Hidden North-West of Sydney is the mountain-surrounded Macdonald Valley. Though small, this is a beautiful area with a proud community of locals who enjoy the secluded open spaces of this stunning valley in the upper-Hawkesbury region. Sitting on Dharug land, it is also an area rich with Indigenous and European history.
Perfect for a weekend trip, jump in the car and head to the Wisemans Ferry township to begin your 42-kilometre loop around the Macdonald River. You’ll want to stop for a coffee at Heritage Valley Café which has a lovely view of the river.
There are two vehicular ferries that run 24-hours a day to travel across the river to the Macdonald Valley. You can complete the circuit from either ferry – we chose to take the Webbs Creek Ferry.
After driving off the ferry, you’ll begin the journey along this winding road.
St Albans Road hugs the Macdonald River, which in recent years has flooded to record levels. It is truly impressive to see the resilience of the locals, and the evidence of the flood.
Enjoy the rolling hills that surround you as you twist and turn around the historic area. Look closely and you’ll spot many sandstone buildings and old converted churches.
One of these is the impressive St Joseph’s Guesthouse and Function Venue, which you’ll spot on the south side of the river. Renovated from the ruins of a 160-year-old church, this venue is a beautifully kept venue perfect for a slow-paced weekend or even a wedding.
Cross the river at the heritage-listed Macdonald River Bridge. This crossing was completed in 1903 and is a timber truss bridge – common during that era. It certainly makes for a great photo as you enter the National Trust township of St Albans.
Immediately on your right, you’ll find the Settlers Arms Inn. This historic sandstone inn was established in 1836 and remains licensed to this day. Treat yourself to their much-loved Wagyu Beef Pie and date and ginger pudding. You might even spot a peacock or two.
If you’re visiting on between Friday and Sunday, The Pickled Wombat is another favourite place to tuck into a cake or tart.
Head towards Wisemans Ferry, this time along Settlers Road which hugs the other side of the river to the road you came in on. We love this circuit because you get to experience the valley from both sides of the river. Each side offers a completely different perspective – and after all, you can never get sick of mountains.
Along this road you’ll pass the Old General Cemetery and Wellums Lake which each make for a lovely photo. Keep an eye out for many old bridges too.
The final place to stop is the Convict Trail which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Great North Road, which historically linked Sydney to the Hunter Valley. Built in the 1830s by convicts, the road remains in great condition, allowing you to enjoy this engineering feat.
This is an incredible and educational walk worth saving your energy for. In partnership with UNESCO, NSW National Parks has created a self-guided tour along the road. You can read about the history of the road, the stories of convicts who worked on the road as well as the Indigenous history of the area. Continue along the track for as long as you wish.
For the keen hikers, there is a loop walk that allows you to see more of the original road used. And of course, you’ll enjoy splendid views of the Macdonald Valley from yet another perspective.
Finally, hop back on the car ferry to Wisemans Ferry and enjoy a meal at the Wisemans Ferry Inn Hotel, another historic building built in the early 1800s. If you love the area, why not extend your stay and wind down at the gorgeous Retreat at Wisemans.
And just like that, you’ve spent the perfect weekend out along the Hawkesbury River.