Known as Hawkesbury-Nepean River, the Hawkesbury River is a semimature tide dominated drowned valley estuary, located to the West and North of Sydney, Australia. Hawkesbury River and its associated main tributary, the Nepean River, virtually encircle the metropolitan region of Sydney.

Hawkesbury River | Location

1. The Hawkesbury River is located on Australia’s east coast about one hour’s drive north of Sydney. It is the Nepean River until the Grose River joins it and then it becomes the Hawkesbury – different explorers named the parts of the river as they found them not realising that the Nepean and the Hawkesbury (and the MacDonald) were all the same river.


2. Its tributaries and creeks begin in the higher land of the Great Dividing Range – part of which includes the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. 
Other tributaries begin in the Highlands to the west of Woollongong and south of Sydney.
The Nepean begins in the Camden Valley area near Moss Vale and becomes the Hawkesbury at Windsor Bridge after being joined by the Wollondilly River (on which is found the Warragamba Dam).

3.It ends at Juno Point in Broken Bay.

4. A railway bridge crosses the river at Brooklyn near Broken Bay. A short distance inland and upriver is the Peats Ferry Bridge for road traffic. This is the main highway going north from Sydney.

5. The Nepean has on one of its tributaries in part of its early reaches the catchment area and enlarged “lake” of the Warragamba Dam – Sydney’s main water storage area. The water goes from Warragamba Dam to Prospect Reservoir for treatment then is piped throughout Sydney. There are other dams on other tributaries of the Nepean that are in the Highlands west of Woollongong. Each of these dams send water to Prospect Reservoir also for Sydney’s water supply.

6. The deepest part of the river is its coastal section.

7. Near the coast the river is about 3 km wide.

8. The origin of the name Hawkesbury lies in our colonial roots. It was explored in 1789 by Captain Arthur Philip, first Governor of the colony. It is named for Lord Hawkesbury.

Characteristics of the river

1. The river is about 470 km long.

2. There are no major waterfalls.

3.The worst flood last century was in 1867 and this century was in 1961 and there was a big flood in 1986.

4. This river does not freeze.


5. In its coastal stretches it is tidal.

7. Transport ferries regularly use this river. They are about 15 metres long.The Lady Hawkesbury can go up to the Windsor Bridge. She is 35m long.

8. The main dangers of the river near us are siltation from soil erosion, sharks and blue-green algae making the water toxic for periods of time. The algae problem has received media attention and is due to the mis-management of water nutrients like sewerage, etc in the watershed of the river. Periods of drought which reduce the flow of water concentrate the pollutents and make the problem worse.

9. At the widest part, the river is about 3 km wide.


1. The Australian Bass is a fish from the Hawkesbury River which can live in either salt or fresh water, but can only spawn in salt water. Therefore it lives in different parts of the river at different times of the year.

2. Fishing is allowed all year round with a rod or handline, with daily limits on size and numbers.

3. Fish living in the Hawkesbury are flathead, bream, mullet, hairtail, mullaway, whiting, flounder, tailer, snapper, trevally, tarwhine, blackfish, leatherjackets, kingfish, John Dory and oysters. There are many Oyster Farms in Broken Bay and in the salt water parts of the river near Broken Bay.

4. Birds on this river include shags, cormorants, kingfishers, ducks, sea eagles, pelicans and terns. The azure kingfisher nests at the end of a long tunnel (often more than a metre long) drilled into the bank of the river.By Mikah V., 4F

5. Dangerous or man-eating creatures include sharks, jellyfish, sea snakes, stingrays and fortescues.


“On the school holidays my family hired a houseboat and went cruising from the Hawkesbury River to all the different bays. We went to Refuge Bay first and anchored there for the night. It was the best bay because it had a fresh waterfall and the beach was clean. We returned there for the last night as well. By Sarah, 6G
I have been water skiing on the Hawkesbury River.” – Olivia J.
“I went on the tubes on the back of the boat it was fun.
The boat has a motor in the middle and it pulls skis and tubes along at the back of it. I can sit in the tube and hold onto the handles or I can lie on it. It goes really fast and I nearly fell off.” – Sarah 2B 

1. People use the river for active sports like canoeing, water skiing, boating, sailing, wind surfing and for quieter recreation like bushwalks, wildlife watching, fishing, etc.

