Caught in a gale, towering waves making you turn green around the gills, stuck in dock or, at best, confined to the ho-hum harbour or bay? Well, fear not. You can escape this summer's tempest, get your boating fix, and derive a sense of adventure by heading up the creek with a paddle, outboard or sail instead.
Here are 10 of our best big-city backwaters in which to immerse yourself when boating is otherwise off the radar. Do some research with your maps (online versions at www.maritime.nsw.gov.au), charts and Google Earth. Pack a camera, fishing rod, togs, some lunch and take the tykes. Ride the flood tide on the way up and hook a lift back down when it turns.
From Port Hacking to Brisbane Water, there's immense joy to be had from gadding about our deep rivers, rias, clandestine creeks, tributaries and still waters.
Port HackingAlthough South West Arm can accommodate big boats, with deep water before it shelves quickly near the sand flats, the Hacking River is better. It runs from the ramp at Swallow Rock Reserve all the way to Audley and beyond. Cruisers can anchor as far upstream as McDonald Flat before the stream diversion wall. Take the tender to Wants Beach for a swim and picnic ashore. Beyond which you can pull the kayak over the weir and paddle for ages. Or hire a canoe from the boatshed. Keep your eyes peeled for the kingfishers, turtles and Aussie bass. Special Audley event on February 19 - see www.audleyboatshed.com.
Escape on the Woronora River, or Wonny as it's affectionately known, roughly six kilometres upstream from the Captain Cook Bridge, and best accessed by trailerboat, tinnie or kayak. Mind the shallow delta at the mouth or, better still, launch from Jannali Reserve, which has picnic grounds, a sandy beach and small ramp. Besides sheltered fishing, the river offers more than five kilometres of paddling up to The Needles, a popular freshwater swimming hole. Boat and canoe hire is available, as well as burgers to go from the historic Star Boat Shed. Details at www.theboatshedatworonora.com. au.
You need to adhere to the navigation markers and tricky day leads off Burns Bay. But beyond the ritzy abodes at Hunters Hill and after Fig Tree Bridge things change for the better. Once a popular playground, Lane Cove River is lined with verdant shores, parts of which offer picnic potential, while anglers in tinnies try their hand at luring the local dusky flathead. A typical runabout can reach Fuller's Bridge, but the rank smell emanating from the CSR factory sent me packing during my last visit. However, above the weir, in the freshwater reaches, you'll find real beauty. Take your own boat or hire one on weekends via www.lanecoveboatshed.com.au.
Jump in the tender or kayak and explore the mangrove creeks flowing at either end of Sugarloaf Bay. But for a real adventure, strike out for Roseville, perhaps stopping for breakfast at Echo on the Marina Cafe, before striking out beyond the bridge and upstream into Middle Harbour Creek. There are dense mangrove stands to add to the suburban wilderness. Kayak tours and hire from www.sydneyharbourkayaks. com.au. Or do as I have done and hike in from the headwaters near St Ives (Middle Harbour Creek Loop) with an inflatable kayak in your backpack. Once you hit a continuous stream, below a small rock bar, inflate your boat, paddle down to Roseville, then dial a taxi home.
You won't find any better waterway in a gale than Narrabeen Lake or lagoon. Launch your kayak or hire one and explore the sandy islands and Deep Creek, where bass hang out, and most certainly wet a line. In the lake proper, flathead abound, whiting gather around the mouth, and every year some plucky local lad is fortunate enough to land a whopper jewfish. Great family fun, with plenty of lakeside cafes to sate your hunger. Kayak hire is available until 8pm on Thursdays with Prokayaks. See www.prokayaks.com.au.
Beyond the litter of moorings, McCarrs Creek offers enthusiasts a scenic waterway just upstream from Church Point. Load up on supplies and coffee before you sally forth or as a reward afterwards. You can pull in at the handy picnic grounds on the creek, beyond which I have on occasion spotted Australian bass and estuary perch. Then paddle around Pitttwater's western shore to explore the upper reaches of Lovett and Morning bays. Of course, The Basin is protected no matter what the weather is doing. A paddle around its perimeter is always fascinating, especially when you play spot the stingray. Pittwater discovery tours and kayak hire from Church Point at www.paddlecraft.com.au.
An archetypal drowned valley or ria, and more of a river than a creek, the Cowan combines deep water for easy navigation with steep sandstone escarpments for weather protection. The small tributaries are just delightful when viewed from a paddlecraft, tinnie or tender. Ride the flood tide over the flats up to the feeder creeks, and watch the fish dart about below and the eagles soar on the wing. Smiths Creek and Bobbin Head are the picks, as you can travel for hours to deep swimming holes where bass can be caught and the bird spotting keeps you busy.
There are three terrific options for the adventurous launching an assault on Berowra. Foremost, Marramarra Creek has a camping ground in its headwaters, an abandoned orange orchard that bears fruit in winter, and plenty of fish. Due to shallow water, there's small boat-only access. Those with big boats are best swinging on a public mooring in Joe Craft's Bay, where the small creek at high tide is picturesque. At Berowra Waters Marina, you can cross the sand flats and into the brackish reaches to the camping ground at Crossroads (www.hornsby.nsw.gov.au). As well, you can arrange two-day kayak tours with www.lifesanadventure.com.au and kayak hire from www.berowrawatersmarina.com.au.
Beyond suburbia, the Hawkesbury offers many more backwater boating trips in virtual national park wilderness. From the Colo, I've gone upstream by canoe and camped in a cave during a storm. Back at Patonga, the estuary is a great drift trip at high tide. Mullet, Mooney Mooney and Mangrove creeks are obvious small-boat waterways, but Pumpkin Creek is a favourite of local fishermen and almost hidden behind a veil of mangroves. Early settlers established a farm in its headwaters. Another nice paddle is MacDonald River which, although silted, offers good bass fishing in summer.
I've sought shelter in absolutely torrential rain in the Kincumber roadwater, the large puddle beyond Davistown, itself a delightful stop. But beware the shallow water in Cockle Creek above Empire Bay. There's really only about 1.5 metres draught at the top of the tide. With a tinnie, you can also sneak into Woy Woy Bay, under the road and rail bridges, where Waterfall Bay is wonderfully scenic. The other big attractions are the blue swimmer and mud crabs. Nets and traps aren't permitted, but a baited handline works fine.
Making Waves returns next week.