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The lake in the valley: Camping at Lake St. Clair, Hunter Valley

Posted on Posted in Sydney

Once in a while, man comes close to nature as an artist. He recreates the landscape into something more beautiful, more picturesque than the canvas that he inherited. No, not ugly towers nor decapitated glades, but something raw in nature, something close indeed to the earthy world. These were precisely my thoughts when I was standing in front of the dreamy blue expanse of Lake St. Clair, hidden in the Hunter Valley. Far from the intoxication of the vineyards and the usual busloads of trumpeting tourists, there lies this little jewel for those who seek a bit more.img_2102

 A man-made lake created by damming the catchment area, the lake will easily deceive the onlooker – it is deeper and larger than eyes can gauge. Running 50m at its deepest point, the sprawling coves and tendrils of water flooding the hills apparently contain half the volume of water of the Sydney harbor! That’s not all – the original reservoir and streams here once reached the sea, allowing its denizen fishes to go back and forth between fresh and salty waters during the breeding season. With the dam now, that’s not possible anymore – so the local council actually releases fresh stocks of fish every year to keep the fauna unchanged (and to attract the anglers)

Arriving at the Lake St. Clair campgrounds, the first views of the lake more than impresses you
Arriving at the Lake St. Clair campgrounds, the first views of the lake more than impresses you

Lake St Clair is remote – no, there’s no cellular connection and your instagrams need to wait. But that perhaps is its best feature. It is hidden so far into the hills and valleys that there’s no alternative but to submit. And the best part is you still win after that loss. The sprawling acres of green campgrounds jut into the lake like a promontory. Which means that you basically get to have the lake wherever you go. Swim, boat, kayak, jet ski or fish – it’s up to you. If you are into bird watching, there’s a bit to keep you busy. Geese, herons, egrets, ducks and cormorants flit around while far into the hills, you might spot a few herds of cows lazily ambling on the hills. Or just choose a cosy patch and let your lethargy loose and idle around. Even then, the day passes by without a shade of monotony.

Everything comes at a cost - Trees inundated by the damming of the lake
Everything comes at a cost – Trees inundated by the damming of the lake

Walking beyond the campgrounds around the lake provides wonderful views. But it also shows that nothing is perfect. You will see the skeletal trees that died when the valley was inundated to create the lake. But then, there are a hundred shadows for every sun that shines. We drove around the lake and tried seeking a higher spot to see the sunset. And it was worth it. For when it came, it blazed the sky in shades of crimson while the blue of the lake disappeared into shades of darkness. The philosopher in me reminded that the true artist cannot stay hidden all along. Sooner or later, all that the world requires is a little ember to start an inferno. And his fires spread all around for the world to see the truth. The sun set behind the hills, but the twilight lingered on, lost in the romance of the day, yet trying hard to hold onto the last vestiges of the light of her love for the day.

Sunset on the hills
Sunset on the hills

Night fell, and being the onset of winter, a chill crept into the camp grounds. The campers made crackling fires all around and soon enough, there was a zesty feel with wafting music and laughter. I decided to take a walk in the night around the lake, and was stunned by the beauty of a near full moon, setting the waters alight in incandescent white. With barely a cloud, the lake seemed to turn alive with the magical wispy rays of the moon, shimmering with white spangles, and creating a surreal world around me. The waters sparkled, while the hills stayed calm. With no human habitation, there was no light anywhere outside the campground and for an instance, it felt as if I was back where I belonged. It was one of my best moments on the lake, and I was spellbound until the moon set behind the hills and squeaking possums brought me back to the campground. But the magic was not yet over. After the moon had set, countless stars twinkled into life setting aglow the dark sky, with the aura of the Milky Way shining brightest, reminding us of our insignificance and split second existence while they look down with eyes of eternity, all the while smiling, sparkling, twinkling into oblivion…img_2156

White denizen of the lake
White denizen of the lake

Knowing well that the next day would take me back to the city, I tried to make the most of the surreal night. I stayed inside my little tent and with a little lamp aglow, I read my books till late into the night. When I awoke the next day at around 7, the lake showed a completely different side to it. The sun was not yet up. There were clouds all along the valley and there was heavy mist above the lake. If someone would have told me this was somewhere upon a Loch on the Scottish isles, I would have been readily deceived and would have even awaited Nessie to wake up. It did seem a bit gloomy and I was worried it might rain and dampen our camping for the day. But in a few minutes, the sun came up and the world changed dramatically. In no time, the clouds and mist disappeared and a bright cheery sun woke up the day, the lake sparkling in sapphire, the grasses glistening in green and the hullabaloo returning to the campgrounds. People took to jet skiing and boating and Scotland gave way to Southern Wales in a dramatic morning turn. For a brief moment, it took me back to the Himalayan mountains far back home – when a villager in a hillside hamlet once told me that the weather in the hills is not something that the city dweller will understand. Maybe he was right. One needs to stay with the hills to understand the magic of the valleys!img_2248

A couple of hours later, it was time to turn back to the noises of city-life. But was I glad to take this break far away. Once in a while, it helps to go back to the wilderness of a world that we no longer see in our everyday life. Once in a while, it helps to detach ourselves from what we have created to go where we once belonged – there may not be the glitter of city lights, but there will be the shimmer of shining stars, the moon wake on a silent lake, and of course, the call of the hills and the magic of the vales…img_2125

Fact File:

  • Distance from Sydney: 270 km
  • Approximate time of travel: 3 – 4 hours
  • Nearest town: Singleton
  • Accommodation: Campgrounds on the lakefront

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