Review: Hawkesbury River cruise on The Riverboat Postman delivers a great day out
The stunning Hawkesbury River is a magnet for weekend visitors from Sydney, but many people choose to live full-time along the remote banks of one of Australia's most famous rivers. The Riverboat Postman is the country's last river postal service — and one that takes packages and passengers. Climb aboard for a leisurely lunchtime cruise.
Living on Dangar Island, I often see The Riverboat Postman passing my home; it delivers my mail!
The Riverboat Postman began doing the postal run along the Hawkesbury River in 1910 and it continues to service properties that are only accessible by boat. These days however, there’s another type of cargo on board — passengers. Now operated by family-run Hawkesbury Cruises, The Riverboat Postman combines its weekday mail delivery duties with a three-and-a-bit-hour leisure cruise along the stunning Hawkesbury. I recently decided to experience this Greater Sydney river adventure for myself.
I meet postmaster Catherine in her beautifully decorated ticket office (situated in the back of a truck!) as she prepares for our cruise. I take in the historical photos on the wall as she ticks me off the passenger list and hands over my ticket. The Australia Post contractor arrives soon after and Catherine signs for the boxes of mail and parcels. There’s a lot today. Most of it is going to Dangar Island, which is our first stop.
With my travelling companions, I walk past the line of red, black and white flags down to the Brooklyn Wharf for boarding. It’s obvious from the minute Bay Runner pulls up to the wharf that this is a very slick operation. Deckhand Natalie secures the lines, Luke steps off to get the mail, while Angela hold the ramp in place as we step on board. As Luke later tells me: ‘it works like clockwork!’
I find a place at one of the tables set up inside for morning tea (which, together with a delicious ploughman’s lunch, is included in the cost of the cruise) and settle in. Captain Randall introduces himself over the clear PA system, inviting passengers to come up to the wheelhouse for a chat at any time. Having worked the river for many years, his commentary on local history and river tales is both informative and entertaining.
We soon arrive at the Dangar Island Wharf. The island is home to over 200 permanent residents who collect their sorted mail from their mail boxes at the Café. The delivery completed, Randall heads upstream to cruise under the railway bridge. The first bridge was opened in 1889 but after about fifty years it was apparent that a new bridge was needed. This was constructed in 1946 and explains the second series of sandstone-lined piers visible today, seemingly with no purpose.
The next stop on this cruise on The Riverboat Postman is Kangaroo Point. Occasionally a district nurse will board here for a ride upriver to see one of her patients. Today we collect some passengers who missed the 10am departure from Brooklyn. The lesson is to be on time for this experience. The post cannot wait!
We continue on past dense bushland. Sometimes a pair of sea eagles can be seen from here, soaring on the air currents. We pass large sandstone rocks weathered by wind and water, the colours of the rock made all the more beautiful by a recent shower. In fact, it showers on and off all morning, but that does nothing to dampen the outing. Dry and warm in the comfort of the lower deck, I occasionally don my raincoat to venture outside or upstairs to the upper deck and wheelhouse.
Milson Island is our next port of call. It’s used by the Department of Sport and Recreation as a venue for school camps, but it has an unusual past. Research into the biological control of rabbits was reputedly carried out on the island, and later it became a minimum security prison. Randall worked for corrective services at that time, ferrying prisoners and staff along the river. He tells of a group of prisoners who snuck off the island in stolen canoes in order to enjoy a night on the town. Their escapade was discovered when they made a noisy return to the island, rather the worse for wear!
As we pass the river settlements of Bar Point, Marlow Creek and Milsons Passage, I wonder about the people who choose to live in such isolation. An early sandstone cottage and an oyster farmer’s home are among the dwellings that catch my eye. Some look like they need a bit of TLC, while others have been recently renovated. Many are used only as weekenders.
The challenges of living along the Hawkesbury are not for everyone, but life here suits me — and is made a little easier by The Riverboat Postman. I thoroughly enjoy this cruise through ‘my own backyard’.
The Riverboat Postman departs every weekday (except public holidays) at 10am sharp. If driving, allow plenty of time as finding parking at Brooklyn Wharf can be tricky. The train from Central railway station to the Hawkesbury River station at Brooklyn takes about an hour. There is no lift at the station.
Joanne Karcz is a Sydney-based writer and blogger. She published a blog when she walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her travels ever since. She is also an aspiring travel photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. Joanne has travelled through Europe, South America, and Southern Africa. She loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs.