Island Retreat, Hawkesbury River review: Splendid isolation

Familiar faces . . . Labor MPs' portraits adorn the living room at the Dangar Island Retreat.
Familiar faces . . . Labor MPs' portraits adorn the living room at the Dangar Island Retreat. 

From the rustic ferry to the wheelbarrow 'limo', Elicia Murray is charmed by a Hawkesbury River retreat.

Risk is an aphrodisiac. That's the tagline from Oyster Farmer, a 2004 flick about a troubled young man who escapes his woes for a new life with a bunch of crusty oyster growers on the Hawkesbury River.

Having long had a soft spot for oysters, not to mention troubled young men, Dangar Island seems like the perfect place for a weekend away with my friend Ella, the daughter of a Tasmanian oyster farmer.

We lug our bags of food and plonk onto the ferry wharf at Brooklyn. A sign reads: "Animals must be leashed and muzzled or caged before boarding the ferry!"

Sounds risky, sure. But aphrodisiac? Any fantasies about dishy ferrymen are extinguished the moment we step aboard the rustic vessel.

"Evening, ladies," the grey-haired ticket collector says. The sign, he tells us, was posted after an incident involving a child and a couple of cattle dogs. She recovered.

The river's oyster industry was crippled by an outbreak of the QX virus about four years ago. It, too, is recovering. And the young men? "I don't know if there's any young spunks on the island," our tour guide chuckles. "You pay your money, you take your chances."

About 20 minutes later, we set foot on the island. The 30-hectare chunk of land was acquired by Henry Dangar in 1864 and is these days home to about 300 people, a buggy, a ute, a firetruck and an impressive array of wheelbarrows. We load our bags into the one labelled "Island ReTreat" and make our wobbly way to the two-storey brick-and-timber house a block from the beach.

Chilled-out music plays as we explore the two downstairs bedrooms, which look over lush gardens towards the water. One has a carved four-poster bed and Balinese wooden furniture. The Asian theme continues in the next room with some faux fur and red silk.

Upstairs, glass doors showcase the view through the eucalypts to the river. The large open-plan space contains two lounge areas, separated by a six-seater dining table. Another dining table is on the other side of the L-shaped space. Huge vases contain fresh greenery.

But it's a row of four portraits near the wall-mounted television that really catches our attention. I'd recognise that chrome dome anywhere. It's Peter Garrett, hanging side-by-side with fellow Labor politicians Christina Keneally and Tanya Plibersek, as well as Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore. It's a case of getting curiouser and curiouser. I dump my bags in the room with the ensuite, which isn't quite as fancy as the downstairs bedrooms but looks fresh and comfortable with white furniture and a set of plush robes.

Ella nabs the other upstairs bedroom, where a wall of shelves houses a range of books, from Bill Bryson to Helen Garner.

Dining options on the island are limited to a bowling club. That's it. Even the general store closed a few months ago. Aside from some basics such as tea, coffee and olive oil, the food is BYO.

At night, the only noises are birds and branches. I notice at 5.31am that my bedroom has a skylight. By day, we explore the island on foot. It doesn't take long. Behind thick bushland, sleek new homes share the streets with fibro weekenders. The only young men we come across are watching rugby on television at the bowlo and they have eyes only for the Wallabies.

After some deep-fried delights in the club, we retire to the house. No aphrodisiacs here, unless you count a tin of smoked oysters. And some lingering glances from Peter Garrett.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Island Retreat

Address

Dangar Island, Hawkesbury River. Directions supplied with booking confirmation.

The verdict

A charming mix of kooky and comfy in a tranquil setting close to Sydney.

Price

$740 a couple for two weekend nights. There's a midweek special (until Easter) of $740 for three nights. Maximum of four people.

Getting there

About an hour's drive north of Sydney on the F3. There is parking near the wharf at Brooklyn and the ferry costs $5.50 each way. A water taxi is $40 a trip for up to four people.

Bookings

Phone 0401 308 888 or see hawkesburyriver.com.

Perfect for A dose of splendid isolation for a couple of friends or a romantic weekend away.

Wheelchair access No.