It’s late afternoon and the tide has almost run out. The mouth of the Pine River always looks fantastic at low tide in the golden colours of the late afternoon sun. People stand on the long sandbars to fish while their dogs play in the water. On the days when I ride home from work across the Ted Smout Bridge and look west to this view I feel happy. Today I have a chance to join them. But not to fish; I am going to packraft up the river in search of a geocache.
It’s been too long since I used my packraft. I seem to have been caught up in the hum drum of day-to-day life. You know that stuff: work, university study, laziness. The former is probably the least of my excuses and the latter the most relevant. As soon as I sit in the boat I feel at ease. I paddle up the river against the last of the outgoing tide with the wind at my back. I have just under three hours until dark but already the sun is sitting low on the horizon, creating beautiful light reflections off the water and wet sand.
I’m in no hurry so I take the time to pull up on the river’s banks. When the tide is high the water covers this entire area and creates a swampy mangrove habitat. But at low tide the sand is hard enough to walk on and there are even a few patches of soft beach sand a little higher up the banks. Those small patches quickly give way to mangrove swamp behind them but they do look pretty all the same.
It’s easy to dismiss Brisbane’s mangrove-lined waterways as ugly, smelly and muddy. But I have come to appreciate them as a symbol of home. I grew up having running races through thigh-deep mangrove mud with my sisters and learning how to walk between the trees’ breathing tubes without them stabbing my foot (they don’t cut but they still hurt when you stand on them). I recently read that mangrove-lined waterways are the breeding ground for over 70% of the fish we eat here in Australia so they are very important despite their bad wrap. That aside, I like the versatility of the mangrove trees and the way they look, both when standing dry at low tide and when submerged with only their leaves showing through the water.
I paddle for an hour until I reach the geocache location. It’s cleverly hidden. I sign the log, replace the cache and log the find online. Then I head back towards my start point. The tide is just about to turn and the wind has picked up, creating small waves to paddle into. I bounce over them as I make my way down the river towards the sandbanks where I started. My shadow starts to grow longer in the water ahead of me and the roar of the commuter traffic on the Ted Smout Bridge starts to fill my ears over the blowing of the wind. By the time I get back the sun has sunk low enough for a sunset photo before I head home.
I’m currently back home in Redcliffe, a coastal peninsula north of Brisbane. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to for the past week.
I’ve enjoyed fish and chips on the beach across the road from our home.
I’ve been running training because I’ve entered the Gold Coast Marathon, which is being run on 5 July. I entered because I need a fitness goal. I’m not a great runner but hopefully I can complete the event within the 6:40 cut off by run/walking the whole course.
As part of my training I have been running up and down these stairs that lead to a small beach that gets inundated at high tide. It makes stair training quite pleasant when the view is like this.
I’ve been combining geocaching with my running training. The geocaching gives me something to aim for on my running outings. It also ends up with me seeing some interesting things, like these twisted and gnarled trees that are in a park near the Morgans fish shop in Scarborough.
It’s also taken me down to the Gayundah Shipwreck, which I’ve been to before but never tire of.
We’ve been walking 5km almost every night; sometimes as late at 11pm. The full moon this week has been stunning. But the winner of most beautiful night photo for this trip so far goes to the Ted Smout Bridge, which we walked across on a windy night. I like the way the lights reflect on the waters where Moreton Bay meets the Pine River.
We’ve been hitting the gym and pool most days the past fortnight doing boxing classes and swimming laps. It’s part of our desire to continue to get fit. It’s led to my body returning to its old rhythm of early starts, which has led to me watching the sun rise from the beach a few times.
While I am loving being home, I find myself getting restless to explore the world some more. I particularly need to get back out into nature so will be resuming my travels from 31 March when I go to Malaysia and Japan. On my return from those trips I will be doing some more long trips here in Australia. So it means that I want to enjoy my next 19 days in Redcliffe before I spend some months away again.
After listeining to hoons doing donuts outside my tent late into the night, I woke to gray skies and cold weather. With a couple of university assignments due in mid-September I decided the best option for the day was to try to find somewhere warm and dry to do some work instead of moving on. I had heard from the visitor centre in Morgan that Waikerie was a very nice town. Personally, I found the town a bit rough and unfriendly compared to river towns in the Murraylands. But at least there was a powerpoint outside the library in the cold where I could plub in to work (without sun I couldn’t charge my devices any other way) with my fingers slowly turning blue. The council officer I spoke with said that they don’t like backpackers hanging out inside the public library so they have opted to cover all indoor powerpoints and only allow charging of devices outside.
