ADVENTURES IN A PUFFIN.
During a bicycling journey in 2005 from Vancouver to the Arctic Circle I spent quite some time cycling beside the Yukon River and was very envious of kayakers who paddled leisurely along with the current while I battled strong headwinds, freezing rain and sleet. We camped together
at designated camp sites on the river bank and while I retired quite early to attempt to recover from the day’s exertions they sat around talking until late in the evening. I quickly decided that kayaking was the intelligent way to explore the countryside well away from the noise and pollution of dangerous traffic.
UPPER NOOSA RIVER, QUEENSLAND, 8 – 16 FEB.
Earlier this year I purchased a Pakboat Puffin II and then made a plywood platform to bolt onto the rear carrier of my motorbike on which to strap the kayak and all the camping gear necessary for at least two weeks adventure in the outback. In early February I loaded the motorbike which looked alarmingly top heavy and headed north for about 85 kilometres from my home town of Caloundra on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for the Upper Noosa River situated in the beautiful Cooloola National Park.
The only way to access the mouth of the river is to cross extensive Lake Cootharaba. With a great deal of trust in human nature that the bike would still be there when I returned I locked it and left it in a wood beside the lake. The kayak took just twenty minutes to assemble and after paddling for a couple of hours against a strong headwind in which the Puffin tracked perfectly I could find no sign of the entrance to the river and the wind was strengthening creating breaking waves which were occasionally spilling into the kayak which I had opted to configure as a canoe by not installing the deck. In the far distance near the middle of the vast lake I spotted a catamaran which appeared to be stationary. I paddled furiously in its direction and on approaching saw a man tinkering with the outboard motor, I explained my plight and he pointed to a prominent dead tree on the northern edge of the lake. He told me that the entrance to the river was beside the tree. I finally arrived at the dead tree about one and a half hours later with aching arms to find that the Cooloola National Park information centre is built out over the river.
I was not alone at the centre; several noisy backpackers from the Noosa Backpacker Hostel were there with hired fibreglass canoes and were preparing to set off up-stream to the first camp site which is named Harry’s Hut after an early settler. I was not impressed when I noticed that they had cases of beer and were already partying. I quickly passed them and soon encountered several more canoes full of noisy and very tipsy backpackers all slowly heading for Harry’s Hut by flailing the water with their paddles. After passing them and overhearing loud suggestions that they give the oldie in the ‘rubber duckie’ a race I realised that all the wildlife for which the river is renowned had fled to the furthest reaches of the park for safety.
After paddling for about eight kilometres I arrived at Harry’s Hut camping ground to discover that it was already almost fully occupied by riotous backpackers who had pitched their hired tents haphazardly throughout the entire area and were busy lighting fires. Deciding that I would rather camp wild illegally and take a chance on not being found by a ranger I paddled on up-stream for about a kilometre and to my delight came across a deserted camp ground complete with picnic tables – I failed to notice a prominent sign clearly stating that the area was strictly reserved for educational groups. Within half an hour I had set up camp, put the kayak on the picnic tables and was busy cooking supper as the sun slowly set behind paper bark trees while I congratulated myself on my good fortune and listened to the raucous shouting of the partying backpackers in the distance.
Dusk was finally settling on the park when I heard the unmistakable sound of diesel engines approaching along a dirt track which led to my exclusive camp site. Through the trees I saw the lights of a land rover and two large buses which were slowly heading in my direction – my heart sank, I guessed that I was about to be invaded by more backpackers who had elected not to paddle to Harry’s Hut but take the easier option. They stopped at my camping area and dozens of boisterous and unruly school children poured out from the buses with large backpacks and carrier bags and took over the campsite. My tent and the kayak were starkly illuminated by the headlights. I stoically remained where I was and totally ignored the invading hordes. Any remaining wildlife had now fled from the park. I noticed that their five supervisors were huddled together deep in conversation, one of them detached himself and came over to me. Without apology for the rude adolescent invasion he curtly told me that I was camped in a reserved area, he had a duty of care towards the children and that I was to take my tent and kayak and leave for the main camping area which was now completely overrun by partying backpackers bent on making the most of their night camped in the woods.
