Noosa Wetlands Chapter I
The Noosa Everglades is one of only two everglades systems on Earth. This is a tract of low-lying, marshy land, amidst a tapestry of serpentine watercourses. I have embarked on an adventure in Moonlight, to enjoy the breath-taking serenity of this mystical watery realm in the wilderness of the upper reaches of the Noosa River in South East Queensland.
Moonlight is prepared to set out on a sailing adventure celebrating 40 years since she was launched into Lake Trevallyn on September 11th 1980.
We are heading North on a short journey by road, about 50 km to Tewantin on the banks of the Noosa River just upstream of Noosa itself.
The Tewantin boat ramp is located beside the marina, which is the site of the Noosaville Markets, that are held there every Sunday from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. The ramp is a simple little 2 lane affair, that works well regardless of tide. The river has tidal flows of 2-3 knots which can make launching and retrieval tricky at times.
Milly is full of anticipation, but sadly she can’t come with me this time. The upper Noosa River is part of the Cooloola National Park.
The first section of the river is heavily built-up but the signs of human inhabitants quickly give way to an unspoiled lacustrine wetland. From the Northshore ferry and beyond you will not see another house for the entire trip.
The first stage under motor was a time to relax and organize my thoughts, watching the banks of the river glide past. I am reminded that I urgently need to replace the muffler on my trusty little Hond inboard!
The Noosa catchment has its headwaters in the Cooloola Section of the Great Sandy National Park. It gets a lot of its flow from groundwater filtered over eons through large sand dunes extending up the coast to the Great Sandy Strait. The catchment is connected via groundwater through a continuous wetland system which extends up to Tin Can Bay.
The North Shore is connected to the Noosa region by a cable ferry service. You can only cross safely when the red lights are not flashing as the cables are close to the surface while the ferries are in motion.
I’m making my way up the Noosa River as slowly as possible. The wind is not cooperating. I am motoring across Lake Cooroiba into a North Easterly. The course is narrow and shallow. It dissects the lake in two. To stray either side might involve going aground on the mudflats. Speed in many of the sections is highly regulated to avoid wash that damages the mangrove systems on the shoreline. In this section, powerboats overtake us, unimpeded by speed limits. But I am happy to be idling along nonchalantly.
This trip is an opportunity to quiet my mind and sort through some inner conflicts and confusion about strategy and direction. I’m taking time-out to quiet my mind, meditate on some ancient wisdom and get some clarity of thought. My mind is a battle-field and I’m straining to hear the authentic voice that has been crowded out by disruptors that are the consequences of the covid battle. Focusing on the good things, of which there are many, drowns out the destruction of ruminating on pain. This helps me make better decisions and experience fewer regrets.
A couple of windsurfers zip by, evoking memories of the 3 decades I invested in endeavouring to master the skills of wave sailing on short-board windsurfing.
Moonlight has not been on the water for a couple of months. The low humidity has caused her timbers to shrink, so after a couple of hours on the water, I find myself needing to pump her dry. The timbers will take up overnight, and this will be the last time any pumping is needed, apart from heavy rain which remains a possibility.
The interpretation centre at the Northern end of Lake Cootharaba is accessed via a very shallow section at the entrance to the upper reaches. There’s loads of interesting information on the biodiversity of this unusual and amazing lacustrine habitat.
Departing the Education Center at the Northern end of Lake Cootharaba we find ourselves on the short section that leads to the upper Noosa River. Figtree point is an ideal campsite presenting an opportunity to shut down the engine and prepare for the rowing section of the river. The vegetation has taken on an increasingly tropical appearance.
Rounding a bend I come across an ecotour with a group of children enjoying the “Noosa Everglades” before arriving at the Figtree Point camping area. Moonlight fits right into the landscape, and I go about setting up camp for the night. I will need a good nights sleep before tackling the upper reaches tomorrow which involve a long section where rowing or sailing are the only options.
You might have heard the story about how I set Moonlight on fire on Hervey Bay. The boat was saved but I barbequed my foot. I was using a Trangia at the time. My relationship with the Trangia was somewhat strained for a while. During the crisis created by a bleve of flaming Methylated Spirits, I threw some of the working parts of the stove over the side, sending it to the bottom of the Hervey Bay. My son was kind enough to send my up an older version I had passed on to him a few years earlier, so this it the composite – old + new – Trangia you see here. Used properly they are very reliable and safe.
I have settled into a comfortable pace, treasuring a contemplative time enjoying God’s creation, and the amazing bird song of the Noosa Everglades. There are many people taking in the beauty of it all, often in small flotillas of kayaks. Moonlight always starts an interesting conversation. I have met some interesting people and made friends with some. Most people have an innate appreciation for a boat that is “eye-sweet”.
It is time to press on towards the narrows of the Noosa River. We have put 11 nautical miles behind us, negotiating the narrow shoals of Lake Cooroibah and the open expanse of Lake Cootharaba. “The Narrows” are the upper reaches of the river to be negotiated only by paddle or sail. The absence of powered craft makes for a perfectly serene setting to enjoy the birdlife that thrives on the river banks.
