Take me to the river

Break the shack­les of city life and head to this se­cluded river­side wilder­ness lodge.

4 x 4 Australia - - Explore - WORDS AND PICS JOHN DEN­MAN

ABOUT 8km from the low-level cross­ing of the Clarence River at Paddy’s Flat, you’ll find the turn-off on the left to the Clarence River Wilder­ness Lodge. The track into the camp­site is a scenic in­tro­duc­tion to the ad­ven­tures that lay ahead, as it winds its way down heav­ily tim­bered hills to where the Up­per Clarence runs.

For most 4WD own­ers it’s get­ting harder and harder to find a place where you can sim­ply veg out for a while; a place where you don’t have to have the sus­pen­sion at max­i­mum travel to cover ev­ery me­tre of ground; a place where your camp is not hemmed in by oth­ers. It’s called pas­sive recre­ation, and we’ve got just the spot for you.

Clarence River Wilder­ness Lodge is just down­stream from the con­flu­ence of Tooloom Creek and the Clarence River. It’s ap­prox­i­mately 16km² of bush­land, and your camp­site is on level grassy ground just a step or two from the banks of the Up­per Clarence.

Some years back Steve and Sharon Ross de­cided that was how they wanted to live. They had es­caped the con­fines of Bris­bane, and as time slipped by they de­cided they didn’t mind the idea of shar­ing this lit­tle bit of par­adise with oth­ers. Pun­ters can come down and set­tle in be­side the river, or per­haps go out and ex­plore a cou­ple of easy tracks know­ing they’ll

ar­rive back at the camp­site with plenty of time to en­joy a re­fresh­ing sun­downer or dip in the river.

There’s no need to worry about pack­ing your camp­ing gear, ei­ther. Steve Ross is an in­dus­tri­ous soul and he’s been busy build­ing a va­ri­ety of ac­com­mo­da­tion for those who would pre­fer a solid roof over their heads. There are two styles: the ba­sic bush­man’s hut for one or two peo­ple; and the lodges, which are bet­ter suited to fam­i­lies and have more in the way of cooking fa­cil­i­ties and ameni­ties.

You needn’t worry about this be­ing one of those camps where you trip over the neigh­bour’s tent ropes. In keep­ing with the peace­ful aim of the place, you are re­quired

to book ahead. The rea­son for this is that Steve and Sharon have put a limit on the num­ber of campers, with camp­sites kept at a rea­son­able dis­tance from one an­other. Ly­ing in your swag at night and be­ing kept awake by the snor­ing from next door is no­body’s idea of fun.

Vis­i­tors are pro­vided with a map of the prop­erty so they can spend some time ex­plor­ing. There are a few tracks to check out: the Old Mine Site track takes you down a steep hill to a sec­tion of the Tooloom Creek that has a deep hole on the bend, and the re­mains of some old huts and re­cent min­ing ac­tiv­ity can be seen here. There’s still a cur­rent min­ing lease down there, but it’s on Ross’s land, so you can come and go as you please.

The Ea­gle Hawk track takes you fur­ther down the Clarence. There’s a long stretch of river and it looks like great spot for a bit of wa­ter-borne en­joy­ment. Swim­ming, of course, but pad­dling around on some­thing in­flat­able could be a lot of fun too. Just don’t for­get that if you drift off down­stream, you have to pad­dle back home against the cur­rent.

The Rose Gar­den track goes down to where an old Abo­rig­i­nal lady lived, and here and there are the re­mains of her time spent in the area. The other track, which can be a bit of a chal­lenge, is the Tower track. This track takes you up to a re­peater tower – prob­a­bly the only sign of tech­nol­ogy you will see here – and a ca­pa­ble 4WD is needed.

The Up­per Clarence is a stretch of wa­ter that begs to be ex­plored

The wildlife is one of the great at­trac­tions here, and the steep rock faces across the river from the camp­site are of­ten vis­ited by yel­low­footed rock wal­la­bies. These lit­tle mar­su­pi­als are of­ten found qui­etly pok­ing around the nearby bush­land, and city-dwellers are of­ten as­tounded at how close the an­i­mals al­low you to ap­proach. The rock wal­la­bies took a fair bit of pun­ish­ment from some wild dogs not long ago, but they look to have bounced back. Platy­puses also in­habit the area but are harder to see.

Back at the camp­site there’s a great camp kitchen set aside for oc­cu­pants of the bush­man’s huts; those who come in choos­ing to camp are usu­ally self-con­tained. The walls are dec­o­rated with all the old bush im­ple­ments Steve has found in his wan­der­ings, and a lot of peo­ple like to try and work out the func­tion of some of the more ob­scure items. It’s a great place for campers to gather if they don’t want to cook at their own camp.

The Up­per Clarence is a stretch of wa­ter that begs to be ex­plored. Ca­noes are avail­able for hire and the Lodge now has a ca­noe ser­vice avail­able so vis­i­tors can leave the camp­site and be picked up at the Paddy’s Flat area. This is a great op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence river travel in the most re­lax­ing way pos­si­ble, but to make sure it’s not too rest­ful Steve also en­sures you ne­go­ti­ate a few rapids on the way. All safety gear and guid­ance is pro­vided.

Isn’t this what real eco­tourism is all about?

Camp­sites are hugely gen­er­ous to en­sure pri­vacy.

Tooloom Creek from the old Wheel­bar­row Track.

Cus­tom­ary col­lec­tion of pre-bun­nings tools.

Hosts Sharon and Steve have scooped many tourism awards. Tra­di­tional camp kitchen gets 21st cen­tury so­lar pan­els.

Lo­cal rock wal­la­bies aren’t fazed by vis­i­tors.

Mild to chal­leng­ing 4x4 trails abound. Rem­nants of the de­fen­sive WWII Bris­bane Line.

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