Gliding through the Everglades
Gliding through the Everglades
Gliding through the Everglades

Gliding through the Everglades

It's hard to believe this deeply peaceful place could ever have been a scene of terror and loneliness, but Fig Tree Point, tucked into a corner of Lake Cootharaba on the edge of the Noosa Everglades was the spot where one of Australia's most famous shipwreck survivors, Eliza Fraser, was finally rescued from captivity while being exhibited by her captors at a corroborree.

The quiet glade amongst the giant cabbage tree palms and melaleucas would have been teeming with people, feasting, dancing, and talking when the white search party appeared and found the distraught woman.

She went on to marry another sea captain in Sydney and enjoy some fame with her dramatic accounts of the ordeal, and eventually her story became a movie, while the Indigenous people of this region went back to enjoying the beauty and bounty of life in the Great Sandy Region for some time before they were driven away by white settlers.

Despite its natural beauty, this area has poor, sandy soil, so farming was never successful and it was never heavily populated. But what does grow in sandy soil is some of the most fascinating flora of the Queensland landscape.  So now Fig Tree Point is part of the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park and has returned to something like its original primordial peace. There is the added amenity of picnic tables, camping spots, toilets, and an excellent 300m boardwalk track through the surrounding cabbage palm and paperbark wetlands, as well as access to the extensive walking tracks that criss-cross the 56,600ha park.

But for first-time visitors especially, touring the area by water is the best way to enjoy this wild wonderland. As you cruise at a snail's pace along the upper reaches of the Noosa River on a calm day, the water goes a perfect glassy black that mirrors the dramatic scenery - big twisted paperbarks, thick grasses, tall swamp banksias with flowers in every shade from pale green to black.

Amongst all the vegetation are 280 different types of birds, depending on the time of year, a wide selection of both venomous and non-venoumous snakes, like the pythons that you see draped from branches overhead, big lizards and grey kangaroos.

You can venture forth in a canoe, (with plenty of insect repellant, wet weather gear and liniment for aching arms) and make an expedition of it or enjoy a comfortable boat tour with guide, morning or afternoon tea and a BBQ lunch.

Everglades Waterbus Tours offers three trips to choose from:

  • BBQ lunch cruise (six hours, morning tea and lunch included)
  • Afternoon cruise (four hours, afternoon tea included)
  • Eumundi Markets cruise (trip to markets, plus four-hour cruise and afternoon tea). 

Passengers just sit back and enjoy nature in comfort. Even at the start of the trip, gliding along the Noosa River between rows of splendid holiday flats, the bird life is prolific and our eagle-eyed skipper, Barry Moynihan, doesn't miss one of them, frequently veering off into the banks for a closer look at a fat fluffy pelican or a big, bronze brahminy kite sitting regally in a tree just a few metres above our heads. He'll often drop the boat from a full-tilt plane to a wallowing crawl to give us a closer look at a kingfisher or a snake-necked darter and is full of tales of the river and its history as well as having an eye for the birds.

Barry's been doing these trips for more than 15 years, but his love for the bush and his enthusiasm for sharing it with visitors is undiminished. There are a few wry jokes about passengers who've suggested that the wild wetland scenery is too 'untidy' and that the fallen branches should be removed from the river and vines pulled down from the trees, but his tone is always one of deep respect as he gently reminds us that nature is always changing, creating and destroying, and that even the jungly chaos we see here has a purpose and order we may not see at first.

Barry's wealth of natural knowledge is backed up by the fact that Everglades Waterbus Tours have EcoCertification. You see no styrofoam cups at morning tea, all rubbish is packed out with us and the rules of careful environmental tourism are always observed. The boats and drivers can also accomodate disabled passengers, especially with prior notice, and these trips are ideal for families with small children as the boats are stable, with no decks to slide off, and big wide windows for full vision.

Lunch is a choice of steak or fish, plus salads, cordials and wine and magically appears before your very eyes at the well-loved Harry's Hut day use area, and morning/afternoon tea is served at Fig Tree Point, where a wander along the wetland boardwalk gives you chance for a quiet thought about Eliza Fraser and whether she was able to see the beauty of this spot.

By Suzy Young