I'm canoeing my way past a sea of purple water-lilies, their sweet perfume drifting across the calm waters of the Noosa River.
The sun is shining, and all I can hear are the splash of our paddles and the occasional 'splosh' as a cormorant leaves its branch to dive for fish.
The white of the Noosa Sandblow is visible in the distance, and I don't believe that life could get much better than it is right now.
These are memories drawn from a great camping trip that we've just taken with our two boys and another family in the Cooloola Section of Great Sandy National Park. Cooloola is an extraordinary collection of lakes, waterways and thick forest that lies behind the dunes of Teewah and Rainbow Beach, covering more than 60 000 hectares.
Cooloola is wonderful for canoeing, camping and walking and, before we had children, we regularly canoed up the Noosa River to camp at one of the secluded campsites on its banks. Ten years later, we decided that our boys (aged eight and ten) were ready to do some strenuous paddling, so we put together our first family canoe camping trip.
The easiest way to reach the riverside camping areas is from the privately run Elanda Point Campground, just past the town of Boreen Point. The Elanda Point boat hire offers a range of watercraft, including two-person Canadian canoes for $40 per day.
From Elanda Point, you paddle across Lake Cootharaba and into the beautiful Noosa Everglades. Here you can choose from a string of campsites along the river, many of which hold only one or two tents. Fig Tree Point is just 6.5km from Elanda, followed by Harry's Hut and then campsites one to 15 (with 15 being around 30km from Elanda Point).
The national parks canoeing guide says to allow about 1.5 hours to paddle to Fig Tree Point, so we allowed four hours, given that each adult was paddling with a child under 12. This proved to be more than enough time.
We arrived at Elanda at about 8.30am, got our canoes, and spent about an hour packing our gear into the waterproof barrels supplied with the canoes. By 9.45am we were on the water and paddling. By 10.45am we'd reached Kinaba, an information centre on stilts that sits over the lake.
After a quick snack and a look at the displays, we hopped back into the canoes and headed into the river system. We were rewarded with a spectacular carpet of water-lilies (the best in 17 years according to a tour guide we met), and the beautiful everglades' scenery that we remembered from our pre-child years.
By noon we'd reached the pretty little camping ground at Fig Tree Point. Despite it being school holidays, we were the only campers there, and set up our tents close to a couple of picnic tables. Fig Tree Point also has a composting toilet, a rainwater tank and a big open area (perfect for balls and frisbees), but it has no showers and fires are forbidden.
What it lacks in facilities, however, it makes up for in unspoilt beauty. During our four days there we saw a rich array of bird life (including yellow robins and spectacular wrens) and a bandicoot and goanna who came looking for food. We went to sleep when night fell, woke to birdsong, and enjoyed the quiet you only find in the bush. Quite a few other canoers popped in briefly, but mostly we were alone.
We explored further afield, paddling to both Lake Como (about half an hour) and up Kin Kin Creek (we spent about two hours going up and back).
When one day proved too windy for canoeing, we walked the 13.2km trip to Harry's Hut and back. This was hard yakka, but included beautiful sections of paperbark and cabbage palm forests. A 500-metre melaleuca boardwalk at the campground itself was also a pleasant excursion.
By the time we left, we were more skilful paddlers and did the return trip in under two hours, stopping at the historic Mill Point site on the side of Lake Cootharaba on the way home. When we made it back to Elanda Point, we all felt a great sense of achievement, and agreed it was one of our best camping trips ever.
Important things to know
- Read all the national park rules & warnings before you go.
- If you aren't experienced, practise canoeing (and give your kids plenty of practice) before you try a big trip.
- Get onto the lake early (we stayed overnight in Boreen Point so we could start first thing). A wind generally springs up on the lake by noon, and can make canoeing very difficult.
- Canoe camping is minimalist camping -- you will only have room for small tents, tiny stoves, economical food, etc.
- Fig Tree Point has no showers and National Parks recommends against swimming because bull sharks inhabit the river. We took sensible precautions and swam anyway, but you will need to make your own decisions about this.
- Canadian canoes are near impossible to control in gusty wind. We set out one morning and were home within ten minutes because of wind. Play it safe if it's gusty.
- Canoe hire isn't cheap. Two canoes at $40 each per day totalled $320 for each four-person family. But we all felt that it was money very well-spent.