The Sunshine Coast Everglades
The famous Queensland beaches have been dazzling us for days, so, for a complete change, we're heading up the Noosa river for a day of something different - the cool, dark, natural beauty of the Everglades.
As we leave behind us the pastel holiday cottages, the happy children playing at the water's edge, the stately pelicans with their big pink feet, everyone on the boat goes quiet, watching civilisation slip away and the thick forest close in on both sides of the grey-green river.
Luckily, our pilot and guide is the reassuring Barry Moynihan, an old hand on the Noosa River, and we know that we are not heading into danger but into a rare kind of natural beauty.
We are aboard an Everglades Water Bus Tour. Our course is a meandering zig-zag as Barry expertly pilots us into one bank and then the other to show us a lovely old house amongst the trees on an island, where an artist lives and paints his canvases, and a patch of green grass where a dozen graceful grey kangaroos delicately graze and all the other fascinating features that he seems able to spy with his eagle eyes. But just as we've adjusted to the gentle rhythm of the river, our world changes abruptly.
The waterway suddenly widens and we burst out onto a shining expanse of water which Barry tells us is Lake Cooroiba, one of two huge shallow lakes much favoured by small sailing craft and canoeists. Everyone shuts the windows against the brisk breeze and settles down in their seats as we weave between the channel markers that guide us through the shallow waters.
Another languid river passage takes the tempo back to normal and we're back to the wilderness, with Barry pointing out a brahminy kite, a huge bronze bird on a nest high above the river and countless egrets and darters, fishing birds with long, snake-like necks that dive like arrows into the water for their food. Great patches of blue water lilies cover sections of the river and Barry points out the curious bottle brush flowers, in every colour from pale green to yellow and blue-black.
Then the forest disappears once again and we're skimming along on the surface of another vast stretch of water, Lake Cootharaba, which is much bigger than the last. On the far horizon rise dark forested hills with startling bare patches where the vegetation has been breached and the landscape is at the mercy of the elements, creating vast sandblows.
After a stop for morning tea in a green glade which offers a short stroll on a timber boardwalk to view the thick wetland forest of cabbage palms and paperbarks, we leave this lake, too, behind us.
Now the friendly river has become a mysterious tunnel in the greenery and the water becomes black as it slides under our hull. It is coloured by tannin which leaches from the bark of trees that live in water, and it actually clarifies the water, which is like very dark tea. Now that we are the only boat on the water and out of the wind, it is like glass, making perfect reflections of trees and flowers.
The boat noses silently up the river, and we sit in silence staring into the deep, dark forests, dodging the huge gnarled branches of trees that reach over the water, where we're told we may see pythons sleeping, and everyone is utterly transfixed by the reflections in the mirror-like water.
This sandy coastal strip of land, Barry tells us, was first inhabited by Aborigines. They were driven out by the first settlers to the area, who tried farming, but moved inland when the soil proved to be too poor for growing crops.
Now the region has returned to its original state and forms part of the Great Sandy National Park that also encompasses World Heritage Listed Fraser Island. It also includes the long beautiful beaches known for their stretches of sand cliffs, coloured many shades of red and orange by mineral deposits and fashioned by wind erosion into fantastic shapes.
Our journey is broken at a little jetty at Harry's Hut, deep in the forest, where we alight for lunch, which Barry seems to whip up like magic on a portable barbecue. We return to Noosa on the boat and remain under the spell of the river of mirrors, watching it change colour and character, as it reveals its different personalities and its secrets.
Our loyalty is rewarded by the sighting of several delightful little blue kingfishers, a tiny relative of the Australian kookaburra, as well as a big goanna lizard sunning himself on a branch over our heads as we glide by.
By the time we return to the mundane world outside the National Park and start to see houses, roads and people, we're almost affronted by the sights and sounds of civilisation and no longer wary of the wilderness.
By Suzy Young