Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Riverboat Postman

We have chosen to take the Riverboat Postman today. We toyed with taking the train to avoid peak hour traffic, but having listened to the radio traffic reports it's sounding like lots of other people have also taken these few days before christmas off work and the train fare and travel time is just not competitive, so it's car to Brooklyn for us today.

As expected it's a quick and free flowing trip. M7 and the start of the F3 before exiting at the Berowra Waters exit and taking the Old Pacific Highway to Brooklyn. The Old Pacific Hwy is a lovely road to drive. Quite curvy through the beautiful bushland, and so long as we're not on it too long we always enjoy it.

We arrive at Brooklyn half an hour or so early. We pass through the village which has some interesting looking shops that might be worth exploring. Parking not a problem today. We decide to amuse ourselves by exploring the point. As we walk along the side of the road I am transported by the heavenly fragrance of blooming wattle and breathe deeply. With it's blossom newly open it is shining golden ecstacy.

There's a number of eateries in the Marina complex. Looks quite nice, especially the eggs benedict on english muffin, but 2 days before christmas we're trying to be good on the eating front while we can. Further to the east there is a quite nice Federation Walk, which finishes at a display of interesting historical information about the use and development of this place. There is also a nice little kids playground and some baths. It's a lot nicer than it looks from the train as you pass by!

We drag our heels here reading the panels but tear ourselves away and front up at the little shed for Hawkesbury River Ferries make our payment and board the Hawkesbury Explorer.

The Hawkesbury Explorer is a fairly spacious but modest vessel. The antithesis of tourist slick. Manned by real people there's no pretensions here. Inside downstairs is a large space with modest kiosk counter at the front and a number of booths each with a table fitted out around the windows. The seats are comfortable and padded, but they are a bit shabby. The marine carpet on the floor is a bit stained in places. It's hitting deep chords for me as the smell of the boat (which is not unpleasant) transports me back decades to my grandparents motor cruiser. Emotions I can't quite express are bubbling up as we settle in and relax. Best I can say is that it feels like coming home after a lifetime away.

It's quite sunny as we board and most of the other passengers have made a B line to the upper deck where there are chairs laid out, but no shade. My skin just can't take that for 4 hrs and indeed if it stays sunny it would be too hot up there so we make a selection among the booths and open the window. Some minutes figuring out how they work and bob's your uncle we settle in and pretty soon we're underway on our exploration of the beautiful Hawkesbury River and the little settlements along the way, most of which have no road access.

The weather forecast is for showers thismorning but top temps of between 27 and 32 C. Our brief flash of hot sun as we boarded has given way to a generally overcast sky damping the colours of the estuary and it turns out damping the light for the photographs, but we do our best with our modest point and shoot. It doesn't do the area justice of course, but perhaps that's just as well. You need to discover the Hawkesbury for yourself.

As we get underway our captain informs us that we are about an hour upstream from the area where the river meets the sea. Our first stop is Little Wobby to the freight wharf for the Sport and Rec camp. We are met by a camp vehicle and a passenger Quite a few boxes are unloaded with the mail and we're off once more heading to Dangar Island - the most picturesque of the village wharves along the way. Our captain gives us the run down on Dangar Island as we approach.

The boat ties up and is greeted by a young local woman in overalls. The lass from the boat hands over the mail box and hops off for a christmas best wishes and a kiss and a spot of friendly chat. The box goes in a blue wheelbarrow and heads back to the shed and we're off and heading for Kangaroo Point and the bridges upstream.

Kangaroo Point is one of only a couple of stops on the mail run that also has road access. It's nestled right by the most eastern of the bridges. I head upstairs to be in a good position for photographing the bridges as we pass. The first is the railway bridge which is by far the nicer of them. Quite characterful.

Before long we are passing under the newer bridges that carry the F3 Freeway across the estuary. The F3 is part of National Road 1 which runs... certainly the whole way up the east coast of the continent at any rate, and at this point forms part of a very very heavily utilised commuter route between the Central Coast and Sydney as well as a major route for freight trucks.

We are given ample commentary on the history of the highway and the bridges. All very interesting and I find it particularly interesting to think about what the situation was like in my grandparents day. When my father was born there were no bridges here, as indeed there was no bridge across Sydney harbour either.

Our next stop with road access is Peat Island. This is a government run facility with residential accommodation for people with mental impairment. Our commentary provides some history and I try again to think of the nickname we used to have for peat island. Which as kids we always noted on our way to Lake Macquarie to visit our grandparents when they relocated. Terribly insensitive and politically incorrect, but gosh I wish I could remember what we called it. As the mind deteriorates memories from younger years remain or become more accessible... maybe I should ask Dad if he remembers it! LOL

As we head upstream the red gums are prominent in the bushland cloaking the hillsides having recently shed their bark which over the year turns a steel grey in colour.
After a while I rise again to take some shots from the doorway and notice that you can actually head out on to the bow and this we promptly do. I my bare feet the smooth unvarnished and weather worn boards are very sensual.

