There’s something to be said for travelling close to home, as Sydneysiders discover when they holiday in and around the Hawkesbury to rediscover some of life’s simple pleasures.
The Hawkesbury region is an excellent place to escape from Sydney, offering so much more than just a place to summer holiday. It’s beautiful in winter, autumn and spring too, as are some of the surrounding boroughs such as Berowra and Broken Bay.
It doesn’t need to be summer for a brilliant holiday in the Hawkesbury. (Image: Berowra Waters Inn)
From the retro houseboats floating up and down the river, like glowing lanterns, to the posh stays a-plenty that are fastened like pretty brooches to the hills, and water-based activities for families who like to roll in with the tide on weekends, here’s our guide to making the most of a holiday in and around the Hawkesbury, on the Traditional Lands of the Darug and Darkinjung people.
Spot houseboats floating up and down the river. (Image: Destination NSW)
Where to stay on the Hawkesbury
In the past decade or so, the accommodation options nestled into the natural surrounds have made the region even more of a draw. From Brooklyn to Berowra Waters, located on a tributary of the Hawkesbury, life here feels a little quieter and more peaceful when the only way to access your accommodation is by boat or seaplane.
The exclusivity of boat or seaplane-only access to your accommodation. (Image: Isaac Tseng)
Calabash Bay Lodge
Calabash Bay Lodge is part of the Wild Luxury portfolio of eco-positive boutique retreats that aim to connect visitors seamlessly to the outdoors.
Stay at the eco-positive boutique retreat, Calabash Bay Lodge.
Following a recent refurbishment led by award-winning interior designer Carole Whiting, the four-bedroom lodge is now more luxe than ever with designer touches such as a decadent Agape Immersion bathtub, Astra Walker tapware, an elegant kitchen with Vagli Oro marble and local Australian and Indigenous art from Joshua Yeldham and Tracey Deep and sheepskin and wool rugs softening the spotted gum floors.
Award-winning interior designer Carole Whiting is behind the stylish refurbishment of the four-bedroom lodge.
While Berowra Waters is not technically in the Hawkesbury region – it’s on Berowra Creek – it’s perfectly positioned as a launching pad for exploring the area.
Soak up the views from your private deck at Calabash Bay Lodge.
Level up your stay in the region by booking local chef Manuel Affarian, of Secret Dining, who will pick you up from the Berowra Marina and deliver you to the door of the boutique retreat where he will proceed to cook up a three-course feast while you curl up on the L-shaped couch in front of the fire.
Try the Secret Chef for a private dining experience in the retreat.
Apart from the luxury of having your own private chef, every room and living area in the house has a water view, which means there’s a lot to love and the touches of Hawkesbury sandstone connect you back to the surrounding views. Wake up at the first pink glimmering of daylight to a chorus of birdsong and mist mingling with the water, with the trees illuminated in silvery light.
Oh Buoy comes with all the retro trappings you’d expect from a boat of this vintage. Soak in the beauty of Berowra Creek, a tributary of the Hawkesbury in the backwaters of Berowra, on dinky floating digs that stands apart for its mid-Century styling, look and feel.
Spend your Hawkesbury holiday onboard the vintage Oh Buoy houseboat. (Image: Oh Buoy )
From its walnut-toned wall panelling to its 1950s-style furniture, warm saffron tones, and ornate lamps, you can be at one with the water birds while curled up like a comma in the hammock on the sun deck. Plan a day of fishing and a quiet evening in as you won’t want to go anywhere.
In addition to the more high-end accommodation and houseboats, there are a plethora of places that offer families an affordable holiday on the Hawkesbury. But if you’re angling to have an adults-only break, Marramarra Lodge is a must.
The view of the Hawkesbury from inside the Peninsula Tents at Marramarra Lodge. (Image: Isaac Tseng)
The retreat, which is surrounded by Marramarra National Park, has a rich history, with the leisure facilities and billiards room housed in Carter House, which was built in the 1920s.
Sit and watch the world go by at Marramarra’s boathouse.
Marramarra Lodge is located at Fisherman’s Point, on the Traditional Lands of the Darug people.
Arrive by boat at Marramarra Lodge.(Image: Isaac Tseng)
What to do in the Hawkesbury
Adventure. Heritage. Hikes. Farmgate tours. A distillery. Historic pubs. Fine dining. Casual cafes. You won’t run out of things to do in the Hawkesbury, where the people-to-place ratio in towns such as Bilpin, Ebenezer, Kurrajong, Pitt Town, Richmond, St Albans, Wilberforce, Windsor and Wisemans Ferry will lean in your favour. Here, a cheatsheet of top things to do on a Hawkesbury holiday.
You won’t run out of things to do in the Hawkesbury.
Sydney Oyster Tours
Not far from the township of Brooklyn, at the entrance of the Hawkesbury River, is where you will find an in-water table, clad in white linen, just a short oyster shell’s throw away from the hundred or so oyster trays that dangle deep in the nutrient-rich water.
