Situated halfway between big cousins Sydney and Newcastle, the region known as the NSW Central Coast could also be called boating central.
by Mark Rothfield
Its lesser-known waterways are perfect for powercruisers, offering a myriad of beaches and protected anchorages.
There’s Broken Bay and Brisbane Water for big cruisers while Tuggerah Lake and Munmorah Lake further north are shallow havens for trailable runabouts.
For boats looking for offshore fishing or a dive on the newly sunk HMAS Adelaide, there’s an idyllic ocean launching ramp at Terrigal Haven.
Broken Bay, at the mouth of the mighty Hawkesbury River, has a Jurassic Park feel, with eons-old trees and boulders spilling down to the shoreline.
At night an eerie quietness descends and the sky is ablaze with stars. Only the metropolis's glow and a procession of aircraft descending to Sydney's airport betray your close proximity to suburbia.
Some of the main anchorages get crowded during weekends and school holidays as Sydneysiders flee the 'burbs, though midweek you'll generally find only a scattering of craft.
Civilisation has its benefits. You can pick up superb fish and chips from Patonga then nip across to nearby Refuge or America Bays for the evening.
A shower under a natural waterfall in Refuge Bay is the perfect start to a new day, along with some crisp bacon on the boat barbie … but be warned, the cheeky kookaburras are known to swoop down and steal meat straight from the hot plate.
Cottage Point marina, on Cowan Creek, sells newspapers and supplies and just upstream there's a waterfront restaurant called Cottage Point Inn that does a roaring trade (seaplanes ferry in diners from Sydney Harbour).
There are ramps at Bobbin Head and Akuna Bay, but if you're travelling south you're better off launching at Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury, where there's a great launching facility.
Brisbane Water surrounds the city of Gosford, though early surveyors referred to it as ‘the north arm of the Hawkesbury’. The entrance is dicey because of shifting sands. You have to hug the Lobster Beach shoreline until reaching Little Box Head.
The channel winds 5.5 nautical miles to the main broadwater, branching off to Woy Woy and Empire Bay. It's not long before you find excellent marina facilities at Ettalong, Hardy's Bay and Booker Bay. Then you pass beneath the Rip Bridge, named because the tide flows through a narrow rock channel at up to six knots.
Brisbane Water is perfect for pleasure boating, as attested by the large number of moored craft. Gosford Boat Harbour has visitor berths, a public jetty and a ramp.
Tuggerah Lakes has copped bad press in recent years because the growth of housing is pressuring the delicate ecological balance. But a more picturesque place than The Entrance, home to a zillion pelicans, would be hard to find.
The waters are renowned for being benign. Indeed in the '80s a sailing catamaran syndicate set up camp on Tuggerah Lake to pursue the world speed sailing record, attracted by the promise of strong winds and flat water.
Tuggerah Lake joins Budgewoi Lake, then slightly further north is Munmorah Lake, a sand-lined waterway favoured by tinnie fishermen.
With such a range of waterways all so close together, it could take you a lifetime of weekends to do justice to the place.
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7:52 PM Fri 15 Jul 2011 GMT
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