Down by the River


by Ellen Hill

You know the towering escarpments and plunging valleys, the eucalyptus trees, Three Sisters and heritage hotels. But water is also a big part of this ancient landscape. The Hawkesbury Nepean River, known as Dyarubbin by the local Darug culture, laps at the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

The Hawkesbury Nepean is the longest coastal catchment in NSW, beginning 470km upstream in the Southern Tablelands and draining into Broken Bay on the coast.

The river can be accessed from the motorway on your way to or from the Mountains. Or you can wend your way through Emu Plains after stocking up on Australia’s official best beer at Mountain Culture Beer Co.

Cruise the river on a flat-bottomed boat or poke into tiny inlets in a kayak to discover private beaches and deep gorges inaccessible to larger vessels.

You can walk, ride a bike or jog alongside the river on the easy 6.4km Great River Walk track, following the eastern bank path through Tench Reserve and over the M4 bridge.

Gifted to the people of Penrith by the family of artists Margo and Gerald Lewers in 1980, Penrith Regional Gallery is an ideal spot to catch your breath before continuing to one of the restored cottage cafes near the western footings of Yandhai walk bridge for an on-trend turmeric latte – or sip a frothy at The Log Cabin on the eastern side.


There’s plenty of sunny picnic spots along Tench Reserve from which to watch the school rowing teams scud the surface as the heritage-style Nepean Belle Paddlewheeler chugs into the gorge. From Penrith CBD with its shopping strips, Panthers club, glitzy hotels and Rusty Penny Brewery, Mulgoa Road becomes Castlereagh Road and leads to Western Sydney Lakes, where there’s whitewater rafting, canoeing and jetpacking.

Further on, past heritage farmlands and riverbank horse studs, is the confluence of the Hawkesbury Nepean River, where the pristine Grose River flows from the Mountains – and the fishing is good for those staying at Yarramundi Tiny Houses & Camping.


Here, the road winds up to Springwood, past bike tracks and activity centres, and rarely visited villages with local secret walking tracks in the World Heritage-listed bushland.

But the road accompanies the river further too, and you can drive past farmgate stalls, polo fields that have hosted royalty and the historic town of Richmond.

Australia’s third oldest settlement is in nearby Windsor, and the Crowne Plaza Hawkesbury Valley is within walking distance of it all – but with 21st century mod cons.

Or take the historic river crossing over to North Richmond to join Bells Line of Road into the Blue Mountains, where just off the main track, Nick & Ally from Karu Distillery create the world’s best vodka (the Morita Chipotle) as well as gin flavoured with botanicals grown at their door.

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