2. People swim in the river freely except in sections affected by blue-green algae.

3. The Bridge to Bridge Water Ski race is an annual and popular event.


“The ferry that goes across the Hawkesbury River at Wiseman’s Ferry carries cars. It can hold 21 cars at a time. The ferry can make your trip shorter than going all the way down to the nearest bridge.” – Amber T.

There are barges carrying goods up and down the river too.

1. Private pleasure craft of all types use the river. Ferries and the Mail boat are also regular users. There is a small carferry service in one section at the small township of Wiseman’s Ferry.

There are also car ferries to cross the river at Sackville and Lower Portland.

2. There are no locks along any part of this river.


1. This river is important in many different ways. It is a source of shellfish and prawns for the Sydney market. It is a minor transport route. But its importance lies in the recreational use made of it by Sydneysiders from all parts of the city. 
The river runs for much of its length through areas of native bushland. You can see that in the photo the banks of the river are native bushland areas. 
Of even greater importance is the public attention which is focussed by reports of pollution along this river. Education of the people is being driven by their unhappiness when the river is badly affected by the way we abuse the land on either side of the river. 

2. Due to increasing pollution over the last 20 years, the previously important oyster industry is declining.

3. We live close to the ocean mouth of this river. Our own use is purely recreational.

4. There are market gardens and turf farms and paddocks for cattle all irrigated by water from the river. The turf farms grow grass for people to use when landscaping their gardens or for making golf courses and parks. They roll the turf up with about an inch of soil around the roots. The rolls are about 30cm wide and quite long. The landscapers roll it out to make instant lawns.
The river plays a minor role in the life of our community but is very important for people operating cruise boat hire companies and for Oyster farmers.

5. The river is a source of water for agriculture along most of its course. There is also some aquaculture.

6. The river is a major source of water for our city. Some limited drawing of water from the river by properties near the river occurs. The river receives what is left after we dam a part of it and other small creeks and minor rivers draining from the Blue Mountains and the high land to the south of Sydney. It is not unusual to be advised that drinking the water in certain stretches of the river is dangerous to our health.

7. The mangroves growing along the edges the river where it is tidal are important for the ecological balance of the river. They form a nursery for the aquatic life of the area.

Water Quality

1. The river is not cleaner than it was 10 years ago – it is the same or worse.

2. Fish caught in the river are regularly eaten.

3. This river has periods when it is quite clean and other times it has become heavily polluted. The circumstances change with the position along the river being studied, the recent weather and the seasons, and the status of suburban sprawl and new building.

4. Siltation and the algae problem reflect farm land management. 
Land clearing prior to the building of new homes in new suburbs makes for large amounts of siltation.
Rubbish accumulates in the river from the thoughtless behaviour of recreational users and builders.

5. A major industry is being established at Windsor ( about half way along the river). This industry is designing and making water recycling and treatment equipment. They are world leaders in their field.

6. Yes, rubbish is commonly seen in or near the river.


1. A special home for mentally disturbed people was built on one of the small islands in the river. It was also used for “retarded children” until about 25 years ago.

2. There is a colonial church and a graveyard from the mid-nineteenth century on an island near the mouth of the river. The photo shows a cruise boat moored at the jetty of this island. 
At Wiseman’s Ferry there is a hotel that was built in 1810.

3. The “bunyip” is an Aboriginal mythical monster. The Aborigines believed they lived in rivers and took the unwary. No particular monsters are associated with the Hawkesbury R.

4. The wreck of the “HMAS Parramatta” ( a navy destroyer) is off Long Island part way up the river.

Coaster’s Retreat

At the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, on the western foreshores of Pittwater, about 20 miles from Sydney there is a small and isolated bay. The shores of the bay form part of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and it is now a favourite picnic spot called The Basin. It is otherwise known as Coaster’s Retreat.

You cannot drive a car to this bay but a regular ferry service links it to Palm Beach on the other side of Pittwater.

This area has played an important role since the foundation of the colony of Sydney, in 1788. It was significant in the early history of Sydney when the colonists nearly starved. Later it sheltered many of the emancipists and runaways who hated the convict system and the authority of the military.

Some hardy people chose to live in this bay working their way as mariners, farmers and shell-diggers.

As late as World War II the area was a training ground for the men who made a heroic raid on Singapore Harbour.
A book has been written giving in depth detail of the colourful contribution that this part of our river has made to Australian history. The book is called Coaster’s Retreat. .