Woy Woy is a holiday and retirement centre 8 km south of Gosford and 85 km north of Sydney via the Newcastle Freeway. It is the largest of a number of settlements strung along the western foreshores of Brisbane Water, a shallow but very large inlet. At the western end of Broken Bay is the mouth of the Hawkesbury River and at its southern end the mouth of Pittwater. All four bodies of water are popular with holidaymakers due to their proximity to Sydney, the beautiful scenery, the warm summer weather and the opportunities they present for boating, swimming, fishing. Increasing numbers of people commute every day to Sydney along the freeway and via the electrified train line.
Brisbane Water Drive runs off the Pacific Highway at West Gosford down to Woy Woy. Driving south the road follows the beautiful shoreline of Brisbane Water. The drive reveals that the development is continuous, though it not so excessive as to destroy the considerable beauty of the area.
The last stop along Brisbane Water Drive before Woy Woy is Koolewong where there is a strip of parkland between the road and the ocean. There are picnic and playground facilities and a pedestrian walkway along the foreshore with a carpark, a deepwater boat ramp and a boat hire service.
Most of Woy Woy (along with Ettalong and Umina) is on a large peninsula, called The Peninsula, which juts from the mainland. The western edge of the peninsula is divided off from the rest of the mainland by Woy Woy Inlet. It is one of the few flat areas of the Central Coast.
The distance between the eastern edge of The Peninsula and the opposite shore of Brisbane Water is slight (less than a kilometre) and is spanned by The Rip Bridge. On the other side is Saratoga. St Huberts Island, Rileys Island and Pelican Island (the latter two are nature reserves) lie between the two shores just north of the bridge.
The words 'Woy Woy' reputedly come from the language of an Aboriginal group called the Guringgai (or Kuringgai). It is said to mean 'much water' or 'big lagoon' - an obvious reference to Brisbane Water. The Guringgai once occupied the land from the Hawkesbury in the south to Lake Macquarie in the north. It is known that the tribe wore possum hair belts (in which they carried their few possessions) and occasionally possum skin clothing. The men carried spears, boomerangs, stone axes, boomerangs and shields and hunted large prey such as kangaroos and fish which they speared. The women collected most of the food - fish (caught on fishing lines), shellfish, fruit, tubers, insect larvae, snakes, lizards and small mammals. When the fish migrated in winter the tribe moved inland to find other food sources.
Governor Phillip and a party of officers and seamen entered Broken Bay in a whaleboat in 1788, about a month after establishing the settlement at Sydney Cove. They passed Lion Island at the mouth of Brisbane Water and sheltered from heavy rains behind the rocky headland of Green Point. Phillip observed 'the land is much higher than at Port Jackson, more rocky and equally covered with timber; large trees which grow on the summits of mountains'. Apparently the indigenous peoples were impressed with the fact that he had a missing front tooth, as it was an initiation rite amongst them to knock out the front tooth of young men.
Phillip returned in 1789 to what was then called the North East Arm but the focus subsequently fell on the Hawkesbury River. The proximity of a penal colony at Newcastle also discouraged settlement but when this was moved north to Port Macquarie, European settlement around 'the Arm' began. It was renamed Brisbane Water in the early 1820s after the then-governor of NSW.
The first white settlers were drawn by the possibilities of exploiting the local supplies of cedar, forest oak, blue gum and other hardwoods. Boatbuilding also began at this time and continued until World War I. The first to receive a land grant in the area was boat builder James Webb who occupied 120 ha on the eastern side of Brisbane Water from 1823. Samuel Coulter also built a house there and established a farm. It was then a large sandy area covered with scrub. Webb purchased another 150 acres in 1834. It was this second portion which contained the land upon which the central shopping area of Woy Woy was later built.
Because there were no roads, contact with the world beyond was strictly by boat and so settlement was restricted to the area alongside the shores of Brisbane Water and its inlets. Small settlers took up land on the ocean shores, growing maize, onions, potatoes and hay. Others gathered cockle shells which were loaded on to ketches and sent off for lime-burning. The gentry focused on the timbered areas along the tidal inlets. The terrain made the area a haven for smugglers, moonshiners, escapee convicts and ticket-of-leave men.
As the land was cleared and settlement expanded into traditional Aboriginal lands, relationships with the local kooris, which had, till then, been amicable, began to sour. They were driven from the land. When they struck back against what they saw as theft, the whites settlers retaliated and, by the 1860s, there were virtually no Guringgai left in the area.
A survey in 1829 listed about 100 persons (half of them convicts assisting the timbergetters) living along Brisbane Water, with 916 cattle, 7 horses and 205 acres under cultivation. By 1833 there were 315 people.
The first oyster lease was established around1884. However, it was the arrival of the railway in 1888 which really precipitated the development of the town. The Woy Woy Tunnel (1791 metres) was built for the occasion out of ten million bricks, shipped by Rock Davis of Blackwall to Brick Wharf, at the north-eastern tip of Woy Woy Peninsula. They were then transported along a rail line (now Brick Wharf Rd) to the construction camp. It is the longest railway tunnel in NSW.
