We had long been intrigued by Wisemans Ferry Road. In fact ever since we wanted to take it as a back route to the Blue Mountains when we were travelling south from the Newcastle (NSW!) area and wanted to avoid both big roads and Sydney generally, only to encounter a sign that said ‘Wisemans Ferry closed due to flooding’. So this time we decided to drive the Road and see how far we got. It’s northern end starts just to the west of the main north-south Pacific Highway, close to where were are staying in Central Coast NSW. At the start it says something like ‘Wisemans Ferry 74 kilometres’. So quite a drive just to get to the ferry. After a while the road follows the course of Mangrove Creek (a river) and the the Hawkesbury River as they meander their way from mountains to sea.

View of the Hawkesbury from the lookout above Wisemans.
View of the Hawkesbury from the lookout above Wisemans. The ferry is round to the right.
The Hawkesbury is a wide majestic river with several substantial tributaries and which forms a serious barrier to north-south travel except at certain points such as the ferry and the Pacific Highway and the M1 where huge bridges have been built across the estuarine area of the river.
The boat ramp at Spencer on the Hawkesbury/Mangrove Creek confluence
The boat ramp at Spencer on the Hawkesbury/Mangrove Creek confluence

We stopped at Spencer, which is at the junction of Mangrove Creek and the Hawkesbury, for coffee. Clearly boating territory as the river is navigable for a considerable distance inland.
Commemorative tablet about exploring the Hawkesbury in 1789
Commemorative tablet about exploring the Hawkesbury in 1789

Saw a plaque that commemorated an early european passage up the Hawkesbury in 1789. Quite an early exploration.
The ferries at Wisemans Ferry on the Hawkesbury
The ferries at Wisemans Ferry on the Hawkesbury looking north
On to Wisemans Ferry itself, a two ferry service across the river that runs 24 hours a day all year round apart from a short stretch once a month presumably for safety checks. It is toll-free, which impressed. We crossed to the south side of the river where Wisemans Ferry (the small town) is situated. It took us about two hours to get this far including the stop at Spencer. We explored the area on the south side where a park had been created. We learnt that Wisemans was on the original main north-south route that had been built using convict labour. The route was becoming more and more necessary as people and goods needed increasingly to travel up and down mainly between Sydney and Newcastle and the Hunter Valley as these places grew in importance. The road was built between 1826 and 1836. From the south the route to the ferry travels down a steep escarpment with several hairpin bends and apparently took four years for the convicts to build. Solomon Wiseman himself was a convict and businessman (not necessarily at the same time) who was granted a pardon in 1817 and in 1820 he was granted a lease of 200 acres of land at what is now Wisemans Ferry. When the road was being built in 1827 he applied for a license to run the ferry, which was granted.
Road sign at St Albans on the Macdonald River.
Road sign at St Albans on the Macdonald River. Cessnock is north and close to where my great aunt lived.

We had heard someone talking about the Settlers Arms, a pub and ‘historic place’, so we decided to head there for lunch. This was at St Albans, 20 km further on on the Macdonald River. To get there on sealed roads we had to take another toll-free ferry.
The Settlers Arms Inn at St Albans
The Settlers Arms Inn at St Albans. Dates from 1836.
We had lunch and a drink in the garden at the Settlers Arms surrounded by a variety of chickens, hens (many with tiny chicks) and peacocks, which was OK if at times a bit intimidating. We discussed our options for returning. We could have carried on to the north to Wollombi and Cessnock (89km) from where we could head home but we noticed that it was largely a gravel (unsealed) road so we thought better of it.
The road north from St Albans was largely gravel - unsealed.
The road north from St Albans was largely gravel – unsealed. Quite hard work. Sorry for lack of focus.

Instead we returned to Wisemans Ferry and continued on the road south towards Sydney but intending to cut across to the Pacific Highway as soon as we could. This route took us through Galston Gorge, a stretch of busy but quite narrow roadway with a number of tight hairpin bends and from which long vehicles are banned (they couldn’t get round the corners.) After that it was quite straightforward to get back on the Pacific Highways and the M1 and back across the Hawkesbury River once again, finally arriving home about 5.00pm.
The area around Wisemans Ferry is worthy of more extensive exploration with Solomon Wiseman’s grand house now the local hotel, sections pf the old road still available to walk along, some old settlers’ cottages and plenty more. So we plan to return sometime for a longer stay.

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