We came, we saw... We really didn't want to leave.
Henry Brydon founded We Are Explorers in 2014. The idea was to create a collective of adventurers dedicated to seeking out and documenting special places. In turn, more in the community would be inspired to get out there and experience the beauty of nature.
We Are Explorers have a particular passion for ‘Microadventures’ - the concept of turning even a weekend away into something exciting, challenging and memorable.
We invited Henry and a small crew: cameraman Nick Covelli, photographer Jake Anderson, and local adventurer Hayley Talbot to spend a week on the Clarence Valley’s extraordinary river system.
The week left a deep impression on the gang. Here’s Henry’s list of the seven reasons why the Clarence Canoe and Kayak Trail is one of Australia’s hidden gems.
1. It’s the longest whitewater trail in Australia
With scenery so beautiful your eyes will water and rapids so wild your bum will tighten, you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t come sooner.
Covering more than 195km of river between Nymboi-Binderay National Park and the township of Copmanhurst, this is officially New South Wales’ greatest hidden gem (and Australia’s longest mapped whitewater trail). Combining three wild river systems; the Nymbodia, Mann and Clarence, there is something to please all paddling palates across the eight map sections whether you’re into bone-rattling rapids or zen-like cruising.
2. There are rapids to run
Tombstone? Demolition Derby? Exhibition Falls? Bridal Veil?
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking we’re talking about a UFC Deathmatch. These are, however, some of the testing Grade 3/4 rapids you’ll encounter on a magical mystery river tour here.
Widely regarded by professional paddlers as one of the most challenging areas to kayak and canoe in the country, make no mistake; certain parts should not be attempted by gung-ho beginners and portage points must be noted before setting off. Always refer to the trail maps and don’t trade wise planning for blind ignorance.
3. There is an astonishing Gorge to explore
This is one of the many “how awesome is this?!” moments you’re likely to have on the trail, and you’ll probably blurt it out involuntarily at some stage.
The lower Gorge was one of our favourite parts of the adventure. Paddling as the sun rose, the water was mill-pond flat with huge rock formations surging up on either side of us. It’s a beautiful and almost eerie experience.
Further up the Gorge lie the mighty Rainbow Falls and Willow Tree Falls; they’re the big older brothers of the Clarence River and are not to be messed with. In fact, it’s imperative that all visitors portage (carry their canoes around) this section.
4. You will truly escape
It’s more important than ever to switch off those phones and disconnect; to let nature rule once again. This part of the world really feels like that too. It’s a proper wild river and for large chunks of it you won’t have any opportunity to upload a selfie in real time. You’ve been warned.
The Clarence Valley is about three and a half hours from Brisbane whilst Sydneysiders can get up here in about six hours. To get the most out of a visit it’s worth taking at least a day either side of the weekend so you have at least two days on the water.
5. The fishing is phenomenal...
The Nymboida/Mann River System is one of Australia’s finest freshwater fishing and canoeing destinations (and let’s all try and keep it that way too). Cod and Bass are what you’re after, and expect to find some giants here! The Nymboida/Mann River system is closed to fishing from August to October each year.
Don’t forget to take a photo, not the fish. It’s a “catch and release” area that requires lures and barbless hooks so while you may salivate at the thought of one sizzling away on your BBQ later, I’m afraid that just won’t fly here. Pardon the pun.
6. ..and the wildlife isn’t too bad either
Depending on time of year, don’t expect to see another soul on a river adventure here, other than a herd of curious turtles and maybe the odd platypus.
It’s a wilderness area, and so its inhabitants roam at will. Inquisitive frogs clamber onto your boat to have a good look at you, wild dogs roam the farmlands, wedge tailed eagles roam the air and if you’re lucky/unlucky you’ll see snakes wallowing in rocks pools.
7. The campgrounds are delightful
No river journey is complete without camping; the experiences off the river are as important as the time spent on it.
Pulling into your wild camp spot in the late afternoon, setting up camp to the sound of birdsong, cooking up a medieval-esque camping banquet and easing into the evening with your river crew under a blanket of stars.
It literally doesn’t get much better.
All the campgrounds are clearly marked on the trail maps – our pick of them being The Junction and Nymboida.
Inside info: The Clarence Canoe & Kayak Trail is the longest whitewater trail in Australia! It covers more than 195 km of river between the Nymboi-Binderay National Park and the township of Copmanhurst, encompassing the Nymboida, Mann and Clarence river systems. It offers spectacular scenery, an abundance of wildlife and some exhilarating whitewater adventure. A comprehensive map kit is available at myclarencevalley.com/ckt, or call (02) 6643 0800 to purchase hard copies, printed on water resistant paper!
All photographs by Jake Anderson