A Micro-hike to Dead Horse Bay

Leaving fresh produce in a car on a hot Aussie afternoon is always a gamble. One we decided to wager as we had planned a micro-adventure to take a dip in the unfortunately named Dead Horse Bay.


A Google search gave no clue as to the origin of the Bay’s name but one could imagine it was the last resting ground for a noble steed partial to a beach and saltwater swim. Having hiked the Brooklyn to Cowan trail a few times and on each occasion glanced wishfully down at the cool water lapping at the small stretch of sand below, I was looking forward to a refreshing dip on this secluded beach only reached by boat or 10min bush walk.

I collected Mark after he had finished an afternoon off at The Brooklyn Tuckshop; an anomaly of a café for the area it’s in, where you can enjoy beautiful filter coffee and the most deluxe of cheese toasties – we’re talking Pepe Saya butter, Guryère cheese and artisan sourdough bread. The dinner ingredients I had schlepped on the train to meet him were stowed in his car after a quick debate concerning the hot summer afternoon versus perishable vegetables.

We set off on what we thought was the trail, slipping up rocks, only finding the marked track halfway en route. Our legs well scratched by overgrowth, we arrived to find our destination not as picturesque as imagined. A lonely locked youth club boat shed, dirty sand and a damp ferny bush setting surrounded us as we dropped our towels and looked around. Ah, the beauty of disappointed expectations.

Mark was super keen to test out his newly acquired 1984 Nikonos camera and spotting an old photogenic barn shaped boat in the distance we decided it to be the perfect swimming goal. The water was cooler than we liked, so taking deep breathes we entered the dank water and proceeded to pretend to be experts at underwater film photography, regardless of the 30cm visibility.

After the novelty of holding our breath underneath the muddy water wore off, we decided that really there was no water visibility so we set our sights on the barn boat and started to swim. It seemed at the same time both our aquatic bravados disappeared as the muddled textured water induced danger-filled imaginings as to the probability of sharks. Our conversation speculating about the design of the barn boat quickly changed to a shark themed one…

”Hey, so do you think there are sharks in this water Mark?

“Ah I can tell you when we make it back to shore if you like”

“So are you saying there are sharks”

“I’ll tell you a story later…”

Suddenly the barn boat seemed an unnecessarily long swim away and the murky water increased its sea-monster creepiness. A patch of unseen seaweed ribbons swathed around us and provided all the prompting needed for us to bail on our adventure and swim as fast as we could back to safety. As we exited the water, the shore slimy underfoot, Mark recounted a story he had been told earlier that day which included the elements of canoes, bull sharks and ended on the solemn advice of not ever swimming in the Hawkesbury. We dried ourselves off, the water leaving us sticky and smelling like fermenting bush vegetation.

On our hike back we agreed that we would not visit Dead Horse Bay again, this resolution further strengthened upon finding our cauliflower limp, brown and par-cooked in the car.

Author's note: Months later, regardless of our oath, we ventured back to Dead Horse Bay. It was as odd as we remembered, the barn boat still floating amidst the murky water. I convinced Mark to take another dip to re-shoot some photos as our film hadn't worked out from our first trip. According to Mark the water was warmer this time and quite refreshing. The following day, as we were making our way down to the studio to finish a long list of cup orders, Mark took a detour via the doctors because his left ear was fully blocked with that semi-salty murky water. Dead Horse Bay again treating us to a second underwhelming experience.