Getting There

Our next test of the kayak was to paddle up the Noosa River in south-east Queensland for a few days camping. The starting point for this was the Habitat Noosa campground on the shore of Lake Cootharaba and we set up our big tent on a grassy site beneath the trees for four nights. Our intention though was to only spend the first and last night here and use it as a place to leave our car and gear while up river.

That night was a bit of an eye-opener - even this far north, the night was so cold that we needed to double our cold-season sleeping bags with a summer-weight one to keep warm. It was good to know that, as we could add the extra sleeping bag into our dry bags for the river trip. There is nothing less comfortable when camping than being too cold at night.

Thus, we were all ready for our 3-day trip into the Noosa Everglades and up the Noosa River for two nights camping in the Cooloola Wilderness. The plan was to paddle up to Camp 3, 16.5 km upstream, then do a hike up to the Cooloola Sandpatch, and return on the third day.

Camping at Lake Cootharaba

Reflections on the Noosa River

The colours of Cooloola Sandpatch

It was a bit of a trip down memory lane as well, as 16 years ago, the fair Nello and I did what we called The Great Sandy Walk from the north of Fraser Island. The last two days of this walk included crossing the Cooloola Sandpatch and walking along the edge of the Noosa River. This time we would be using a kayak.

Day 1 - Noosa Habitat to Camp 3 (16.5 km)

I am writing this at Camp 3 on the Noosa River in the midst of the mixed forest that grows on the white sands of the Great Sandy National Park. One eye is on the page and one eye is on the brush turkey that wanders brazenly through our campsite, waiting for an opportunity to rummage though a dry-bag or suss out any food. These are birds with character. Down from our campsite, our kayak is moored at a small wooden pier, on the still black waters of the Noosa River. The river was our route here.

Morning calm on Lake Cootharaba

Passing Elanda Point

After inflating and loading the kayak, we had set out a bit after 10am this morning from Noosa Habitat campground on the shores of Lake Cootharaba. Paddling steadily, we followed the shoreline to pass Elanda and Mill Points, consecutively. It was a clear and sunny day, with little wind, perfect for the next leg which crossed the open chocolate-coloured water of the lake. Behind us, the blue hills from Noosa Heads and the domes of volcanic plugs framed the lake.

Hilly backdrop to the lake

The entrance of the Noosa Evergades

We made a bee-line for the entry to the Noosa Everglades, a system of channels, lakes, marshlands and forest. After crossing a shallow sandbar, we reached the Kinaba Visitor Centre. It was a good place to tie up for a short rest stop - no-one else was around.

Paddling in to the everglades

Waterlilies in an inlet of the lake

Heading off again, we paddled into the Everglades, where reeds lined the banks and vines drooped from overhanging branches of paperbarks, casuarinas and gum trees. The narrow entry channel opened out into Kin Kin Creek, where we turned right to reach yet another short and narrow channel. This brought us out into the wide, still water of an inlet of Lake Cootharaba. The tannin-black water reflected sky and trees in its glassy surface as we slid past banks of water-lilies.

Crossing the inlet, we reached Fig Tree Point, where yet another short channel took us into the broad Como Reach that led into a lake of the same name. That was not our destination, as soon after we reached the junction with the Noosa River and turned into it. From here on, there would be no more need for choices. I had been ready to use my GPS to navigate this section, but in fact it was well-signed.

Kin Kin Creek

Entering the Noosa River

Reflections in the Noosa River

Narrow at first, with quite a few snags and overhanging branches, the Noosa River meandered for a while, before widening into a long broad reach that led us a few kilometres to Harry's Hut. It was here, that, at the end of our Great Sandy Walk 16 years ago, we swam our packs across the river to catch a ride out on one of the tour boats that come up to this spot. No-one had told us about the bull-sharks then!

At the pier of Harry's Hut

Energy break at Harry's Hut

This time, we moored at the campsite pier to enjoy lunch in the company of a large goanna - its grandfather may have been the one that greeted us when we got out after swimming the river back then.

The river near Camp 1

The trip from Harry's Hut to Camp 3 was a pleasant afternoon paddle - the soft tinkle of the paddles, the lovely reflections in the black glassy river surface and the occasional song of forest birds took us past Camps 1 and 2, until finally we reached the bend in the river that housed Camp 3 and its low wooden pier.

The sunlight filtered through the canopy as set up our tent on our patch of white sand, changed into dry clothes and boiled the billy for a coffee on the pier. We were the only campers here - being on your own in the bush is good for the soul. Eventually the sun sank behind the forest on the opposite bank to leave a pale orange glow on the horizon.

Canoes at Camp 3

Contemplating the riverscape at Camp 3

Dusk falls on the Noosa River

So, here we are - the unseasonal cold is starting to seep in. It's time for some hot soup and our own rehydrated chow mein. A good sleep is called for after such an upper body work out. Tomorrow we plan to work on the lower body with a hike up to the Cooloola Sandpatch, a large blown out area of bare sand in the middle of the forested dunes, last seen when we did the Great Sandy Walk.

Day 2 - Walk from Camp 3 to Cooloola Sandpatch (13.5 km - 220m ascent - 220m descent)

The night was very cold on the banks of the Noosa, as expected. We kept snug and warm with our doubled sleeping bags, though the condensation on the fly of our tent was almost dripping (the other thing I don't like about winter camping). On rising, we hung the fly over a makeshift line and, by the time we finished breakfast and were ready to set off on our walk, it was dry. That augured well for leaving day tomorrow.

Swamplands of the Cooloola Plain

Heading off to the sandpatch

The forest of Great Sandy National Park

Setting out from Camp 3 under a clear blue sky, we followed the 4WD management trail for a few hundred metres before turning onto a white sand foot track that led eastwards into the drier heartland beyond the river. Banksias and grass-trees began to appear amongst the eucalypts and the path was lined with an understorey of shrubs - a few in flower, even in the heart of winter. With scatterings of acacia cream, pimelia pink and pea-flower yellow, it was a pleasant bush setting.

The track soon began a series of long and gentle switchbacks, which climbed up onto the well-timbered crest of an old dune ridge. As we followed the ridge along, we could see glimpses of the ocean above the greenery of the forest to the east and, to the south-west, gaps in the ridge-line trees offered views of distant Lake Cootharaba, Lake Cooloola and the marshlands around it.

View over the Noosa Everglades

Looking over the forest towards Noosa Head

Ahead, we could see the western face of the Cooloola Sandpatch, a tongue of creamy tan sand spilling out into the forest below. Soon after, we reached it, breaking out of the forest and onto this vast expanse of sand, resplendent in its shades of white, through creamy-gold to tan.

Panorama over the western flank of Cooloola Sandpatch

On the sandpatch

With plenty of time up our sleeves, we were able to do a short exploration to take in the views over the sandblow to Lake Cootharaba and, in the other direction, over the sand to the blue Pacific Ocean. From one point, you could even see Noosa Heads and its houses, 23 km to the south. The Cooloola Sandpatch was a very pleasant place to while away the time.

Panorama of the eatern flank of the Cooloola Sandpatch

Lake Cootharaba and The Noosa Everglades from Cooloola Sandpatch

Eventually, we left to retrace our steps back along the high dune ridge and down to the flats of the Cooloola hinterland back to Camp 3. It was a quick trip and we arrived in time to soak up the afternoon sun on the banks of the river - no better way to finish off a nice walk in the Cooloola Wilderness.

Relaxing in the late afternoon sunshine

Evening reflection at Camp 3

As the sun was setting, the fair Nello, using her hearing superpower, picked up the sound of human voices. Five minutes later, four canoes rounded the bend and pulled into the pier. Tonight we would not be alone - still, they were a jovial lot, even finding it amusing when the brush turkey ran off with one of their food bags.

Day 3 - Camp 3 to Noosa Habitat (16.5 km)

The cold nights and warm clear days continued for our return trip, with a low early morning mist hovering over the glassy surface of the river. It was just as nice as the trip up, with the river's reflections providing an ongoing kaleidoscope of the landscape.

Early morning mist on the river

Setting off for home ...

... to enjoy the river reflections once more

The only change we noticed was the increased frequency of gusted ripples on the river surface in the more open reaches. The wind was stronger than when we had paddled over.

Lilypads on Lake Coothooraba

The exit channel from the Everglades

In the Noosa Everglades

This only proved an issue once we left the Everglades area and began to cross the open water of Lake Cootharaba. Here, we found ourselves paddling into the wind-waves. It was a steady and tiring bit of work before we finally reached the calmer shoreline of Noosa Habitat camp and pulled in.

It had been a great trip and, once again, our inflatable kayak had performed well with its load of dry bags strapped on. It's proved a good way to vary our outdoor adventures.

Exit channel back into the lake

It has long been our custom to celebrate the end of a walk with a nice cold beer. Noosa Habitat, with its own microbrewery, was the perfect spot and we were able to each try a tasting slab of four of their brews. It was an excellent way to do this, as the fair Nello is partial to a lager, while I like a nice pale ale.