'Everglades reveal their secrets'
The Weekend Australian 2 April 2011

Life is nice and cruisy on the Sunshine Coast by Kerrin O'Sullivan

Perhaps I've watched one too many American film noirs, but I am relieved to find my eco-cruise of the Noosa Everglades bears no resemblance to the pot-boiler horror flicks set in the everglades of the Florida Keys.

For starters no one is pursuing me, there is no ominous grainy moonlight, nor any snapping 'gators. Instead a brilliant Queensland sun illuminates the landscape and the shadows welcome with shade, not menace. And as I peer over the edge of a purpose-built motorised barge, no deadly crocs appear to be lurking in the shallows.

Rather than celluloid felons for company, I have an eclectic mix of Americans, New Zealanders and Queenslanders. To reach the everglades we have cast off from the Sheraton Wharf at Noosa Heads and made our way past a millionaires' mile of opulent weekenders and holiday apartments. Also cruising the Noosa River is a fascinating array of craft, from kayaks, yachts and hill-billy houseboats to a Venetian-style gondola dropping diners at Ricky's River Bar on Noosa Wharf.

Soon we pass Noosa's only privately-owned island; Richard Branson's leafy Makepeace Island, where a Balinese-style retreat has been built for his staff. We salute them with an air-horn toot.

As evidence of the river system's health, our skipper points out a two metre bull shark as it leaps skyward and a brahminy kite wheels overhead. High in a spindly eucalypt, he spots an osprey's nest; I scan the skies for the occupant.

We cross the muddy café-au-lait waters of Lake Cooroibah, once favoured fishing territory of the indigenous Kabi Kabi people. The channel we are following was originally dredged by a horse-drawn scoop. The boat moves slowly so as to minimise erosion on the mangrove-lined banks, a flitting swallow categorically outpacing us. At a dilapidated wharf an old mullet boat is moored alongside an ancient steamer that could double for the African Queen.

Passing Boreen Point, home to the historic Apollonian Hotel, famed for its Sunday spit roast, we see stingrays and stonefish in the waist-deep Lake Cootharaba. On entering the Great Sandy National Park we swap to the larger double-storey Cooloola Queen for better viewing of the everglades. We learn of complex water habitats and a fragile ecosystem of flora and fauna. The current ripples over submerged logs; there are overhanging boughs, and those of us on the top deck duck our heads.

We cross Lake Fig-tree, its mixture of brackish and fresh water replete with floating lotus and purple saltwater lilies. Here, on its bladegrass-lined edges, the Kabi Kabi held their corroborees.

We drift along the creeks of the tranquil upper reaches of the Noosa River, the low hum of the diesel engine a backing to the sounds of wind and lapping water.

Bushfire-blackened melaleucas are reflected in tannin-stained waters as clear as tea. Dead tree trunks protrude, their ghostly white limbs stretching aloft. Blue-grey spike-grass rustles amongst swamp box and bush banksias - a frog, perhaps, or even a wallaby. An azure kingfisher dips and dives, flashing fluoro blue as it breaks the mirror surface.

Docking near Harry's Hut, built to accommodate timber-cutters half a century ago, an afternoon tea of scones and muffins, orange juice and bubbly, awaits. As we prepare to make our return, we spy an old goanna sunning itself, a picture of peace in the serene everglades.

The Cooloola Queen drifts away from the jetty but not before the skipper excitedly reports a big brown tree python camouflaged in the limbs of a river red gum.

I don't look. I think I'll just wait for the movie.

© 2012 Kerrin O’Sullivan