Mum & daughter adventure in the Hawkesbury
The Hawkesbury’s historic towns, farmgate trails, riverside scenery and quaint inns make for a perfect getaway with mum.
In Greater Sydney’s northwest, the mighty Hawkesbury River starts near Penrith where the Nepean and Grose rivers meet. The waterway snakes north to Wisemans Ferry before angling south, eventually emptying into the broad swathe of Broken Bay that sprawls between Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Brisbane Water National Park. This magnificent waterway, that inspired Kate Grenville’s best-selling historical novel The Secret River, flows through one of the state’s most abundant food bowls that incorporates high-altitude Bilpin, along with Kurrajong,Richmond, St Albans, Windsor and Wisemans Ferry.
We suggest investigating the expanse of the Hawkesbury for rewarding gourmet getaways, fascinating history and adventures that feel so very far away from big-city life.
Resilient Bilpin, sitting at more than 600m above sea level, is bouncing back from the devastating 2019 bushfires. Known for its apple orchards, Bilpin attracts visitors keen to pick their own seasonal fruit along the Hawkesbury Harvest Farm Gate Trail. From Richmond, wind your way up into the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains via Bells Line of Road. Enjoy a scoop of berry ice-cream in Tutti Fruitti’s pretty garden, or pick up an apple pie, scones, honey and jam at Bilpin Fruit Bowl.
Hillbilly Cider Shed offers cider flights, wood-fired pizza and delicious apple calzones with cream. Pie aficionados can drool over the offerings (and excellent farm-themed wall mural) at The Grumpy Baker – unusual fillings include the likes of harissa chicken and mushroom with feta. If you haven’t already filled up, take a seat at the High Hopes Roadhouse. This casual country-style cafe (with a lolly shop out the back), is from famed chef Sean Moran and partner Manoo (Michael) Robertson, ad dishes out hearty comfort fare such as roasted tomato soup, sausages and mash, zucchini and feta slice, and toasties. Mum will love the retro feel of the place. In autumn and spring, catch the profusion of colours at Bilpin’s impressive Wildwood Garden.
Richmond & Windsor
Historic Richmond is one of five Hawkesbury towns established by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810 for farmers who had settled on the rich alluvial riverplains. The original market square is now Richmond Park and, fittingly, this is where you’ll find the Richmond Good Food Market on Saturday mornings. Browse for fresh produce from the region’s orchards and market gardens.
In nearby Windsor, take mum on a self-guided heritage walk. Some of the 21 colonial buildings, such as the Georgian-style St Matthew’s Anglican Church (Australia’s oldest Anglican church) and the Windsor Court House, were designed by the convict architect Sir Francis Greenway.
About a 15min drive from Windsor is Ebenezer, home to Tizzana Winery. This touch of Tuscany on the banks of the Hawkesbury has a storied past. The winery was established in 1887 by Dr Thomas Fiaschi – a pioneering surgeon at Hawkesbury Hospital – but was sadly razed by vandals in the1950s. Today, it’s been restored into a thriving two-bedroom B&B and agribusiness (growing aleatico grapes, a red Italian variety, and olives) with an atmospheric cellar door.
A great base for exploring Bilpin, Richmond, Windsor and surrounds is Spicers Sangoma Retreat in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Stay in a suite or glamping tent, and book mum appointment at the luxury day spa.
Before reaching Wisemans Ferry (home to the oldest ferry crossing still operating in NSW), admire the sweeping view over the river from Hawkins Lookout. In this area, you and mum can also explore parts of The Convict Trail – the modern name given to the 240km Great North Road. It was built between 1826 and 1836 by reoffending convicts, often working in irons, to provide an overland route from Sydney to Newcastle and the fertile Hunter Valley. After crossing the river and the Thomas James Bridge (mainland Australia’s oldest functioning bridge), pull over to hike the Devines Hill Loop (considered the most spectacular section of the Old Great North Road) within Dharug National Park. You can also reach St Albans via the Webb’s Creek ferry. Whose mum doesn’t enjoy getting out on the water?
Spend the night at the Wisemans Inn Hotel, established in 1827. There are heritage rooms with shared bathrooms above the hotel and neighbouring no-frills motel-style rooms. The menu showcases local, family-owned beef. If you’re up for exploring the river at your own pace, look into hiring a houseboat.
Tucked within the Macdonald Valley – nicknamed the Forgotten Valley by locals – is the charming hamlet of St Albans. The simple, Georgian-style Settlers Arms Inn was built in 1836 from convict-hewn sandstone. In the 19th century, the inn was a stopover for Cobb & Co stagecoaches travelling between Sydney and Newcastle. Today, it’s home to four quaint double rooms, a buzzing atmosphere (especially on Sundays, when there’s live music) and a kitchen that turns out hearty pub fare. On Thursdays, dinner is billed as “pot luck”.
A snazzier accommodation option is located across the river. The historic St Albans Courthouse has been converted to a property incorporating the courthouse (complete with holding cells that have become bathrooms with underfloor heating), a homestead and stables. Take mum river swimming, splash into the spectacular swimming pool, order an in-house massage or join the local yoga class on Saturday morning.
To learn more about the road-less communities dotted along the Hawkesbury’s banks, hitch a ride with the Riverboat Postman. Delivering mail for Australia Post (along with other essentials such as an emergency bottle of rum), the service has been running since 1910. The practical yet scenic cruise departs from the Postie Shed at Brooklyn (next to Hawkesbury River train station) on weekdays.
From Brooklyn, you can also take a daytrip to Dangar Island (or stay overnight at holiday accommodation). After navigating the island’s walking track, take a dip at Bradleys Beach or have lunch at the bowling club or cafe. The island is nice and compact for mum to explore.
For a special mother-daughter getaway, book into secluded Marramarra Lodge – reachable by boat transfer from Mooney Mooney, seaplane or helicopter. Here, a trawler pulls up each day to deliver its fresh catch to the kitchen. Join the morning yoga sessions and book mum into the spa for a facial, massage or body wrap.