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by Margaret Deefholts
(For Travel Writers’ Tales)

Photo1. Riverboat Postman Booking Office

It doesn’t look promising. As we pull up to Brooklyn Public wharf, an hour’s drive north of Sydney on the Hawksbury river in New South Wales, the sky is a surly gray and on the horizon banks of clouds are piling up. My Australian cousin Diane and her husband, John are undeterred. “You never know about the weather.” Diane says. “It can change in minutes. Let’s go for it!

My curiosity is whetted and I don’t need much persuading. Moored at the dock is the “Zarapito” operated by Hawksbury Cruises. We are about to board the River Postman—a unique service that delivers mail to small settlements accessible only by boat.

Photo 2. “Zarapito”

Photo 2a. Interior of the “Zarapito

The Zarapito’s lounge is comfortably spacious with glass paneled windows, and an attractive young hostess ushers us to a table. She pours us coffee and tea and serves up a plate of home-made Anzac biscuits; they’re thin, crisp, nutty and delicious.

3. Anzac Biscuits at Elevenses

3a. Our hostess

According to the pamphlet on our table, the first Riverboat Postman started the run in 1910. The daily route covers about eight or nine settlements with names like Kangaroo Point, Milson’s Passage, Marlow Creek and Fisherman’s Point. We take off promptly at 10 am, sailing under a highway bridge as we leave Brooklyn town behind us. The bar is open, so with glasses of wine to hand, we sit back and enjoy the scenery unfurling beyond our window.

Photo 8. Our Skipper at the wheel

Our skipper is a ruggedly good-looking young Aussie, who has lived in the area all his life. He offers us an informative and wryly funny commentary as we cruise along leisurely.

Photos 5a. 5b. Community settlements along the Riverboat Postman route

Wooden wharfs front each settlement and mail sacks are hauled off the boat in exchange for outward-bound parcels or letters. Folks exchange banter with the skipper, the weather is discussed in detail, and resident doggies wag their tails appreciatively as they are treated to pats and an Anzac biscuit or two. At Bar Point, a Mum and her little toddler son wave an energetic goodbye as we depart.

Photo 7. Waving goodbye as we leave Bar Point

Photo 9. Doggies enjoying their Anzac biscuit treats

We climb to the upper deck where, to our delight, the weather has cleared. Fluffy pillows of white clouds drift against a deep blue sky, a light balmy breeze riffs the water, and carries the scent of earth and jungle vegetation. Purple jacaranda trees and blossoming tropical bushes are splashes of colour against the dark green tropical foliage. Some homes hug the hillsides and have vertical backyards!

Photos 5c. 5d. Community settlements along the Riverboat Postman route

Photo 6. Mail collection and delivery at Marlow

Our vessel skirts mangrove forests, their roots sticking out of the water like white worms, and we weave between thickly forested low hills. At one point we sail by a cluster of striated rocks which look as though they’d been hand painted with streaks and spirals of orange, yellow and pink.

Photo 4. Colourful rocks by the Hawksbury River

Photos 4a. & 4b. Close-up of rock formations.

Half way through our cruise, we are served a hearty Australian Ploughman’s lunch: Crusty buns/butter, shaved ham and slices of aged cheese are accompanied by a salad of lettuce, tomato, zucchini and carrots, all served up with an Italian dressing, pickled onions and a zesty fruit chutney. A healthy and delicious meal.

Photo 10. Australian Ploughman’s lunch

Several houses that we sail past are lavish and sprawling. They would have cost an enormous amount not only to build, but also to maintain, given that all the materials have to be flown in by helicopter or transported by motor launch. Our Skipper points out cottages and luxury inns in some of the larger settlements. “What do they cost?” I ask. “Anything between $500 to $800 for a weekend retreat.” he says. “You also have to carry in all your own provisions, your booze, cosmetics, books, and CDs etc. There’s no TV or WiFi remember. If you like swimming, fishing or hiking, that means bringing your own gear as well.” He pauses and adds. “And...since there is no road access, you’ll have to hire a boat, if you don’t already own one.” Idyllic hideaways don’t come cheap!

Photo 5e Sprawling mansion

We return to Brooklyn around 1.10 in the afternoon after an enjoyable and informative three hours. The weather meanwhile has changed: the sky has darkened and the first fat splashes of rain hit the ground just as John revs up the car. We’ve timed our cruise perfectly!



For more information:

PHOTOS: by Margaret Deefholts

1. Riverboat Postman Booking Office
2. “Zarapito”
2a. Interior of the “Zarapito”
3. Anzac Biscuits at Elevenses
3a. Our hostess
4. Colourful rocks by the Hawksbury River
4a. &4b. Close-up of rock formations.
5a. 5b. 5c. 5d. 5e. Community settlements along the Riverboat Postman route
6. Mail collection and delivery at Marlow
7. Waving goodbye as we leave Bar Point
8. Our Skipper at the wheel
9. Doggies enjoying their Anzac biscuit treats
10. Australian Ploughman’s lunch

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