Kayak the Snowy River’s Byadbo Wilderness, NSW
This is one of Aus Geo Adventure’s favourite paddling adventures – we’d happily do it every year. Alpine River Adventures is the only kayak guiding company allowed to take paddlers through this particularly remote part of the Snowy. The company’s five-day trip is simply brilliant and suited to anyone above 12 years of age with an adventurous spirit (previous paddling experience is not essential).
The Byadbo Wilderness (along with the nearby Pilot Wilderness), located in Kosciuszko NP’s southeast corner, is around 350,000 hectares in size. The Snowy River winds through this wilderness for roughly 70km and contains some rarely seen – and thus unspoiled or damaged – indigenous cultural sites of the Ngarigo people.
The paddling itself is a mix of flatwater up to the occasional Class III rapid, and there’s usually only one portage (around Snowy Falls), so it’s a chilled-out journey overall, with days on the water spotting wildlife, such as platypus, echidna and sea eagles, mixed with nights at some of the most pristine riverside campsites in the world.
Believe us when we say that by the time you reach the end-point of this river journey, at pretty Halfway Flat, you’ll just want to keep on paddling further down this magic river.
2. Ride Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park, QLD
Tropical North Queensland might seem like an unlikely mountain bike hotspot but it is, in fact, rated one of Australia’s best MTB destinations. Atherton is about an hour away from Cairns, inland up on the tablelands at a lofty 800 metres above sea level. Atherton f has none of the glitz of Cairns – its population is around 7000 – but that quiet exterior hides the fact that this town has one of Australia’s most sensational trail networks: the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park.
Atherton meets all the ‘successful mountain bike town’ criteria: a great climate, awesome terrain, and the chance to ride to the trail network directly from town. Indeed, the trailhead (with change rooms and bike wash facilities) is right on the main street, with the link trail out to the network, for easy trail access/return.
A mix of trail builders, including two of Australia’s most reputable – World Trail and Dirt Art – have contributed to Atherton’s trail network, which sprawls over Baldy Mountain Forest Reserve and Herberton Range State Forest. Most of the riding is flow trail, best suited to cross-country or trail bikes. There’s nothing too technical, although the ease with which you gather speed should be enough to keep you focused.
You will find the easier trails in the lowlands, while the intermediate trails cloverleaf off, taking you out into the hills. It’s a smart layout that’s ideal for groups of mixed abilities; in short, everyone has an awesome time riding, regardless of mismatched skill levels. The official trail maps are numbered; highlights include the bobsled descent of Trail 9 and the epic Trail 12, which loops off onto a life-changing descent and a scenic, gradual climb that takes you to the park’s highest point. For shorter loops, climb up to The Roundabout, and link up Trails 6 and 7.
This all adds up to a potential week of epic riding, followed by the chance to recount your thrills and spills at one of Atherton’s excellent pubs each evening. Yeah, we know, it sounds bloody brilliant!
3. Gum Swamp Wetland, NSW
An adventure of the more relaxing kind, but one that is exciting for nature-lovers and visitors to the central west NSW town of Forbes. The Gum Swamp Wetland is an ephemeral wetland that offers a habitat for numerous native wildlife and vegetation. It’s only four kilometres south-west of the centre of Forbes, just off the Newell Highway (entry is via Greens Road) and you will be transported into a birdwatcher’s wonderland.
The swamp is a national significant ornithology site (that’s the study of birds, to you and me) and there have been more than 150 species observed at the reserve. As well as the chance to spot some of Australia’s waterbirds and other species, the swamp and its ghostly drowned gum trees lends itself to brilliant sunrise and sunset photography.
And speaking of photography and taking it easy in pristine natural surrounds, this area has just been redeveloped to include three new double-storey bird hides, right on the edge of the swamp. As well, the original bird hide (actually built in 1992 with support from Australian Geographic and its founder, Dick Smith) has copped a refurb.
In addition, there is now 1.5km of accessible boardwalk and pathways, wayfinding signage, concrete seating and handrails in the Wetland. This will not only assist the less physically able to tick off their own unique bucket-list item and visit this calm, tranquil location, but also bring adventurous families with little’uns to the wetlands for their own bucket-list adventure of some short walks and the chance to spot – and hopefully learn more about – the swamp’s prolific birdlife. They will also view ‘Varanus’ a 20-metre steel goanna (Gum Swamp is part of the Sculpture Down The Lachlan public art trail), with another four smaller sculptures at each of the bird hides expected to be installed very soon.
This pristine natural hideaway is a must-add to your ‘outdoor exploration and relaxation’ bucket-list.
4. Sea kayak the Broken Group Islands, British Columbia, Canada
Yep, another paddling adventure, but this one is further afield – and we still have to wait patiently for international travel to ramp up again. But, believe us, it will be well worth waiting (and planning for).
Wild Root Journeys offers a four day kayaking adventure that takes paddlers around the Broken Group Islands, part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s a brilliant way to experience what kayaking in BC is all about, with the islands’ sheltered nature, combined with the variety of wildlife and marine life spotted, means this paddling trip will appeal to all kayaking skill levels. (All equipment is supplied, from kayaks to paddle jackets to tents, sleeping gear and more.)
The islands themselves are much of the appeal, with their mix of sand and/or shell-covered beaches, rich-green temperature rainforest and life-rich intertidal zones. Really, the awesomeness begins from the get-go, thanks to the Lady Rose Ferry ride out to the start where you may spot whales and coastal black bears foraging for food on the island shores. Other marine life you may see includes orcas, sea otters, stellar sea lions and bald eagles. There’s also the chance to meet the First Nations bee keepers and learn about this rich culture that thrives here.
Wild Root Journeys’ owner, Silke Hockemeyer is incredibly experienced and knowledgeable, plus she’s a qualified Sea Kayak Alliance of BC guide, and never gets sick of this incredible experience. “This is truly one of my favourite places to paddle,” she says. “To see waves crash in the distance against the first rocks, after moving an unknown distance across the Pacific Ocean, seems like such a stunning collide of nature. I love feeling relatively protected in where we paddle but also knowing that we are as far west as it comes and the seemingly endless ocean is just right past a few sets of buffering rocks.”
Yep, we’re convinced, too. And just in case you weren’t, think of the fresh food on offer each night, ranging from wild sock-eye salmon to warm curries to vegan options and much more.