It takes just 45 minutes to get out of Sydney and feel like you’ve switched to island time. You know this because the Ferry driver is the same guy who walks around the boat with a little plastic box selling one-way tickets. Once he’s done seeing everyone and having a chat, he flicks his long hair out of his eyes and chugs the engine into gear. As the small white ferry pulls back from Brooklyn Jetty, the span of the Hawkesbury River broadens and the little islands come into view. There’s grassy embankments, stretches of stone retaining walls edging into the river and fresh blooms of lilac jacarandas everywhere. Beneath the clear sky and fresh afternoon breeze, the way to Dangar Island could be the way to anywhere.
As far as a Sunday weekender goes, Dangar Island is about as perfect a getaway from Sydney as you could get and about as far away from city life as you could wish. The welcoming little Jetty leads you up an inclining path lined with trees that crosses the islands only cafe. It’s a casual mix of indoor and outdoor seating, very rustic and carefree which matches the pace and feel of Dangar perfectly. The tall overhanging trees and fat tropical flowers spill over the fence palings and uneven pathways, or streets actually; though there are crescent and street names signposted, they namesake charming little winding paths that could as well be called “the street with the blue house on the corner.” Apart from the rainbow flags and colourful bunting everywhere, the next thing you notice is the laid back, very natural and arty feel. The weatherboard and fibro coloured houses look the way you would have imagined them when they were built many years ago, with the only additions being rope swings and tree houses. Thank goodness! It’s the kind of place that if Starbucks showed an interest, you could imagine the residents would line up naked in protest and hold hands around the island.
Dangar is home to 270 people and is the only residential island on the Hawkesbury. It’s known as a peaceful retreat, a serene village community and by this virtue, is an equally isolated one. Our merry little group sat on the ferry mulling over the logistics of grocery shopping or running out of milk when we turned our minds to bigger challenges; a broken arm or getting a couch delivered. It’s for these reasons that many people stay for only a couple of years, when the realisation hits that as idyllic a place can look, sometimes idyllic looks better in a magazine. These questions are promptly answered by the tell-tale line up of colourful wheelbarrows you notice when you first reach; as cute as they look in rows of pastels, they are to help residents haul their groceries from the Jetty to home. Even though the community is considered the most northern of metropolitan Sydney, it’s these quirky little traits that give Dangar it’s very own unmetro personality.
There’s not a great deal to do there, and that’s precisely why it’s such a perfect spot to unwind without the fuss of flights and accommodation. As a forested island of about 72 acres, its lush and green and the sea views surround. Best of all, a brisk walk from the Jetty to the beach and back via the only club and you’ll have taken in much of the island. But even as you leave, the simplicity of this happy little hideaway will give you far more than you could possibly take.
Getting to Dangar Island
Once you’re on the M1 heading north from Sydney, the Brooklyn turn off will take you to the town centre. If you’re travelling by train, depart from Central and alight at Hawkesbury Station. The small Ferry Terminal is near the Brooklyn Marina and just next to the Hawkesbury Riverboat Postman depot. It takes only about 15 minutes to reach Dangar (except if the ferry takes the extra scenic route and goes to Wobby Beach first, adding another 10 minutes or so, if you’re lucky). There are no cars on Dangar, but you can take your cycle on board the Ferry if you wish to ride around the island.
Things to do on and around Dangar Island
The Hawkesbury River is abundant with spectacular scenery, hidden beaches and wilderness walks. As a river system, it stretches approx 120 km, circling much of metropolitan Sydney and is therefore accessible from many of the cities north and western points. Going downstream, the islands are Barr Island, Milson Island, Peat Island, Spectacle Island, Long Island, and Dangar Island. Hiring a houseboat overnight is one of the more popular ways to soak in the natural calm and beauty of the Hawkesbury region and its offerings of many things to do.
As for Dangar itself, the 3km trail around the island is the best way to explore its natural beauty. There’s Bradley’s Beach for a gentle swim or lunch at either the cafe or bowling club. The seating at the club is outdoors on a grassy patch that borders the kid’s playground, making it a perfect spot for grownups to play too.