Kayaking the Noosa Everglades – Great Sandy National Park, Australia. All you need to know about exploring one of southern Queensland’s hidden gems.
About Noosa Everglades
The Noosa Everglades is a stunning network of wetlands and waterways found in the Cooloola Recreation Area of the Great Sandy National Park on the Sunshine Coast – Queensland. It is one of just two Everglade systems found on Earth. The only other being the Florida Everglades in the US.
This amazing part of the Sunshine Coast was an area we couldn’t wait to explore. And what better way to do so, than getting right amongst, pitching a swag on the banks Upper Noosa River and paddling along some of its 60km of pristine waterways. Here’s how we spent our time on our two night adventure camping and kayaking in the Noosa Everglades and hiking up to the Cooloola Sandpatch.
Where we stayed
Harry’s Camping Area often just referred to as ‘Harry’s’ or ‘Harry’s Hut’ is a really lovely 7 site camping area. It’s set amongst Eucalypt and Paperbark woodlands right on the banks of the Upper Noosa River. For those wanting a quiet drive-in (4WD) camping spot, this the one for you. As well as having vehicle access, this campsite has all important canoe landing access points, jetties and mooring points. Other facilities include toilets (non-flush), untreated water (treat before drinking), picnic tables and a sheltered picnic area in the day-use area. There’s also walking tracks to explore and enjoy the native flora and fauna. Camping permits must be booked in advance from the QPWS site.
For those of you not camping in a large Kings Big Daddy Swag like us there are more remote campsite(s) further upriver and one further south at Fig-Tree Point. These are only accessible from the water or hike-in, so you’ll need to carry all your gear. So if you’re looking for a really tranquil camping spot these are great options. That said we were at Harry’s on Saturday and Sunday nights in mid July and it was very peaceful. Only half full on the Saturday and we were the only ones camping on Sunday night.
Day 1: Kayaking the Noosa Everglades – Harry’s Camping Area
Arriving on Saturday evening, all we did on our first day was get orientated, setup camp and get everything ready for our paddle and hike to Cooloola Sandpatch the following morning. Once the camp was setup and things were organised, we took a short stroll along the river and enjoyed a few cold beers as the day turned to night.
Day 2: Kayaking the Noosa Everglades – Upriver & hiking to Cooloola Sandpatch
Getting to the Cooloola Sandpatch is a two-part process. It starts with a 7.7km one-way paddle, followed by a leisurely 12km (return) hike. Luckily for us, we had favourable weather conditions and very mild July temperatures forecast. So we were in no real rush to beat the heat and left mid-morning.
Paddling to Campsite 3
The first stage of todays adventure involved an approximately 1.5-2hour one-way paddle to Campsite 3. You can break this up with short breaks at Campsites 1 and 2 en-route. Each of these 3 quiet campsites have jetties/landing points and non-flush toilets and Campsite 3 also has picnic tables.
|Harry’s Hut to Campsite 1||3.5km||0.5-1hr|
|Campsite 1 to Campsite 2||1.7km||0.25-0.5hr|
|Campsite 2 to Campsite 3||2.5km||0.5-0.75hr|
Taking things nice and slowly, stopping for plenty of photo’s and to put the drone up, we went at a very leisurely pace. Seeing only a couple of other kayakers and a boat or two, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was, so incredibly peaceful. Using the table above we were able gauge the distance we covered as we passed Campsites 1 & 2. All in all it took a little under 2 hours to reach campsite 3.
Hiking to Cooloola Sandpatch
As part of the ‘Cooloola Great Walk,’ the ‘Cooloola Sandpatch Walk’ is clearly marked and is easy to follow from Campsite 3. The whole walk is on sand and not overly difficult. Nor particularly heavily trafficked, judging by our Sunday experience where we saw only two other people on the trail and no one at the sandpatch.
|Cooloola Sandpatch Walk details|
Trail Type: Return track – you return via the same path
Start/Finish Point: Campsite 3
Distance: 12km return
Duration: 3-5 hours – depending on time spent on Cooloola Sandpatch
Difficulty: Grade 4
Partly shaded, the hike to the sandblow takes you past some lovely native flora and fauna. Starting in coastal heath and then on a steady gradient along a low sandy ridge. You’ll slalom through euculpyt woodlands of Scribbly Gum and Blackbutt and gorgeous grass trees.
Arriving at the northern end of this massive ‘sandpatch’ or ‘sandblow’ you’ll be mesmerised by the stunning views in every direction. All the effort is worth it when you reach the top and lookout over one of Southern Queensland’s natural wonders – the awesome Cooloola Sandpatch.
Part of the massive Cooloola Sandmass, the views from atop the Cooloola Sandpatch at a height of about 220m are truly spectacular! With panoramic vistas over the upper Noosa River catchment to Lake Cotharabah, Lake Como and Lake Cooloola, the Hinterland areas and the Ocean, the views here will ‘sandblow’ you away!
With no one else around on Sunday lunchtime, we had this iconic spot all to ourselves and spent far more time there than planned exploring it. Putting the drone up really gave some scale of the sheer size of this unique and constantly evolving environment. It was so picturesque!
After plenty of time photographing this beautiful ‘parabolic sand dune’ and reading the signage (as you can probably guess, with fancy terms like that), we found a nice shady spot for a picnic, before heading back to the river. The return leg back the way you came to campsite 3 is all a gentle downhill, so nice and enjoyable.
Paddling back to Harrys Hut from Campsite 3
After arriving back at Campsite 3 we were tempted to paddle a little further upriver towards campsite 4. From campsite 3 onwards only electric motors and non-motorised vessels are permitted and we were keen to explore further. But having spent longer than planned on the sandpatch we decided best start paddling back as we didn’t want to arrive back in the dark.
