Training routes for distance paddlers

Training routes all title distances are return loops.

Race paddlers should assume 8-10.5kmph

Woronora to Alford’s Point Bridge 20km

This route is generally considered to be club standard for marathon and Hawkesbury paddlers.

From the club or boat ramp follow the Woronora River to the George’s and turn left at Como. Continue past Oatley, through the marina at Lugarno, then on to Alfords Point Bridge.

The turn at the bridge is a little short of a 20km round trip, so continue up to the green marker about 500m past the bridge for the full distance turn.

The beach under the bridge at Alfords point makes a good rest stop in summer if you want to have a swim and cool off.

There are some currents to contend with in this section and it pays to join an experienced paddler to learn the route between oyster leases and sand bars. It’s simple when you know the way.

… to Picnic Point 25km

Building on the Alfords Point Bridge route, continue upriver to the Picnic Point marina. Turn at the boat shed for a 25km loop.

Some caution is required on this section during summer with power boats and jet skis common between Alfords Point and Picnic Point.

… to Holsworthy amphibious ramp 30km

Adding another couple of kilometres takes you to the 30km mark which turns at the large pontoon for the Army amphibious vehicle ramp. Very occasionally, you may come across the Army training in their amphibious vehicles in this area, which can cause some interesting wakes, but normally it’s unremarkable.

Keep an eye out for the Sandy Point Dragon Boat club who train between Picnic Point and Kissing Point.

… to the M5 motorway bridge for 40km

Beyond Holsworthy, you’ll pass through three bridges to reach the M5 motorway bridge.

Again the turn is beyond the bridge about 800m as the river turns to the left. There’s no landmark so a GPS will tell you when you’ve reached the 20km turn Point.

There’s a waterski club area in the 500m before the M5 bridge and it can be quite bouncy in this part of the George’s over Summer.

… to Chipping Norton 50km

Continue upriver until you each the first lake of the Chipping Norton lakes area. The 50km turn is about 300m into the lake which is convenient as there’s a power boat club operating in the small lake.

… and around the island for extra credits 52.5km

If you’re not daunted by a 50km paddle, continue out of the small lake and around the island on Chipping Norton. Watch the wind waves across to the island as they often run on awkward angles to the course around the island.

The 52km loop is a 5 hour return run for a strong race paddler or a mixed doubles crew. Like the rest of the Georges River system, it’s tidal and on a bad tide the return trip can take 7 hours. Check the tides. Choose your days. Take sufficient food and water for the distance. Carry extra clothing for the conditions that can develop in 5-7 hours.

The other way

If you’re looking for something different or want to get the feel for the conditions you’ll experience on the Hawkesbury as you do the final section from Spencer to Brooklyn, paddling beyond the Como rail bridge should be on your training plan

Club to Como bridge 9km

Not much to see here. The fun stuff lies beyond the Como bridge.

If you’re training for the Hawkesbury Classic, a run to Carters Island is a fairly good match for the potential conditions on the Hawkesbury between Bar Point and the finish line at Brooklyn. The water is open, exposed to winds and you’re up to a kilometre from shore. Beyond Carters Island, you’re probably exceeding anything you’ll see on the Hawkesbury unless the race is cancelled. Obviously that depends on weather and a millpond flat day isn’t an indicator. If you can be comfortable beyond Captain Cook Bridge in 15-20kn winds, you are more than ready for the Hawkesbury.

Learning to paddle a race line regardless of wind direction is a useful skills development. The wind won’t always (often/ever) be directly in front of, or behind you.

… to Tom Uglies Bridge 17km

Continuing beyond the Como rail bridge stick to the southern side of the river, the northern side is shallow under the rail bridge. If it’s your first time past Como, you’ll find that the open expanse of water is exposed across the entrance to Oyster Bay, and there are some strong tidal currents at Kangaroo Point. At full tidal flow, there can be a tidal bore on the tip of Kangaroo Point. (A tidal bore is a wave caused by a speed change in water flow). From Kangaroo Point you can either follow the southern coast to Tom Uglies, or cross directly to the opposite point and then again to the southern end of Tom Uglies.

There’s a Sandy beach just beyond Tom Uglies where you can stop and stretch.

… to Captain Cook Bridge 20km

A direct crossing to The Taren Point end of Captain Cook bridge is another exposed crossing which takes you across the entrance to Sylvania Waters. Boat wash and winds need to be considered before making a direct crossing. Leave your K1 at home unless the conditions are perfect. The maritime rescue base is located at the northern end of Captain Cook bridge.

