Crookhaven River

The Crookhaven River is a quiet estuary in the Shoalhaven that excels at producing delicious oysters and so much more. The Shoalhaven River gets the lion’s share of the region’s limelight but the Crookhaven River is a significantly greater contributor than its humble demeanour suggests.

WATERWAY Crookhaven River, Crookhaven Creek
REGION Illawarra, NSW
DISTANCE Up to 16 kilometres
TIME Up to 3.5 hours
START Bowling Club boat ramp, Haiser Road, Greenwell Point
GPS DMS: 34° 54′ 54.6″ S, 150° 43′ 54.5″ E
DD: -34.915167, 150.731806
FINISH Return to start
PARKING Small car park
TOILET Greenwell Point Bowling Club (opening hours only)
CONDITIONS Open areas, tidal, light traffic, shallow areas
FISHING Blackfish, bream, flathead, flounder

Crookhaven River Map

When explorer George Bass arrived in 1797 he didn’t find an open river mouth but rather numerous channels carving their way through a series of sandbars known as shoals. He referred to it as a “shoals haven”. That is how the Shoalhaven region got its name. Interestingly though, these channels belonged to what we now call the Crookhaven River, not the Shoalhaven River as you might expect.

Crookhaven River Photo 1

When Scotsman Alexander Berry arrived by sea in 1822 with plans to settle beside the Shoalhaven River, he found that it was too dangerous to enter the Shoalhaven River so he came in via the Crookhaven River instead. He thought that the two waterways were connected inland but found that they were actually separated by a sand spit that was around 200 metres wide. He solved this problem by cutting a passage through the sand spit that still exists today. The Crookhaven River and Berry’s Canal still provide the boating link between the Shoalhaven River and the sea.

This paddle takes place upstream from all of that. It starts in the charming waterfront village of Greenwell Point. There are several boat ramps available but I like the one at the Greenwell Point Bowling & Sports Club because it is perfectly positioned for after paddle refreshments.

The shoals that George Bass noted in 1879 are a great base for oyster farming and you only need to look out from the boat ramp to see that Greenwell Point is making the most of them. This little place is also the home of a World Champion Oyster Opener called Jim Wild. His shed isn’t far from the start of this trip so you can easily pick up some tasty fare from him while you are here.

The Crookhaven River is shallow in a lot of places so it is a good idea to paddle when the water level is high. Tide times for Crookhaven Heads can be found on the Bureau of Meteorology website.

Head to the right after launching and then hook to the right to go upstream on the Crookhaven River. There isn’t much protection from the wind initially so you need to be prepared for that.

Around 5.5 kilometres from the start, you will reach a junction where the Crookhaven River goes to the left and Crookhaven Creek goes to the right. The junction isn’t obvious because the river is immediately blocked by a tidal barrier under Culburra Road which is designed to prevent salt water from moving upstream into the paradoxically named Saltwater Swamp Nature Reserve. This protects a number of threatened and endangered species, including the green and golden bell frog. If you are reasonably fit and you don’t mind getting a bit dirty, it is possible to put in or take out at this point. There is also a small grassy area beside Culburra Road with enough room to park several cars.

Crookhaven Creek is a mangrove-lined corridor which becomes progressively narrower until wonderfully decorative branches reach out overhead before closing in completely near the Pyree Lane bridge 2.5 kilometres upstream. Brightly coloured azure kingfishers love Crookhaven Creek so make sure to keep an eye out for them. A close encounter with a kingfisher is a fantastic highlight of any day on the water.

Crookhaven River Photo 2

“There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.” Alexander Woollcott

EAT The Butterfactory, 739 Greenwell Point Rd, Pyree, (02) 4447 1400
DRINK Coral Tree Lodge, 142 Greens Rd, Greenwell Point, (02) 8294 6198
SLEEP Greenwell Point Bowling Club, Greens Rd, Greenwell Pt, (02) 4447 1111