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Lifestyle : Harbour
1HERSA1 S008 Christmas Events, Wedding Ceremonies and Receptions on Sydney Harbour in Style!! "The Elite Cruise Company" is the most Luxurious Venue today. Also NEW YEARS EVE 2010, Limited Tickets available see our Website for details, the best view point to see Sydney's Fireworks!!! www.elitecruise.com.au • www.blueroomsydneyharbour.com.au • 1300 800 266 8 HARBOUR Friday, November 19, 2010 smh.com.au From convicts to cruising A former haven for escapees, Brisbane Waters is now a tranquil retreat, writes Melinda Ham. Go your own way . . . a houseboat is one of the best ways to see the area. This isn't the swinging '70s, when you lived on a houseboat on top of one another. Ours sleeps 10 people, with LCD TVs and six-burner barbecues.' Eleanor O'Neill, Central Coast Houseboat Holidays Once a hideaway for escaped convicts and now the heart of the central coast, Brisbane Water is one of NSW's quiet inland waterways. It has a harmonious mix of urban development interspersed with national park and former fishing and ship-building villages. Gosford, Woy Woy and Ettalong are the main central coast towns, while the 12,000-hectare Brisbane Water National Park and villages such as Wagstaffe, Hardys Bay, Kincumber and Davistown, in the west and south-east, have more than 150 years of history. Named after former governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, it's an area that's easy to access -- less than an hour north of Sydney's city centre by car, or you can get to Ettalong on the Fantasea ferries from Palm Beach. And once you're there, exploring the area by kayak, houseboat or tinnie is immense fun. Archaeological evidence suggests Guringai people have lived and travelled around the Brisbane Water area for more than 10,000 years and many towns bear names in their language. For example, Woy Woy means ''big lagoon'' and Ettalong ''drinking place'', while south of Woy Woy is the Bulgandry etching site that depicts men, women, kangaroos and canoes. Governor Arthur Phillip explored Sydney's northern beaches to Broken Bay in 1788 and called Brisbane Water ''the north-east arm''. For decades afterwards it was a haven for escaped convicts and smugglers, until the first settlers came to the area in the early 1820s. They collected shells from Aboriginal middens, sending them to Sydney to burn into lime for the building industry. Timber cutters began clearing the abundant Australian red cedars, forest oaks and gum forests to supply the burgeoning boat-building industries, especially at Davistown, while other settlers established market gardens and citrus orchards as well as the first oyster leases. This history is kept alive with Ettalong's annual oyster festival and Davistown's wooden boat festival. Tourists started flocking from Sydney to the area in 1888 with the completion of the Sydney to Newcastle railway and, when the Pacific Highway reached Gosford in 1930, the area really opened up to settlement and tourism. With remarkable foresight, some of the natural habitat was preserved with the creation of the Brisbane Water National Park, which today is home to 270 native species, including threatened and rare animals such as the koala, bandicoot, potoroo and more than 150 bird species. To totally envelop yourself and your family in Brisbane Water, one of the best ways is to live and sleep on the water for a weekend or a week by hiring a houseboat. Eleanor and Jerry O'Neill run Central Coast Houseboat Holidays. ''This isn't the swinging '70s, when you lived on a houseboat on top of one another,'' Eleanor says. ''Ours sleeps 10 people comfortably, with LCD TVs and six-burner barbecues, and linen and towels provided.'' Kayaks and fishing rods are also available. The O'Neills teach you to drive the boat (no boat licence is required) and tell you about the best places to moor at night, local restaurants and clubs, excellent picnic spots and beaches. ''Most clients use the boat as a base to explore Brisbane Water,'' Eleanor says. On the water, you'll see abundant bird life -- pelicans, cormorants and cranes -- and enjoy magnificent sunsets and sunrises. For more information, see houseboathols.com.au. Ron Osman is a local. He grew up in Gosford and has had his own tinnie since he was 13 years old, so fishing is second nature for him and Brisbane Water is his extended backyard. With Estuary Fishing Tours, Osman will take you out in his six- metre former commercial fishing boat to catch mostly bream, flathead and whiting and he'll provide the fishing licence, rods and bait you'll need, as well as clean your take-home catch for you. ''We use squid and prawns and any live bait we catch and, if you bring the kids, we can stop at a beach and have a swim or a picnic,'' he says. For more information, see estuaryfishingtours.com.au. Glenn Hartley, a former policeman, has a passion for kayaking and has been running his Xterra Kayaking Adventures tours around Brisbane Water for eight years. Most of his clients are inexperienced and choose the half- day tour, in which they learn the basics of paddling in about three hours. ''We start off at a pace that is comfortable for everyone,'' Hartley says. ''We leave civilisation and then travel from Brisbane Water into the national park and then Woy Woy Bay. With a kayak, you can go up creeks in only a few inches of water. It's like bushwalking but not nearly as tiring.'' Clients can also choose a full-day paddle in which they cover about 12 to 13 kilometres and Glenn puts on a barbecue lunch. For the more adventurous, there's an overnighter, camping in Broadwater just off Brisbane Water, carrying all your gear in the kayaks. For more information, see xterra.com.au. SPECIAL REPORT