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Instructed Kayaking with Riverlife Adventure Centre

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by Rob Rimmer (subscribe)
A freelance writer and father of two, I am interested in almost anything the ever-changing city of Brisbane has to offer. When I am not seeking the kid-friendly and affordable, I am tracking the home-grown and the unique... Come and discover with me!
Published January 8th 2012
As my children have grown in years and in capability, so my preference for giving them new experiences rather than new possessions has become more pronounced. This preference is not so much based in moral conviction as in a common-sense assessment which any parent can make for themselves, simply by looking around the house for their favourite childhood toys. Where are they? Gone forever—with perhaps one or two sacred and potentially embarrassing exceptions. The best of my childhood is retained in the form of happy memories, and while some of these indeed revolve around treasured possessions, most are of discoveries made and experiences shared with loved ones and friends.

Direction : adventure

It was with such thoughts in mind that I began the search for His Nibs' eighth birthday gift two years ago, and was rewarded by stumbling upon Instructed Kayaking Sessions at the Riverlife Adventure Centre. So much fun did we have together, and so impressed was I with the overall standard of the activity in terms of leadership, safety, and value for money, that I decided that very afternoon to also offer Her Ladyship induction into the Order of the Double-Bladed Paddle when she, too, reached the requisite age. Every bit as brave as her big brother, and unwilling to be left out of anything which he obviously enjoys, Her Ladyship was never going to be a reluctant candidate for the experience. A few weeks ago, then, the two of us made our way to Kangaroo Point for this exciting initiation into the world of big kids' adventures. Knowing more about what to expect, and now confident in the stability of Riverlife's Hobie kayaks, this time I also brought my camera along with a view to sharing the experience with extended family and, of course, with my dear Weekend Notes readers.

Kayak's-eye view of the Riverlife Adventure Centre

Bookings are essential for all structured Riverlife activities, although kayaks, rollerblades, scooters and bicycles can be privately hired on a walk-in basis. While phone and in-person bookings are also possible, I had chosen the ease and simplicity of purchasing my tickets online and printing them out at home. The first step, then, was to redeem these tickets and sign our indemnity forms, after which the delightful Shirley offered us free sunscreen, pointed out the free showers for use afterwards, and for three dollars assigned us a locker in which to store our valuables—a wise idea considering the risk of these either getting wet, or even disappearing into the river in the unlikely event of a capsize. Although drinks were available for purchase, Shirley kindly allowed us to use the staff kitchen to refill our water-bottles, whereupon all that remained was to wait for the entire group of twelve to gather outside for a kayak-handling and safety briefing.


At this point the day's proceedings passed into the calm and competent hands of our instructor Tom. Although our fellow paddlers were a diverse bunch both in age and in origin—hailing from Brisbane, the US, and Japan, and representing every age group from eight to forty-plus years old—Tom's instructions were so clear and thorough that no-one displayed the slightest nervousness when taking to the water. Beginning with the correct fitting and use of lifejackets, and working through to potential hazards for small craft on the Brisbane River, all safety issues were well-covered, as were the basics of propelling and manoeuvring the kayaks themselves.


Provided that due care and caution are exercised, the whole activity is really very simple. The trickiest moments, in fact, arise at the very beginning and at the very end of the journey, and involve negotiating the gap between one's kayak and the steel ladder attached to Riverlife's jetty. Thanks to good instruction and to the remarkable stability of the Hobie kayak design, however, this was a transition which even Her Ladyship made with ease. Since this was my second time around, I greatly enjoyed the look of happy surprise on her face as she realised that she had made it onto the water without incident, and was feeling safe and in control. For smaller people, this feeling of safety is enhanced by the ability of accompanying adults to use the length of rope attached to the front of each kayak as a towing cable. Comforting for all concerned, also, was the unintrusive and yet ever-watchful presence of Tom, who throughout the session swiftly appeared at the first sign of straggling or difficulty to check that all was well.

The day is not without its challenges...

Out on the water

From the moment of embarkation onwards, therefore, little else remained to do except improve our kayaking techniques while enjoying the unique engagement with the Brisbane River which this activity affords. On both my kayaking journeys with Riverlife I have gained the same sense of wonder, and if the hush which has fallen over my fellow paddlers about ten minutes into each journey is any indication, I am not alone in this. Perhaps the sensation arises from the unfamiliar view of familiar landmarks when seen from this level, perhaps from a sudden recognition of the size and power of this mighty waterway when bobbing up and down upon it in a tiny muscle-propelled vessel, perhaps even from something primal aroused by this profoundly ancient form of transportation, little changed since the dugouts of the Turrbal people first plied these waters countless millennia ago. Whatever the case, in terms of my personal interactions with Brisbane's river—our city's first highway and life-blood of its history—I have yet to find the equal of this experience, which is at once gentle and exhilarating, relaxing and extraordinary.

