Pirates of the Nepean (NSW)

Highlights

  • Canoeing for two days without seeing another soul, only 1hr 15 from Sydney
  • Easy paddling on an amazing stretch of river, with incredible scenery and wildlife galore
  • Wild river-side camping
Photos by Dave Avery & Phil Lee

The Nepean River flows for over 175km, starting about 100km south of Sydney and up to the foot of the Blue Mountains, where it meets the Hawksbury River. In early October a group of eleven intrepid explorers set out from Sydney to tackle a 12km stretch of the river for a one night adventure, taking all our gear with us and adopting a tried and tested ‘let’s make shit up and see what happens’ approach.

After a short 1hr 15 drive south west of Sydney to Douglas Park, we met Paul from South Coast Safaris on the banks of the Nepean, who we’d arranged to hire canoes from. After cramming as much food, booze and camping gear as we could into the dry barrels he’d provided, Paul gave us a quick safety chat and some navigational pointers and then we were on our way.

The Nepean River is amazing. Huge gorge walls rise up along the sides of the crystal-clear river, which is flanked by forest scenery which looks like something out of Jurassic Park (minus the Velociraptors). To add to the epic scenery, huge flooding back in June had snapped trees like matchsticks about 5m above our heads, making it look like some kind of alien lifeform had swept its way downstream.

Most of us were novice canoers, with some more navigationally challenged than others (aka getting their value for money by zig-zagging between every bush and tree along the way). Four hours of lazy paddling later, including a lunch stop on one of the river’s many beaches, we found a camp spot raised up above the river. After building one of the largest (but most responsibly contained) fires the Nepean River has probably ever seen, we ate like kings, including a cheese and biscuits course washed down with plenty of wine. Then like any great expedition party we shouted along to all the big hits from the 80s and 90s at the tops of our voices late into the night.

On the second day the sun was beating down and the river was incredibly still, making the 12km paddle back upstream very bearable. Aside from a very tense yet very brief encounter with a Red bellied blacksnake the wildlife was friendly and plentiful, with an endless supply of Eastern Water Dragons along the river (apparently the sign of a healthy waterway). Paul met us back at the drop-off point, probably secretly impressed that we were all still alive, and we all agreed we were ready for another river adventure with some grade 5 rapids soon.

Admittedly, the feint rumble of the M31 can be heard in the distance at one or two spots, but we didn’t see anyone else for the entire trip and for all intents and purposes were in the middle of nowhere. So if you’re looking for a cheap, awesome group adventure less than an hour and a half from Sydney then get booking and go, I can’t recommend the Nepean River enough.

Essential gear required

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Canoe (rent from South Coast Safaris for this trip)
  • Head torch
  • Camp food and a bottle of vino or two
  • Stove

How to get there

Nepean River, between Douglas Park and Menangle

Google location.

Canoes hired from Paul at South Coast Safaris for $90 each (for two days)

Activities

  • Canoeing / kayaking
  • Camping
  • Swimming

Skill Level

Beginner

Distance covered / Elevation Gain

24km (over two days, 12km return journey)