Explore your Newcastle & Hunter State forests

Looking for something to do over the school holidays?

Why not visit a State forest near you?

The Newcastle and Hunter hinterland contains a number of State forests that are good venues for mountain bike riding or horse riding.

The Watagans is the name given to the forested mountain range separating the Hunter River catchment and the Tuggerah Lakes system.

The Watagans has a large number of recreation sites, with easy access from Sydney, the central coast, Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.

The area is popular with day-trippers, bushwalkers, campers, mountain bike riders, four-wheel-drives, photographers and others who enjoy time in the outdoors.

"When visiting the Watagans, it is important to remember that some areas are now national park," said State Forests Hunter regional planning manager Mike Prymja.

"These areas are clearly indicated by signage. Guidelines on recreation vary according to land tenure . In particular, while dogs are welcome in State forests, you cannot take pets into any national park area."

The best access to the Watagans is via either Martinsville Road or Mt Faulk Road from Cooranbong,just west of the F3 Freeway or Watagan Road from Quorrobolong in the Cessnock area. The Watagans are approximately a one hour and 15 minute drive from northern Sydney, a 30 minute drive from the central coast, 45 minutes from Newcastle or 25 minutes from Cessnock.

"Most forests have roads and fire trails that are worth exploring on mountain bikes," Mr Prymja said.

"People are welcome to use their four wheel drives in State forests as long as they are registered and they stick to the formed road system.

"Drivers should go with another vehicle, and be sensible about their vehicle and driving ability.

"A GPS receiver is helpful, and a mobile phone or CB radio can be useful in case of emergency.”

"Trail bikes can be used in State forests but they, like all vehicles used in our forests, must be registered and riders must be licenced. All the RTA rules apply on State forest roads just as they do on any other public road. Quadbikes are not permitted in State forest areas.”

Mr Prymja said that State forests areas are regularly patrolled by Rangers and irresponsible vehicle users would be reported to police.

"All we ask is that people who use the forests act responsibly," Mr Prymja said.

"Visitors should respect other people using the forests, and should not ride motor bikes close to a residence, camping ground or horse riders."

People are welcome to camp in State forests for limited periods.

"We do ask that campers take out their rubbish, and be very careful with campfires," Mr Prymja said.

"Make sure the fire area is properly cleared, and that no fires are lit on total fire ban days or on days where there is a hot dry local wind."

There are a number of camping areas and points of interest in the forests of the Hunter.

The Pines Forest Park

The most popular site in the Watagans and is located in a remnant slash pine plantation planted in the 1920s and 1930s. There are picnic tables and barbecues scattered throughout this area, while a covered shelter is also available and can be hired for exclusive use by family or school groups. The picnic area is also the start of three walking trails, The Wildflower Trail, The Pines Trail and Abbotts Falls Trail. The Pines Trail leads to a small swimming hole, which is a popular venue in the summer.

Water Tower Picnic Area

Set alongside Watagan Road, Water Tower Picnic Area is a great spot to have a quick rest and bite to eat.

Old Mill Picnic Area

Formally the site of an old timber mill, this picnic area is a delightful spot to take a break on open grassy lawns. There's plenty of room to throw a frisbee or kick a ball. Across the road is a series of eucalypt plantings established in 1972.

Macleans Lookout and Picnic Area

Breathtaking views of the Hunter Valley, Pokolbin Range and in the distance the mountain ranges of the lower Barringtons can be seen from Macleans Lookout. Some of the small mining towns of the Hunter Valley, the Sugarloaf Range and views of the surrounding Watagan Range can also be had. These views provide a great backdrop for having a picnic or barbecue. Two walking trails also start from Macleans, including a short walk to the nearby Hunter Lookout, or the longer Watagan Trail to Heaton Forest Park. Macleans lookout and picnic area is a non-rubbish collection area. Please assist by taking your rubbish with you.

Hunter Lookout and Picnic Area

Superb views of the Hunter Valley, Pokolbin Range and the mountain ranges of the lower Barringtons can be seen from Hunter Lookout. Small mining towns of the Hunter Valley, Sugarloaf Range and views of the surrounding Watagan Range can also be had. These views provide a great backdrop for having a picnic. A short walking trail also links Hunter and Macleans Lookout.

Wattle Tree Camping Area

Located close by to Pines Forest Park, Wattle Tree Camping Area provides a shady camp ground among an open forest of eucalypts and wattles. There is also access to three walking trails, Wildflower Trail, Abbotts Falls Trail and The Pines Trail.

The Pines Camping Area

The Pines Camping Area is positioned under large slash pine trees, providing excellent shade. The trees are remnants of trial plantings of different pine species established in the 1920s and 1930s. There is also access to three walking trails, The Wildflower Trail, Abbotts Falls Trail and The Pines Trail, via a short walk to Pines Picnic Area.

Casuarina Camping Area

Set amongst forest oaks and a variety of eucalypts, the Casuarina Camping Area can accommodate caravans and trailers as well as individual camps. It is just a five-minute walk from the Pines Forest Park and walking trails.

Turpentine Camping Area

Turpentine camping area provides many sheltered sites amongst turpentine trees. It is an ideal spot for smaller groups or families.

The Basin Camping Area

Open grassy campsites with easy access and a flowing creek nearby are the attractions of the Basin Camping Area. Located away from the more popular areas on the western side of the Watagans, the Basin is suitable for large groups. Nearby creeks can be used for swimming in the warmer months. There is also access to the Rock Lily Walking Trail. This area provides a good base for bushwalking and mountain bike riding.

Watagan Headquarters Camping Area

During the 1940s, Watagan Headquarters was the site of a camp for workers constructing forest roads. It was later used as a camp barracks for maintenance crews who were trucked into the forest on Monday morning and out again on Saturday morning. The headquarters is on the route of the Great North Walk, a 250 kilometre walking track from Sydney to Newcastle. The camping area is open and grassed, surrounded by native forest and blue leaved stringybark plantations.

For more information about visiting forests visit www.forestrycorporation.com.au