We had perfect paddling conditions on the way back to Harry’s. It was so calm, with no wind at all. Lucky we hadn’t headed further upriver, as we had plenty of time for more photo stops on the way back. As the sun began to drop it lit up the riverbank to our left, bathing it in a beautiful golden colour.
Capping off an awesome day kayaking the Noosa Everglades just before we arrived back at campsite we spotted a majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle on the riverbanks. As we got closer it flew downstream, landing right opposite the launch site at Harry’s Hut and literally posed for us in the ‘Golden Hour’ light.
Day 3: Kayaking the Noosa Everglades – Exploring ‘The Narrows’
As with the previous evening, we woke to beautifully still conditions on the water. With lots to get ready for our Tuesday Fraser Island Adventure, we didn’t plan to go too far on the Monday morning. Having explored upriver the previous day we keen to head downriver toward Fig Tree Point and explore ‘The Narrows’ once we’d packed up camp.
It wasn’t hard to see why the Noosa River has the nickname it has – ‘River of Mirrors’. As we set off down towards Fig Tree Point we had completely still, glasslike conditions out on the water. There were perfect reflections everywhere we turned, so we took it nice and slowly, so as not to disturb the water too much.
It didn’t take long to reach the section known as ‘The Narrows’. This stretch of the river takes you through an incredibly picturesque portion of the Everglades with fallen and overhanging trees encroaching from both sides. It’s here that the ‘River of Mirror’s’ was at its reflective best. With the calm conditions it was almost like paddling into a mirror! You really couldn’t tell where the land met the water.
Needless to say we were truly mesmerised by our serene surrounds and incredibly grateful for the perfect conditions. The cameras were coming in and out of the drybag non stop. And getting a little off track out in the Noosa Everglades on a Monday there was next to no river traffic to disturb the water. In fact other than an organised tour group split between kayaks and a bigger motorised boat we saw no one.
Eventually we decided to turn around and head back to Harry’s for a quick picnic lunch before heading back to Noosa to prepare for our 4d/3n Fraser Island 4WD Adventure the following day.
Wildlife in the Noosa Everglades
For wildlife lovers there is plenty to keep you entertained too. The Noosa Everglades is one of Australia’s most diverse ecosystems. It boasts over 40% of the country’s bird species. Out on the water, other than the aforementioned White-bellied Sea Eagle, there’s cormorants, ducks, herons, swamphen, to name just a few waterbirds you can come across. And keep an eye out for flashes of colours as Rainbow Bee-eaters and the elusive kingfishers dart around.
On land there’s no shortage either. Around our swag we had regular visits from one of our favourites, the curious Eastern Yellow Robins. And there were always Brushturkeys prowling around too. If you explore around the campsite, day use area and walking tracks you’ll observe a huge variety of birdlife here very quickly. Kookaburra, various Honeyeaters, Golden and Rufous Whistlers, King Parrots and Rainbow Lorikeet are just some of the other birds you won’t need to look very hard to find.
One other creature we found (or should we say found us) was the Lace Monitor (Tree Goanna). These big lizards can grow up to 2 metres and they always seem to be on the lookout for food. There is important signage around the camp advising they have now become a problem here and that food needs to be securely stored and rubbish needs to be disposed of correctly. Please follow these instructions, we’ve seen these creatures tear through rubbish bags and rip open esky’s. As well as making a real mess it also encourages unnatural diet and bad habits!
Getting to the Noosa Everglades
Unlike some of the other parts of the Cooloola Recreation Area you do not need a vehicle permit to access the Upper Noosa River waterway. However you will need a 4WD to access the Harry’s Hut Camping Area. The final stretch is along a bumpy dirt road, so high clearance is ‘highly’ recommended. From Noosa Heads, our drive time was about 1h25m.
Useful information for Kayaking the Noosa Everglades
- We borrowed our Kayak and paddles from a friend (thanks Chrissy). But if you don’t have access there are various companies who rent them or run tours like Lake Escapades and Kanu Kapers. Or alternatively there are online activity and attraction booking websites like Bookme to arrange it through.
- If camping, remember you need to book ahead for Harry’s Camping Area.
- We were lucky and there weren’t many mosquitoes during our visit. But we have heard they can be really bad here, so come prepared.
- A good dry bag is recommended when you’re out on the water, just in case.
- Pack layers for chillier weather, particularly nights.
- Take plenty of water with you and make sure you have enough for the conditions. In the hotter months, you’ll obviously need a lot more than the cooler months.
- Take a’reef-friendly’ sunscreen protection with you, especially for the summer months. Regular sunscreens contain ingredients that contribute to coral bleaching. We love Sunbutter Skincare, which comes in a tin and is good for our oceans.
- As always, leave no trace and take all your rubbish with you and dispose of it correctly.
- Goanna’s frequent the camping grounds, as do ravens, kookaburra’s and magpies etc. They will tear bags apart looking for food, so keep everything including your rubbish locked away.
- Do not leave food in your tent for the same reasons as above.
- The wildlife in Noosa Everglades is wild. Please keep them this way and don’t feed them. Feeding wildlife ‘human’ food not only alters their balanced diets and potentially damages their health, but it changes their behaviours too.
On ‘reflection’, our couple days kayaking the Noosa Everglades surpassed our expectations. It was a really beautiful part of Southern Queensland. We’re so glad we squeezed in a couple of nights here. If you’re looking to get out into nature, only a stones throw from Noosa, we can’t recommend the Noosa Everglades enough.
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