The rarely-seen River Brisbane - 1

The rarely-seen River Brisbane - 2

As predicted, Her Ladyship's arms tired quickly. This, in turn, led to her becoming overwhelmed at times by the contrast between her own size and that of the watery landscape around her, with the cumulative result that I spent more than half the journey with Her Ladyship's tow-rope firmly clenched between either my teeth or my toes. I have never believed in gender-differentiation between my children when it comes to new adventures; in hindsight, however, I may have deferred Her Ladyship's initiation into the Order of the Double-Bladed Paddle for another year or so, had I truly understood just how great the difference was between her and His Nibs in terms of upper-body strength and endurance. This is a matter for parents to assess for themselves, as it will not necessarily detract from the experience for youngsters to be towed along—provided that accompanying adults are prepared for the extra exertion and diminished manoeuvrability involved.

The rarely-seen River Brisbane - 3

However, this extra effort was more than offset by the fact that, on this occasion, our group travelled in the opposite direction to the one His Nibs and I had followed two years ago. Whereas he and I had paddled up-river, on a course which took us underneath the Captain Cook Bridge and doubled back at the Maritime Museum, Her Ladyship and I scooted down-river to Kangaroo Point, on a course which took in views of Riverside, mangroves and mysterious moored yachts, before doubling back beneath the Story Bridge. Apart from new and different views for me, this also meant that Her Ladyship received a birthday adventure which was uniquely her own, rather than an action replay of her big brother's experience. Both these journeys have their unique charms, and first-timers need not feel cheated by either option, which is chosen entirely according to the flow of the tides in order to avoid unnecessary struggles against powerful currents.

The rarely-seen River Brisbane - 4

First-timers to Riverlife Adventure Centre will also benefit from some advance planning with regards to reaching the facility itself. Although Riverlife is idyllically positioned beside the river, on the site of the historic Naval Stores buildings at the base of the Kangaroo Point cliffs, this location also means a total absence of direct vehicle access. The nearest car-parks are some three hundred metres away, and given that they are in highly-frequented areas either at the base or at the summit of the cliffs, drivers should not assume that a space will be available this close. Better options by far include catching the ferry to the nearby Thornton Street terminal, or taking the Council CitySights bus to the City Lookout stop on River Terrace, from which Riverlife is easily accessible via a scenic stairway.

A location steeped in history.

The budget-conscious should note that prices for 8-18 year-olds drop considerably for mid-week adventures, with the weekend price of $39 for an Instructed Kayaking Session reduced to $25 between Mondays and Thursdays. The adult price remains fixed for all Instructed Kayaking Sessions at $39—still a bargain considering that this cost includes all equipment hire, instruction and a full hour on the water.

Stable kayak seeks eager adventurer...

With these short but successful adventures, I feel strongly that His Nibs, Her Ladyship and I have begun a long association with the Riverlife Adventure Centre. Kayaking is only one of the enticing range of outdoor activities on offer at this excellent facility, and I have eagerly read and re-read the list on their website which includes such fun-sounding experiences as Stand-Up Paddle-boarding, Night Kayaking, Rock Climbing, Abseiling, Friday Paddle and Prawn Nights and Saturday Paddle and BBQ Nights. In addition, Riverlife boasts an on-site functions kitchen, a range of functions venues, and is the main performance ground for the Riverlife Mirabooka Indigenous dance group. With presentations consisting not only of traditional dance but also such activities as fire-starting, boomerang-throwing and message-stick painting, Riverlife Mirabooka has won the Indigenous section of the Queensland Tourism Awards for the last three years in a row. Like most Riverlife activities, Mirabooka performances need minimum numbers of bookings to proceed; however it seems logical to expect that Queensland Tourism would not award such honours to groups whose events suffer from poor patronage.

A broad range of possibilities to be found within.

A further attractive feature of the Riverlife Adventure Centre is its location within easy reach of numerous free activities. A bike ride, a stop at the playgrounds and barbecue areas along Lower River Terrace, a stroll from the City Botanical Gardens across the Goodwill Bridge, or a swim in the Southbank Parklands a mere two kilometres away, can all be readily dovetailed in to a day or night itinerary which includes one of Riverlife's structured activities, or simply a couple of hours' worth of equipment hire.

I trust that you will excuse me from my labours at this juncture, dear reader, as perhaps we both now have an excursion to plan.

Discovery ever awaits.

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Why? Learn a new skill and have lots of fun, while experiencing Brisbane and her River as you never have before.
When: Kayaking: 1 - 2:30pm Monday - Friday; 11am - 12:30pm and 1pm - 2:30pm Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Naval Stores, Lower River Terrace, Kangaroo Point, QLD
Cost: $39; 8 - 18 year-olds $25 Monday to Thursday.
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