A taste of paradise: Paddling the Clarence River GorgeBy Jo Lane Jan 11, 2013 10:15AM UTC
ABOUT an hour and a half from Grafton in northern New South Wales, is one of Australia’s most beautiful gorges.
The Clarence River gorge, or simply “the gorge”, is heritage listed and the scenery is suitably stunning.
While it takes some time to reach – almost 400km from Brisbane – it’s worth it. Not only it is a wonderful spot for canoeing with rapids and waterfalls to try your paddle skills on, but there are some great camping spots along the river, good angling, bush walking and even mountain biking.
I visit this area with friends every January to try out a section of the river as it’s generally considered one of the best canoe spots in Australia with several rivers to explore. This year we opted to camp at Neil and Sue Winter’s property “The Gorge” (via Copmanhurst along the Clarence) that has been in their family for over 100 years. With 8314 acres, about 600 head of cattle and 10 kilometres of river frontage it’s a superb location near Rainbow Falls with reflections on the river in the mornings and evenings.
While time can be whiled away simply at fantastic camping spots all along the river (firewood is provided – a huge bonus), the best way to explore the country is by boat. In other years we’ve done multi day river trips camping along the way (the 45km downstream from Buccurambi to Jackadgery on the Nymboida River was a highlight), but we opted for a base camp this year, given the excellent river access from the Winter’s property. For example it’s possible to paddle upriver to the gorge from their property in an hour or so, with sheer rock walls rising above you at every stroke.
The Winters can also arrange for a motorboat to take you there, but nothing beats the quiet ripples of the canoe on this stretch and an engine would simply spoil the serenity.
Angling is also possible but it’s a catch and release policy. Eel however can be eaten and the night catch of one large fellow provoked an impromptu late supper. Members of our group fished into the wee hours saying it was one of the best freshwater experiences they’d ever had.
Another excellent river trip is the 27km of river down to the Lillydale bridge. This took us about seven hours with numerous stops to swim, snack, lunch and negotiate a series of rapids – the hairiest being “slippery rapid” which was every bit as tricky as it sounds.
The great thing about paddling the Clarence is the excitement of the rapids. While most are grade 1 or 2 and often quite easy to manage, sometimes the littlest thing can make you come unstuck and so attention and concentration is required at all times to watch for currents, rocks, logs and any other hazards. We actually snapped a boat in half on this section of river some years back in the most unlikely place.
While after this particular day trip most of us were glad to jump back into the cars to head back to the campsite, a few of our group hit the dirt road on mountain bikes to finish off the day for another 30km. Neil Winters was suitably impressed and gave us a bottle of wine that night for our troubles – a true country gentleman.
As with most of our trips on the Clarence, or the other rivers in this region (the Nymboida and Mann), we thankfully emerged unscathed but decided we hadn’t conquered the river, it had merely tolerated us for another year.