When the owners of a luxury resort-style estate on the NSW Hawkesbury River decided to sell, they asked agent Deb Cullen for her opinion of when would be the right time.
“Right now,” the co-principal of agency Cullen Royle said immediately.
“At the moment, we’re seeing a huge upswing in demand for lifestyle properties since people can’t travel too far with the COVID-19 restrictions,” she said. “So, everyone in Sydney is looking for retreats close to the city and, when the state borders reopen, visitors will be looking for domestic luxury as well.
“So, this is a time there’s just so much interest in properties like this. And, this one is very, very special.”
Sentry Rock Estate on the Hawkesbury River, with its six-bedroom lodge, clubhouse, separate manager’s home and deep-water vessel berth, is redolent in early history as well as more recent events.
The area’s surrounded by the Dharug National Park and the Marramarra National Park, dotted with Aboriginal sacred sites, as well as European colonial relics.
But the four-hectare property now on the market with a price guide of $12 million also has a more contemporary place in the national psyche: as the weekend escape of the late stockbroker Rene Rivkin.
He built the Appalachian-style lodge out of Australian cypress logs in the late 1990s as a refuge from the cares of his then burgeoning financial empire.
On a private stretch of the river, out of sight of all neighbours, it’s always been one of the area’s most sought-after properties.
After Mr Rivkin’s death, his estate was declared bankrupt and the property was sold for $1.9 million.
Bob Lapointe, Australia’s “father of fast food” – who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken in Australia, later to become KFC, as well as bringing in Pizza Hut and Sizzler – bought it in 2011 for $1.45 million, according to Domain Group data.
He renovated and extended the estate before selling it in 2017 to its current owners, horse-trainer Glenn North and his wife Louise Cordina, the chief executive of Cordina Farms, one of Australia’s oldest chicken businesses, for $4.5 million.
“We had a waterfront property at the time, but it just wasn’t enough space,” Mr North said. “I started to wonder if the best of both worlds existed – the space of an acreage but with the lifestyle of a waterfront.
“I couldn’t really believe what we’d found when first seeing Sentry Rock. You’re surrounded by thousands of acres of National Park that makes you feel a thousand miles away, but it’s only 30 to 40 minutes by boat to Palm Beach, Cottage Point, Berowra Waters and with access to the whole Cowan, Pittwater, Brisbane Waters and Hawkesbury waterways.”
The couple, in turn, added to the estate and listed it for lease on the luxury accommodation platform, Contemporary Hotels, where it commands $25,000 a week. Now, not using it as much as they used to, they’ve decided to put it back on the market.
Ms Cullen said it was already exciting a lot of interest from high net worth buyers. “It’s just such a beautiful luxury lodge, like a lovely North American lodge on the river, beautifully furnished, and with so much space,” she said. “It’s been a very popular place to stay during the pandemic.
“It’s so incredibly private, and has a fabulous clubhouse pavilion which opens up to the grounds for cricket, croquet and petanque, but you can’t see, or be seen by, any neighbours.”
The estate, at 5501 Wisemans Ferry Road, Spencer, an hour-and-a-half out of Sydney, is accessible by road, boat, and air. It includes a cinema room, a sandstone cellar, pool, sauna, spa waterfalls, pizza oven, fire pits and boat ramp, as well as what’s popularly believed to be Sydney’s larges private vessel berth at 30 metres – a World War II munitions barge floated from Sydney by Mr Rivkin.
Co-agent Trent Iverson, of Harris Iverson Prestige Estates, who’s also marketing the property with an expressions of interest campaign that will close on December 11, said the Hawkesbury region was undergoing massive growth from Sydneysiders wanting to get out of the city and work from home.
“These clients are looking for manageable acreages with privacy and seclusion yet still within commutable distance to Sydney whether that be by air or road,” Mr Iverson said. “Sentry Rock delivers on all these fronts.
“The Lower Hawkesbury has remained, up until recently, relatively undiscovered as we rarely see trophy properties such as Sentry Rock come to market. I have watched Sentry Rock evolve into a grand estate of magnificent proportions, steeped in history, and we are very excited to be part of the next chapter.”