Yesterday was a family nature day out with a visit to Kooragang Wetlands also known as Ash Island.

Welcome to Ash Island

Welcome to Ash Island

For those unsure of where this is, picture the McDonalds on Pacific Highway at Hexham. 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. Even though we previously visited for a Family Fun Day held each April, this time we decide to explore more of the Island.

Welcome Board

Welcome Board

With over 780 hectares of reserve, there’s plenty of area to explore as well as kilometres of walking and cycling tracks. Stop by the Welcome Boardwalk to pick up a brochure which includes a map of the wetlands. We first venture out to Riverside Park, a 2.2 km drive from the entrance. (To find the park, follow the main road and turn left onto The Lane). It doesn’t take long until we feel like we’re miles away from everything. I actually forget we were on an island on the Hunter River.

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. There’s fields of pasture and saltmarsh all around. Along the way, we noticed numerous cranes in the fields as well as a herd of cows at the City Farm, a farm set up utilizing sustainable agricultural practices.

Cows at City Farm

Cows at City Farm

We arrive at Riverside Park and we find a few families set up with picnics and fishing equipment.  Judging by the number of fishing rods, it’s a popular spot to drop a line.

Enjoying a day of fishing

Enjoying a day of fishing

There’s plenty of picnic facilities and places for kids to run around as well as toilet facilities.

Picnic area at Riverside Park

Picnic area at Riverside Park

There’s great views of the North Arm of the Hunter River and I would have loved to have had a kayak to paddle around the waterways.

The Hunter River North Arm

The Hunter River North Arm

There’s also walking trails where you can amble down by the river or wander past the cows at City Farm.

Walking along the trails

Walking along the trails

It’s then time to jump back in the car to discover the next hidden treasure at Ash Island. Imagine our surprise when we find radar bunkers in the field next to the road.

Radar Station

Radar Station

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

Radar Station

Radar Station

Our last stop on the island is a stroll along the Welcome Walk boardwalk through the mangroves.

Walk through the mangroves

Walk through the mangroves

This is my favourite part of Ash Island and is the most suitable for walking with children as it’s flat and easy to navigate especially if you have a stroller. For those with curious toddlers, hold on to them or else you might be fishing them out of the mud.

Boardwalk through the mudflats

Boardwalk through the mudflats

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.

Mudflats

Mudflats

If you listen carefully, you can hear different bird noises and the occasional frog croak. It’s a great walk for birdwatching.

At the end of the track is the restored 1890s Schoolhouse. Around the house, there’s a number of pretty places to stop and have a picnic.

Schoolmasters House

Schoolmasters House

If it wasn’t for the noise of the traffic on Pacific Highway, I could have sworn we had gone back in time to a simpler time. For more information about Ash Island, visit the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website.