The first store and post office and four temporary hotels opened to cater for the 800 workers building the tunnel.
With railway access Woy Woy became a fishing and tourist resort in the 1890s. Around this time the Central Coast became the primary tourism destination of Sydneysiders. Fishing was the main drawcard, although bathing and shooting were other attractions. Subdivision soon got under way. Resorts, holiday villages and boarding houses began to appear and a ferry service was introduced. Two of the original boarding houses - Roma and Louisville - are now private houses in Brick Wharf Rd.
The population had increased to 660 by 1911. Webb's original Woy Woy estate was sold off at auction in 1912 and a permanent official post office opened the following year. The first road to the town was built in 1923 under an unemployment relief scheme. It was enlarged and made ready for road traffic in 1930. The population subsequently increased from 1 710 in 1947 to 7 396 by 1954 and 16 287 by 1966. Its growth was aided by the proximity of a rapidly expanding Gosford. Woy Woy later prospered as a service centre to the other resort and retirement centres along the foreshores of Brisbane Water.
Things to see
The Wharves and Fishing
Cross the bridge from Koolewong and take the first left into The Boulevarde. On the immediate left is the public wharf where Brisbane Water Ferries run 75-minute scenic cruises of the waterway about a dozen times a day, stopping at Davistown, Saratoga and Woy Woy, from 6 am to 9 pm weekdays and from 9 to 6 on weekends, contact (02) 4369 5066.
Starship Cruises offer cruises of Brisbane Water and Broken Bay on the MV Lady Kendall. Built in 1901 it's reputedly the oldest working vessel in Australia. The 2.5 hour cruises depart Woy Woy Wharf at 10.35 a.m. and 12.10 p.m. Saturday to Wednesday and every day in the school holidays, contact (02) 4323 1655.
While you are at the wharf, look up. There are usually large pelicans perched on all of the light poles. Just beyond the public wharf is Fisherman's Wharf. There are flathead, whiting, bream and crabs to be had. Woy Woy Bay, west of the bridge, is also good for flathead, bream and jewfish and for prawns at night. Brett's Bait and Tackle shop is at 17 The Boulevarde.
Woy Woy Hotel
The road ends at a T-intersection and the left turn is into Brickwharf Rd. Opposite are the fine looking premises of the Woy Woy Hotel, completed in 1897 after the completion of the railway promised regular patronage. An apocryphal story suggests the hotel was built from leftover bricks imported for the railway tunnel. The widening of Brick Wharf Rd necessitated the destruction of a verandah with ornamental railings.
There is a waterfront reserve with picnic facilities, toilets, showers, a playground, tidal baths and formal gardens in War Memorial Park, off Brickwharf Rd, which runs eastwards out to the north-eastern edge of The Peninsula. Just before the dead end turn left into North Burge Rd, by the bowling club, and at the end of that road is a boat ramp to the left and, to the right, another boat ramp and Lions Park, where there are also picnic facilities, toilets, a playground and night lights.
Blackwall Mountain Lookout
For a bird's eye view of the area head south from the roundabout near the bridge along Blackwall Rd (or follow North Burge Rd to its southern end, take a hard right into Park Rd then a left at its end into Blackwall Rd). Take the turnoff to the left as Blackwall Rd heads east (it leads to Blackwall Pt where there was once a wharf owned by shipbuilder and timber merchant, Rock Davis, whose business activities sustained the township of Blackwall in the late nineteenth century).
The high embankment to the right is the edge of Blackwall Mountain. To access the lookout you must take the first right into Bayview Crescent. Near its end is a right turn into another roadway. After a few metres there is a bar across the road. Stop here and walk up. It's uphill but not far (a 15-minute walk) and enjoyable.
Just past the water tank the road forks. Stick to the left. Just a few metres on is a picnic table and a sign to the lookout. There is a good view to the south. The geometric layout of residential East Ettalong is below. The roar of the traffic is at odds with the tranquillity of Brisbane Water which lies beyond and the densely treed shoreline of Wagstaffe on the other side. It's easy to close your eyes and imagine how it looked before white settlement.
Retrace your steps back to Blackwall Rd but turn left heading south along Memorial Ave. The first left is into Maitland Bay Rd which heads east across the Rip Bridge to Daleys Point. At the end of Ettalong Oval (to your right) turn right into Picnic Parade (clearly signposted). Ettalong is said to translate as 'place for drinking'. It was originally known to Europeans as Bar Swamp then Gittin's Lagoon. Once a well dug in the sand behind Ettalong Beach supplied fresh water to passing vessels. Anglers will find Ettalong Beach good for whiting, in season.
The Seaside Village Market
Down Picnic Parade lie the Ettalong shops. There is parking in the middle of the road. On weekends the markets cover the southern end of Picnic Parade and Ocean View Parade.
For those interested in war history and war memorabilia there is a modest display in one room of the RSL sub-branch. It is on Picnic Parade, just beyond the intersection with Ocean View Parade. It is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 9.00 a.m. - 12.00 and from 10.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. on weekends.
