The cool inviting Watagan Mountains lie only about an hours drive along the M1 Motorway north of Sydney and are the perfect place to escape the heat and humidity of the coast in summer or enjoy a cool misty mountain morning in winter. These rugged mountain ranges are a combination of national park and state forest areas to the west of the Central Coast and given their inherit natural beauty and abundance of picnic and camping areas they have long been a popular weekend destination for Sydney siders as well as Central Coast and Newcastle locals. These forests were first logged for their valuable timbers back in the 1820s with timbers from these mountains being used for everything from railway sleepers to the building of boats. Many of the features and visitor facilities are named and centred on historically significant sites. Well known for its 4wd and trail bike routes many assume it is a place you need your highly modified 4wd for, and yes that is true for some parts of this vast area, however it can still be enjoyed for its natural beauty and peaceful camp sites that can all be easily accessed in a conventional vehicle. If you wish to beat the crowds here then mid week is your best bet.
To access the Watagans from the south take the M1 Motorway from Sydney then the Wyong/Tuggerah exit before winding your way through the foothills and lush farming country that is the hinterland of the Central Coast. The dirt soon starts as you head into the mountains with tall trees taking over from the open paddocks. The main road through the Watagans is the Watagan Forest Road and for the most part is well maintained although can be rough in places. All points of interest and visitor areas can be accessed from this main road. Coming in from the south high up on the ridge after a pleasant run through tall open forest a short detour leads to Muirs Lookout with outstanding views across to Lake Macquarie, a large salt water lake that rivals Sydney Harbour in its size.
Back on the main forest road The Pines Forest Park is the next point of interest to be reached. From here you can tackle the hike to Abbotts Falls hidden deep within the forest with a steep descent. The track begins easy enough to follow, however gets more difficult the further you progress.
Heading further north through the thickly forested mountains a longer detour leads to The Basin Camping Area and the start of the lovely Rock Lily Trail walk, a pleasant and delightful short stroll amongst moss covered boulders and along a fern lined creek.
Back up to the main Watagan Forest Road, Casuarina Camping Area is reached. There are many camping areas scattered through the Watagans, each with their own attraction so you really are spoilt for choice here. Casuarina is set in a clearing surrounded by tall eucalypt forest, very quaint Australian. Kicking back by the campfire at night you will feel like you are a million miles from anywhere .
Yet further north you soon enter the Watagans National Park and arrive at Boarding House Dam Picnic Area. This is a beautiful spot and definitely a worthwhile stop. The Boarding House Dam Trail walk meanders over the tiny dam wall, through enchanting moist rainforest and past an amazing moss covered rock wall. This is a highlight of the Watagans and one that we can definitely recommend.
Further on from Boarding House Dam there is yet another scenic detour to two of what must be the best lookouts in the Watagans. The first is Hunter Lookout and a little further on McLeans Lookout, both of which give outstanding views down into the Hunter Valley and you will be somewhat awe struck at the beauty of this place.
But the scenery and jaw dropping sights have not come to an end yet. Back on the main forest road there is another superb photo opportunity at Heaton Lookout to take in views all the way to Stockton Beach on a clear day. Just to the south of these lookouts is the turn off to Monkey Face and Gap Creek Lookouts. Monkey Face Lookout, named after a local bullock that was known to ‘hide’ on a rock shelf at this point there are even more outstanding views.
Further along Bangalow Road is Gap Creek Camping Area, a small but pleasant site and the starting point for the short but demanding walk to the delightful Gap Creek Falls and the enchanting Forest walk passing by picturesque cascades.
From here it was only a short run into Cooranbong and back out to the M1 Motorway. Although the Watagan Mountains is not that far from civilisation you will feel like you are a million miles from anywhere, particularly if like us you are able to visit mid-week out of holiday times. The Watagan Forest Road is generally in good condition however it may pay to check with State Forests or National Parks as this can change on a regular basis. The camping areas here range from having no facilities to some with pit toilets, fireplaces and picnic tables. All camping areas in the Watagans are free.