A self-guided tour of Noosa Everglades – up the creek with a paddle

Noosa is one of those holiday places worthy of repetition. Having just clocked up my 8th trip to this delicious corner of the Sunshine Coast, I can say that for certain. But repetition can bring about a vacation version of Groundhog Day, where another perfect day feels much like all the others.

That’s why it’s important to disrupt the glorious monotony with an activity you’ve never done before. This is a strategy adventure-buddy Murray and I employed recently when we launched off on a sea kayaking adventure to and through the Noosa Everglades.

Everglades are usually associated with southern Florida, which has them in abundance. There they come with airboats, alligators and Burmese pythons. But everglades are not exclusive to the USA. According to experts, Noosa’s everglades are the real deal: a tract of low, swampy land characterised by numerous branching waterways that are separated by areas of tall grass and wet-footed forest. There are no alligators or Burmese pythons in Noosa, but there’s a decent chance of seeing osprey, blue and gold kingfishers, pelicans, cormorants, water snakes and monitor lizards.

Calm water equals beautiful reflections.

Anyway, enough of the intro blah blah. Here are some insights into the hard core version of the ‘kayaking Noosa Everglades’ adventure. By hard core I mean paddling every metre of the way, from the moment you push off from Elanda Point on the shores of Lake Cootharaba, to the moment you (gratefully) arrive back five hours later.  There are easier ways to do this day trip, involving water taxis and cruise boats, but after a week of slothing about we weren’t inclined towards easy.

  1. It’s absolutely worth it. Before I touch on some of the discomforts, I want to make it clear that this watery journey is absolutely fantastic. You’ll see a pristine, beautiful area of Australia that’s only accessible by water and you’ll gain the satisfaction of doing it under your own steam with no packaged commentary. It’s an adventure that will live with you until you’re signed into the dementia ward.
  2. Lake Cootharaba is big! We did our everglades trip with Kanu Kapers, who launch from Elanda Point on the western shore of Lake Cootharaba. To reach the magical ‘narrows’ area of the upper Noosa River you have to first paddle across the lake. It’s a decent distance – about 7km – however at the start of the adventure you’re fired up and ready to shift some water. No problem!
  3. Navigation requires attention. As part of the launch brief, you get a laminated map of where you’re going. Thank goodness, because once you’re out there paddling, it’s needle-in-the-haystack country.  There’s also the risk of getting beached on a sandbar, because you wrongly assume that the channel markers are for bigger craft. Being a bit of a blonde when it comes to maps, I put Murray in charge of navigation and he did a fine job.
  4. Steering a sea kayaking is an art. I’ve steered a few vessels in my time and can honestly say that sea kayaks are pigs to turn. If you see a bend in the river coming, start planning early or you’ll be hanging with the cormorants in the riverside shrubbery. Whoever’s in the front seat of a two-man kayak is in charge of steering, which is done with your feet. The optimal foot push gets the rudder to 45 degrees; panicking and pushing harder because the craft isn’t turning fast enough doesn’t help – the rudder goes beyond the point of efficiency and you slide sideways instead of turning.
  5. Slow and steady wins the race. We entered this adventure amid a swarm of kayaks, most of them manned or womanned by people far younger than us. Their youthful energy was almost contagious, but we weren’t sucked in. By taking the tortoise approach of slow and steady, we saw everything they did and arrived back at Elanda Point on time. Several of them were officially late, running the risk of an expensive water taxi rescue.

    Everglades adventure in Noosa
    Youthful exuberance zooms past us on the river.
  6. It’s a torture test for insect repellent. On the water, insects are not a problem. But as soon as you step ashore the mozzies descend like an invasion of miniature kamikaze pilots. You’ll probably want a comfort stop or two during the day, at the Kinaba info centre or Harry’s Hut, but picnicking on the water is a smart strategy if you want to keep your skin intact.
  7. You can take your good camera. There are no whoopsies with sea kayaks. They are sturdy and stable beasts, so you can safely take your phones and a camera. Picnic lunches will stay dry too, provided you keep them in the in-built chilly bin.  When you reach the Narrows, where there’s virtually no wind and very little current, one of you can paddle while the other snaps pictures and shoots video. In some tracts, the water is mirror-like – photographic heaven.