Picnic Parade ends at The Esplanade which follows the shoreline of Ettalong Beach, a main attraction if the weather is warm. Turn right. Follow The Esplanade south and turn right, opposite the boat ramp, into Koorung St. Take the second left down Barrenjoey Rd and then the first right into Warrah St. The first house to the left after the corner block (no.2) is home to Nature's Harlequins Shell Museum. This is actually the private collection of Roy Gifford, housed in a shed at the back of his home, but it is worthwhile as Roy will guide you through the collection and brings it to life with an interesting account both of the way in which the particular design of a shell is related to its particular environment, and of the nature of the creatures generally. It is open every day but Tuesday, contact (02) 4341 5998.
Ocean Beach and Umina
South of Ettalong is the residential area known as Umina, said to mean 'repose'. Umina was established as a holiday resort town in 1917 with the sale of a thousand allotments. A motor service connected it to Woy Woy train station (at the time a 15-minute trip for sixpence).
Immediately south of Ettalong Beach is Ocean Beach. At the end of The Esplanade is a play and picnic area. Turn right into Norman St and follow it to its terminus then turn left into West St. At its end the road bends to the left as Sydney Ave. After a short distance you will come to a signposted left into the remainder of Sydney Ave. At its end are Umina Beach and a caravan park. To the right a large recreation area. Further south are Mt Ettalong, Pearl Beach andPatonga.
Woy Woy stands adjacent the enormous Brisbane Water National Park. Woy Woy Rd bisects the park. It heads south-west out of town from the western end of Rawson Rd, following the shoreline of Woy Woy Inlet down to the southern tip of Correa Bay (where there is a deepwater boat ramp), northwards past Horsfield Bay and Phegans Bay, then north-west. Keep your eyes right for the signpost indicating Staples Lookout with a commanding view eastwards over the park to Woy Woy Bay in the distance.
The Bulgandry Aboriginal Engravings
It is another 2 km to the signposted turnoff on the left which will take you to the carpark for the Bulgandry Aboriginal Engravings site. It is a short walk along a path to the flat rock surface which lies horizontal at ground level. A pathway has been constructed around the circumference of the site for optimum viewing and minimal damage. There are good information boards nearby which look at what is known of the Guringgai and the etchings. The figures are of men, women, marine life, kangaroos and canoes. It is not known to what extent they form a narrative, and to what extent they are pedagogical or of ceremonial significance (or all three). They probably started as a charcoal or scratched outline that was then made permanent by 'pecking' holes along the outline with a pointed stone with the area between the holes later rubbed away. Although a good surviving example, erosion has taken its toll and the figures are sometimes indistinct, though the information boards are helpful in providing clarity. The engravings are clearest at dawn or dusk or after rain. It is another 2.7 km to the Pacific Highway just west of Gosford (for further information on the park see the entry on Gosford).
Bouddi National Park
1189-ha Bouddi National Park lies on the other side of Brisbane Water, just 8 km from Woy Woy via Maitland Bay Drive, Empire Bay Drive and Wards Hill Rd (see entry on Kincumber for further details).
Tours, Cruises and Other Services
A number of operators will pick up clients from their homes, though this may depend upon whether there are sufficient numbers. Central Coast Kayak Tours will pick people up from most Central Coast train stations (there is also a daily coach service from Sydney), contact (02) 4381 0342. Meals are provided and no experience is necessary. Central Coast Bushworks offer guided bushwalks in the area as well as abseiling, all equipment supplied, contact (02) 4363 2028.
Alcheringa Tours at 20 Sierra Crescent, East Gosford, offer tours for small groups of varying duration into the local caves and national parks, contact (02) 4325 5966. It's Easy Tours organise luxury coach holidays with day tours of the Central Coast and out to Wisemans Ferry, contact (02) 4340 1037. Fresh Tracks Safaris specialise in 4WD tours of the Central Coast, the Hunter Vineyards and Aboriginal sites, contact (02) 4385 3024. Blunsdon Day Tours and Charters run mini-coach day tours around the Central Coast and other areas. They will pick you up by arrangement, contact (02) 4328 1317. Aeroflite offer scenic flights over the Central Coast for up to seven passengers, as well as charter flights. They depart from Warnervale aerodrome, just north of Wyong, contact (02) 4392 4199.
Starship Cruises offer cruises of Brisbane Water and Broken Bay on the MV Lady Kendall. Built in 1901 it's reputedly the oldest working vessel in Australia. The 2.5 hour cruises depart from Woy Woy wharf at 10.35 am and 12.10 pm Saturday to Wednesday and every day in the school holidays, contact (02) 4323 1655. Broken Bay Fishing Charters operate within Broken Bay, the Hawkesbury and Pittwater, contact (02) 4342 7207 and Central Coast Charters also offer fishing charter services (from Ettalong and Terrigal only) and both ocean and river cruises, contact (0412) 436 884.
Woy Woy hosts an Oyster and Wine Festival in November. For precise times or other information, the major visitors' centre in the area is Gosford Visitor Information Centre, contact 1800 806 258.