4 days Boating in the Hawkesbury river, NSW
Mr T: “ There is a 3 day weather window this week. Let’s take the boat out somewhere. “
Me: “ Great, how about we go into Sydney Harbour ? It’s months since I have seen the city”
Mr T: “ Nahhhh…I want to see something different. Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River?”
And this is how we find ourselves on this cold winter morning, motoring off Sydney Heads up north to Broken Bay for a 3-days cruise exploring the Hawkesbury River, NSW.
The sunshine I was expecting is distinctly lacking, and we spend the 2-hour trip skirting rain clouds and chasing blue skies ahead. I feel cold and damp but at least the seas are flat, so no seasickness and we make good speed, passing iconic Sydney beaches like Bondi and Manly.
Broken Bay is the mouth of the Hawkesbury River. From here, you can cruise along the river all the way to Windsor, approximately 120 km inland. This could take weeks though, as the region includes several tributaries, such as Cowan Creek, Smiths Creek and Berowra Creek. Much of it is surrounded by national parks, with a few settlements dotted along the shore.
One look at the map, and we realise that with limited time, we will not see it all. “One creek at a time” says Mr T, so we head west into the closest, Cowan Creek. There are so many bays to explore in that creek alone ( which by the way, is more of a large arm than a creek ), each and everyone as serene and beautiful as the other.
We make it all the way to the end, Bobbin Head, intending to check out what was the home of the classic Halvorsen cruisers from 1945 to 2003. Boat builder Lars Halvorsen, emigrated from Norway via South Africa and started manufacturing timber cruising boats from the late 1920s. The family business built around 200 hire boats and operated what is said to have been the largest privately owned hire fleet at the time. Back in the late 80’s, we saw many of these beautiful boats around the Sydney waters, even took inspiration from them for our own boats. We still find a few examples in the area and Mr T wanted to see if there was anything left of the business. There is a nice marina, across a quiet park, and a tavern but sadly, no sign of the former heydays.
Disappointed, we turn around, looking for a mooring for the night.
NSW National Parks Services ( NSWNPS ) maintains 54 public moorings in the Cowan waters. They are yellow, with a tag attached, therefor easy to spot. Modern technology makes the exercise even easier, by allowing us to download a map on our phone, which shows the exact location of said moorings and how many are available. They are to be used for a 24h period only, which is not an issue in the middle of winter, with not much traffic around. I am sure it would be a different story in summer however, as there are surely more than 54 boats staying overnight.
For now, our main concern is to find a suitable spot where we can get phone and internet coverage, as Mr T is expecting business calls. So, here we are, cruising these serene and beautiful waters, my eyes fixed on our mobile phones, calling out “no signal “, “one bar, 3G”, “2 bars, 4G”…as reception changes with every bend in the river.
We eventually settle down for the evening in a gorgeous little cove called Lord’s Bay, with 1 bar phone reception and faint WIFI, enough to manage. We have the anchorage to ourselves, surrounded by old forest and a tiny tidal beach. We could not be any more socially distant!
Dinner is made of supplies I had gathered from the house pantry, at Mr T’s request that we keep the provisioning to a minimum: a tin of preserved duck legs, some lettuce wedges, and a chocolate pudding I had saved since Christmas. Add the customary chilled drinks, and all is good in the world.
The next morning sees us waking up in heavy fog, which takes a couple of hours to completely lift. I do yoga on the back deck, surrounded by a surreal and beautiful mist, and listening to the calls of whatever birds are around. It feels like another world, a million miles from the city which is, remarkably, only 1 hour away.
Once the fog dissipates, we make our way to the entrance of the Hawkesbury river, the small village of Brooklyn. It seems to be the main centre of the hire boat trade and where most of the river cruises start from. It also happens to be the only place to refuel and provision on the water, before the Hawkesbury so we tie up at the fuel dock and while Mr T fills up, I run up the grocery store. Leaving Cronulla in a hurry, I had only grabbed enough for one meal and snacks, so I stock up on sausages, a sourdough loaf, salad mix, biscuits, a pie and more beer ( just in case ). This will be the only time we will step ashore.
All set to go, we head upstream towards Berowra Creek for the day. The weather has turned gloriously sunny for us and we check out a few settlements along the way, many of which are only accessible by boat. This is due to steep and rugged terrain, inhibiting road construction as well as some communities being located on the edge of National Parks.
It is the case of Peats Bite, a waterfront property where we were booked for an overnight stay earlier, but now temporarily closed due to COVID19 restrictions.
