ABOUT 8km from the low-level crossing of the Clarence River at Paddy’s Flat, you’ll find the turn-off on the left to the Clarence River Wilderness Lodge.
The track into the campsite is a scenic introduction to the adventures that lay ahead, as it winds its way down heavily timbered hills to where the Upper Clarence runs.
For most 4WD owners it’s getting harder and harder to find a place where you can simply veg out for a while; a place where you don’t have to have the suspension at maximum travel to cover every metre of ground; a place where your camp is not hemmed in by others. It’s called passive recreation, and we’ve got just the spot for you.
Clarence River Wilderness Lodge is just downstream from the confluence of Tooloom Creek and the Clarence River. It’s approximately 16km² of bushland, and your campsite is on level grassy ground just a step or two from the banks of the Upper Clarence.
Some years back Steve and Sharon Ross decided that was how they wanted to live. They had escaped the confines of Brisbane, and as time slipped by they decided they didn’t mind the idea of sharing this little bit of paradise with others. Punters can come down and settle in beside the river, or perhaps go out and explore a couple of easy tracks knowing they’ll arrive back at the campsite with plenty of time to enjoy a refreshing sundowner or dip in the river.
There’s no need to worry about packing your camping gear, either. Steve Ross is an industrious soul and he’s been busy building a variety of accommodation for those who would prefer a solid roof over their heads. There are two styles: the basic bushman’s hut for one or two people; and the lodges, which are better suited to families and have more in the way of cooking facilities and amenities.
You needn’t worry about this being one of those camps where you trip over the neighbour’s tent ropes. In keeping with the peaceful aim of the place, you are required to book ahead.
The reason for this is that Steve and Sharon have put a limit on the number of campers, with campsites kept at a reasonable distance from one another. Lying in your swag at night and being kept awake by the snoring from next door is nobody’s idea of fun.
Visitors are provided with a map of the property so they can spend some time exploring. There are a few tracks to check out: the Old Mine Site track takes you down a steep hill to a section of the Tooloom Creek that has a deep hole on the bend, and the remains of some old huts and recent mining activity can be seen here. There’s still a current mining lease down there, but it’s on Ross’s land, so you can come and go as you please.
The Eagle Hawk track takes you further down the Clarence. There’s a long stretch of river and it looks like great spot for a bit of water-borne enjoyment. Swimming, of course, but paddling around on something inflatable could be a lot of fun too. Just don’t forget that if you drift off downstream, you have to paddle back home against the current.
The Rose Garden track goes down to where an old Aboriginal lady lived, and here and there are the remains of her time spent in the area. The other track, which can be a bit of a challenge, is the Tower track. This track takes you up to a repeater tower – probably the only sign of technology you will see here – and a capable 4WD is needed.
The wildlife is one of the great attractions here, and the steep rock faces across the river from the campsite are often visited by yellow-footed rock wallabies. These little marsupials are often found quietly poking around the nearby bushland, and city-dwellers are often astounded at how close the animals allow you to approach. The rock wallabies took a fair bit of punishment from some wild dogs not long ago, but they look to have bounced back. Platypuses also inhabit the area but are harder to see.
Back at the campsite there’s a great camp kitchen set aside for occupants of the bushman’s huts; those who come in choosing to camp are usually self-contained. The walls are decorated with all the old bush implements Steve has found in his wanderings, and a lot of people like to try and work out the function of some of the more obscure items. It’s a great place for campers to gather if they don’t want to cook at their own camp.
The Upper Clarence is a stretch of water that begs to be explored. Canoes are available for hire and the Lodge now has a canoe service available so visitors can leave the campsite and be picked up at the Paddy’s Flat area. This is a great opportunity to experience river travel in the most relaxing way possible, but to make sure it’s not too restful Steve also ensures you negotiate a few rapids on the way. All safety gear and guidance is provided.
Isn’t this what real eco-tourism is all about?
YOU could make it a day trip, but you’d miss an awful lot. Coming from Brisbane, travel through Beaudesert and Rathdowney on the Mt Lindesay Highway and cut through Woodenbong and Urbenville. From Urbenville head out of town on Tooloom Road, then turn left into Upper Tooloom Road.
If you get to the Paddy’s Flat Bridge you have to backtrack 8km.
If you’re coming from the south end, turn off the Bruxner Highway onto Paddy’s Flat Road just west of Tabulam, and then follow it 8km past Paddy’s Flat.
This is not called a Wilderness Lodge without reason. It’s remote, so this means you have to come in fully provisioned and fuelled. Tabulam to the south or Urbenville to the north are the last places to top up with fuel. There is a swap-and-go gas exchange available on-site, though.
For a number of reasons fishing isn’t permitted near the campsite, but there are plenty of other things to do. As mentioned there is no lack of wildlife, both in the water and out of it. Fire pits are provided, so sitting around a fire at night is something to look forward to. Wood is available at the office.
Ring before you leave so Steve and Sharon can let you know about the road conditions and the state of the river. You can bring your camper trailer or off-road caravan – in fact, many people bring their new off-road ’van in before taking it to the outback, just make sure the 4WD tow vehicle is powerful enough to get the ’van up some of the steeper grades. When you see the track, you’ll see why.
CLARENCE RIVER WILDERNESS LODGE
Phone: (02) 6665 1337