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Noosa Everglades - the river of mirrors

autumn 12

 
 
FOR ALL ITS STUNNING BEAUTY, it is remarkable that the Noosa Everglades is still uncharted and unexplored territory for some of the most intrepid Sunshine Coast locals.
 
I’ve been a resident of the region for nearly nine years and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never explored the network of estuaries and river passages that form the jewel in the crown of Cooloola’s National Park.
 
But I decided to change that.
 
For day-trippers, weekenders and campers with a yearning to discover this pristine water wonderland there are a variety of options available from guided boat and kayak tours to self-guided canoe trips. My husband and I chose an overnight self-guided kayak trip and will spend two days discovering the veins of the upper Noosa River at a snail’s pace. 
 
We greet Vivienne Golding, joint owner of Kanu Kapers, on a glistening Sunday morning.
 
The sky is ocean blue stamped with animal-shaped clouds, the air soupy with humidity.
 
Our kayak trip begins at Lake Cootharaba, a shallow, tea-coloured lake that is the gateway to the Everglades.
 
Boreen Point is the lakeside town that is perched at its shallows and it’s here that we meet Vivienne and follow her trailer full of purple and yellow kayaks to our launch site at Elanda Point. 
 
After smearing ourselves in mosquito repellent and squeezing our camping gear into the belly of our two-man kayak, we’re given a briefing.
 
An Australian kayaking champion who has competed at an international level, Vivienne gives us expert tips to help manoeuvre our vessel with ease.
 
Vivienne talks us through the waterproof maps and points out campsite three – our final destination.
 
Plump in our life jackets, we bid farewell. 
 
My husband Steven sits at the front of the kayak and is in control of the rudder via foot pedals. He steers us out of the shallows and into the lake.
 
Lake Cootharaba has an average depth of one and a half metres and expands over ten kilometres. I peer down into the murky shallows to see the rippled, sandy bottom. 
 
The kayak hugs the shore as we glide past Mill Point, home to one of the earliest timber settlements in Queensland.
 
Scrappy paperbarks cling to the eroded bank, their exposed trunks resembling tentacles that escape into the water. 
 
Hidden behind a grove of silver-trunked trees sits an overgrown cemetery where forty-three burials were recorded between 1873 and 1891.
 
The first burials were four men who died in a boiler explosion at the sawmill.
 
Thirty of the burials were those of children who died of causes such as lung problems, wasting, thrush, convulsions or drowning.
 
I later read that in 1993 the National Trust of Queensland erected a stone bearing the inscription ‘in memory of the European settlers buried at Mill Point Cemetery’, and engraved the names of the people buried at the cemetery.
 
Swept up in the eeriness of our surrounds I suddenly look down into the water to see timber posts appearing like ghosts in the shallows.
 
Careful not to damage our kayak’s rudder we strategically paddle into the safety of deeper water.
 
The timber posts are well over a hundred years old and mark the cargo wharf site on Lake Cootharaba.
 
After more than an hour of paddling across the lake, we take a pit stop at the Kinaba Information Centre that sits at the northwest corner of the lake.
 
Educational posters of the region line the walls of the empty timber building, providing information on the history, flora and fauna.
 
The centre is equipped with toilets  and a phone for emergencies. Kinaba can also be accessed on the mainland via four-wheel drive or walking tracks. 
 
It’s at Kinaba where Kin Kin Creek and upper Noosa River empty into the lake and the Noosa Everglades begin.
 
The bush envelopes us as we glide into the narrow channel flanked by Kinaba Island.
 
Paperbark tea-trees hover over the river, their leaves dripping into the water.
 
The tea-trees, a melaleuca species, are responsible for tainting the water brown.
 
Banksias frost the edge of the bank and electric blue dragonflies play tag, skimming along the surface at break-neck speed. 
 
Every so often we stop paddling. The kayak slides unassisted through the water wobbling the reflections painted on the surface.
 
I finger the warm, brackish water, which cools my over-heated hands.
 
The world has stopped; even the bush is reluctant to make a noise on this sun-bleached day.
 
The only sound to disturb my thoughts is the swish of our kayak as it cuts through the water. 
 
After passing Fig Tree Point, where a number of canoes are pulled up haphazardly to the bank, and a guided boat tour empties with people, we stroke north.
 
It is wonderful to think that in 1837 Lieutenant Otter, accompanied by a rescue party, arrived at this very point to rescue a damsel in distress who would become legendary in these parts.
 
Eliza Fraser was captured by the Aborigines on Fraser Island and later taken here. There are myriad tales that surround Fraser’s story. 
 
On our way to Harry’s Hut, we drift through a slender ribbon of the river known as The Narrows.
 
We lift our oars to fellow paddlers in kayaks and canoes, who are all in good spirits with the postcard perfect conditions.
 