Berowra Waters, at the head of Berowra Creek, is one of the many villages dotting the foreshore. It is the home of iconic Berowra Waters Inn, a restaurant I have been wanting to go for ages. I was hoping for a long gastronomic lunch in the sun, but it turns out we are showing up on the wrong day ( Thursday ) as it only opens from Friday to Sunday. Still, we do a reconnaissance past the wharf, checking out the mooring situation for next time. Anyway, Mr T isn’t exactly in the mood for fine dining today and I didn’t bring a dress. So we continue our leisurely cruise up the extensive creek ( which like Cowan Creek, is anything but ).
The river is super calm with no wind at all and hardly any boat traffic. We end up picking a public mooring in a lovely cove called Joe Crafts Bay for the rest of the day. Once again we are on our own, facing a small settlement across the river but otherwise surrounded by moss covered trees and rocky outcrops. This time we have no phone, internet or TV coverage. So, we go “old school” and enjoy the afternoon sun, reading books and watching birds from the back deck.
I mention fishing to Mr T, as it looks like an ideal spot for it, but neither of us can get enough enthusiasm. We find distraction in testing the BBQ for the first time.
Dinner is a simple affair really, Mr T is in charge of grilling the sausages, while I plate up the salad and slice the fresh bread.
Another ethereal morning starting in heavy fog and replaced with very overcast skies. But at least it is not raining so we make the most of it to head all the way upstream to Wiseman’s Ferry. The cruising is spectacular, with stunning scenery. I am actually surprised to see so much mangroves at the bottom of the sandstone cliffs. The birdlife is also quite prolific, as we spot a few white bellied sea eagles perched up high. If only the skies were blue…
We pass a few villages along the way Marlow, Spencer, Gunderman…they’re not much more than a few houses settlements some with a small store, others a camping ground. That section of the river is much quieter and we don’t see many boats, apart from small tinnies. Small prawn trawlers are parked at jetties, waiting for the season to start ( school prawns for which the Hawkesbury is famous for ). Other than that, there aren’t many places to hide or moor. We could anchor anywhere, I guess, but the river is quite muddy.
We don’t stop until we reach the township of Wiseman’s Ferry, where I am anticipating we can tie up at the public wharf and walk ashore. Unfortunately, people are fishing off it and Mr T worries that there may be water taxis or other boats wanting to use the space ( I doubt it, there is no one out there ). There is one public mooring though, just before the ferry crossing, so we decide to grab it and stop for lunch. It is one of these pink courtesy moorings, that mustn’t have been used for months judging by the amount of slime on the line!
Over a sandwich and coffee, we watch the ferry cross back and forth and debate the possibility of launching the dinghy to explore ashore. However it is drizzling rain and cold, and we decide to make our way back down river and try to secure an overnight mooring in Cowan Creek again instead. It takes 3 hours to motor back, and we catch the last of daylight before securing a NSWNP mooring in Castle Bay. Just off Yeoman’s Bay, this little bay is semi enclosed and you could not find a more protected anchorage for the night. There are 4 public moorings, and only 3 boats ( including us ) that night. This is the most crowded anchorage so far!
We crank up the generator to run the heater and the oven. Nice and cozy inside, I didn’t realise the frozen pie I bought in Brooklyn would require 30 minutes to cook. This is the perfect opportunity to test the oven, which performs quite well, though it pushes the generator to its limit.
Once again, we have no internet or phone coverage, it seems to be the price to pay for seclusion.
Our last day and we had plans to spend it exploring this section of Pittwater and visiting some friends in Lovett Bay before heading home in the evening.
However the weather is really playing against us. We wake up to yet another blanket of fog and as beautiful as it is, we are both getting over the cold, grey and misty mornings. With the weather forecast predicting a southerly change and more rain later, Mr T doesn’t want to risk getting caught in rough seas at night and we decide to play it safe and cruise back south while the conditions are still relatively good.
I am surprised to see quite a few small crafts out fishing in this miserable weather, but then again, keen fishermen don’t mind cold and drizzly rain. We are in luck, there is no wind and no swell, so besides the rain, it is a very smooth ride.
Conditions improve dramatically once we pass Sydney Heads, as the rain stops and we spot a few whales splashing along. I am now calling this trip a whale watching adventure, and things get even better as we approach Cronulla with the sun finally peaking behind the clouds.
By the time we tie up at the dock, it is mid afternoon. We’re shedding all our wet weather gear, enjoying the drier and warmer weather, and very glad we beat the wind change.
As it turns out, it will take another 48 hours before the weather turned bad, having me cursing the Bureau of Meteorology for unreliable forecast that led us to cut our adventure short. But I guess, it is better to be safe than sorry. And that provides us with another reason to visit the Hawkesbury River again. In much warmer weather.