Noosa Wetlands Chapter II
It’s not long before we catch up with the flotilla of kayaks that set out ahead of us. I throttled back as far as the engine will go before the decompression cuts in to cut down on wake and noise. She has pretty much two speeds, stop and go, and there is no neutral or reverse. The baffles in the muffler have rusted out long ago, and it is situations like this I am reminded it needs replacing.
You need to stay on your toes navigating through this section where tea trees and eucalypts lean ponderously in towards the centre of the river. It would be easy enough to sink the boat at this pace if you were to catch the rigging in one of the branches.
Even though it is a bit quiet with Covid things going on, there are still quite a few kayaks. This middle section heading up towards Harry’s Hut is well within reach of kayak fishermen, and powerboats still have access using their petrol motors.
Approximately four kilometres north of where the Noosa River joins with the northern end of Lake Cootharaba you come to Harry’s hut nestled into the west bank of the river. A reasonable gravel road gives access to the camping area, but I would think it is impassable with heavy rain. It is a popular place for kayakers to launch their assault on the upper reaches of the river.
Harry’s hut was built by timber getters in the fifties as accommodation for their forest crews, and the lease has been taken over by the parks department.
It was back in the mid-seventies when a high school friend and I borrowed his uncle’s boat and sailed down the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania. This was the boat I copied to create Moonlight years later. We stayed the first night in his parent’s shack on Fisheries beach. The night before we left we discovered his fathers’ grog cupboard, full of a lot of different types of top-shelf. So the natural thing to do was take a little out of the top of each bottle so as to make it less obvious we had been there. It was my first experience of alcohol, and I still dry-reach at the whiff of a bottle of Gin.
Noosa Everglades Chapter III
It is evening on my third day of exploring the Noosa Everglades in the upper reaches of the Noosa River in South East Queensland. Earlier today I walked about 18 kilometres to the top of the coastal dunes that separate the river from the Cooloola Coast and the Coral Sea.
Reaching the top of the ridge was a fair stretch for me, with my quad heart bypass, but I was rewarded with sweeping views of the Cooloola Coast to the East and the Noosa basin to my West which includes Lakes Cootharaba and Lake Cooroibah.
I’m rowing downstream to find somewhere to tie up to the river bank where I can set up camp onboard Moonlight for the night. The moon is a waxing gibbous, laid on its back and providing the light I need to get set up once tying off on a couple of fallen trees projecting out into the river.
Fortunately, there is no rain forecast overnight, so I am able to sling the flysheet off my tent over the boom as a makeshift boom-tent. Nevertheless, I have my bilge pump handy, in case of an unexpected tropical downpour.
This section of the river is affected very little by the tide. The level remains fairly constant and there are virtually no currents in either direction to contend with, which makes it possible to tie up to the shore and sleep with the confidence you will be in the same place in the morning.
The Everglades is a wetland region in Florida about 15,000 square kilometres in size. It is bisected by a slow-flowing river that drains the river basin. Here in the upper reaches of the Noosa River, we have a similar topography, and the river is bounded by long grasses, like the Everglades, but the area is quite small by comparison. Nevertheless, it is beautiful and unique in its own right.
I may seem a bit optimistic but there is a wind forecast, about 10 knots and I decided to get organised with the sails in the hope that I could sail downwind all the way across Lake Cootharaba. I wasn’t disappointed and had a very relaxing run all the way.
A houseboat is a perfect way to explore the river, and I am about to get a strong appreciation for the shelter they have on this boat.
Here in Australia, we might say it is “raining cats and dogs”, In France, they would say “It’s raining like a pissing cow”. I think the French have it with this one. In fact, it rained so hard my engine couldn’t breathe, cut out and refused to start until it dried out.
Fortunately, I have my trusty 40-year-old bilge pump, given to me by a friend to celebrate the day he stopped all the leaks in his clinker dinghy. These boats are very difficult to bail with the floorboards and ribs, but the “Thirsty “ pump makes quick work of it.
I’m a bit damp but pleased the rain held off until the very last leg of the trip. I’m approaching the Tewantin boat ramp which is where we set off from four days ago. My beautiful wife is there to greet me right on time, and ready to winch Moonlight out of the water!
My vision is to inspire others to experience the pleasure of sailing in wooden boats and sailboats in general. You can help me encourage more people simply by subscribing to this youtube channel. It is simple to do, and you won’t get pestered in any way. It just means that when you go to my channel, you will see all 55 videos in the order they were created.
I love the rig on this boat. The spars were crafted by my mentor and master boat builder, John Philp over 75 years ago. They were originally installed on the clinker boat that inspired me to build Moonlight. There is a video on the channel about the building of Moonlight that you can easily find by subscribing to this channel.
I was fortunate to get hold of the spars when the centre-case was removed from John’s boat and it could no longer be sailed. I also acquired the original centre-board at that time. John built the original from King Billy Pine, making it much lighter than Moonlight, which is of Huon Pine.
The rig on Moonlight is a “Sliding Gunter”, It differs from a Gaff Rig, having 3 sides to the sail rather than 4. I have recently replaced all the lashings and lines, and have yet to perfect them, but they are a big improvement on what I had for the first 40 years.
This dinghy camping trip is a fitting celebration of the first 40 years of sailing Moonlight after launching her into the Trevallyn Dam in Tasmania on September 11th 1980, but I always feel compelled to return her to her true home in Tasmania.
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