The best paddling microadventures happen when you don’t go looking for them. They happen randomly and spontaneously.
Of course, your chances of a random adventure increase dramatically when you have some basic toys lying around like Bikes and Kayaks and Snorkels, but a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality usually solves a lack of gear problem pretty quickly. Here are some adventure tips on how to do paddling microadventures right.
# 1 Have friends with toys
On the Mid North Coast of NSW, we are lucky enough to have mountains, rivers and beaches all within a relatively short distance from each other. In fact, Coffs Harbour is the place where the Great Dividing Range comes closest to the Coast. This makes the surrounding areas a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s also relatively quiet as it’s off the main Backpacker trail due to a significant lack of public transport and fairly blank pages in the Lonely Planet Series.
# 2 Discard said book, find your own way
Inland from Coffs by half an hour along the Waterfall Way is a town called Bellingen. It’s a popular place but its real appeal is what us locals know. We can spill the beans on some pretty epic things to see and do that not many outsiders know about. For those of you that travel with Kayaks, this article is for you. (For those without, see tip #1 and #3 or for the ballsy/adventurous, get a LiLo)
# 3 Talk to the locals wherever you go
There are two main rivers in Bellingen, The cleverly and aptly named Bellinger River and the Kalang. Both of these rivers are excellent for paddlers, especially those with limited abilities and experience. You can access a great paddle from Gordonville Crossing on the way to Thora or you can go right up to the Thora store and put in there. (Head out of Bellingen towards Dorrigo along the Waterfall Way) I personally haven’t done this one yet as there is a pretty hectic gorge that swallows the inexperienced. However follow tip #3 and you should be right. Alternatively, you can start at the Bellingen Bridge and float all the way to the sea if you’re keen. I wouldn’t recommend this one for the LiLo as people regularly catch and film Bull sharks about half a K from the bridge and they are curious little buggers.
# 4 Avoid being shark bait at all times
The Kalang river starts in the next valley over from the Bellinger and runs all the way to the coast at Urunga where the two rivers meet like mating snakes to pour out into the Pacific Ocean. Up the valley, it’s usually a little creek alternating with long deep waterholes. However after a decent rain, it becomes possible to paddle as the little rippling stream sections become fun almost but not quite-whitewater-wavetrains. After following tip #1 and rounding up some extra gear, the four of us set out from Bailys Bridge, about 12kms along the Kalang road. We spent around 3 hours paddling, capsizing, examining dead wallabies and getting snagged in ‘Tea Strainers’ before calling it quits and hauling all our gear up a vertical bank at my cousins house to eat pickled quail eggs and pleasantly stinky blue cheese.
# 5 Eat weird food after a paddle, it’s less scary
To access the Kalang, head out of Bellingen along the Kalang road. It’s a narrow, bitch of a road and the locals drive like they’re in the Dakar rally so stick left and go slow. You can put in at most of the bridges and follow the river downstream for as long as you like. Most residents have Riparian rights so ask permission before traipsing through paddocks or camping along the banks. For the ultra adventurous, try making it an overnighter and make your way down to the sea.
Hitch a lift back to your car if you decide to do shorter sections. The road follows the river most of the way so it’s easy to bail at any time.
# 6 Avoid looking like a soggy serial killer and lifts won’t be a problem
A few other great day paddles around the area are:
A nice little estuary and river system near Sawtell, just south of Coffs Harbour. The tide rips out pretty quick here so make sure you check to avoid being a rapidly dwindling speck on the eastern horizon. Also a great place to fish and snorkel. Same tide rules apply, don’t let people think you’re a tiny whale as your ripped out to sea spouting from your snorkel.
You can hire gear from C Change Adventure Tours from as little as $20. They also do drop offs to some of the other rivers listed below.
A popular paddling spot. Lots of winding river to explore with unique intertidal species and mangroves. Great fishing with people regularly pulling out flathead, mangrove jacks and Bream.
Canoe Hire available at Mangrove Jacks Café
A beautiful quiet estuary just North of Coffs Harbour. A great way to spend the day drifting down to the ocean on the outgoing tide. Most days, you’ll have it all to yourself. It is a reserve so fishing permits are required.
A personal favourite. There is usually no one there and it’s the perfect spot for a sunset paddle. Lots of mangrove passages to explore and the opportunity to find an isolated islet for nude sunbaking. Head out of Urunga towards Hungry Head Beach. You will see a little dirt ‘pull in’ right before a bridge after the Footy fields. Chuck your gear in and go get naked.
As well as the options listed above, you can just pootle around in the river and drift or do a night tour with Bellingen Canoe Adventures. The Bellingen river is also a great place to freshwater snorkel as its intertidal all the way up to the bridge. There are bream, mullet and a fantastic mix of Australian Freshwater Natives. Watch out for Bullrouts.
Kayaking doesn’t have to be an epic multi-day white-water froth fest to be enjoyable. It’s about finding new places, seeing what’s around the bend and learning to go with the flow. It’s a metaphor for life really. There are times when we drift, times when we paddle hard and times when we go tits up in a tea strainer and come out laughing and happy we didn’t drown. Get out there, get wet and explore.
# 7 Be spontaneous, find your own path and be your own adventure guide