Paddling the river of mirrors
'The spot to head if you need to leave the world behind'
Posted on 23.06.2020
Although it is right by a popular tourist town, the upper reaches of the Noosa River are a rarely visited gem, accessible only by canoe or electric motor boats.
The upper reaches of south-east Queensland’s Noosa River offer a level of seclusion that’s hard to find, even in a country as vast as Australia. Before reaching the ocean near the shirtless joggers and deeply tanned shoppers of Hastings Street, the river journeys from the subtropical rainforest of Great Sandy national park beneath slow moving sandblows, through broad, shallow lakes and past million-dollar homes with private docks.
It’s not a technically challenging river, but visitors are rare because the upper reaches are only accessible by canoe or electric motor boats. The absence of watercraft, almost imperceptible current and dark, tannin-stained waters combine to make the surface so reflective that it’s earned the nickname “the river of mirrors”. Mobile reception is intermittent at best and the campsites can only be reserved for one group at a time, making it the perfect spot to head if you need to leave the world behind for a bit.
The river is located in Cooloola Recreation Area, in the southern section of the Great Sandy national park (the northern section includes Fraser Island).
Cooloola means “the sound the wind makes as it whispers through the branches of the trees” in the language of the Gubbi Gubbi traditional owners, and there are few other sounds on the numerous tributaries of the Noosa today.
Where to paddle: Start at Elanda Point or Boreen Point on the expansive Lake Cootharaba before venturing into the narrower upper sections of the river – campsite three is an enjoyable half-day paddle from either.
To reduce the paddling time, you can also launch from the old logging camp at Harry’s Hut, which lies on a very scenic stretch of river only accessible by four-wheel drive.
Where to sleep: With multiple sites hidden in the trees and a longdrop toilet, campsite three is the perfect base to explore upriver or walk to the Cooloola Sandpatch for views over the Noosa River, Pacific Ocean and volcanic peaks of the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Make sure to book ahead.
Nearest hot meal: Habitat Noosa at Boreen Point has a range of accommodation options, including glamping tents, and the onsite bistro with a nanobrewery makes it a welcome first stop after a paddle.
Getting there: The upper sections of the park are accessible from Rainbow Beach, but Noosa Heads (139km north of Brisbane) is the best base for exploring the river. Boreen Point is 30km by car from Noosa Heads (or a long day’s paddle if you want to launch from the esplanade on Gympie Terrace).
When to go: Visit between August and October to see the full palette of wildflowers. Sections of the park are regularly closed due to fire danger in the warmer months.
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