Monday, February 04, 2008


Don't pay the ferryman

So, a while since I've written anything travel-tourist-overseas-adventure styles on these pages. The Indian wedding I was at on the weekend was pretty exotic and I shall hit you up with some Flickr love as soon as it becomes available, dear reader. But on a related note I've been up to Wiseman's Ferry not once but twice in the last two weeks (short version: reconnaissance mission, stag night), and I found that blog-worthy.

If you're not cognisant with the Sydney-speak (and why should you be), Wiseman's Ferry is the car ferry across the Hawkesbury River, up the back of Windsor and Dural; in other words, in the middle of nowhere. The only reason there's anything there at all is that it used to be the main route from Sydney to Newcastle, which just shows how hard against it the burghers of Sydney were getting around the countryside in those days. The terrain is not gentle. The area around Wiseman's Ferry is dominated by the extraordinary land feature that underlies and defines Sydney: a continuous slab of sandstone that starts near Wollongong, runs furrowed and magnificent beneath all the city's famous landmarks, and carries on up to the North where the F3 freeway cuts through sold cliffs of it.

Bondi's trademark headlands are outstretched, rather battered fingers of that same single slab of rock. The CBD is built on it, and many of the historic buildings are built out of the quarried rock. At the end of my street the Lane Cover river has sliced a furrow 100 feet deep out of it, baring cliffs and ledges to which eucalyptus trees cling and cockatoos circle and scream. Near Wiseman's Ferry the Hawkesbury river runs through a deep gorge that has cut right down the layer of stone. The first day we were there was one of Syndey's periodic bouts of soaking wet. The valley was roofed with cloud as we came down the steep, narrow, winding road that drops you from the plateau to the level of the river. Drifts of cloud hung around the broad stripe of orange rock exposed mid-way up each side of the valley. The view was particularly striking from the balcony The Champs Delights, where we took Devonshire Teas and bought pickles. Yes, you're quite right, it was rather civilised.

Calling Wiseman's Ferry a car ferry isn't strictly accurate; there is a car ferry running there (two of them, actually), but there was a ferry there before them, and I'm sure it'll be called the Ferry after they're gone. The ferries themselves are free, which makes the title of this post a bit of a smarty-pants classical allusion rather than something topical, but I'm not prepared to let that stand in the way of a snappy phrase. They also run 24 hours, and I can only imagine that being a night ferryman would be a remarkably boring job, no matter how interesting "Confessions of a Night Ferryman" might sound. Rather more interestingly, Australia's (alleged) oldest pub is up the road from the Ferry, on the other side of the river. Not a great road, it must be said. Not one of the highlights of the Australian driving experience. Fortunately the rain had taken the bite out of the corrugations and made the countryside all green and pleasant in a manner almost, but not entirely, completely unlike England.

I do recommend the pub, though. Just go up the other side of the river so that you approach it across the bridge. I'm a tad unclear on how the location of the pub on the old wagon route relates to the modern position of the ferry 20km downstream, but then again it was raining so we went into the pub instead of standing around outside to read historical summaries.

The stag night? Missed out the pub entirely, went the other way to Millers Creek camping ground. Saw a wombat (pretty cool, that was), failed to persuade it to do anything compromising to the groom. Had to chase brush turkeys away from the food at about 5 in the morning, which I don't really recommend as a start to the day. Didn't see any drop bears. I did take some photos of all this. Eyeball the Flickr widget on the left there, they'll probably go up eventually.

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