 1973. The demand for timber supported the boat-building industry with barges needed to transport the timber to the major ports.
The construction of the Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse at Seal Rocks in the late 1800s boosted the region’s ability to safely ship timber and seafood. Fishing huts at Tamboi were established for those who worked in the prawning industry and are still used by commercial fishing operators today.
Similar to other areas in the region, the area that is now Myall Lake NP’s coastline was mined for mineral sands such as rutile and zircon. To improve access to the mining operations along the coast an access road from Tea Gardens to Seal Rocks was constructed. With concerns about the wellbeing of the coastal environment, the Myall Lakes NP was declared in 1972 with sand mining banned in all national parks in 1977.
It’s not difficult to appreciate the significance of the area to the Worimi Aboriginal people, who utilised the vast waterways and ocean beaches to obtain food. The Dark Point Aboriginal Place is a cultural site encompassing 647ha.
The area is recognised as being used for ceremonies and feasts and protects traditional burial sites, middens and artefacts. From Mungo Brush Road, the area can be accessed on foot, not far beyond the Mungo Brush campground towards Hawks Nest.
Ambling down to Seal Rocks on the northern boundary, the road is unsealed and narrow in parts but easily accessible by conventional vehicles. There are caravan parks and countless rental options at Seal Rocks or you can find the national park’s bush camp further on at Yagon (37 sites).
Some of the camp sites are hemmed-in by bollards, making it difficult to reverse into with anything other than a compact camper-trailer or tent. Other sites put you on a precarious lean, even with levelling ramps in use. As there is no pre-booking in the national parks in NSW, it’s a case of first-in, first-served, so it pays to arrive before the holiday rush.
The campground has good facilities with gas barbecues, pit toilets and picnic tables to cater for campers or daytrippers. There are walking tracks to Submarine Beach: one past the large sand dunes with a viewing platform over the beach and the other through a shady forest walk.
Alternative walks include the Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse walk and the Treachery Headland walk, in addition to the usual activities of swimming, fishing or playing around on the beach. Vehicle beach access for 4X4s is available at Lighthouse Beach between Treachery Head and Sugarloaf Point.
If there is one disappointing aspect, it’s the accessibility between Seal Rocks and the rest of the national park. The only direct connection is the old mining road between Seal Rocks Road and Mungo Brush Road, which these days is reserved for foot and pedal traffic only, imparting a lengthy detour around the lakes to get to the other side.
Depending on your level of enthusiasm, there are a number of options for exploring the mining road on foot or by mountain bike. The trail is split into two sections with the first 10km from Seal Rocks Road to Shelley Point Track junction, known as Mining Road Fire Trail, exploring dry eucalypt forest and wet heath areas.
It is joined by Old Gibber Road Fire Trail which carves through a mix of wet heath swamplands and open forest for another 10km, to Boomeri campground on Mungo Brush Road. It’s quite a hike and better suited to mountain bikes if you want to complete it in daylight hours.
Alternatively, you can meander down to Shelley Beach on the shores of Myall Lake (14km) and factor in an overnight bush camp (BYO everything). Spring and early summer provide the best colour displays of wildflowers along the track.
Backtracking along Seal Rocks Road from Yagon, the road eventually skirts around the eastern side of Myall Lake. Neranie Head Camp (25 sites) is the only bush camp offering on the eastern flank, with good access to the lake.
Neranie was formerly an industrial hub of the region with its logging mills and railway junction for timber. Hearts Point picnic area nearby, was built on the former site of the mill. A walking track leads to a cemetery with graves and headstones of some of the early pioneers. The track ends at the headland offering commanding views over the lake and to the south.
There are no campgrounds on the northern side of Myall Lake. Further west, unsealed roads access smaller, secluded campgrounds on Boolambayte and Two Mile Lake, better suited for tents and camper trailers. These include Bungaree Bay (seven sites), Sunnyside (four sites) and Mackaway Bay (three sites). Only Bungaree has toilets.
Korsmans Landing (26 sites) is a bigger area and better suited to vans and with more facilities. In contrast to many of the other campgrounds in the park, fires are permitted in the NPWS fire pits in each of these campgrounds.
To proceed further, it’s back on the Pacific Highway to Bulahdelah, only to depart at Bombah Point Road. This provides the most direct access to the heart of the national park, courtesy of the Bombah Point ferry, which joins Mungo Brush Road on the other side of Broadwater. The ferry runs every 15 minutes transporting six vehicles at a time at $5 per vehicle.
Beyond the ferry, there is a selection of seven national park bush campgrounds and numerous picnic areas, walking tracks and other points of interest in the southern leg of the park, providing easy access to the ocean and Bombah Broadwater.
We opt for White Tree Bay campground on the Broadwater, shrouded in lush scrubland. It’s the least populated of the campsites, with gas barbecues, shade and easy access to drop a kayak into the lake.
