When I pictured kayaking again after a 30 year hiatus, I envisioned a calm, crystal clear lake, not the flowing, murky-brown depths of the tidal Brisbane River. So when my brother called me up a few days ago for a spontaneous kayaking adventure beginning at Colleges Crossing, I had a few reservations.
Drowning isn’t usually a consideration while hiking and even though toileting in bushland may be awkward sometimes, relieving oneself while kayaking on the river is a little more complicated. There was also the problem that everything could get wet, including my beloved, can’t-go-anywhere-without-it, Canon camera. Sitting on a hard plastic seat for a day also seemed like a good recipe for a stiff back and the world’s worst case of haemorrhoids. I’ve sometimes seen interesting things like large logs, drums and washing machines floating on the Brisbane River and the dim memory of reading tales of an enormous rogue crocodile may have slightly added to my concerns. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have quite so much imagination.
A day out with my only surviving sibling is a rare event though and while sometimes a little risky, they are always fun-filled and memorable. You can read about one hiking trip I’ve done with him in Karawatha Forest – A Refuge From the City.
In cases like this it’s best to remember these words from the Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling and just get on with it:
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”
So off we set, ready for a day of thrills (but not too many thrills I hoped). I became closely acquainted with parts of my brother’s kayaks before we even arrived. LB is not one to bother with trailers and roof racks when he can squeeze all his gear into a station wagon. I shared the back seat with the stacked kayaks, while LB reassured me, “You’ll feel like you’re in a lot of danger, Janey, but you’re not…really.” Here is my view on the left:
The water at Colleges Crossing Recreation Reserve appeared reassuringly calm as we unpacked all our gear.
It was then I discovered my brother’s kayaks are not the flimsy, unstable, hard- seated variety. They’re fishing kayaks – shorter, wider, heavier, with comfortable padded seats and plenty of room for gear – more like the cruise ship variety really. Despite this, I opted to take my cheap bike camera instead of my new Canon in case of accidents so unfortunately you won’t be seeing close-ups of birds or rogue crocodiles in this post. If you want to see beautiful pictures of birds and other scenery on Australian kayaking adventures please check out the blog of berowabackyard.wordpress.com . Her latest post has beautiful shots of a peregrine falcon eating dinner.
I managed to get in without capsizing the thing but if my brother wasn’t holding it steady, it may have been a very different scenario.
Off we paddled, intrepid river explorers, ready for anything. I breathed in the invigorating, slightly rotten smell of the Brisbane River, soaked up the heat of a clear blue Brisbane sky and felt amazingly alive. Gliding along the river reminded me of cycling but without traffic lights, hills and crazy car drivers. That’s me in the blue kayak.
Within 10 minutes, gliding turned into mad thrashing. After rounding a bend, the waterway had narrowed, increasing the speed of the current which was already quite strong from the incoming tide. With a strong wind on our backs we were flying along. This would have been very exciting except that a multiple arched, low concrete bridge just ahead promised to decapitate us. We’d started our paddle a little too late in the morning and the gaps were too narrow to safely negotiate.
As the bridge neared at an alarming rate, I turned around and started battling to avoid a collision and the possible removal of my brain centre. After madly paddling and not making any progress against the current, I wondered if I would be able to maintain my position until the tide turned. Meanwhile, my brother was also paddling like a crazy person, but with his giant build and massive strength he was making progress. Did I tell you my brother is a giant and I am midget sized? Look at his shoulders…
Eventually, I made some ground by going diagonally towards the inner bank of the bend where the current was a little slower. Now of course there is no photographic evidence of our little drama so I invited an anonymous artist to depict the scene from above.
It was a heart-pounding way to restart my long dormant, very short kayaking career. I was never in any real danger though as the kayaks are so solid I could have banged them against the bridge and scrambled over the top…probably. Another great sibling memory to add to the collection. I also managed to thoroughly soak my backpack with all that water thrashing. Thank goodness for ziplock freezer bags otherwise I’d be eating brown soggy bacteria-ridden sandwiches. Oh, did I forget to tell you that the water quality of the Brisbane River is quite poor?
After that pants-wetting start, I thought I’d spend some quiet time investigating an island of waterplants while my brother decided to explore another branch of the river to see if we could bypass the bridge. By this stage I’d felt a few bumps against the bottom of my kayak, but thought it must have been due to the waves lapping in a weird way. I also saw a large splash right next to my kayak and joked about the rogue crocodile. My brother was strangely silent and didn’t offer a possible reason until much later…
Within a few minutes of entering the water weeds, the kayak was invaded by 100s of tiny crickets and a few small spiders. Even on the river I can’t escape them!
It was peaceful on my little island in the river and if my brother hadn’t returned I may have fallen asleep.
LB battled the current of the rising tide to return and was in need of my island for a breather. Here he threw out a few lines while I enjoyed the tickling sensation of crickets and pondered the universe.
Just before the tide turned we headed along the section he’d explored. LB threw out his line again while I looked for birds.
We eventually made it out into a wider section of the river where I saw an Australasian darter. I wished I’d had my Canon for a better shot. The old $90 Olympus with a shattered battery case held together by sticky tape just wouldn’t do the job properly.
When the tide turned and the water was lower and calmer we returned via the bridge which had terrified me only a couple of hours before. It was a good reminder of how changeable paddling conditions can be on a tidal river. Doesn’t this look idyllic?
Even so, there was a submerged branch/log across the archways and only one narrow path that was safe for the kayaks to take so we had to paddle carefully underneath and lean back slightly. Here is LB after having gone through. The picture makes the gap look deceptively big.
My turn next…
After a great day kayaking we negated the exercise by eating chips and burgers at the Colleges Crossing Recreation Area kiosk. It was during our meal that my brother showed me a video of kayakers catching bull sharks at Colleges Crossing. The bumping of the kayak and the large splash may have been one such shark. I asked him why he didn’t tell me this before and he replied that he thought it may put me off. “Ignorance is bliss, Janey!” Apparently, he was hoping to catch a bull shark the whole time! That’s the kind of relationship I have with my brother…
I don’t hate sharks; I have a healthy respect for them. I just never expected them to be this far up the waterway! Upon researching bull sharks I found out they are unusual in that they can cope well with freshwater. Unlike many sharks, they are territorial and may be aggressive. They are listed as being a species more likely to be involved in attacks on humans.
I was surprised to read that bull sharks have been populating the Brisbane River since before the British arrived. The female sharks give birth to pups in the rivermouth and estuaries and the pups then swim upstream and live in the river for a few years until they are big enough to enter the ocean. While sharks below 1.5 metres are not likely to attack humans during the day and there are no recorded deaths in the Brisbane River in recent years, family pets have been taken and recently a thoroughbred horse being trained in the water was attacked. Although there are supposed to be signs warning people of bull sharks at colleges crossing, I didn’t see them.
As with all wild creatures, if we are sensible and respect the shark living in its own environment, attacks are rare. The sharks have only been sighted as far as Colleges Crossing and not past the weir. Dawn, dusk and night are definitely times to avoid being in the water when the sharks are more likely to be feeding and not scared by boats and other noisy daytime activities. It’s still not recommended you swim there during the day though. For information and a video about bull sharks please check the Australian museum site here.
After the day, what was my evaluation of kayaking on the river? Some of my fears were unfounded while some weren’t. Tidal rivers vary in conditions and they are more dangerous than a still lake. I expect they are more exciting though. As we found out, you never know what’s around the next bend! I would recommend always wearing a lifejacket but perhaps I am biased as I’ve never been a strong swimmer.
It was disappointing not to have a good camera with me, so if anyone wants to recommend some options or a company wants to give me a waterproof GoPro or camera to review, I won’t say no!
I found these fishing kayaks, priced at around $500AU, very comfortable and I’d recommend them to people with dodgy joints like me. Gliding along in calm waters is extremely meditative. It did remind me of cycling in that respect. There is a sensation of flying. It’s also much cooler above the river than hiking in open country. I sweated far less than usual, meaning I needed to carry less water for the whole day.
Finally, I’m grateful to my adventure-seeking brother for introducing me to river kayaking. I’m now at terrible risk of being thoroughly addicted to it.
For more information about the many facilities available at Colleges Crossing Recreation Reserve please check this site.
Next week will be the promised trip report about Wivanhoe Hill trails and heatstroke.
Thanks for reading.