Heart of the Hawkesbury

Chris Beattie | VOLUME 26, ISSUE 3

It boasts a pub with no bar, restaurants with runways, vast areas of wilderness and is just a stone’s throw from Sydney.

As I stood on the swim platform taking in the tranquil surroundings, it was almost impossible to comprehend that a mere few minutes away commuters were battling for space on busy highways as one of the world’s major cities stirred for the day. A light mist still clung to the dark water and overhead a sea eagle circled, calling out its morning greeting. A school of nervous bait fish briefly broke the water in a rush of glittering light. Trees and ferns of all kinds clung perilously to the surrounding cliffs in a scene reminiscent of the movie Jurassic Park. We were moored at the head of a quiet inlet in the heart of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park on an arm of the Hawkesbury River and, apart from the local wildlife, we had the whole place to ourselves.

A day earlier we had been waved away by the folks from Berowra Waters Marina, where we had been inspecting a range of new craft being imported by Berowra Waters Wholesale. On board our Bayliner 34 were myself and Club Marine’s National Advertising Manager, Pete Rhodes. It was early April and the balmy morning soon gave way to a warm day as we quietly slipped out of our berth with the aim of exploring as much of the lower stretches of the Hawkesbury River and surrounding waterways as we could over the following three days.

It had always been an aim of mine to experience the Hawkesbury and its environs. Many of my boating friends have regaled me with stories of great times spent on this mighty river on the northern outskirts of Australia’s most populous city. I had been fortunate to experience tantalisingly brief tastes of its many moods from time to time on boat releases and other random visits. But I had never had the opportunity to explore it at my own pace. Now, with a map of the region and a few tips from those in the know, I was about to find out for myself why so many people speak with such affection about boating on the Hawkesbury.

And, of course, there was also our impressive craft, which comes from the Berowra Waters Marine brokerage fleet. Bayliner’s 340 Cruiser is built in the classic US sports cruiser mould and boasted spacious living and accommodation areas, plenty of room to lounge and move about the cockpit and two large V8 engines to propel us to anywhere we needed to be at whatever pace we required. It also boasted the Axius joystick docking system, which took the stress out of berthing during the remaining couple of days. Given the time we had to complete our mission, it would be hard to think of a more suitable boat.


The view coming in from the outlying suburb of Berowra as we drove down the winding road towards Berowra Waters reinforced the sense that we were leaving one world and entering another. The rows of houses and other signs of civilisation quickly gave way to native bushland as we descended the three or so kilometres to the ferry crossing, opposite Berowra Waters Marina on the upper reaches of Berowra Creek. A lazy ride across the water on the cable ferry had us virtually on the doorstep of the marina, where we were met by Todd Kay, of BWW.

In recent times Berowra Waters Marina has undergone a major, multi-million-dollar facelift, including the construction of a double-level car park and other public facilities. For visitors, the marina offers a number of features, including a boat ramp, newly-renovated pontoons, heavily discounted fuel for marina clients, showering facilities, undercover secure parking and the choice of two eateries overlooking the water. There is also a small chandlery offering a selection of accessories as well as some provisions and beverages. All in all, the marina is a welcoming place for boaters, set in a beautiful and quaint part of the Hawkesbury system. And best of all, it’s only a short drive from metropolitan Sydney.

After a morning spent familiarising ourselves with our craft for the next three days, we eventually eased our way out of the marina and cruised slowly up Berowra Creek headed for our first overnight destination of Smiths Creek, a sheltered anchorage off Cowan Creek a couple of hours cruising to the east. Along the way I was struck by the eclectic styles of the various dwellings that cling to the cliffs of Berowra Creek and its waterways. Mostly only accessible by water, their various distinctive architectural styles vary from ‘hill billy’ quaint to ‘millionaire row’ ostentatious. But whatever your tastes, they certainly add to the unique visual flavour of the area.

