If I want a quiet morning on the Hawkesbury, my best bet is a paddle up Mooney Mooney Creek. It’s a jet ski free zone, and that’s a very fine thing. In maybe ten jaunts on various reaches of Mooney Mooney, I’ve seen a handful of kayaks, a few fishermen and one very slow moving yacht. Unlike Cowan Creek or Patonga, there’s no sandy beaches for frisking about on, and the oysterfarms can be navigational hazard at low tide. But if you prefer hanging out with eagles and herons to spending time with humans in charge of powerboats, Mooney Mooney Creek’s the go.
There are really three Mooney Mooneys, for my purposes anyway. There’s the upper reaches, a pleasant morning’s paddle if you throw in tranquil tributary Flood Creek, lined with casuarinas and decorated with the blue and green streaks of kingfishers hunting (more on the scenes and ecosystems there in a future post). The put-in for that trip is where the switchbacking Pacific Highway crosses the river, though if you paddle upstream you pass under the highest bridge in Australia, a symphony in soaring concrete.
Or you can go downstream, towards Lemon Tree Bay and maybe on a low-ish tide, see, on every bend and mudflat herons feasting, and if you’re lucky, spot a wedge-tailed eagle soaring overhead.
Up there in the headwaters, you’ll often see other kayakers – there are sometimes guided tours to the area – and occasionally people camping, rather naughtily, by the side of the river. The Great North Walk, that links Sydney and Newcastle, via most of the lovely places along the way including Berowra (of course), flanks the upper reaches of the river and once or twice I’ve heard voices of hikers walking along the track or crossing the suspension bridge that spans the top of Piles Creek.
But I’d prefer to be paddling than driving and I’m a little bit lazy, so I usually put in my boat in closer to home, at Deerubbin, where the freeway crosses the Hawkesbury. From there I paddle under the freeway and past Spectacle Island, stopping off to check out the Mooney Mooney spoonbill colony, and then upstream. Once you get past Snake Island and Sailor’s Chest Point, there’s not much sign of human activity, apart from oyster poles.
But there’s plenty going on, even without too many of us humans around. Last week’s outing was particularly rich in feathery encounters. A masked lapwing family enjoying a day out by the water by the Mooney Mooney public wharf.
Comedy silver gulls ducking for crabs in the shallows near Spectacle Island.
A sacred kingfisher in the morning sun near her burrow in an abandoned arborial termite nest. She got so bored with me clicking away she had a nap.
A striated heron, one of the river side regulars, pretending to be a particularly striking bit of sandstone.
And further up the creek, the predictable but still wonderful sight of a pair of young sea eagles perched amongst the mangroves in the shallow waters of Fox Bay.
The young ones seem to be easier to get close to. A bit curious and a bit clueless, perhaps, about strange legless creatures that float downstream with the tide.
Even in the peace and quiet, there’s a feeling that all the inhabitants of Mooney Mooney Creek know about us. They know we’re there – mostly out of sight, maybe, but not entirely out of mind. The freeway passes just behind the ridge much of the way up the valley. You see it as you pass Snake Island, the trucks and cars appear briefly, lifted above the rocky escarpment. Sometimes, further up the creek, the wind shifts and you can hear the sound of the traffic.
I recently found out that the freeway’s original route went right through my tranquil paddling territory – along Pile Creek, to cross the river south of where the Pacific Highway runs. Right through kingfisher country.
But someone in the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the late 60s or 70s stood up to the road builders and just said “No”. No, you can’t build a bloody great big road right through the (then recently established) Brisbane Water National Park. We’re not having it. In the words of the surprisingly fascinating “OzRoads” website
And it’s not often you hear freeway builders say that. I’d love to know the full story of who in Parks fought the good fight with the Roads folk. Everytime I paddle up Mooney Mooney Creek now, I’ll be thinking about them and saying a little thank you.
Other paddles from Deerubbin Reserve
Up the Hawkesbury to Bar Island
For the ambitious, further in the same direction to Marramarra Creek
Into the heart of Muogamarra National Park up the winding Kimmerikong Creek
Downriver under the gorgeous if structurally challenged Hawkesbury River Bridge
Boon, Paul (2017) The Hawkesbury River: a social and natural history CSIRO Publishing