The top river activities in the Hawkesbury

There are many memorable ways to enjoy the beautiful Hawkesbury River; the area’s pretty inlets and tributaries are best enjoyed from on the water. From houseboat holidays to decadent in-water oyster tastings, add these experiences to your must-do list.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Apr 2024 -
min read

Embark on a houseboat holiday 

Once described by a colonial judge as the ‘Nile of New South Wales’, the tranquil waters of the Hawkesbury River are perfect for a weekend escape or short break. A wonderful way to relax and soak up the natural beauty of the river is a houseboat holiday. Operating for 40-plus years, Able Hawkesbury River Houseboats at Wisemans Ferry provide 10 types of houseboats for hire to suit various budgets, from two-berth houseboats to luxury houseboats with heated rooftop spas. Steer upstream to Windsor and downstream past pretty bushland wilderness to places such as Spencer, Berowra Waters and Brooklyn. Added bonus: you don’t need a boat licence to hire and captain a vessel.

Family enjoying a day out on the Hawkesbury River on their houseboat, Wisemans Ferry

Houseboat, Wisemans Ferry

Cast a line  

Spanning 470km, the Hawkesbury-Nepean is the longest coastal catchment in NSW, meaning there are plenty of places along the river and tributaries to cast a line. Best known for producing some of the state’s largest mulloway (fish exceeding 1.6m and 40kg have been taken from these waters), the waterways are also known for bream, snapper, tailor, dusky flathead, Australian salmon and whiting. Also, come winter, plenty of keen anglers brave the cold to chase the mysterious hairtail in locations like Cowan Creek. There are boat ramps at various locations, including Governor Phillip Park, Parsley Bay and Wisemans Ferry, and a number of companies offer boat hire, such as Berowra Waters Boat Hire and Hawkesbury Afloat. 

Friends enjoying an afternoon of fishing on the Hawkesbury River, Wisemans Ferry

Fishing on the Hawkesbury River near Wisemans Ferry

Tour a pearl farm  

The pristine waters of the Hawkesbury River are home to the only pearl farm on the east coast of Australia. Broken Bay Pearl Farm specialises in growing the rare akoya pearls, prized around the world for their outstanding lustre, and the private four-hour tour immerses you in the intricacies of pearl farming. Enjoy the breeze on your face as you take to the water to see how pearls are grown and harvested, before returning to solid land to learn how the value of each pearl is assessed. You will even get hands-on experience grading pearls yourself, before choosing a pearl of your own to take home. 

Woman holding pearl at Broken Bay Pearl Farm, Mooney Mooney

Broken Bay Pearl Farm, Mooney Mooney

Paddle out on a kayak 

Kayaking is a lovely way to enjoy the river. Hire your own from Hawkesbury River Kayaks, perfectly situated to set off for a few hours paddling around Dangar Island, or take a weekend to travel upstream and camp at a secluded beach, exploring Jerusalem Bay and enjoying lunch at picturesque Cottage Point along the way. If you plan ahead, you can book the company’s Riverbend Cottage for an evening, located halfway between Brooklyn and Berowra Waters, allowing you to take a leisurely pace knowing there’s a comfy bed and shower waiting for you at the end of the day. 

If you’d rather have the experts show you the way, join a guided tour with Southern Cross Kayaking. Departing from various locations, including Colo River and Calabash Bay, the tours run for four hours and travel around 8km, passing by scenic ‘water only’ access homes, picturesque creeks and mangrove forests en route. As you venture downstream, the guides will teach you about the area’s history, and point out birds and wildlife, before stopping for refreshments.   

Get the adrenaline pumping 

For thrillseekers, the Hawkesbury is a popular waterway for a range of water sports. Jet Ski Safaris are the only tour company to offer unlicensed jet ski tours – whizz past islands and under towering sandstone cliffs, before stopping off at Spencer for a drink and a snack (trust us, you will have worked up an appetite after tackling all those hairpin bends). Black Diamond Wakeboarding School is owned and operated by rider/coach Scotty Kell, who tailors lessons for families, corporate groups and large groups of friends looking for a fun time out on the water. Meanwhile waterskiing, barefooting and knee-boarding lessons are available with Hawkesbury Watersports, catering to all skill levels from first-timers to advanced. 

Boy waterskiing on Hawkesbury River near Wisemans Ferry

Waterskiing on Hawkesbury River near Wisemans Ferry

Cruise the waters on a paddlewheeler 

Operating for over 35 years from historic Windsor, join your host Ian and his friendly crew aboard the Hawkesbury Paddlewheeler to step back in time to the 1800s when steamships travelled the waterway. While taking in the peace and tranquillity of the river, guests are served a first-class meal and refreshments, and given live commentary on the history of the boat, river and local legends. Be sure to visit the wheelhouse during the 2.5-hour tour to chat with the skipper. 

Note: cruises are currently on hold due to damage to the area's wharves during the recent floods. 

Join the postman on a mail run 

For the residents who live along some of the Hawkesbury River’s more far-flung islands and riverfronts, the water is the only way in and out. For more than 100 years, the Riverboat Postman has been delivering mail to these isolated homes, and these days visitors can join the idyllic mail run. On the two-hour trip from Brooklyn wharf, you’ll go past Dangar Island; former mental asylum islands Peat Island and Milson Island; luxury glamping accommodation at Bar Island; plus tiny riverside neighbourhoods, lush mangroves, oyster farms, and forested escarpments. The skippers are local with plenty of stories to tell, and onboard service includes a delicious ploughman’s lunch. 

Eat oysters straight from the water 

Want to taste the freshest oysters of your life? Look no further. With Sydney Oyster Farm Tours, seafood lovers can venture out onto the Hawkesbury’s sparkling waters to learn about oyster cultivation, and enjoy an oyster and prawn tasting at your private in-water table – white tablecloth and waterproof suit included! The experience includes a boat ride to the oyster leases, a guided oyster farm tour and a shucking lesson – and guests are encouraged to bring their own bottle of wine or sparkling to accompany their lunch. 

People enjoying oyster experience with Sydney Oyster Farm Tours, Mooney Mooney

Sydney Oyster Farm Tours, Mooney Mooney

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