Our first port of call, as suggested by the folks at BWW, was Peats Bite restaurant, which overlooks the Hawkesbury at Sunny Corner. Offering a variety of lunch and dinner fare, it is a popular destination for boaters and also offers six self-contained units for those looking for a break from the water. Those wishing to drop in for a ‘bite at the Bite’ are advised to book ahead.

On our way again, we were now in the Hawkesbury proper and heading downriver. Being a weekday, we pretty much had the river to ourselves, admiring the views as we cruised under the Newcastle Freeway bridge and past the township of Brooklyn. Navigation on this part of the river is fairly uncomplicated, with only one or two areas requiring boats to stay within channel markers and maintain local speed limits.


Before long we were entering Cowan Creek, a destination in its own right, which offers access to such famous boating Meccas as Bobbin Head and Akuna Bay. Surrounded by the Kur-ring-gai Chase National Park, Smiths Creek – a tributary of Cowan Creek – is a favoured destination for boaters due to its relative isolation and peaceful, protected waters. Home to various Aboriginal sacred sites, it has a timeless feel about it. Hemmed in by steep, bush-covered hills and boasting 10 public moorings along its length, it was the ideal place to end our first day.

We capped off our initial explorations with a meal and a bottle or two of the local vino, before retiring to the luxury of the Bayliner’s two cabins.

The next morning presented us with a glorious panorama as the sun rose over the nearby hills, bathing us in a golden glow as, everywhere around us, nature stirred for the day.

With a magnificent spring day unfolding, we slipped our mooring and were soon headed further up Cowan Creek to another major attraction of the area – Bobbin Head. A modern and immaculately-presented facility, the Empire Marina Bobbin Head was a welcome sight as we cruised in for a spot of breakfast at the stylish Galley Foods Restaurant and Kiosk. Visitor berths are a bit hard to find, so best to have a tender aboard if you plan on exploring the marina, which offers various boat brokerages and servicing facilities, all set in an idyllic pocket of Cowan Creek.

Further emphasising the area’s natural attractions, we took the opportunity for a short bush walk along a nearby creek and were rewarded with the sight of various examples of native wildlife, including a startled goanna and a similarly surprised wallaby.

Retracing our wake, we headed back up the waterway to another well-known boating attraction on Coal and Candle Creek at Akuna Bay, home to d’Albora Marina Akuna Bay and the Akuna Bay Cruising Club. As with most boating facilities we visited during our time on the Hawkesbury, we were more than impressed with what was on offer, from the dining options to the repair, brokerage and marina facilities. We had arrived a week ahead of the marina’s 30th anniversary (see news story elsewhere this issue) and from what we saw of the facility they certainly had ample reason to celebrate.


With the sun high in the sky, we decided to broaden our horizons and headed across the wide eastern expanse of the river for the small hamlet of Patonga, where we were told the local fish and chips were well worth the visit. Along the way we took the opportunity to visit the twin boating hideaways of Refuge and America Bay, well-known and frequented havens for Hawkesbury boaters. Both offer superb protection from the elements and are well patronised on weekends and holidays.

Being close to the ocean mouth of the Hawkesbury, the small jetty at Patonga was being lashed by incoming swells by the time we arrived, so we crossed fish and chips off the lunch menu and instead headed eastward to cruise the area where the Hawkesbury meets the Tasman.

Conditions seemed ideal for a spot of lure trolling around nearby Lion Island, but all attempts to excite some interest from the local fishery failed. Still, conditions were near boating-perfect, with a lazy swell and light winds ensuring that a growing flotilla of sail craft were soon filling the nearby Pittwater waterway. Being a Friday afternoon, it seemed like everyone with a boat in the area was intent on getting out on the water, many obviously heading for their favourite Hawkesbury haunt for the weekend.

After meandering around Pittwater, we decided to join the exodus and headed to Cottage Point, about midway back down Cowan Creek. We planned to moor here for the night and also enjoy the culinary treats on offer at the Cottage Point Inn restaurant. We’d booked for dinner the night before and were fortunate to find room on its pontoon jetty, making the whole exercise convenient and fuss-free. While it is easy to reach by boat or car, I’m told more adventurous souls choose to arrive by float plane from Sydney. But no matter how you arrive, the menu caters for most tastes and the alfresco setting is perfect, with its panoramic views of Cowan Creek and surrounds.

Well and truly sated after a day exploring some of the Hawkesbury’s most scenic spots, we only had to let the current drift us a few metres off the pontoon to one of a handful of local public moorings for the night.

The next day began with a hearty breakfast at the nearby College Point Café. We were fortunate to be offered a ride ashore by a friendly local, otherwise visiting boaters are advised to bring a tender for shore visits here.

Today would be our last for this visit, so we were keen to cover as much water as possible. The plan was to head up-river, along the way picking up a couple of friends who lived within an hour of the Hawkesbury, but who had never previously seen the river from the water. Like so many other Sydneysiders, Bruce and his Japanese partner, Junko were totally unaware of the jewel that lay on their doorstep and were as intrigued and fascinated as us with the visual delights on offer.

We picked our new crewmates up at the Hawkesbury River Marina near Brooklyn. A relatively small facility as far as on-water space goes, the marina nevertheless offers a variety of shops, food outlets and restaurants for visiting boaters.

The tiny burg of Spencer was our lunch destination and we took our time getting there, along the way taking in the variations in topography as low-lying mangroves gave way to gently sloping hills and dramatic rock outcrops. Occasionally we’d pass small clusters of dwellings clinging to the shoreline, with architectural styles of all types on display.


Located a few kilometres inland on a small tributary, Spencer is a licenced general store and not much else, but is still well worth a visit, as we discovered. There is a small café in the store and across the road is a unique local institution dubbed the Dunkirk Hotel – reputedly the only ‘hotel’ in Australia without a bar. Little more than a collection of rustic outdoor furniture under a mangrove tree, it is the social gathering point for thirsty locals and on this particular day thirsts were obviously quite intense. Yet another example of the colour and eccentricity that can be found on the Hawkesbury.

By the end of our third day on this very special waterway, we had well and truly acclimatised to boating life on the Hawkesbury. We were moving slower, talking slower and generally not in much of a hurry to do anything or go anywhere. Unfortunately, though, we had to eventually make landfall back at Berowra Waters and with the sun slowly slipping behind the hills, we finally docked at the marina in time for a cleansing ale or two at the Fish Café.

Having tasted only a small slice of the area, I am keen to return. The more I researched the Hawkesbury and surrounds, the more I realised we had barely scratched the surface of this iconic Australian boating destination. I at least now understand why so many of my boating mates have been urging me for years to explore the river and all the attractions that lure those who love to make the most of their boating lifestyles. The Hawkesbury offers its visitors miles and miles of glorious wilderness surrounding a sheltered and easily navigable waterway – and all virtually on the outskirts of Sydney and within easy reach by boat.

And no matter what size or style of boat you own, the Hawkesbury has more than enough to keep the entire family captivated and entertained. In general, boating is well supported, with fuel available at a number of locations, including Berowra Waters, Bobbin Head, Akuna Bay, Cottage Point and Brooklyn.

Apart from the many public moorings on offer at various secluded locations throughout the area, there are plenty of safe anchorages and beaches and unlimited opportunities for exploration on foot if you decide to take a break from the water. And there is a number of boat ramps scattered throughout the area for easy access for trailerboats.

Ultimately, the Hawkesbury is a showcase for the fantastic Australian boating lifestyle. If you haven’t already experienced it, I’d strongly suggest that you set aside some time to experience one of the jewels of Australian boating.

Special thanks to the good folks from Berowra Waters Marina and Berowra Waters Wholesale for introducing me to my new favourite place to go boating.