When you think of kayaking in Byron Bay, two things spring to mind: backpackers and the ocean.
True, this is an enjoyable and quintessentially Byronian experience, bragging the money-back guarantee of spotting whales, dolphins or turtles, but it’s not really everyone’s idea of a good time.
With crashing waves, dentally over-endowed sea life and a paddle out into the wide, blue yonder to contend with, up until now kayaking the Bay has bordered on an adrenaline sport. Not that it’s not worth venturing into the crystal clear ocean with its plethora of fauna and spectacular views, but Granma Mavis and Little Baby Archie may not be quite as willing as the more adventurous and able-bodied amongst us.
Go Sea Kayak has been operating from the white sands of Main Beach for about forever, over thirty years’ business providing a vast and diverse wealth of knowledge and experience. “An awesome experience and a whole lot of fun”, as its website proclaims, it caters to everyone, but does suggest ‘a sense of adventure’ is required.
In a departure from its ocean tours, Go Sea Kayak has recently launched a new tour, a more sedate but no less breath-taking paddle catering to an even wider demographic.
“Our ocean tours can get adventurous in the waves, depending on the conditions,” says head guide, Dougie Meagher, “but the Brunswick River is so much more pleasant, with calmer conditions. We do the best tours we possibly can and want to offer different tours for different types of people.”
Launching at Brunswick Heads with the tides, the Go Sea Kayak river tour takes guests on a leisurely paddle on the Brunswick River system, from the main river mouth to the several tributaries – Simpson’s and Marshall’s Creeks – giving participants a tranquil and unique water level perspective of the waterways too often missed from dry land.
With the daily variance of tides, each tour takes place at any time from dawn to dusk, taking full advantage of the transparent, deep blue water of the high to offer the best chance of catching a glance of turtles, sting rays, birds and even the odd dolphin that call the estuary their home. But the magic of sunrise adds a dazzling dimension to the experience.
Casting off from the chilly, dew-drenched beach onto the calm, still waters of the Brunswick, you are warmed immediately by the newborn rays of the rising sun, the world coming alive just a few feet away. Paddling is easy, the lazy current almost sedentary in its gentle meander between the abundant banks.
While the ocean trips may be a little more physically challenging, guests paddling from Main Beach out to the distant cape beyond Watego’s, the Brunswick days are a more relaxed journey, frequent stops taken, both on the water and on the shoreline.
“The river tours are intended to accommodate a wider diversity of people who might not get out into the ocean,” says Dougie, “from the under five-year-olds to the elders. It’s an opportunity to get out on the river and back to nature.”
As with all the head guides, Dougie is a goldmine of information, both on the regional plants and wildlife and on the indigenous history of the Shire. He informs his groups, for example, that the sweeping rock wall that lies on the inlet to Marshall’s Creek is not a modern fabrication but built over centuries and generations of Bundjalung. The womenfolk would herd fish into the catchment, laying a specific tree bark into the river, de-oxygenating the water and making the fish drowsy – easy pickings for their waiting husbands, brothers and sons.
It is these little gems – coupled with the idyllic surroundings and genial staff – that set the Go Sea Kayak river tour apart. Whether you are alone or part of a group, getting out on the water is a tranquil and sublime experience, but the Go Sea tour provides a deeper appreciation, both historically and environmentally.
Pelicans cautiously follow you with their eyes from their rock perches, scampering across the water into graceful flight, skeletal cormorants dry their wings in the gentle morning breeze, turtles emerge nonchalantly through the glassy surface and elusive kingfishers flash streaks of iridescent blue along the banks of the river.
It is a time-out from the daily grind, the world around you put on hold, forgotten for just a few short hours adrift. There are many tourist attractions in Byron Bay and we take for granted so many aspects that draw people to our little corner of paradise from all over the world. Many of these excursions are for visitors only, businesses directed at and focussed upon our healthy tourism industry. Go Sea Kayak has the visitors to thank for much of its three decades of success, but the river tours are a little different. Sometimes, like that tear-jerking ‘oh Captain, my Captain’ scene in the movie, Dead Poet’s Society, we need to climb up onto that desk, viewing the world we know so well from a different perspective to gain a greater appreciation of the place we call home.
We spend our days skirting around the periphery of this magical region, too busy with careers and routines to delve deeper into our surroundings. Go Sea Kayaks’ Brunswick River tour allows us that break from the norm, as rewarding for residents and locals as it is for visitors.
“I believe a lot of people are just too busy,” reflects Dougie. “We need to slow down, and the river is a great place for that. I like to say, ‘look after nature so it can look after you’.”
Go Sea Kayak offers a selection of Brunswick River tours for groups of two or more. Tours take place on the high tide, so times vary daily. To book ahead and for more information, go to www.goseakayakbrunswickriver.com.au. You can also follow Go Sea Kayak on Instagram at: @goseakayakbyronbay
All words & Photos: Thomas Leitch / Subcutanea
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Sep 2, 2015