After a long day behind the keyboard (and making good progress on my university studies) I changed camp to stay along the river on the other side of town. The camp was okay and there were no hoons overnight. But before I bedded down I unpacked my packraft and spent a lovely half hour unwinding on the River Murray, just drifting around and dipping in the paddles every now and then for some very slow propulsion. It was the highlight of an otherwise businesslike day. If you are traveling the Murray, I would recommend against bothering with Waikerie. Stop in Morgan or at any town down in the Muraylands instead. They are much more beautiful and friendly.
The first stage of my travels was a wonderful success and confirmed for me that I definitely on the right path. The week-long motorbike trip to Central Queensland had everything I am looking for in my new nomadic lifestyle:
I travelled through rural areas where I could buy delicious fresh produce direct from the producer.
I spent time out in my packraft exploring some magical waterways.
I enjoyed the simple pleasures of seeing a butterfly sitting on the water and kites hunting for prey.
And the bliss of being welcomed into my friends’ homes.
The waters are an eerie tannin-stained black. I’ve left K and G to enjoy a quiet morning at their home while I head out in my packraft to explore their local waterways. The raft is inflated in no time and I’m ready to go.
I launch my raft and head upstream. The waters are tidal but with all the bends in the creek the tide has almost no pull. I paddle and drift my way gently, taking in the reflections. I am mesmerised by their beauty and feel no sense of urgency. I drift and paddle watching beautiful white kites with powerful brown wings waiting patiently in for fish and prey to appear. A small hawk flies overhead carrying a small rodent.
Scruffy paperbarks line the banks above the small weir I portaged around. The older ones are almost rambunctious is their messiness and disorder. Their papery bark peels off around knots and stray branches. Some lean over like crippled old people in need of walking canes while others look almost playful.
On the other side of the river, younger paperbarks stand tall and straight like soldiers. The front row nearest the creek were burned in a bushfire and are now charred a deep black. Over time they will grow thicker and the bark will peel, leaving the trees unscarred but it will take a long time. For now though, the burned rows of trees are just beautiful to see: proof that sometimes life’s scars can leave beauty behind.
The creek is different from the water. Mangrove trees are three-dimensional and their aeration tubes make dramatic waterside textures and shapes. Smooth grey-barked gums tower above me like giants, their peppermint green leaves contrasting dramatically against the bright blue sky. Butterflies flit around along the water’s surface. And occasionally a fish splashes.
It’s blowing a gale when we arrive at Flat Rock boat ramp for the Baffle Creek Boat Club day out. It’s cold and the creek is choppy. The forecast 10 knot winds must be blowing gently somewhere else because it’s got to be closer to 20 knots here, which is too strong for us to take the sailing boats out. I follow my friends K, G and M into the boat club shed where there’s coffee, tea and a range of homemade goodies. I meet their neighbours (a relative term here where properties are scattered far and wide) and admire the old Sabots piled up in the back of the shed.
We pack some kayaks on a ute and head down to nearby Rules Beach, which is protected from the wind. A tarp is erected across some driftwood trees to provide shade and we settle in for a day of fun, sun and sand.
I’ve brought my packraft up to Baffle with me and take the opportunity to get it out on the water. I’ve got inflating it sorted and it takes less than 5 minutes of relaxed work. I am sure I could get it up in less than 3 minutes if I put some effort in but life’s not about the rush anymore.
While the waves look small from the beach, they tower over me in my raft and my first few attempts at launching the boat end in the boat being swamped and me swimming. The trick is to have patience and wait for a break in the waves so that I can get my skirt done up. M comes out to help. I do up my skirt on the beach and he pushes me out until I am floating. The boat now floats up over the breaking waves quite well and I find myself paddling and drifting happily out to sea.
I drift and enjoy the diamonds dazzling off the water. It’s almost impossible to believe that this is the middle of winter. It’s just glorious. I catch a few waves in the packraft. It floats nicely on top of the water. I can see why these boats are good for whitewater. As the waves subside with the changing tide I come into the beach to chill out on the sand. One of the young boys decides to cover my back with sand and then buries my legs. I listen to the locals’ conversations and soak up the sunshine.
After an hour or two the tide has changed enough for some more little waves to build. Sure, they are only about a foot tall but it’s enough to have fun without feeling threatened when I inevitably get dumped. I take out one of the boat club’s kayaks and catch lots of waves with a couple of the other guys. There’s plenty of laughter as we succeed or fail in our wave riding efforts. It feels great to be lifted by the waves then surge forward as they break. By the time we return home (I must mention that I call anyplace I lay my head home) we’re all pleasantly relaxed and ready for a yarn around the campfire.