… to Carters Island 23km

Make a straight run across from Captain Cook Bridge to the nearest point of Towra Point reserve. You’ll need to watch for shallows and obstructions below the surface before reaching the Sandy beach. Winds in this area can create small waves which can be surfed.

… to Kurnell 47km

Skip Carters Island if you’re going to Kurnell. Stick to the navigation channel and avoid the shallow waters between Carters and Towra Point. The waters in this area progressively more exposed as you proceed beyond Carters Island. Turning East from Towra, you’ll get a sheltered version of the ocean swell beyond the entrance to Botany Bay. This is for experienced paddlers, capable of self rescue, in skis and boats with bulkheads.

…bonus points

If you’re after bonus points for a 50km course, you’ll need to cross from Captain Cook bridge to the Northern shore and paddle past the entrance to Cooks River and across the end of the airport runway. Check the maritime website for charts to understand the significant marker buoy colours which mark no-go areas near the runway.

Sticking to the Northern shore will take you to La Perouse but will also cross the port entrances, so crossing back towards the finger wharf at Kurnell may be safer.

Port Hacking

Port Hacking is an equally useful training location although less used by SSCC paddlers.

Swallow Rock is a good starting point with access to a circuit from Audley Weir to Gymea Bay.

The big loop. 52km

If you’re up for a long, scenic paddle with lots of turns, follow the entire shoreline of Port Hacking to the Open Water Plying Line and you’ll find yourself doing at least 50km.

The short course which avoids any ocean exposure crosses between the north and south shores at the Bundeena Bar. That’s a good place to cross if you’re paddling anything that isn’t suited for open water.

The more adventurous crossing is between the Fisheries Centre at the Eastern end of Gunnamatta Bay and Jibbon Beach, which will make it a good 50km paddle. If the thought of crossing 2km of exposed harbour mouth makes you nervous, don’t do it. I’ve been out with several experienced flatwater paddlers who found it very stressful making that crossing when the swell was barely noticeable.

I could wax lyrical about the beauty of South West Arm, the sparkle and flash of the marinas along the northern shore or the views, but check it out for yourself.

Wally’s Wharf is another useful access point favoured by Sundo. The circuit from Wally’s Wharf to Audley Weir is a 20km round trip and like the Carters Island run, it’s a good analogue to the latter stages of the Hawkesbury. The course is essentially the navigation channel which means deep water, crossing from shore to shore, and keeping an active watch for boat traffic. There are two notably strong tidal flows. The first is at the end of the Bundeena Bar where the outflow from the Hacking creates some strong currents. The second is the outflow from South West Arm which is a cross current to paddlers in the navigation channel.

Night paddling.

The Hacking is a great night training venue. The short course from Swallow Rock to Audley is a good starting point to test out your night paddling skills.

There’s an urban legend that the Eskimos have 50 words for snow, which is untrue, but it’s equally believable that Hawkesbury paddlers would know 50 different types of darkness.

As you proceed upstream towards Audley, you’ll start out under the lights of the reserve. The opposite bank is bathed in darkness, but still clearly visible in the light. Setting off, the street lamps from the reserve will fade and give way to light pollution from the suburbs on the hill. The bush on the southern bank will lose its definition. As you pass the 500m marker, you’ll soon become aware of light pollution bouncing back from cloud cover, if it’s cloudy, or moonlight, if there’s a full moon. You did check the moon phases before you chose your night, didn’t you?

On a moonless night you’ll have trouble seeing the 1000m channel marker at all and you should be using a GPS if you’re planning to paddle through the fish traps. You can use a GPS with topographic maps, but considering the narrow channel at the fish traps and the consequences of getting off course, I recommend doing the run in daylight, saving the course, rerunning the course in daylight (following it exactly as if it were pitch black) to check you have it right, and then try it at night. This is instruments only flying and your mind will play games with you. Your senses will tell you that you’re too far past the turn and you’re about to crash into the bank, while the GPS will be showing the bank is 100m away.

When you think you’ve got it right, do it at race speed.

Wally’s Wharf to Audley at night

Night training between Wally’s and Audley is a solid prep for the final leg of the Hawkesbury.

Check out the article on lights before you venture out at night. All of our local rivers are travelled by power boats and you need to be safe out there. A light on your boat is required by law. A torch attached to your PFD is recommended. Paddle with a buddy and have a means to call for assistance if something goes wrong.

One of the bonuses of night training on the Hacking is the frequent occurrence of bioluminescent algae, which is probably the most surreal experience you will ever have without illegal substances being involved. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but occasionally, you’ll see a big fish lighting up the water beneath your boat.