Next stop Milson Island, another government run Sport and Recreation camp for school kids. I haven't been to Little Wobby or Milson Island Camps, but in year 5 we went to Broken Bay Sport and Rec Camp which is closer to the ocean and Pittwater. It was truly awesome. I will refrain from posting a piccy of the wharf at Milson Island. It is very attractive, but I don't want to leave you with no surprises to discover for yourself.

Further upstream I am fascinated listening to the commentary as we are told to look over to the left. This is a locality known as Cascade Gully. There on the shore lies what little remains of the first HMS Parramatta. We get some interesting detail about what happened to the other remains of the ship and it's construction and war time service. Very interesting.

Bar Point is our next stop. I find this interesting also as the real estate agent back at the marina had a number of local properties for sale ranging in price from $300,000 to up around $700,000. No road access. This is the largest of the river settlements the postman sometimes has several stops along Bar Point, but today just the one.

Up in this quiet area of the river there are a few houseboats anchored or motoring around, and the odd cute little fishing trawler working. Just small one man operations and quite characterful.

As we turn a (large) bend in the river we note information about several small settlements not on today's mail run and the location of the passage up to Berowra Waters. Up in this area the river is lined with mangroves in large stretches and it is all very beautiful. We depart civilisation for the 25 minutes or so it takes to reach Marlow our final upstream stop before turning around. As we travel and I jot down my notes I think I see large jellyfish passing under the boat out of the corner of my eye. After a couple I comment to hubby who confirms that I am not imagining it. As a kids we often saw large schools of jellyfish and true to form this same species is around. They are huge with large cauliflower-like protuberances hanging from them. Further along we see a milk bottle floating in position on the water, cap down, not far away we see a tinny with a small group who are progressively checking their crab pots.

Slightly narrower and protected the water is like glass. Here we find a boat with a learner water skiier trying and trying again without success to get up on the skis.

Finally we approach Marlow and wave to a sizeable group on a pontoon as we make our way to the wharf. On this occassion the postman is greeted by a local dog. It's a working dog breed, but evidently not well enough trained to actually take delivery of the mail. Skippy (the bush kangaroo) could show this dog a thing or two!
By the way, behind the wharf, that red flowering bush is what is known here as "christmas bush" no doubt because it colours up at the right time. At christmas those who don't grow this lovely native plant themselves and who are not content just to admire it in the bush can buy it at florists to decorate their homes at christmas... one of my favourite christmas songs is about christmas bush....but I digress...
I am interested to be informed that this far up the next settlement is Spencer which helps me place the locality in perspective. We turn and start the (faster) trip downstream. This time we find a boat towing a couple of kids on boogie boards or air beds or something. We used to do that behind Dad's speed boat when we were kids. It is great fun no matter what the speed, doesn't have to be very fast, though these kids today are going very quick.

Next stop is Milson Passage, which we passed earlier nearby Milson Island. There's a few birds around here. Chestnut Teal and pelicans.

It's low tide now and on the mud flats edging part of Milson Island a small speed boat is pulled up. Four kids are floundering around on the mud, sinking deep and then crawling along dragging a small bucket. They must be yabbinging for bait. I look for a yabby pump and think I see one but can't be sure.. wish I'd remembered to bring the binoculars!! Ah yabbying. That's awesome fun too and often a feature of our days on my grandparents boat. The yabbies would sit in a big dish of sea water. The entertainment of small children a happy by product.. yabbies are unsurpassed bait for bream, which we would have no trouble catching with Dad's magic fishing rod.

We make another stop at Peat Island. This time to collect mail for post. As we pass again under Mooney Mooney bridge the breeze picks up and we can suddenly smell the salt in the air again.

We make a second stop at Dangar Island. This time there's noone on the wharf. Our ship's mate disembarks and walks up the shed and returns with a man and a cute little boy of about 5 yrs who is carrying the post box down to the boat. Our captain comes down from the wheelhouse and spends some time talking lovingly to the little boy and telling him he's always welcome he just needs to get the OK from his daddy....

We pull away once more. We are passed by a bloke standing in a tinny* travelling pretty fast. I am impressed at his balance standing at that speed as he steers directly with the tiller on the outboard motor. He's decked out in stubbies and a jackie howe. You don't see that as often as you once did ......pulls so many cultural strings in me... he's moving too fast to get a photo.....

(*translation - tinny - small aluminium boat; stubbies - a particular type of very short men's pants; jackie howe - blue singlet . It's named after Jackie Howe the greatest Australian sheep shearer. see http://www.jackiehowe.com.au/3.html )

As we near the bridge we catch up with the cute little one man trawler. The boat chugging along the fisherman apparently cleaning his catch as they travel.

We arrive back at Brooklyn at about 1pm. We ate our picnic of chicken and tzatziki sandwiches on board, but we could have got a fish and chips deal for $10. Anyway we head off. It's a bit rainy. As we have the car we are leaning to going for a walk in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The weather is a bit iffy, but we decide to head on over there and see when we get there. It's considerably further east from where we are and we need to head back down the Pacific Highway to Mona Vale Road and thence take the turn at McCarrs Creek Rd.

No doubt this has been a long post so Part 2 of this glorious day I will post separately.

No comments: