What better way to connect with the great outdoors than with canoes, champagne and canapes?
It's early morning when we push off from the small bushy promontory jutting into Yarrunga Creek, gliding over a mirror-like surface that reflects the puffy cumulus clouds overhead. Tiny ripples alert us to something moving stealth-like through the inky water as we spot two shy platypus diving for cover. Apart from the wooden oars being carved through the water by our bearded guide, the sound of silence is resounding.
Surprisingly, even though we are a little over two hours from Sydney, this is a place few know about, let alone have seen for themselves. Sure, many are familiar with Kangaroo Valley, and some would have even canoed the more popular stretches of the Kangaroo River. Here, however, roughly 10 kilometres from the main road along a bumpy dirt track, it's just that little bit harder to reach.
"I get goosebumps when I think about it," says Amanda Fry, who dreamed up the Canoes, Champagne and Canapes experience which launched at the inaugural Wildfest Southern Highlands last October – a three-day annual event celebrating nature and inviting people to connect with the great outdoors in a refreshing way. The remote glamping event took place at Joadja, among the ruins of a former shale oil mining town 25 kilometres west of Mittagong in the NSW Southern Highlands.
The decadent outdoor canoe experience was a festival highlight, and is on the itinerary again this year.
"There are some places in the wilderness where nature over delivers and gliding downstream on the Kangaroo River from Beehive Point to the mouth of Yarrunga Creek with the backdrop of the Morton National Park is surely one of them," Fry says.
This is no ordinary canoe trip. We're in custom-built Wenonah double-canoe rigs imported from North America. Light and super stable, the red canoes feature a built-in table and ice buckets. On ice is a bottle of cool climate local pinot gris and a selection of wild native canapes served in bento boxes by Brigid Kennedy, from the Loch at nearby Berrima. The canoe's clever design makes for easy steering and manoeuvring. It's quite feasible to glide along; glass of wine in one hand, wild lamb, olive and mint skewer in the other. This is definitely my type of kayaking.
We paddle a short way before arriving at the sunken forest at Yurrunga Creek, and simply float in silence admiring the hauntingly beautiful backdrop of a convict-built sandstone road, winding uphill and linking the rainforest with our colonial past. This is wilderness within surprisingly easy reach; home to the majestic azure kingfisher, wedge-tail eagle, diamond python, rock wallaby, white-breasted sea eagle, water dragon and more. The spindly naked tree branches emerge eerily from the clear green water like a surgeon's hands waiting to be gloved; their reflection emulated on the glassy surface.
We nibble our canapes, sip wine and revel in the stillness before reluctantly turning back. We've touched wilderness, albeit briefly and hedonistically, yet feel all the better for it.
The Canoes Champagne and Canapes experience led by Travis Frenay, from Paddle and Portage, runs during Wildfest October 5-7, 2018, and costs $195 a person for three hours, including canapes, champagne or wine. The luxe canoe experience is also available for group bookings, and during peak holiday periods. See wildfest.com.au
The three-day pop up Wildfest experience, including food by local chef Damien Monley, from the Grand Bistro Bowral, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), some activities, entertainment and accommodation in luxury tents starts from $950 a person for one night inclusive (early bird price until March 31, 2018). See wildfest.com.au/wildfest-southern-highlands/wildernessretreat/
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Wildfest Southern Highlands.