by Dom Wiseman

Hawkesbury River

More stunning than Sydney Harbour and definitely less busy, the Hawkesbury River offers a little bit of everything if you’re prepared to travel.

Whether it’s drifting along the sand for flathead at Patonga, wakeboarding and skiing at Wiseman’s Ferry, anchoring up for the cool autumn nights in Americas Bay or enjoying a sublime dining experience at renowned Cottage Point Inn, there’s plenty on offer in the majestic Hawkesbury River.

Hawkesbury Moorings

It stretches 120 kilometres from Windsor and Richmond and is the confluence of the Nepean and Grose Rivers. It snakes its way along suburban developments, farms and acreages all the way to Broken Bay where its spews out alongside the imposing Barrenjoey Headland. It is a tide affected drowned valley ecosystem and is largely navigable for its entire length, and that offers an almost inexhaustible number of options for adventurous boat owners. After the arrival of white settlers, the Hawkesbury became one of the major transportation routes down to Sydney in the 1800s. Broken Bay and Pittwater offered good protection at the mouth before boats would run the weather down to Sydney Harbour.

With the exception of the bridges at Brooklyn that prevents up river travel by large yachts, the centre of the river is mostly deep and easy for a first timer to navigate, with well-placed markers showing the way upstream. There are a few bays along the way and car ferries still in operation along its length, so beware and give way. They still use chains to cross the river. Some of the bays can get shallow quite quickly and running aground is not out of the question. At the head of the river where it joins Cowan Creek is also shallow on the western edge.

There are a host of smaller tributaries that you can also visit along the way including Berowra and Cowan Creeks. They are not so much creeks, but large waterways of their own and well worth a visit. There’s also the Mooney Mooney and Mangrove Creeks and Marramarra which in the warmer months can hold delicious mud crabs. All along the way are marinas, food options, pubs and miles and miles of national park.

Being such a windy waterway has its advantages too. No matter the weather, you could easily find a protected bay to anchor up in out of the wind and being such a long waterway, it spreads out the crowds so you can always find a secluded spot.

Where To Launch

While there are many places up and down the river to launch, some of the ramps are better than others. At the eastern end of the river, perhaps the most accessible for the travelling boatie, is the Deerubbun ramp just off the Pacific Highway. This is a large facility with a pontoon and more parking than I’ve ever seen used. There are often cars here taking a rest from the relentless monotony of the drive north.

On the Cowan Creek arm, Akuna Bay has a launching facility and parking. This is a tricky ramp to use and can accommodate two at a time. The run out past the marina can be tricky if the wind is swirling around in the bay.

The Windsor end of the river has a ramp at Governor Phillip Park. This sees you launch into South Creek with the main river literally 30 metres away. It’s a steep ramp but has ample parking and grip on the ramp surface. It is where we launched the Quintrex Trident 650 HT.

There are many other private ramps along the river and a quick hunt around on Google will reveal all.

What To Do

Fishing and water skiing are the mainstay of the river’s activities and while the two can be at odds with one another, the natural laws of the river and a little common sense seem to hold a steady hand over the converging demands.

The river holds fish along its length. The climate and fishing changes considerably as the river snakes its way to the coast. In the Windsor area, the river is tidal but mainly brackish. It offers species such as bass, estuary perch and the invasive carp as the main targets. Clever anglers can target bream and flathead up in these far reaches of the river but mainly in the warmer months and they can be difficult to find. Be wary of shallow weed banks and sand too.

For your best chance of finding a flathead here, focus your efforts in summer and spring and target the drop offs at the mouths of the creeks that feed into the main river. They put up a great fight and I can’t think of a more worthy fish to eat. Be wary of eating fish from this stretch of the river though in really warm periods with no rain. The water can warm up considerably and become the perfect environment for algal blooms.

This stretch of the river all the way down to Wiseman’s Ferry is also the most popular for wakeboarding and water skiing. There are numerous riverside parks catering to this energetic market, many with private ramps. They are generally close to town and have good trailer access for anyone wanting to experience the Hawkesbury’s adventuresome side.

Hawkesbury Jerusalem Bay (2)

Down towards Wiseman’s Ferry the river can flow fast with the tide and a studious boat owner can save fuel by going with the tide if necessary. The fishing here can be excellent with deep holes and rock walls providing refuge for jewfish. The river holds a healthy population of prawns, so they are naturally the best bait. If you’re after larger jewfish, poddy mullet make great bait and can be caught in the area. Aim your efforts around the tide changes.

If fishing isn’t your primary concern, there is a small rural village in Wiseman’s Ferry with a great pub often frequented by motorbike groups and Harley Davidson riders and can be rowdy. If you can’t hear it, follow the low rumbling in the distance. You can also refuel in this area on the water.

The river continues to snake its way eastward, punctuated by large sweeping corners with rocky walls on the outside edge of the river. You can target bream with crabs or lures here and also flathead. If you’re unsure, look out for the old salts in their tinnies. They hold the Hawkesbury’s oracle but please give them the deserved respect and distance. Along the way down towards Brooklyn, a great place for supplies and even boat hire, are two bridges that cross the river. Both can hold bream and jewfish. There are also occasionally schools of ravenous tailor in this area.

Perhaps the best known or most written about fishing destinations are Juno Point, Patonga and Jerusalem Bay. All are popular for different reasons. Juno Point is where the Hawkesbury and Cowan Creek meet. Here the water swings one last time eastwards towards the ocean and large jewfish can be caught on live bait at night time around tide changes.

Patonga is mere minutes around the corner and open to the cleaner ocean water. This is possibly one of the best places to target flathead. In fact, at times, the entire mouth of the river can produce good numbers of these sweet delicious fish. You can use bait and drift with the current or throw plastic lures, allowing them to sink to the bottom and giving them a series of lifts to imitate a baitfish. On the beach, not far from here, is the iconic Patonga Beach Hotel and restaurant.

Hawkesbury Images 136

Jerusalem Bay is a stunning deep water bay in the Cowan Creek arm and is the home of one of the most unfortunate looking fish ever to swim. The hairtail is a chrome eel like fish that swarms into the bay in the middle of winter. Caught on pilchards and live baits, it has sharp teeth and a large eye being predominately a night time feeder. Every season, dozens of lunatics descend into the bay in freezing conditions chasing these prehistoric and tasty denizens of the deep.

On The Menu

In the various arms, there are dozens of places to visit for a meal and the Patonga Beach Hotel and Restaurant is one of them, but my favourite is Peats Bite. This water access only restaurant bases its menu around local produce. It features stunning views across the river. There is a pontoon you can tie up to for a fee and six swing moorings that are free to use for guests.

If you plan on having a long lunch, there are six split level villas sitting over the water. With views of the surrounding national park, you can really relax and take it easy for a night before heading off the next day. They also offer a pool and plenty of space to relax.

Peats Bite is located in Sunny Corner, almost directly opposite Bar Point up river from Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is the perfect place to pick up fuel and supplies. It services a reasonable community and is tucked away in behind Long Island. There are several marinas here with moorings, servicing and mechanics. If you break down on the river there are also mobile mechanics. Brooklyn Central have fuel, a general store and ice.

If you are further upriver, Wiseman’s Ferry is the easiest location to get supplies or alternatively you can try further downstream at the Spencer Village Store near Triangle Island. If you look at a map, you’ll understand the baptism.

Over in the Cowan Creek arm of the river is another fine dining experience, Cottage Point Inn. This restaurant began its life as a boatshed, general store and post office. They have a small pontoon for diners but is a first in best dressed situation. They have two apartments for booking, both with water views, for a special trip away.

Just around the corner is Cottage Point Kiosk. I know, they aren’t that original with their names around here. This is a great option on a budget, with a fantastic menu for breakfast and lunch. The menu consists of burgers, fish and chips and for the more adventurous, mussels. There is a general store attached to the restaurant and fuel supply. You can tie up on the wharf but beware of the local boaties who do not seem to have the same care for their boats as others.

Hawkesbury CottagePointKiosk

Akuna Bay, a mere 10 minutes away, is the site of a large D’Albora Marina. You can get fuel here and there are facilities too. There is a general store and there used to be a small cafe, but on our last visit, it was closed.

Sights and Sounds

The mighty Hawkesbury River is surrounded by national park providing stunning scenery and exquisite bays in which to while away the time. While the Hawkesbury proper starts off with sandstone cliffs, creating an amphitheatre as you motor your way upstream, it quickly gives way to low featureless acreages and farmland. The water is largely brown and flows fast; hardly the place for a swim.

For that reason, I prefer the Cowan Creek arm. It’s tidal and more open to the ocean and has clear water throughout. Within the system are dozens of bays and inlets with public moorings and some of the most stunning bushland you have ever laid eyes on.

Castle Lagoon is one such location tucked away close to Cottage Point. A short ride into the shore and a walk up a creek reveals a stunning waterfall, with sweet fresh water cascading over the colourful sandstone. Most of the bays have freshwater streams that run down into them and a short walk up any should provide some amazing views.

The aforementioned Jerusalem Bay also backs onto national park and it has a large tidal sand bank in its far reaches. Here you can play with the kids at low tide or go ashore and head off on one of the many walks that surround the bay. There was a jump rock here when I was a much younger version of myself, although I wouldn’t partake in that these days.

While you’re out there, take the time to watch for the majestic sea eagle as he soars on the updrafts created by the wind on the sandstone cliffs. If you’re lucky he may swoop down near the boat to grab a meal. Elsewhere you may come across the humble and strange looking pelican who will follow you around until you surrender some of your catch.

But if you really want to get away from it all, Smiths Creek, up past Cottage Point is a tranquil escape free of the modern technologies of the world. Here mobile reception is nullified, and time slows to a crawl as you snooze to the sound of a chorus of cicadas. True bliss indeed.