Colonial heritage in the Hawkesbury is exceptional, from a Georgian town square and Australia’s oldest church to a convict-hewn sandstone pub. The remnants of the convict-built Old Great North Road, a World Heritage site, are near historic Windsor.
The third British settlement in Australia after Sydney and Parramatta, the Hawkesbury was settled in 1794. The small farms by the Hawkesbury River were the food bowl for the colony. The settlement was called Green Hills until 1810 when Governor Lachlan Macquarie renamed the town, Windsor.
Australia’s oldest church is Ebenezer Church, established in 1809 after a meeting the year before in the home of First Fleet assistant surgeon Thomas Arndell. His original land grant and the Cattai Homestead he started building in 1820 are in the Cattai National Park, northeast of Windsor.
George Street in the historic suburb of Windsor
Thompson Square in Windsor is one of Australia’s finest colonial town squares. You’ll discover more colonial gems in the other historic towns, including Richmond, Pitt Town, Wilberforce, Ebenezer, St Albans and Wisemans Ferry, near the UNESCO Old Great North Road walk in Dharug National Park.
Dating back to 1836, Settlers Arms Inn was constructed from convict-hewn sandstone and once served as a stopover for Cobb and Co. stagecoaches journeying between Sydney and Newcastle. The charm doesn't stop there: the building's surroundings are just as beautiful as its Georgian architecture – encircled by mountains and nestled alongside the pretty Macdonald River within the tiny village of St Albans. Today, the inn offers quaint rooms, a restaurant, a cosy bar and open fireplaces, making it a delightful spot to stay for a night or two while exploring the area.
A great way to explore the river, and enjoy tasty food, is on the Hawkesbury Paddlewheeler, which recreates cruises of the 1800s when sailing ships and steamboats navigated the waterway. (Note that cruises are currently on hold and will restart in spring 2021.) You’ll find riverboat insights and other colonial and Aboriginal history in the Hawkesbury Regional Museum.
You’ll discover a vibrant cultural scene too, from arts festivals to markets, music, small galleries and rolling exhibitions in the Hawkesbury Regional Gallery. The fine gallery collection includes works by Lloyd Rees, Arthur Boyd, Norman Lindsay, Ben Quilty and Izabela Pluta, to name just a few artists.
St Josephs Guesthouse, St Albans
From ceremonial sites to rock art, a rich Aboriginal cultural heritage is protected in national parks in the Hawkesbury. Dreaming stories connect deeply with the landscape, wildlife and the river, which originates at the confluence of the Nepean and Grose rivers near Yarramundi, just west of Windsor.
How about a weekend escape or short break staying in heritage? There are colonial-era pubs dotted throughout the region, such as the 1836 Settlers Arms Inn, made of convict sandstone. Or spend a romantic night or two in the beautifully restored St Josephs Guesthouse, a former colonial church.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the traditional owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.