The biggest campground is Mungo Brush (78 sites). It has the most civil facilities with flush toilets, gas barbecues, picnic tables, a boat ramp and plenty of shade. As expected, it is absolutely chockers during our mid-January visit. Mungo 4X4 beach access is available nearby, up the north side of the beach.
A short rainforest loop-walk departs from the northern end of Mungo Brush camping area. The track passes the ruin of a windmill, a stone terrace and some garden plantings, seemingly the only remnants of an old farmhouse and orchard. For a longer walk, take Tamboi Track from the southern end of the campground to take in views across Myall River to the old Tamboi fishing village.
Prawns are the most popular crustacean catch in the lakes. According to the Department of Primary Industries, a good way to catch prawns is to have two people drag a prawn net (about two metres long) through the water over the shallow, sandy sections of the lake. A torch is useful to help spot the prawns, as their eyes glow red in the night.
For the intrepid on Explore
The best time for prawning is in the evening on the outgoing tide of the new moon. You may also be lucky to bag blue swimmer and mud crabs, which are also common in the area.
Other common catches in the estuaries and ocean here include bream, whiting, tailor, Australian salmon, flathead, estuary perch and mullet. Due to the land-locked nature of the lagoons there is little tidal flushing and the salinity of the water will vary between the east and west sides of the lakes, supporting a range of salt- and freshwater species.
Earlier this year, concerns were raised about the low salinity of the water in Myall River which was believed to be causing ulcerated fish, a problem blamed on the inability of the river to flush from Nelson Bay. This has happened before and in other saltwater rivers where the water salinity declines.
The Department of Primary Industries was called in to investigate but could not identify the cause for the ulcerated fish. The Great Lakes Council has been lobbying the government for funding to dredge the mouth of the river to maintain the salinity.
If you are planning to fish in the area, check with the Great Lakes Council. Ulcerated fish should not be eaten, nor returned to the river.
The lakes support significant populations of water birds including ducks, swans, whistling kites, herons, egrets and white-breasted sea eagles. The forest supports its own array of birdlife including brush turkeys, bowerbirds and golden whistlers. Keep an eye out for the conical holes in the walking tracks, said to left by long-nosed bandicoots. Goannas are also popular, regularly doing the rounds of the campgrounds.
There are a few other 4X4 access points within the national park. Sandy Point is a soft sandy track that leads down to a carpark opposite Broughton Island.
There is no vehicle access to the beach, but you can park the truck and wander down to the waterline. Otherwise, make your way to Lemon Tree 4X4 beach access, a few kilometres past Stewart and Lloyds campground, towards Hawks Nest.
The NPWS vehicle access fee permits you to drive north of the track to Dark Point (Little Gibber Headland). The area south of Lemon Tree is council-owned land that requires a permit from the Great Lakes Council to drive on.
Not far beyond Lemon Tree, Mungo Brush Road hits privately owned land as it nears Hawks Nest. There is an alternative, privately-run bush camping property on the right-hand side known as Myall River Camp, which, as the name suggests, is on Myall River. If you need to run a generator, you can do so here in designated camping areas.
It’s hard to top the Myall Lakes NP. The combination of secluded bush campsites, coastal rainforest, expansive lakes, ocean beaches, historical sites and the inviting warm climate, all converge to offer one of the best family holiday experiences on the NSW mid-north coast.
Myall Lakes NP is on the mid-north coast of NSW, 84km north of Newcastle.
There are 22 campgrounds across the national park, some accessible only by foot, water or the majority by vehicle. Myall River Camp, near Hawks Head (outside the national park) offers riverside camping, boat ramp, pit toilets, campfires, generator area, from $15-30/vehicle off-peak/peak, 0409 836 828.
WHAT TO BRING
Insect repellent, drinking water, fishing gear, prawn/crab nets, binoculars, torch, standard recovery gear, long-handled shovel, walking shoes, hat, sunglasses, sun cream, fuel stove, firewood, compressor.
Hawks Nest, Tea Gardens, Bulahdelah, Seal Rocks, Bungwahl and Forster.
MAPS AND GUIDES
Hema Mid North Coast & New England NSW, 3rd Edition, 1:375 000
The Myall Lakes Brochure contains a good map of the area: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/
CONTACTS & INFORMATION
NPWS Parks Contacts:
Great Lakes 02 6591 0300.
Great Lakes Council 02 6591 7222.
Department of Primary Industries 1300 550 474 www.dpi.nsw.gov.au.
A fishing permit is required for all fresh or salt water fishing in NSW at $30/year.
PERMITS AND ACCESS
Vehicle entry $7 per vehicle per day. Or $22 per annual pass. Camping $7-10 adult, $3.50-5 child per night off-peak/peak.