Ever looked out of the aircraft window and wondered about those serpentine splotches of blue-green that seem to wriggle through the dense landscape just north of Sydney? Turns out many of them are life-support systems for thriving communities – river settlements where kids take a family boat to the school bus, where road rules are replaced by the law of the sea and where waterfront dwellings don’t come with waterfront attitudes.
One such settlement, Berowra Waters, is just 40 kilometres north of Sydney, close enough to the F3 freeway for convenience, but far enough away to forget the busy road is there. Here, along the riverbank, grand sandstone edifices cuddle up to weather-worn shacks – houses as diverse as the characters who built them. This is a “suburb” of Sydney where tranquillity triumphs over convenience, and where, for many, a gentle lifestyle beats anything city life has to offer. Just an hour or so by car from the CBD (maybe two hours on Friday afternoons), this could be the perfect weekend escape for harried Sydneysiders. Sitting on Berowra Creek – a tributary of the mighty Hawkesbury River – the settlement is surrounded by the majestic Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park where evidence of early Aboriginal settlement can still be found in rock art and cave paintings.
With little-to-no phone service to distract you, trek through the bush, take a runabout and a fishing rod and catch dinner, or lie on a daybed with a book in your hands, the sinking sun on your face, and the gentle, white-noise chug of commuting dinghies in your ears. If panic is rising, yes, you can get a latte and, yes, you can sit in a fine diner. But, as with most activities in this idyllic, road-free suburb of Sydney, you’ll need a boat to take you there. And what part of that isn’t fun?
Where to stay
Calabash Bay Lodge is an exclusive boat- or seaplane-access-only holiday home with four double bedrooms, three bathrooms, glossy magazine style and rock-star views from every room. Stretching out from the house, hugged tight by dense bushland and ancient sandstone cliffs, is the river – a mesmerising mirror smashed from time to time by leaping fish or landing seaplanes. The deck off the main bedroom has a designer daybed, the one downstairs a dining table and outdoor settee and the one under that a barbecue and more seating.
There are kayaks for exploring the river, fascinating bushwalking trails behind the property and your own runabout for fishing expeditions (or to fetch that latte). Fishing gear and craypots are supplied. (Insider tip: the lodge’s private jetty is often teeming with fish).
If the weather calls for inside-time, there’s a book library, Apple media collection and Foxtel Platinum on the HD TV. Because there’s no road access to the house – and once you’re there, you won’t want to go anywhere – you’ll need to bring your own provisions (alternatively, the kitchen can be stocked by prior arrangement).
Where to eat
Berowra Waters Inn
Who knew such thrilling dining options could exist in a place with no cars? A five-minute chug down the river in your runabout you’ll find Berowra Waters Inn, a breezy, dégustation-only fine-diner housed in a building that’s been sitting by the river for 90 years. Redesigned in the late 70s by renowned architect Glenn Murcutt (and more recently renovated), the restaurant tends to hold you hostage for a whole afternoon. Wondering what wine to have with your scallops, wakame and carid prawns? Your problem will be solved before you’ve put the menu down.
Another riverside option – this one about 25 minutes down the river – is local favourite Peats Bite. While also dégustation-only, this is more of a shoes-off, kid-friendly kind of place.
As lovely as these local gems are, it’s hard to beat your own private chef. By arrangement (and for a cost), the house manager of Calabash Bay Lodge, Manuel Affarian – he’s the guy who picks you up in his boat and shows you the ropes on arrival – will come to the house and whip up a three-course meal. Kick off with pan-fried king prawns, then move on to spice-crusted lamb racks, perhaps. Or not. There’s a restaurant-style menu to choose from before you arrive.
Things to do
A runabout comes with the house (you don’t need a boat licence), so tootle around Berowra Creek or head north from Calabash Bay Lodge until you get to Joe Crafts Bay and wet a line under the sheer cliffs. No bites? As the sun sets, take a beer and a deck chair down to your private jetty and cast off from there. All the cool fish hang out there, apparently.
Go for a paddle
An early-morning kayak is a great way to start the day; the water is glossy, the air clear and the birds particularly chirpy. Turn left towards Calabash Bay, then choose your own adventure. Three forks branch off – one ends in a beautiful waterfall, another a fern-shaded pool and the other is an untouched spot to explore by foot. One tandem and two single kayaks (with lifejackets and seat-back pads) are provided by Calabash Bay Lodge.
A short, but fairly precipitous, hike up the hill behind the house is rewarded with the ruins of a 100-year-old pub built with the expectation that a planned road would be constructed. It wasn’t, and the hotel is now a fascinating, decayed monument to risk taking. The seriously energetic can also try the Great North Walk from the eastern side of Berowra Waters to Jerusalem Bay in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Just north of the car park, at the entrance to the walk, you can find some Aboriginal rock art. The walk takes a full day and it’s fairly arduous.