Sydney Oyster Tours offer an immersive oyster experience like no other.
Sheridan Beaumont is a third-generation oyster farmer and she’s prising open the freshly harvested oysters for a couple who are honeymooning on the Hawkesbury and standing around the table, which seems to be floating over the still water.
Sydney Oyster Farm Tours are literally the most immersive way to enjoy the bivalve molluscs, which have a buttery, briny taste that is typical of Sydney rocks.
Taste freshly-shucked oysters on a Sydney Oyster Farm Tour.
The tasting table is a top spot to enjoy the prized shellfish, au natural alongside a glass of sparkling wine. This is an arena for connoisseurs as well as those who are new to the business of inhaling the glistening contents of a half shell of oyster.
The Immerse Yourself experience at Sydney Oyster Tours.
The Immerse Yourself experience follows a boat tour out to the oyster leases where visitors don waders in order to taste what will be some of the freshest oysters you’ve tasted in your life.
Go on a guided audio art walk
The first of 11 audio walks along the Dyarubbin/Hawkesbury River has been released to share the history of the local First Nations people, the Darug, as well as colonial and convict history, stories of floods and farming as told by more than 100 participants.
The inaugural instalment for 11 Stories from the River Dyarubbin series of audio walks is led by composer/producer Oonagh Sherrard. The Hawkesbury Regional Museum is also worth a visit.
See some of Australia’s early colonial architecture
Plot your course between Australia’s oldest church in Ebenezer, one of the Hawkesbury Valley’s colourful villages, wander along the convict-built Old Great North Road, a World Heritage-listed site, get a glimpse into the past at the Australiana Pioneer Village, in Wilberforce and take some happy snaps of the colonial architecture on show in Windsor and Richmond where some of Australia’s oldest sandstone buildings can be found.
Admire the colonial architecture on show in Windsor. (Image: Destination NSW)
The Settlers Arms pub at St Albans, established in 1836, is possibly one of the most charming pubs in the country. Hole up here in one of four cosy double rooms in the former coaching inn, a destination for city dwellers on a weekend getaway.
The Settlers Arms pub at St Albans was established in 1836. (Image: Destination NSW)
Kayak up the river
You will feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, in the best possible sense when you’re staying at Calabash Bay Lodge as you can grab a couple of the lodge’s courtesy kayaks and paddle up Calabash Creek, the mist still layered over the landscape like a piece of pink muslin.
Calabash Bay Lodge offers guests courtesy kayaks to use.
Located at the waterfront junction of three national parks – the Marramarra, Ku-ring-gai Chase, and Berowra Valley – on a sparkling tributary of the Hawkesbury River, the secluded lodge, accessible only by boat or seaplane, is the perfect jumping-off point for cruising up the river, where it’s likely you won’t see a single soul.
Marramarra Lodge also has courtesy stand-up paddle boards and kayaks.
Follow the farm gate trail
Pick your own cherries, apples, pears, stone fruit and strawberries (depending on the season) at one of the many farms that are at the heart of the Hawkesbury.
Children will love visiting the alpaca farming community, and buying fruit and vegetables direct from some of the apple-cheeked farmers many of whom have goats and chickens on their properties, too.
In addition to the many cider sheds, you’ll find quirky local cafes, orchards, a distillery, breweries and even a few cellar doors.
Bilpin Apple Pie Trail
Visitors can also uncover the region’s charm by following Bilpin’s Apple Pie Trail, cycling along quiet country roads and picking fresh produce from local orchards and even enjoying an immersive farm stay.
Go apple picking in Bilpin. (Image: Destination NSW)
Action heroes can also pencil in events such as the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, which starts in Windsor and ends at Mooney Mooney and tick off bucket-list dining experiences in nearby Berowra (located on a tributary of the Hawkesbury River).
Take a tour of a working Australian pearl farm
The story behind the Australian pearl industry is fascinating, spanning generations and bridging cultural divides. Learn all about how the lustrous gem is grown at NSW’s only operating pearl farm, Broken Bay Pearl Farm, where the staff are passionate about sharing their expertise about the only precious gem on the planet that is intrinsically sustainable and born within a living organism: the oyster.
The passionate staff at Broken Bay Pearl Farm share their knowledge.
The farm, which has its origin at the confluence of the Hawkesbury River, Pittwater and Brisbane River, and flows into the Tasman Sea, started welcoming visitors to the working farm in 2018 and one of the most fascinating aspects of the tour is learning about the power of positive pearling.
Learn how to farm the pristine Akoya pearl.
A two-hour Private Discovery Experience with Pearls Australia includes a short presentation about the history of the Australian pearl industry, a pootle upriver by punt to see a pearl oyster lease, an immersive pearl grading experience and a lesson on how to farm the pristine Akoya pearls.
A two-hour Private Discovery Experience with Pearls Australia is an immersive experience.
As well as admiring elegantly crafted pearl jewellery at the sustainable farm’s shellar door, visitors will get the opportunity to indulge in Sydney rock oysters and Akoya pearl oysters, too.
