Walk, bike, fish, kayak or bird watch. Enjoy a family nature day out with a visit to Hunter Wetlands National Park (Kooragang Wetlands) also known as Ash Island. If your kids are into nature, this is the place to take them. Since 1993, the Kooragang Wetlands Rehabilitation Project has worked to rehabilitate the reserve into a habitat for fish, shorebirds, frogs and other wildlife in the Hunter estuary.
For those unsure of where this is, picture the McDonalds on Pacific Highway at Hexham. If you’re coming from Newcastle, Ash Island is accessible by turning right and crossing the narrow bridge. It’s the location of the Kooragang Wetlands, a nature reserve which is part of Hunter Wetlands National Park. With over 780 hectares of reserve, there’s plenty of area to explore as well as kilometres of walking and cycling tracks.
Start with the Welcome Walk boardwalk through the mangroves. It starts from the parking area on Schoolhouse Road.
This is the favourite part of Ash Island for some visitors. It’s suitable for walking with children as it’s flat and easy to navigate especially if you have a stroller. Just watch out as there are some rotting boards along the way.
For those with curious toddlers, hold on to them or else you might be fishing them out of the mud.
It’s a raised 1km walkway which takes approximately 30 minutes round-trip back to the carpark.
Along the way, there’s different vegetation to walk through including remnants of rainforest and mangroves. Take time to observe tiny crabs in the mud flats.
If you listen carefully, you can hear different bird noises and the occasional frog croak. It’s a great walk for birdwatching.
You’ll reach a junction where you can go right to Cobbans Creek or left to Schoolmasters House.
At the end of the track is the restored 1890s Schoolmasters House which is now used as the base for the Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project.
Return back to your car and head towards Riverside Park a 2.2 km drive from the entrance. (To find the park, follow the main road along Cabbage Tree Road which turns into Milham Road and turn left onto The Lane). It doesn’t take long until you feel like you’re miles away from everything. You actually forget that you’re on an island on the Hunter River.
Arrive at Riverside Park and use this as your base. You can relax and enjoy a picnic overlooking the Hunter River.
Or if you prefer to wish, drop in a line and see if you can catch some flathead.
There’s plenty of picnic facilities and places for kids to run around as well as toilet facilities.
There are great views of the North Arm of the Hunter River and it would be a great spot if you have a kayak or canoe to paddle around the waterways.
From here, you can get on a bike and follow the gravel trail through the pastures towards the WWII radar stations. It’s approximately 1 kilometre there along a flat trail.
You’ll pass the ruins of Milham’s Farmhouse.
The trail will lead you to Milham Road. Just cross the road and venture down another short trail (keep an eye out for Cabbage Palms) and you’ll soon see the concrete igloos.
This is the 131 Radar Station Ash Island built in 1942 to protect Newcastle during World War II.
It was a station linked up with two others, one in Nelson Bay and the other in Catherine Hill Bay as part of a system to detect enemy aircraft.
Cycle back to Riverside Park, but this time venture west along the Riverside Park Trail. (You can also just drive to the Radar Station – drive along Milham Road. Car park is closed but you can park on the road and walk into the area).
This 1.4 kilometre one-way trails run along the river and is especially scenic whether you’re walking or on a bike.
You don’t need to walk the entire track but head as far as Scott’s Point. Here you’ll find a rest stop to relax as well as information panels.
There is a lovely little beach you can explore as well as seeing the mangroves up close.
You’ll also notice lots of birds around this area. Use the Shorebirds information to identify different species.
No matter what your family likes to do, enjoy a day out in nature at Hunter Wetlands National Park. For more information, visit the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website.
Ash Island also has historical scientific significance with the work of the Scott Sisters of Ash Island. Harriet and Helena Scott became two of 19th-century Australia’s most prominent natural history illustrators and lived on Ash Island. Watch this new documentary for Stories of our Town to learn about their achievements.
Good to Know
Location: Hunter Wetlands National Park in Hexham. From Newcastle, drive north along the Pacific Highway towards Hexham. Just before Hexham McDonalds (on the left at the lights), turn right across the Ash Island Bridge.
Entry Fee: There is no fee to enter this national park.
Road quality: Unsealed roads. There are a few potholes especially along Ramsar Road.
Amenities: Toilets and picnic tables are at Riverside Park
Bring: Drinking water as there is none onsite.
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