After just minutes on the water, I realise I may finally have found the ultimate escape from the workaday world. Imagine the sheer bliss of finding yourself in a place where there’s no mobile reception and no possibility of constant email. What’s more, there’s no dress code beyond sun sensible, no responsibility apart from doing what your guide tells you, no pressure to paddle any faster than the river’s current will carry you and no stress except for the adrenaline rush as you navigate the occasional passage of fast flowing water.
Such are the joys of an expedition on the Northern Territory’s Katherine River with Gecko Canoeing and Trekking. The inspiration of former RAAF instrument fitter turned fitness instructor Mick Gerram and his partner, outdoor instructor Jenn Child, the company offers kayaking, bushwalking and four-wheel-drive adventures in the Territory and Kimberley region of WA. By nine on an early June morning our kayaking group of five has been transported to the launch site where we’re given a short lesson in paddling and manoeuvring a kayak, a safety briefing and fitted with helmets (which we wear occasionally when Mick deems necessary) and life jackets (which we wear all the time).
We’re a motley crew ranging in age from thirty-something to early sixties, with two probably qualifying as moderately fit and the rest of us, up for a bush walk but not a bivouac. Gecko’s publicity material says no previous paddling experience is necessary and while that is strictly true, a bit of outdoor experience will go a long way towards providing realistic expectations for what amounts a trip into the wilderness in which you carry all own equipment.
Well, actually, make that our guide carries most of the equipment. We’re given two waterproof bags each, the larger one for essentials of clothing and toiletries and a small one for cameras, sunscreen, water bottles and other personal equipment we might need during the day. There’s also a swag and a collapsible chair stashed in the front of each kayak, but the rest, which includes dining tables and sleeping equipment, a full camp kitchen, plates, cutlery, mugs, the kitchen sink and fresh food for some memorable meals somehow manages to fit into Mick’s larger Canadian-style canoe.
Briefed and packed, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be for the river, and wave the ground crew off with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. First shock of the trip should have been bleeding obvious – no matter how carefully you get in and out of your vessel, kayaking means you’ll have a wet backside most of the time. Next surprise is that the river is actually quite fast flowing and, at this early stage in the season not long after the river has been flooded, even offers some baby-grade rapids. Perhaps this is not the moment to confess that I regard the ferris wheel as an adventure pursuit.
Still, if I want to go ahead I’m obviously going to have to get over my fear of fast flowing water. And fast, as we encounter the first challenging stretch pretty soon after setting out. We go through one at a time, with Mick leading and calling instructions from the other side. We valiantly try to set our kayaks straight into the rapid, paddle backwards and forwards as instructed and lean on to, rather than away from, the exposed rocks we encounter along the way. Amazingly, no one ends up in the drink. As Mick pragmatically points out, that’s the worst that can happen.
The final couple of hours go too quickly and pretty soon we can see Jenn and the pickup vehicle waiting for us on the bank at the designated spot. Like the expedition package, the transfer back to Katherine is smooth and seamless. In fact, the only criticism of the whole experience is that nobody warned us that two days is simply not enough. Next time – and we’re planning it already – we’ll be booking the six-day combined Katherine, Flora and Daly Rivers experience.
For more information on Gecko Canoeing & Trekking, visit http://www.geckocanoeing.com.au.
Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass