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River retreat

Set your watch to island time up the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales

Published in Australian Doctor, 18th March 2011

Home to a vibrant community of artists and writers, painters and potters, Dangar Island is just an hour and a half by road or rail, then boat, up the Hawkesbury River, from Sydney’s bustling heart. Its history precedes European settlement by hundreds, even thousands of years.

Once a birthing island frequented by the women of the Guringai tribe, today it’s the only residential island on the Hawkesbury River, with a permanent population of around 200, and a steady flow of visitors – day trippers and weekenders – who come to wind down on its 76 acres of bush and beach.

There are 27 different species of birds on Dangar Island, and it seems like they’re all outside my window, all at once, warbling and screeching a raucous welcome to a new day. But we’re here to relax, so we ignore them, and pretty soon the dawn chorus quiets down and we get back to the business of sleeping in. There are no cars on the island, which means there’s no morning traffic to interrupt our slumber, and by the time we finally arise morning has well and truly broken.

We’re on island time, so the day is ours. What to do? Take a morning constitutional around the island? Lie in a lounger and read a book? Settle in at the local café for brunch, and perhaps a friendly game of Scrabble? Go for a Sunday afternoon game of bowls? Swim at the beach? Kayak on the river? Charter a boat to explore neighbouring islands and national parks?

We opt for the walk and take a comfortable 45-minute stroll around the island. The 1950’s bungalow dominates on the low-lying north side, nestling in the shade of the gums and wattles, and basking in the sun along the beachfront. Heading south, the island inclines steeply. The houses here tend to be expansive and modern, with generous windows and wrap around decks designed to make the most of the views up on high.

Many of the locals are keen gardeners, so in addition to taking in the lush green foliage and blossoming wildflowers fringing the pathways, there are terraced gardens and lovingly tended vegetable patches to admire. We marvel at the displays of guerilla knitting wound craftily around street signs, and the all-round river views.

From almost any vantage point on the island, the magnificent Hawkesbury is evident. Like us, a gentle breeze is circumnavigating the island, spurring the tidal river’s waves into glimmering peaks.

Later in the day, after a brunch of the locally-owned and operated café’s famous summer fruit pudding, we swim. The water lapping gently at the island’s beach is refreshingly cool, and we’re ready for an evening’s entertainment: drinks, dinner, music, and dancing to a live band at The Fifth Lane restaurant and adjacent bowling club. We’re here to relax, and recharge, and we do. Dangar Island is a stunning, family-friendly reminder that you don’t have to travel far from home to find respite from the busyness of city life.


Getting there: Dangar Island is situated 55 minutes from Sydney by car or train and 20 minutes from Brooklyn by boat. It is adjacent to the fishing village of Brooklyn and 1km from the mouth of the Hawkesbury River and Broken Bay. From Sydney Central station, take a train on the Central North West line to Hawkesbury, then follow your nose to the jetty, where a ferry or water taxi will take you to the island.

Where to stay: Private rentals rule the roost on Dangar Island. There are a range of homes to suit your needs, with an average price of $750/weekend (two nights) for a four-sleeper in the peak season. Contact Hawkesbury River Boatshed & Weekender Rentals, Hawkesbury River Real Estate for details and bookings.

Practicalities: Dangar Island has EFTPOS and credit card facilities, but no cash machines. The local café does breakfast and lunches, and sells some basic, if a little pricey, provisions. If you plan to self cater, come prepared. For weekend lunches and dinners, visit the newly opened restaurant at the bowling club, The Fifth Lane.

More information: Visit,,