It looks pretty much as you’re imagining it does.
After 3 days spent hanging around in Sawtell, dividing our time between the beach and home, with perhaps a walk or some fishing in between, we decided we all wanted to do something a bit more active. The golf that three of our members played doesn’t count as active.
So in between glasses of wine and hands of 500, we poured over the guidebooks and came up with … drum roll please …. hiring canoes on the Bellinger River.
We started with big plans. When we rang the canoe hire place the bloke told us there was a winery just down the river. Great, we thought. What better than packing a picnic, paddling the canoe to the winery, and tasting some local wines. We didn’t even need to paddle back. The bloke at the canoe hire place would come and pick us up afterwards, canoes and all, at no extra charge.
How’s that for service.
The only problem we could see was that it was a 2 hour paddle to the winery. Add in the 3 eskies we packed with our gourmet picnic and the fact that none of us really knew how to paddle a canoe and I reckoned on a 3 hour trip at least.
Eventually we decided to play it by ear. We’d just pack our picnic, head out to the canoe hire place (Bellingen Canoe Adventures) and see what we could do. Just the 5 us of. Along with 3 eskies (wine, beer, food), a basket (biscuits, rolls, cutlery & crockery, glasses), and a big waterproof bag (towels). That’s all, well, except for that one handbag, and three plastic bags (sunscreen, phones) and a bottle of water each. But that’s it.
We decided on 3 single and 1 double canoe, the double having more room to store things, and just paddle the 10 minutes downstream to the beach and set up camp. From there we’d explore some of the tributaries of the river, have our picnic, swim and just generally have fun.
Have you ever tried to keep a canoe straight? When you have an esky sitting between your legs? You paddle on the right and it turns right, then you paddle on the left and it turns left. Sometimes it doesn’t respond at all and just goes around in circles. The ten minute trip to the beach took us 45 minutes, though in our defense we did take the 5 minute side trip to the lily billabong (where there was only one lily out).
My last canoeing trip was ocean kayaking around Cape Tribulation with Doc. Although this was very still water, it wasn’t much easier, especially on the way back when we had head winds (well, a breeze, but still …). (BTW, what’s the difference between a kayak and a canoe?)
We got to what we thought was a beach where we could set up. There was a place we would could pull the canoes ashore and swim from, and shade where we could set up our picnic. My only concern was the cows slightly downsteam, swimming across the river. Yes – Cows. Swimming. Across. The. River. Not a sight I thought I’d ever see. My first thought was they had been talking to the cows at our farm (that is, the farm DOc and I are very privileged to be able to visit, not one we own) and were out to get me.
But they kept to their side of the river and we kept to ours. We had a swim, paddled further upstream, had lunch, paddled some more, and had a fabulous time. The only disappointment was that I didn’t spot any koalas along the banks (it is koala territory), but there were lots of birds and beautiful scenery.
As the others were out paddling and I was at our campsite with only one other person for protection, two cows swam across the river and came ashore right where we were. They were not in a good mood either – their udders were full and obviously uncomfortable. They glared at us like they expected us to do something about it, and mooed. Loudly. Just as well it was time to go. We put all the rest of the provisions in our double canoe and headed back.
Only to find that I’m even worse in a double canoe than I am in a single one. We went back via the tourist drive – that is, heading first to one bank, then the other, then around in circles while we headed upstream. Or is that downstream?
But eventually we made it back, with a few minutes to spare. From there it was just a short drive to Bellingen, where a big storm blew up while we were wandering around. What was there to do but retire to the pub, listen to the rain on the tin roof, and watch the lightning across the black clouds.