Review: Hawkesbury River houseboat

Have you ever driven over the Brooklyn Bridge and looked down at the houseboats moored below? I have, many times.

I’ve always been curious to try it but the prices scared me off. Houseboat hire is not cheap – we hired a six berth for two weekend days and it was $1200 + fuel. I say six berth but you’d want to be travelling with compact, close friends. There was room for three of us but double that number would be cramped.

The Able 4

We picked up our boat, the Able 4, on a Friday afternoon after wending our way down Mangrove Mountain pass. A simple bonus was catching the Wisemans Ferry across to the pick-up point.

Enter Hilda: the proprietress of Able Houseboats. She is an 85 year-old Armenian former midwife who gets around with five pens behind her right ear. She told me – with some pride – that she had delivered 250 babies in London in the 1960s. She’s been running the show for 45 years and manages the paperwork and safety briefings.

We had to take our own food, drinks, linen, fishing gear and bait so once we lugged all of that on board, one of Hilda’s burly minions drove us out to the middle of the river. With a few more instructions, he left us alone to explore the river.

Houseboats are slow – four knots at best – so they’re easy to drive but the tidal current of the Hawkesbury means that you do need to pay attention so you don’t end up too close to the shore.

Joey loved driving the boat (under supervision)

We chugged north towards the Colo River, surprised by the houses on the shore. They range from tacked-together shacks to full-scale drug lord mansions, with a smattering of ski parks in between. If you’ve ever watched Ozark, that pretty much sums up the vibe. Jet skis, hotted-up ski boats and fishing kayaks dot the shallows.

The highlights

The best part was seeing how excited Joey was about the whole adventure, followed by fishing from the rooftop deck, lazing in the gentle sun or mindlessly watching the riverbank slide past.

Eels of the Hawkesbury – we caught three

We caught and released a couple of eels – the peak of excitement – and caught a mystery fish that broke the line before we got a good look.

The stillness of mornings on the river, with mist rising from the water and a chorus of bellbirds, was blissful.

The gas cooktop, BBQ and full-sized fridge all worked perfectly.

The views ranged from pumpkin coloured cliffs weathered into layer cake formations, bushland freckled with flannel flowers and sweeping arcs of mangrove-fringed shores.

Morning stillness on the river

The lowlights

The beds. The beds. The beds. If you’re a patchy sleeper with any form of chiropractic ailment, you will suffer. The beds could reasonably double as ironing boards. The first night, I froze. Pack extra clothes and blankets – it’s chilly on the water.

The shower is cold, not hot, as advertised. The TV didn’t work and there were numerous mobile black spots (which is a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about your phone).

The populated areas had a shanty town/river rat feeling, evocative of the Florida Everglades. Without the voodoo, creole cooking and bayou blues, you’re left with a slightly criminal air of escape.

The verdict

Would I go house boating again? Definitely. It’s a novel bonding experience that’s a lot like camping in the sense that you’re roughing it a bit and you’re out in nature.

Would I go to the Hawkesbury again? No. It’s expensive, the vessel we hired was tired and the scenery was monotonous. We saw a lot of the same thing which is OK for 48 hours but I don’t need to see it again.

The best part was definitely how much Joey loved it. In the way of small children everywhere, he was oblivious to the discomfort. He made his first sandwich (he made us all Nutella sandwiches for breakfast), he belted out songs and he had a blast clambering all over the boat, treating it like a mobile play gym.

It turns out five year olds can sit still

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