travel

KAYAKING THE EVERGLADES

I’ve visited Noosa a few times before, but never had I been kayaking in the everglades. It’s something you’ll see advertised everywhere when you get to Noosa. That and surfing. So I decided to give it a go on my latest trip to Noosa.

I’ve been kayaking a few times before, both in sea and river, so you could say I’ve got quite a bit of experience. It was a last minute decision, so rang the day before. Luckily they had space and could fit me in. I was told to take my flip flops, a spare change of clothes, a towel, plenty of suncream, a hat and a big litre bottle of water. A full day, self guided tour of the everglades coming up.

The bus pulled up at 7:30am the next day, and picked myself up and 3 other German guys from our hostel, Nomads Noosa. We also picked up another German girl along the way. It was around a half hour, 45 minute drive to the everglades. It’s one of only two everglades in Australia. The other one has crocodiles, fortunately this one did not. Although the driver did warn us that bull sharks had been spotted nearby in the same waters, so it’s a possibility to have an encounter with one.

We arrived at Cootharaba lake, where we would meet our tour guide, and be shown how to use the kayaks. They were proper kayaks that strap you in, almost like a little canoe, rather than the sit on kayaks, which I had a lot more experience with. We were shown how to turn the kayaks, which is done by two pedals by your feet. We were given a map, briefly told how to get to the everglades, and what to look out for along the way. I was the lucky one who was given a kayak to myself, although I was soon to realise, I would sooner rather be in a two person kayak.

It was windy, and choppy, and from my past experience of sea kayaking, I knew what was to come. We were told to be back at the starting point for 3pm, otherwise the bus would leave without us, to take us back to our hostel. It was currently 9am. I knew it was a full day, but I wasn’t quite expecting a full 6 hours on the kayaks. Especially in these conditions. The longest I’d kayaked previously was a couple of hours, and that was always plenty of time.

We went to get in the kayaks, and instantly I capsized. Now if you’ve ever been on a proper kayak, you’ll know the sheer panic when you capsize, that your suit is attached to the kayak, and that you’re somehow not going to make it back up to the top in time. I did manage it, obviously. But with this being the first 5 minutes in the kayak, I decided in these conditions, it was probably best to stick close to the Germans. Safety in numbers and all that.

We set off. Boy was it choppy and horrible. Within 5 minutes of us setting off, the blue skies quickly disappeared and it started to chuck it down with rain. It hurt, it was coming down that fast. You couldn’t see a thing because it was bouncing off the water that hard, everything was just white. Brilliant! Choppy waters, can’t see a thing, never mind the Germans, and with every wave, I was pretty sure I was going to capsize. Again.

After a minute, the sun was back out, and I could see the Germans were not too far in front of me, and had held back to check I was ok, as they couldn’t see me either! We headed off to our first stop point, the Kinaba Visitor Centre. After an hour or so in the choppy waters, we were all tired and was all thinking the same thing. We’ve got another 5 hours of this?! We tied our boats up to the front of the visitor centre, and jumped out onto the decking. We decided to have a snack, drink and refuel. We had esky boxes with our food in, as well as our dry bags with our phones in, to ensure we were running on time. Surprisingly, after my capsize and the downpour, everything was still dry.

We got back in our boats, and carried on. This time we followed down a little creek, which was sheltered from the wind, so really nice calm waters. We had to get our maps out at this point, as we had too many ways to choose from. We all wanted to see The Narrows, which is typically what you see on photos of the everglades, so we headed towards that. We came to the end of the creek, and we were back in choppy waters. Luckily, this side of the lake wasn’t too bad, compared to the first hour we did. We managed to see a couple of pelicans, which are surprisingly big when you get up close to them. Without wanting to disturb them in their natural habitat, we swiftly moved on towards The Narrows.

We had been kayaking for around half hour, until we realised there had been no right turns for a while, and according to our map, there should have been plenty. We couldn’t have chose a better place to get lost, it was so calm and peaceful. The bare trees overhanging on the waters was a beautiful sight. We got all 3 of our kayaks together in the middle of the creek, to check out the map together and work out where we were. Luckily, we managed to pin point where we were, and also realised that we’d gone way too far out to see the turning for the The Narrows. Back we go, upstream.

We managed to eventually find a little turning, so we tried our luck and went down it. There were five canoe boats, with a tour guide, who were heading for The Narrows. Yay! We followed. I like to think we possibly could have found it by ourselves, without the help of the five canoes, but out here, everything looked the same and our maps weren’t exactly detailed.

We came up to The Narrows, which as I mentioned before, is the part you see on all the photos of the Everglades. It was nice, calm waters, and a lovely sunny day, so great for being on a kayak! There were plenty of people on canoes making their way up too. Every so often a huge boat of tourists would come up and we’d have to squeeze to the sides. Luckily, there were plenty of branches for us to hold on to, hanging over the water. The boats would always slow down for us and turn their engines off, so they didn’t make the water too rocky for us. After the morning battle though, I think we would have been alright either way.

We went for around 1km up The Narrows, and then we had to make a decision. It was getting around the 12pm mark, so lunch time. We could continue up The Narrows to Harrys Place, which is also a campground. Some people choose to kayak up the Everglades and camp there for the night, then come back down the following day. We also knew on our maps, it would take us a good two hours to get back from that point, if not longer due to the wind on the last part that we’d have to battle. We didn’t know how far away we were from Harrys Place, and then we’d have to have at least a half hour break for lunch and refuel. Rather than risk us not getting back for 3pm, we chose to head back to another island we passed on the way, which had some picnic benches.

We got to the island, parked up our kayaks, and had some lunch. My lunch was included in the tour. I was given a chicken wrap, 2 pieces of fruit and a snack bar, which I had already ate earlier at our pit stop. It was plenty to bring my energy back up and set myself up for the hard journey back.

Hard was an understatement. The wind had picked up, and the waters were more choppy than before. Wave after wave kept crashing over my kayak, and every time I had to balance myself out to not capsize. The current was dragging us towards inland, where it was shallow waters. It was a constant battle against the wind, waves and the current. It wasn’t my finest couple of hours during my East Coast trip. Being on my own, my arms were burning, my abs were killing (you twist your body, so it’s a good workout). It took us twice as long to get back. There were a few times I was debating jumping in and swimming back with my kayak. But then I remembered about the bull sharks, and I thought it would just be my luck to see one.

We eventually made it back to shore, and I’ve never been so happy to see our tour guide stood there waiting. I could barely move. Every muscle had been worked. We got back onto the bus and headed back to our hostel.

We got back around 4pm, and I could have easily have gone to bed to sleep, there and then. It was a tiring day. Perhaps a little too long on the kayaks, and my thoughts are we shouldn’t have been out in rough waters like that in the first place. They’d be better dropping people off closer to The Narrows, as nothing in the first hour is worth seeing anyway, in my opinion. The Narrows is good but I’d been kayaking in Australia before, and it all looked very similar. There was nothing particularly special about it. If you’re not physically and mentally fit, which you had to be in the situation we were in, then I’d choose the boat option.

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