What do you call a rowing trip that on one hand is “a hidden gem” or “a well-kept secret”, then gets 5 out of 5 ratings from guests? A contradiction? An amazing experience! How about a sure repeat. We are talking about the Australia: Clarence River tour which we ran in late March, early April 2019.
One hundred km, beginning at the upper limit of the tide, which gave us just enough water to row, to the Pacific Ocean – well almost, we stopped a couple of km away. It was an exploratory trip, and our second ever tour in Australia. We admit that when deciding where to launch our program “down under”, the Clarence was not our first choice, okay not our second choice either. What a wonderful thing that we were convinced to give it a try. Over a week, our small group of Australian, American and Swiss guests travelled the river in the good hands of the Grafton Rowing Club. It turned out to be a fantastic trip.
The Clarence River is in northern New South Wales, very close to the border with Queensland. Almost tropical, which was perfect – not too hot, but also not too cool as autumn approached. We had rain on two days, but given the drought that Australia was suffering through, we didn’t mind getting a bit wet.
We changed accommodation as we moved down river, staying in a riverside B&B, a couple of modern motels and ending in a resort by the Pacific. All terrific. The food varied from fabulous to “interesting” – fried lasagne anyone? Ah but the wine, beer and coffee were consistently good.
So, what made it such a superb trip? Our local partners were definitely an essential element. Lead by Katrina and Rob Heathcote, the volunteers at the Grafton, Lower Clarence and Iluka Rowing Clubs were warm, friendly and worked very hard to ensure that we had a safe and superb trip. They spoilt us! Some mornings we arrived at the day’s launch site to find the boats ready in the water, just waiting for us to step in and begin rowing. We were delighted to have time over lunches and tea breaks to get to know each other and we always had a local rower in each boat. We just can’t thank them enough.
There really is something about rowing point to point down a river. Especially such a lovely river with surprisingly diverse landscape. We rowed past cliffs, forests, pastures, mangroves, sugar cane fields and communities of varying sizes. Parrots, herons and other birds accompanied us, and one day dolphins splashed by. The river widened, narrowed and offered multiple channels to explore. Hills popped up in the background or right beside us, while at other times, the horizon was big and broad hinting at the ocean to come.
We had time to enjoy a leisurely pace on the river, always time for a good breakfast, lunches at cafes or a picnic. Non-rowing activities included checking out the view from a local hilltop, a guided rainforest walk, a fascinating historical tour of Grafton and time on the beach to watch surfers. Plus, of course, time for relaxation before dinner – or maybe a little laundry.
Turns out that the formula for a perfect rowing tour is to be open to the unexpected. Just because a place is not famous does not mean it is not beautiful. When you also bring together wonderful people (both guests and guides) and good places to eat and sleep, well, it rates a 5 out of 5. A perfect trip. The secret about the Clarence River might be out now, and we are very happy to share it with you. Even better, see you there next year. Come and see what we are talking about.