With a creek originally constructed as an anti-tank defence line during the war and a lagholds significant Aboriginal cultural connections, this easily accessible part of Lake Macquarie is an overlooked treasure.
What Is It?
Cold Tea Creek and Belmont Lagoon are sister waterways that connect Redhead Beach to Lake Macquarie, the largest saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere. Though extremely close to housing and the busy Pacific Highway, they are in very good health, buffered from urban life by forest and sedge lands containing casuarina, broad-leaved paperbark, grey mangroves, swamp oak, prickly tea-tree, crimson bottle-brush, and slender twig rush.
Cold Tea Creek runs from the sea to the lake, where it connects directly under the highway. As one would expect from its namesake, the colour of the creek is a milky brown, the product of its clay banks. In the shallower sections, particularly at the point where it meets the lake, the water becomes clear enough to see schools of fish and various seagrasses at the bottom.
Belmont Lagoon is partly bisected by the creek with a narrow, sandy, tree-lined spit that leads from one end to the other. This is the main attraction for visitors as it provides a flat and peaceful walkway enabling stunning views of both bodies of water.
Where Is It?
Belmont Lagoon is surprisingly easy to find, located just off the Pacific Highway. A simple and direct way to get there is to head south along the highway (towards Sydney) and turn left onto Capri Close. There is a dedicated, open-grassed car park with access from corner Beach St and Ocean Park Rd, where you will also find an information sign detailing existing and proposed walking tracks at the lagoon. There is a water tap available adjacent to the nearby cricket oval, about 100m north of the car park. Dogs are welcome however they must be leashed.
It’s important to note that the area is surrounded by houses, many of which back directly onto the marshes, and visitors are asked to be mindful of local residents as well as the many birds and animals that live there.
Geological evidence indicates the end of the last sea-level rise at 7,000 years BP, resulting in a colossal wave of sand that formed the coastal barrier of this wetlands area. There is also evidence of large tsunamis and east coast lows that played a significant role in the formation of the lagoon as recently as 3,000 years ago.
Arefacts discovered around the area show that Awabakal people occupied the area and managed its natural resources for the past 6,000 years. The lagoon was a central part of Awabakal community life, providing an abundance of food. Among the evidence of Aboriginal occupation are various campsites as well as man-made weirs constructed to catch fish in small tidal channels. The lagoon is also an important cultural place and has a Dreaming Story called When the Moon Cried:
The Moon was a man spirit who never shone a full face. At the same time the Sun, a female spirit, when seen, was always a full face. Thus the Goori people appeared to be active in the day, but not so in the night. One night when the moon was feeling lonely, he thought of this, and reasoned that his people didn’t care as much for him as they did for the sun. This made him sad. He decided to go away and leave his people to enjoy only the sun. As he went higher and higher into the sky, he became sadder and sadder. After a long time, his sadness built up to such a point that he began to cry.
He cried and he cried. His tears fell back down to mother Earth and formed Belmont Lagoon. When finally he stopped crying he began to think again about his people. Perhaps he had been too quick to think that they didn’t care? Perhaps they were already missing him?
He decided to return. As he got closer to Mother Earth he could hear all the Goori people rejoicing. They were happy that a freshwater lagoon had been formed because they knew it would lead to increased supplies of plants, fish and animals for food. It would also provide an extra place for swimming.
Their happiness made him feel good. So as he got closer he looked down. He could see his reflection in the water and his happiness made his face beam. For the first time he presented a full face. This enabled his people to celebrate further and from that night onwards his full face was a time of celebration.
The history of Cold Tea Creek is altogether different but fascinating in its own right. During the Second World War, it was anticipated that the Japanese Army would attempt a beach landing along nearby Nine Mile Beach. Barbed wire fencing and machine-gun emplacements were constructed along the entire length of the beach. As a further line of protection, the Department of Defence dug the creek as an anti-tank ditch. This fortification included two interlocking rows of concrete tetrahedrons tank traps known as ‘Dragons Teeth’. Some of these remain in place, partially buried in sand. Also still visible in the creek today are many of the Dumble Tank Stops — pile-driven vertical timber posts othat were located every five feet along the northern bank of the ditch to form a vertical barrier to any tanks that gained access to the ditch.
The creek effectively divided the lagoon into two parts and now forms a permanent connection to the salty of Lake Macquarie, participating in its salinity and circulation patterns. As depicted in the historical image above, another aspect of the fortification project was to clear the scrub entirely, restricting any coverage that could have been available to invaders, however, the native forest has now largely been restored.
What To Do:
The main attraction here is the flat, open walking track between these two bodies of water. The full track is approximately 3.5km and takes about an hour for a round trip. Over the years dozens of little clearings have been made along both sides of the track so that people can get close to the water. Some of these clearings provide fishing spots, with shade, seating, and makeshift campfires. Whiting and flathead are common here.
If you make your way east along the track from the highway, eventually you will come to a T-intersection. Keep going ahead and you will come to the dunes of Redhead Beach. Turn left however and you will eventually come to Belmont Lagoon Spit, which will not only provides beautiful wetlands scenery but is the best way to get up close to the water.
Keep A Lookout:
Aside from the views and peaceful walk, Belmont Lagoon is a great spot for birding. There are various nectar and insect-eating birds such as Blackfaced Cuckoo Shrike, Eastern Whip Birds, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Great Egret , Swamp Hen, Black Swan, and Royal Spoonbill in abundance. Migratory waders visit seasonally from as far as Siberia and Alaska, including the Bar-Tailed Godwit. If you are lucky you may come across one of the many types of frogs, snakes, or mammals that call this place home.
Also of interest might be some of the remnants from another aspect of the area’s history. This spit was originally created by BHP in the early 20th century as part of its coal mining operation. You can see the capped, concrete remains of the No. 4 airshaft here as well as the large surface remains of the airshaft. All of these structures were covered in graffiti, with new artworks seemingly added every few months.
Cold Tea Creek and Belmont Lagoon provide one of the best nature walks in the region. The fascinating industrial history offers an extra layer of interest, but you’ll be shocked at how well the place has been regenerated and how robust the local ecology is. A must-visit that rewards careful and quiet observation.
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