Visit the sustainable farm’s shellar door.
Where to eat and drink in the Hawkesbury
From fresh local produce to fine dining at waterfront restaurants, a holiday in the Hawkesbury delivers some pretty tasty options when it comes to where to eat.
For waterfront dining in the Hawkesbury doesn’t get much better than at Berowra Waters Inn. (Image: Sebastian Photography)
Berowra Waters Inn
While Berowra Waters Inn might be the long-lasting legacy of the late, great Tony Bilson, it very much belongs in the hands of talented chef Bryan Geraghty who has made the iconic Berowra Waters restaurant his own. Chef Bryan worked under Bilson for many years. And when the opportunity to take over the premises arose, he jumped at it. Located on Berowra Creek, on a tributary of the Hawkesbury River, it is destination dining at its very finest. Bucket-list stuff.
The views at Berowra Waters Inn are as memorable as the food. (Image: Sebastian Photography)
Find a sunny spot on the deck at Berowra Waters Inn. (Image: Sebastian Photography)
Indulge all your foodie fantasies with the set menu and drink pairing, which changes with the seasons and includes such delights as pork, maple, hazelnut and turnip, Murray cod, oysters and ham, kingfish, pepper, finger lime and sea fennel. There’s a free shuttle that ferries diners to and from the Berowra Marina or their riverside accommodation.
Each dish at Berowra Waters Inn is a work of art.
Got a special occasion planned during your stay in Berowra? Call long-time local chef Manuel Affarian of Secret Dining, who can whip up a three- or four-course feast or deliver it to your dinghy, pontoon or preferred picnic spot. The bespoke catering service can tailor a menu to suit and having Manny on hand to regale you with colourful tales of life on the river is part of the experience, as is being immersed in this lyrical landscape with the go-slow vibes.
A Chef’s Secrets
There’s a reason the word ‘secret’ has crept into two of the most popular dining experiences on the Hawkesbury. To outsiders, everything here feels hidden and confidential. But by the looks on the faces of the smug locals, this is the kind of place they want to keep all to themselves. Located right near the Berowra Marina, the lunchtime crowd at A Chef’s Secret is a mix of Sydneysiders in the know and locals who have pulled up to the restaurant pier in their dinghies and greet Roman-born chef and restaurateur Mario Nogarotto like an old friend.
The restaurant, located in an 1898 boat shed, is open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday and dinner Fridays and Saturday nights. The dining experience is in perfect symbiosis with the waterway which Mario says reminds him ‘of a little slice of Lake Como’. Enjoy Sydney rock appellation oysters, fried school prawns and fingerlime, cured hiramasa kingfish and the testun al barolo (drunken cheese) with fruit mustard for afters.
The Richmond Good Food Market
Want to learn about the hero ingredients available in and around the Hawkesbury? Head to the Richmond Good Food Market, which is held every Saturday from 8am to 1pm. Have you even been to the country if you don’t leave with an esky full of food and drinks? This dinky little market only has a couple of produce stalls, along with local honey, homemade cakes, coffee and biscuits. And it’s for this reason you know the hyperlocal ingredients will sing of the seasons.
George St Loft, Windsor
Even your most strident atheist will find something to admire about the historic churches in Windsor. After visiting Ebenezer Church, the oldest existing church in Australia, you can head to another place of worship: George St Loft where locals gather for coffee and brunch. The café, which is open seven days a week, serves coffee directly sourced from a local supplier, Underground Roasters. Stalk the café’s Instagram to find out when they are holding one of their regular themed ‘Middle Feastern’ Tables.
The rustic Karu Distillery, located in Grosevale, won double gold at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition for its Morita Chipotle Vodka. Visit the brand-new distillery door in the Devil’s Wilderness where you will be regaled by compelling stories by husband-and-wife team Nick and Ally, who offer tutored tasting of gin and vodka crafted by hand on site.
Bilpin Cider Co.
This is the kind of roadside pit stop that has saved the sanity of many parents passing by. Enjoy a picnic on the sprawling grounds of the Bilpin Cider Co property, where you can enjoy a pre-prepared picnic hamper on weekends and public holidays (bookings essential). In addition to the apple orchard, the farm is home to friendly sheep and alpacas who roam the garden, which has great views of the Blue Mountains.
Meet the alpacas at the Bilpin Cider Farm. (Image: Destination NSW)
It’s about a 60 to 90-minute drive to the Hawkesbury from Sydney depending on whether you travel west via the M2 Motorway, Old Windsor Road and Windsor Road, or head north via the Northconnex to Berowra Waters at the eastern end of the river. It’s about 89 kilometres from Lithgow to Windsor, 22 kilometres from Penrith, 32 kilometres from Parramatta and 62 kilometres from Katoomba. The Hawkesbury River is at the heart of the region, which has four free vehicular ferries linking roads and communities. The ferries operate around the clock except during flooding or when closed for maintenance. To check on the ferry operation and timetable, call the Hawkesbury Visitor Information Centre on 02 4560 4620.