There is a group of giggling backpackers, three to a canoe, who zigzag up the river stopping to take photos.
 
Young families split into a team of canoes enjoy a gentler pace, where the parents paddle and the children sit daydreaming in the middle. 
 
Just after noon our kayak is secured to the jetty at Harry’s Hut campground, which is buzzing with people.
 
Due to its four-wheel drive access, a lot of paddlers with their own kayaks or canoes prefer to launch here to start their water adventure.
 
The smell of sausages cooking on a barbecue makes me weak at the knees as I munch on my nuts and apple.
 
Sticky from our paddling, we can’t resist a refreshing soak in the river.
 
More than 150 years ago this outpost was a hive of activity with the smell of men and animal sweat, billy tea on the boil and freshly cut timber.
 
It was a bustling logger’s camp where bunya and hoop pine, red cedar and white beech were felled upstream and floated down river and taken out by bullock and horse teams.
 
The original logger’s hut still stands today and was purchased by Harry Spring, a pharmacist from Cooroy, and used as a weekend fishing shack.
 
Today Harry’s Hut is a listed and protected cultural site managed by the Environmental Protection Agency and sadly is tattooed in graffiti.
 
With our campsite still another 7.7 kilometres up the river, approximately an hour and a half paddling time, we scuttle into our yellow kayak to complete our journey.
 
At the languid pace of paddling I have an opportunity to absorb the woodland bush.
 
I imagine it’s no different from when the Gubbi Gubbi roamed here: an untouched expanse of wilderness trapped in time with tales of history buried deep beneath the ground and entwined in the ancient gums.
 
I ponder at the handful of birds’ nests that dangle precariously on outstretched branches above the river.
 
The bird either has great confidence in its nest engineering or is scared of hungry goannas.
 
For a brief section of our journey a petite blue-breasted azure kingfisher flitters from one branch to the next before disappearing into the scrub.
 
A lazy turtle pops his head up from beneath the shallows, takes one look at us, and retreats to the depths of the river.
 
On dusk, with campsite three to ourselves, we sit on the timber jetty sipping on red wine, as the sky blushes pink.
 
My legs dangle in the dark tannin-stained waters of the river.
 
The whine of mosquitoes buzz in my ear and the distant grumblings of waves crashing on Teewah Beach, four kilometres east, fill the silence.
 
The river’s glassy surface is alive with insects spitfiring on the water. 
 
As the sun sets on a day spent at a dreamy pace in our kayak discovering the arteries that make up this blue water highway known as the Noosa Everglades, I’m left thirsty for more.   
 
DISTANCES PADDLED
  • Elanda Point (launch site) to Kinaba Information Centre – 4.5 kilometres – 1 hour
  • Kinaba Information Centre to Fig Tree Point – 2 kilometres – 20 minutes
  • Fig Tree Point to Harry’s Hut – 5 kilometres – 1 hour
  • Harry’s Hut to campsite three – 7.7 kilometres – 1 hour and a half
PADDLING POINTS
  • Wear a rashie and boardies, your shirt will get wet from the water that dribbles from your oar up your arm. You want a quick drying material especially if you’re paddling in the rain.
  • If you’re a keen angler, bring your fishing rod. We passed kayakers that trawled the river as they paddled and were catching bass. 
  • Mosquito repellent and sunscreen are essential. 
  • If you’re planning on camping at any of the designated campsites you must book a permit online before arriving.
  • Swim at your own risk. 
A self-guided kayaking trip with Kanu Kapers for two days is $130 and includes equipment, kayaking tuition and trip description. Camping gear is available for hire at $20.  Kanukapersaustralia.com
 
HISTORICAL SNAPSHOT
 
Mill Point
 
McGhie, Luya and Company invested 2000 GBP in the Elanda Point sawmill, a huge capital investment at the time.
 
The sawmill complex covered twenty-five hectares and included workshops for blacksmiths and carpenters, stables, a store, hotel, post office and school. Houses for mill employees were close by.
 
The boiler explosion at the mill in 1873 as reported by a mill employee  in the Gympie Times: 
 
“About half past eight on Tuesday morning he was proceeding to the mill after breakfast when within about 50 yards of the building he saw the boiler explode. He went forward to render assistance and met Phillip Molloy limping away with one of his feet blown off. Patrick Molloy was found to be dreadfully scalded, Charles Long was frightfully injured and picked up dead, Joseph White’s leg was blown off and he was seriously scalded (he is not expected to live) and Patrick Tierney was badly scalded also. The boiler shed was blown into ruins. It appears that the men had just had their breakfast and, it being a cold morning, were standing with their backs to the boiler to warm themselves; they had a slight warning, for a portion of the boiler began to bulge …”
 
words and photos kate johns
 
 
 

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