Expect the unexpected: Three days discovering the Hawkesbury's hidden secrets
Discover the hidden rewards of the Hawkesbury region, from historic sandstone buildings hewn by convicts to romantic stays and locally sourced food and drink.
Mention the Hawkesbury and most people picture rambling river excursions involving houseboats, kayaks and paddleboards. While its eponymous waterway does host these pursuits, the inland Hawkesbury region offers so much more, including some of Australia’s oldest colonial attractions and a clutch of its most forward-thinking hospitality offerings – and they often unite.
Follow in the footsteps of Australia’s earliest settlers and explore convict trails and historic attractions
Sleep (and eat) in centuries-old churches and historic estates
Sip delicious wines and gins
Hike remote trails through postcard-perfect bushland
Finish work at 5.30pm and you’ll still arrive in the Hawkesbury in time for dinner – it’s an easy 90min drive here from Sydney. Tonight, you’ll be dining on the sweeping veranda of your charming accommodation:Cross Park, whose staff are happy to co-ordinate your evening meals or breakfast from local purveyors. Hosting a maximum of only eight guests, the historic sandstone building, erected by convicts in the early 1800s, sits on the banks of the Macdonald River, its 60-hectare grounds featuring a private beach, lap pool and Tuscan-style gardens. A little slice of Europe on the outskirts of Sydney – who knew?
DAY ONE: FRIDAY
Step back in time.
DAY ONE KEY FACTS: The Old Great North Road walk starts at
Devines Hill, 500m west of Wisemans Ferry, in Dharug National Park
It’s only a kilometre from Cross Park to the start of the trail
Last night’s luxe lodgings are within easy reach of some of Australia’s most important historic sights – the Hawkesbury district was, after all, the third British settlement in Australia after Sydney and Parramatta. As far back as the 1790s, the area’s residents were responsible for producing fruit and vegetables to feed the colony, hence its nickname, the food bowl of Sydney.
Lace up your hiking boots and tackle the Old Great North Road, a World Heritage-listed trail also built by convicts that boasts river views through the Dharug National Park. History buffs take note that this pocket of wilderness is home to the oldest surviving stone bridges in mainland Australia, including Clares and Circuit Flat.
You’ve checked out of your accommodation, but before you depart be sure to tour the lush and romantic Cross Park grounds. Meet the estate’s alpacas, cattle, goats and farm hounds; visit the bee hives; stop by the clucking chooks; and go for a gallop – horses and ponies live a happy life here.
Your stay tonight, St Joseph’s Guesthouse, is a short drive to the north-east and also overlooks the Macdonald River. True to the day’s historic theme, the lodge is set within one of Australia’s oldest Catholic churches, a glorious sandstone building restored with steel, recycled wood and glass. While the sun lingers, dive into the pool (fashioned from a cement water tank) before getting ready for dinner.
Follow the river north to the Settlers Arms Inn, once a popular stop for Cobb & Co coach passengers in the 19th century. The food here is homemade and hearty – think crusty pies and wood-fired pizzas.
DAY TWO: SATURDAY
Reconnect with nature – and reap the rewards.
DAY TWO KEY FACTS:
The Richmond Good Food Market is located at
118 March Street
Richmond NSW 2753
It’s held every Saturday from 8am to 1pm
Before you head off on your day’s adventure, make a detour to Richmond’s Good Food Market to pick up trail supplies, such as local olives, cured meats, cheeses and breads. Grab a takeaway coffee and perhaps a bottle of the Hawkesbury’s own Karu Gin – the former to fuel your wanderings, the latter to reward yourself upon return.
Now for that exercise. The 48km Womerah Range Trail takes two days to complete. But this morning you’re only sampling a section, either on foot or in the saddle of a mountain bike, to work up an appetite. Your route takes you through the Parr State Conservation Area, a soul-stirring union of sandstone escarpments and dangerously named flora – look out for grey spider plants and mountain devils.
Most travellers to this part of the state make a beeline for the undeniably magnificent Blue Mountains National Park for their outdoor adrenaline rush. Which means that you’ll probably have much of the Parr to yourself, native fauna notwithstanding.
The best way to relieve walk-weary limbs is with a glass or two of antioxidants. Mercifully, the Hawkesbury has a handful of wineries with cellar doors, so you can stop by for tastings (and takeaways). Swap your hiking boots for driving shoes and head south to the riverside town of Sackville – the surrounding countryside is home to Tizzana, Bull Ridge and Jubilee Estate wineries, all of which pour flavourful new-world vintages.
The former makes everything from rosé to petit verdot and shiraz, not to mention fortified whites and reds, while Bull Ridge is known for its shiraz durif and Jubilee its chambourcin (a variety of red known for spiced berry notes).
A few kilometres south lies Ebenezer Church, built in 1809 and the oldest surviving church in the country – stop for a quick photo opportunity and yet another reminder of the historic significance of this region.
Tonight your reservation is at Rusticspirit, a private guesthouse in the Kurrajong Hills. The owners make the bold assertion that this retreat will “rekindle your love of life”. It’s hard to disagree. From the moment you arrive, you’re swept up into an enormous wilderness hug, replete with expansive wooded parkland and its attendant birdlife. You’ll feel your heart rate slow as you stroll the grounds – particularly striking in autumn – or lounge by the fire. When you’re completely relaxed, make your way to the dining room, where meals change weekly and feature locally sourced produce.
DAY THREE: SUNDAY
Pick, bake, sip.
DAY THREE KEY FACTS:
The Bilpin Fruit Bowl is located at
2093 Bells Line of Road
Bilpin NSW 2758
It’s a 5-minute (2.5km) drive from your hotel
It would be remiss to visit Sydney’s food bowl and not learn why the region is so bountiful. Last night’s stay is less than five minutes fromBilpin Fruit Bowl, where you can wander the orchards and, depending on the time of year, pick peaches, apples or vegetables to take home.
The journey is just as short to the Pie in the Sky Roadhouse, an unpretentious place where you can take away your lunch of sweet and savoury pies (baked fresh every couple of hours and using local fruit) and old-school milkshakes.
The road home takes you pastIronbark Distillery – you’ll want to stop and pick up a bottle of their distinctive small-batch wattleseed and cascara (coffee shell) gins. While urban-based makers often steal the spotlight for their spirits, this quiet achiever took home the title of Australia’s Gin Distillery of the Year in 2015 – reason enough to add it to your Hawkesbury travel plans.