The weekend is approaching and the chill of winter has been biting my toes at the office. The kids have spent weeks bringing colds home from day care, handballing each cough and splutter around the family, germs lingering in the house like a bad fart. I decide we need to get away.
After clean-bombing the house on Saturday morning, we throw a few necessities - toys and alcohol - in the car with the kids and drive out onto the highway, away from the routine and off into the wild. North or south? Which way to turn?
We head south: destination Wooli.
Located roughly two hours south of our home in Byron Bay, as we turn off the highway and start the 50km approach into Wooli we are welcomed by persistent, scattered showers and a crisp breeze nibbling on my boot-clad ankles, not dissimilar from the toe-biter I left happily in Byron. Hmm, was this a good idea?It doesn’t take long to realize this, indeed, was a great idea, and we embrace this wonderfully wild destination off the beaten path, yet right under our nose on the east coast of Australia.
1pm: We check-in to our deluxe cabin at Wooli River Lodges and jaw-drop to the view. Our humble abode fronts right on to the Wooli Wooli River, dispersing the area’s famed natural riverside environment in full view from the kitchen, hallway, and master bedroom windows, not to mention the experience taking it all in on the deck.
The kids have found their room then found the canoes under the cabin and are running free on the manicured grass, eyeing off the pool and registering that one might have to wait for summer. We could easily jump straight on the river but gurgling stomachs complain we should eat first. Off to the pub – it’s right nextdoor.
2pm: The Wooli Hotel Motel is as you would expect on a rainy afternoon in the off-season: quiet but for a few locals knocking back schooners while betting on the races. Emilio’s Bistro is tucked into the corner of the pub, the modest dining room gives way to floor-to-ceiling folding glass doors that open (in better weather) to a spacious beer garden.
We opt for the fisherman’s basket and a Hawaiian pizza for the kids – the main was huge and more than enough to share between two. Highlight was certainly the Oyster tease: a couple of fresh Sydney Rock Oysters grown just down the river. We make note to bee-line straight for the Oyster farm after lunch and stock up on fresh dozens for the night’s appetizer – a perfect complement to the fancy French bubbly I bought.
Evening Surrounds Ingestion
3:15pm: We’ve busted three minutes down the road in the car and found the main town: a bowls club appears on the left, a deli on the right, and… “oh damn it!” we’ve just driven past the Oyster shop – Wooli Oyster Supply. I park the car on the side of deserted Riverside Drive, the main road running along the river. It’s closed and I’m devastated, forced to re-think my accompanying partner to tonight’s classy champagne.
Deciding on a tour of town, we follow the road south along the river and despite the still sprinkling rain Wooli’s natural beauty is in unhindered before our eyes. We’ve already passed the main holiday park surprisingly full of good-looking caravans and begin to pass gorgeous holiday rental beach houses tucked among local dwellings that sit on the Pacific Ocean’s foreshore. Further down the road the houses disappear on either side making way for pristine beauty – nature untouched but for charcoal stains on the tree trunks suggesting a recent bushfire.
My husband announces the moody afternoon light and rising tide is the right time to drop a line in the river, so we mosey on back to the lodges and drag the family-sized canoe out onto the water. Undeterred by the ongoing drizzle, the kids snuggle up in their lifejackets as dad paddles us out onto the glassy water and casts in hope of a fishy nibble. The air is still as we slither upstream, eyes peeled for bird life in one of Australia’s best bird watching destinations.
A few minutes into our river trip and we spot fruit bats wrapped up in their wings, hanging upside down from the scrawny trees. Eerily, we paddle past what must be hundreds of bats snoozing out the rest of daylight. Disturbing images of Dracula and slightly heavier raindrops ignite a sudden urge for my husband to steer us back to shore – it probably doesn’t help that he is humming the batman jingle to the sunset. Fishless but with lungs full of fresh river air, we retreat to hot showers in the Cabin.
Saved by the Servo6:30pm: Showered and cosy in our cabin, it dawns on me our dinner options are slim considering the cabin allows only for simple microwave re-heats and electric fry-pan recipes. Luckily the servo is still open (just) and I am able to snap up some fresh vegies for a salad and a hot chicken – hardly the gourmet seafood fest I had in mind but nonetheless tasty and kids and hubby are beaming.
8am: Hubby fails to hook a fish again on a solo sunrise canoe along the river, resorting to a morning feast of cabin-cooked eggs on toast as we watch the rain ease to a complete halt.
10am: We’ve booked in with Wooli River Boat Hire and meet owner Bruce at the southern boat ramp where he launches our snazzy runabout into the calm water. You don’t need a license to drive these so for the next two hours we cruise along the now very shallow river, stopping at sandy banks to soak up the raw beauty as the sun emerges in the full.
I’m not sure who is happier: the kids or my hubby, who has finally snagged a little fish (throwing it back as the poor little bugger was undersized).
12pm: Throwing our sea legs aside, we thank Bruce and shuffle down to the river mouth salivating over just-bought oysters, and finally succumb to their oh-so-juicy freshness. One of the purest river’s in Australia, it’s no surprise the Sydney Rock Oysters thrive here. We have to fight off the Pelicans to savour our feast.
1pm: The sun is now out in all her glory so we conclude our 24hr Wooli adventure with a play on the beach where sparkling blue-green waters lap up the powder white sand. Unfortunately the surf has dropped right off but we all have fun slowing the pace right down: sun baking and building sand castles, throwing in the fishing line (unsuccessful again) and basking in the kilometres of uninhabited beach.
If You Go:
Wooli village in the Clarence Valley region of northern New South Wales sits on a narrow peninsula hugged by the Yuraygir National Park, with the Wooli Wooli River to the west and Pacific Ocean to the east. Forming the northern sector of the Solitary Islands Marine Park, Wooli is famed for deepsea diving and boasts the only dive shop in the valley.
The Wooli Wooli River can be negotiated for around 20km by canoe or boat, offering some of the best bird watching in Australia and spectacular fishing both in the river and out to sea (if you know what you’re doing).
There are kilometres of secluded beaches in and around Wooli, with a 4WD you have access to a real untouched section of the New South Wales coast and, when the swell is up, awesome and uncrowded surf.