Exploring Queensland, July 2006. Part 6. Paddling at Lawn Hill.

Tuesday, Oct 10, 2006 at 12:09


Excitement and anticipation ensured that we were up early, packed up and at Lawn Hill by about 9.30. It was a beautiful day, calm with a clear blue sky after a pleasantly cool night. Luck was running our way, as we were able to get a canoe straight away without any waiting. There were already 4 or 5 other canoes out in the gorge.

We paid over our dollars then packed our gear including our camera into a drum that was hopefully watertight. We chose double ended paddles, and received some instructions on how to handle the canoe before climbing aboard. Val was up front and John in the middle seat. Then the attendant pushed us out into the water. We were on our way – and on our own.

Immediately we were able to see that all the stories we had heard about Lawn Hill were true – it is beautiful when seen from the water. With almost still air and few other canoes about there was little to disturb the surface of the water, so the reflections were almost mirror perfect. The colours were stunning – the brilliant red of the cliffs, and the bright green of the vegetation along the waterline contrasted with the bright blue sky.

But if we were to navigate this craft to the end of the gorge and back again safely we first we had to gain some control over it. Our previous canoeing experience was limited to a couple of short forays along coastal waterways where our course described strange zig zags rather than any set direction. We would have to do better here. We wondered how our shoulders would cope with paddling as we engaged different muscles and joints in our locomotion! Then there was the need to balance this craft, with its alarming tendency to feel as if it was going to tip over with every slight movement. Nor did we want too much water to come inboard – the canoe seemed to be sitting quite low in the water, as neither of us is exactly a lightweight.

Learning to paddle in something resembling a straight line took a bit of sorting out. We both paddled, experimenting to work out what worked best. Water ran along the handles making us rather wet but that didn’t matter – the only thing that had to stay dry was the camera. In the end John probably did most of the paddling, Val adding a few strokes here and there for moral support.

Before too long we had enough confidence to be able to more or less navigate in the desired direction so we began to relax and enjoy the experience. It was also time to take out the camera, and while trying to keep it dry, record our adventure.

From our launch site we could see the cliffs of the gorge up ahead, but for the first part of our journey we moved through dark water lined with big paperbarks and rock figs with clumps of Pandanus along the water line. This combination of plants gave some wonderful contrasts in colour and texture – the weeping form of the paperbarks, brilliant green of the figs and sharp spiky Pandanus all complementing one another superbly.

And it is so quiet out on the water, just the dip of the paddles and slap of the water on the bow. Occasional voices carry over the water but the few other paddlers seemed so awed by the landscape that hushed voices were common. Surprisingly there was not much wildlife to be seen so the absence of bird calls intensified the silence.

As we moved up the gorge the cliffs forming the sides loomed massive and starkly, brilliantly red. Soon we were between these walls and we were wondering how far down the bottom was. Very little vegetation had managed to get established at the waterline suggesting that the rocks continued straight down below the surface of the water. Beyond the big cliffs the rocks sloped down somewhat and fan palms appeared adding a very tropical note. Up on top of the cliffs the gnarled gum trees and Spinifex of the surrounding plateau could just be seen, reminding us of the significance of water in this dry country.

Eventually we heard the sound of falling water and then we saw several small waterfalls tumbling over a big tufa dam. Tufa dams are formed when limestone is deposited on rocks, logs or roots in the water, and over time builds up to form a solid wall. Here this wall had in turn been covered with vegetation, so there is an impenetrable barrier across the waterway.

To get around this obstacle a portage has been built. There is a small landing stage where passengers disembark and walk the short distance to the start of the portage. One person then paddles the canoe around to the portage which consists of two metal rails that allows the canoe to be slid over the rocks. After the rails ended there was a short distance to carry the canoe to the next launching point.

Disaster nearly struck at the portage as we were getting out of the canoe. There is a knack to this to avoid the canoe shooting away with your feet when you make your first handhold on dry land! However balance and dignity were restored just in time and we were able to safely negotiate this section.The canoe was not too heavy over the short distance that we had to carry it.

Beyond the portage the gorge opens out slightly and the Pandanus lining the banks becomes thicker. To get right to the end of the gorge it is necessary to first find, then move through, a narrow tunnel in the Pandanus. This we managed to do though there was not much room to move the paddle without getting caught up in the Pandanus. Eventually we were at the top end of the gorge where the water was fairly shallow and warm. The water comes from underground and is quite warm, though it cools as it flows downstream. By the time it had reached Adels Grove where Val swam yesterday it was quite cold.

We were conscious that we only had the canoe for a set time and by now we were past the half way point, so it was time to head back. Surprisingly as we retraced our path the light was quite different as we were looking into the sun. This made the rocks appear darker and more forbidding. There is no real current and a light headwind had come up, but by now our paddling expertise was much improved.

So after two and a half hours on the water we managed to make a reasonably respectable landfall and return the canoe to its owner. We were wet through but elated. This has been a truly memorable experience, one that hopefully we will be able to repeat someday.

Tomorrow we will know how our shoulder muscles have fared.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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