Very reluctantly I packed my gear and trudged along the boggy path to the noisy revelry taking place and pitched my tent in a corner of the main camp ground resigned not to get much sleep before dawn. At sunrise the following day I packed up, loaded the kayak and slipped away from the now peaceful campground with its slumbering backpackers and headed up-river vowing never again to camp anywhere near Harry’s Hut. Fortunately, none of the backpackers ventured further up-river and I was able to spend several idyllic days kayaking and camping in splendid, peaceful isolation in the beautiful national park. On returning to my starting point I was relieved to find that my motorbike was exactly where I had left it and soon it was loaded and I was heading back home after a memorable adventure in idyllic, pristine surroundings.
BURNETT RIVER, QUEENSLAND, 29th JUNE – 9th JULY.
After a very busy semester at the University of the Sunshine Coast where I am a third year science student I decided that for a complete change I would load the motorbike with the Puffin and camping gear and head north to the central Queensland Burnett River and explore the upper reaches. As I left our house my wife remarked that I would be stopped by the traffic police for an overloaded bike. After several kilometres as I was passing through a small town and heading for a winding road that led up and onto a range of hills I noticed in the rear view mirror that a police car had pulled out from a lay-by and was following closely behind me. I studiously ignored it and weaved the bike through the hairpin bends occasionally glancing in the mirror but they were still close on my tail but did not signal for me to stop. This continued for about six kilometres and I fully expected their siren to sound at any moment proving my wife’s premonition to be correct. I was surprised when they suddenly turned onto a side road leaving me to continue in peace.
Much of the Burnett River is reduced to stagnant pools due to many irrigation dams and weirs but these provide many kilometres of enjoyable paddling especially on the upper stretches where narrow gorges constrict the width of the water bodies and where the wildlife is more abundant. As I was pleasantly cruising along a narrow single lane sealed road between tall eucalypt trees at around 90 km/hr thoroughly enjoying the traffic free pristine environment I was suddenly jerked back to reality by a solid, brown object slamming into the offside engine fairing causing the bike to immediately veer onto the dirt verge and the handlebars to oscillate wildly. With a rapidly increasing heart rate I desperately fought to control the bike and once back on the bitumen the alarming wobble began to diminish and I was able to stop the machine. Glancing behind I spotted a kangaroo bounding through the bush, I was extremely thankful that the suicidal kangaroo did not hit the front wheel otherwise the outcome might have been very different. The engine fairing was completely destroyed but no other damage was done.
One of the Burnett River dams called Paradise Lake is especially beautiful and when I was there it was 72% full and I was able to kayak for over 17 kilometres upstream between steep gorges and rolling, tree studded countryside. The developers did not cut down the trees before the dam began to fill and now just the tops are visible creating perfect perches for wedge tailed eagles, black tailed kites, egrets, herons, spoonbills, cormorants and numerous other aquatic birds. Leisurely kayaking in this lovely unspoiled environment alive with birdlife and far from the noisy madding crowd is an enduring and memorable experience to be treasured. For several years I have been undertaking long distance cycling such as across North America, Canada and around Australia and latterly have found the roads increasingly more dangerous from speeding traffic, large trucks and idiots who take perverse pleasure in throwing empty beer cans and bottles as they race past at the same time screaming abuse. Kayaking on pristine rivers and lakes surrounded by unspoiled countryside far away from the stress and polluting effects of urban living is a wonderful tonic that is health promoting and ensures that maximum physical and mental enjoyment is gained from every day. After ten days of exploring the lovely river and camping on the grassy river bank I returned to Caloundra planning to head south to New South Wales in November and kayak the mighty Murrumbidgee River. The Pakboat Puffin is one of the best purchases that I have ever made and has proven to be the key to aquatic adventures in otherwise inaccessible and pristine environments alive with bird and animal life.