Tucked away in Berowra Waters, and accessible only by boat, Calabash Bay Lodge is a hidden gem where visitors can’t help but unwind.
It’s Friday evening and we’re inching our car down a perilously narrow country road. There’s no phone signal here and the sun is slowly sinking into the horizon, stealing the light and making it increasingly difficult to consult our map. Suddenly the road bends sharply and after executing a near 180-degree turn we arrive at a riverbank. Carefully following the instructions we’ve been given, we discover a small wharf, half hidden by overgrown trees. We carry our bags down to the jetty and peer out at the horizon as the darkness begins to settle over the inky-black water.
The chilly breeze off the river is starting to make us shiver when we spot a small boat heading straight towards us, our host Manuel at the helm. The boat docks smoothly, our bags are loaded on board and before we know it we are bumping gently over the water, the cold wind whipping through our hair. I spot lights lining the water and, drawing closer, I realise they are coming from a row of houses clinging to the riverbank, seemingly half floating on the water.
My husband and I are spending the weekend at one of these extraordinary residences, accessible only by boat. Calabash Bay Lodge is a sprawling double storey house perched on the Hawkesbury River, less than an hour north of Sydney. With four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a well-equipped open-plan kitchen and two outdoor entertaining areas, it is the ideal location for a group getaway but, this weekend, we have it all to ourselves.
Night has well and truly descended by the time we get inside and we quickly whip up the meal that has been left for us in the fridge, pop the cork on our welcome bubbles and curl up in front of the chic eco-fireplace to defrost, before climbing under the warm covers in the master bedroom.
I wake to a room filled with warm buttery light and head directly to the balcony outside the bedroom. Throwing open the door, I am met with an endless expanse of water, the sun ricocheting off the undisturbed surface and filling the world with sparkling refracted light. Almost every bedroom in the house has its own balcony, but this one is the biggest and is furnished with a large outdoor lounge. It is here my husband finds me, two hours later, curled up with a blanket and a book pilfered from the shelf in the bedroom. At his behest I reluctantly leave my peaceful nook and head downstairs for breakfast. I needn’t have worried about tearing myself away from my stunning view – the dining room is bordered on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows, and we eat our breakfast surrounded by water.
I wake to a room filled with warm buttery light … Throwing open the door, I am met with an endless expanse of water, the sun ricocheting off the undisturbed surface and filling the world with sparkling refracted light.
After breakfast, we step through a hallway door that leads, not to another bedroom but instead, to a private bush path leading to Calabash Point. We are immediately greeted by the neighbour’s dog, Rascal, who guides us up the hill to the ruins of a 100-year-old hotel, abandoned by hotelier John Fretus who had wrongly predicted the government would soon be building a road that way. We walk a little further and are rewarded with panoramic views over the twinkling bay, compelling us to head back down to the water.
The property comes equipped with an easy-to-operate four-person boat (no licence required) as well as tonnes of fishing gear, plus kayaks and canoes for exploring the waterways. We pack a picnic in the quaint wicker basket provided, grab a couple of fishing rods, button up the boat’s wind protection shield and head out onto the water. Fifteen minutes down the river, we dock at Pelican Island, noting that we appear to be the only people there. Following the winding bush track past the old church (the Island was once owned by the Church of England) we spread out our blankets and enjoy a private island picnic among the trees.
After an abortive attempt at catching some fish, we head home for a relaxing afternoon spent curled up in the swinging hammock. As the evening air becomes too chilly to stay outdoors, I retreat for a bubble bath, perfumed with Australian botanicals products, before dinner.
While venturing to the mainland for dinner is certainly possible, we are reluctant to leave our little slice of paradise. Luckily, our host Manuel also provides a private chef service, boating over fresh ingredients from his own home, which is just around the river bend. My husband and I sit at the candlelit table while Manuel serves us a perfectly executed menu of pan-fried scallops, herb-crusted rack of lamb and baked kataifi, followed by a cheese platter and petits fours. As we enjoy our restaurant-quality food we ask Manuel about the 13 years he has spent living on the river. He tells us stories of how neighbours help one another carry in new furniture (home delivery is not an option here) and explains the difficulties of hosting house parties with 30 boats docking at one jetty.
Listening to his stories, with the morning’s return home looming, we discuss coming back next year, and express our hope that everything will still be the same.
“Nothing changes on the river,” Manuel assures us. And why would it? Life here is pretty close to paradise.