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Where? Far North Queensland
The Daintree River is something of a dividing line between civilisation and the untamed wilderness of the Cape York Peninsula. The rainforests to the north almost certainly hide species that mankind has yet to discover, and the river itself isn’t exactly free of beasties. Birds fly overhead, pythons dangle from trees and any thoughts of going for a refreshing swim are cancelled out by what lies in the water. This is crocodile central, and while the scenery is gorgeous, it’s the croc-spotting in a worryingly small boat that makes a Daintree cruise truly memorable.
Details: One hour croc-watching trips with Bruce Belcher’s Daintree River Cruises. Cost AUD$27.
Where? Perth, Western Australia
Most wine tours are conducted in mini buses, but in Perth you can use the Swan River as the highway and a canoe as transport. The Sandalfords and Houghton wineries are easily accessed from the river, and it’s possible to combine the indulgence of generous wine and cheese sampling with some proper muscle-building exercise as you haul yourself downstream.
Where? Echuca, Victoria
Despite none of the Murray technically being in Victoria (the state boundary is the high water mark on the Victorian bank), the majority of the great Murray River towns are there. Echuca is arguably the most fascinating of them, and it’s the perfect place to hop on board a paddle steamer. A number of these old river carthorses have been restored and offer pleasure cruises from the giant wooden wharf at the Port of Echuca. Checking out the bird and plant life along the Murray as the boats chug along is a treat, but spare a thought for the poor, sweaty soul down below who has to keep chucking fuel into the engine.
Details: The Port of Echuca heritage package, including a one hour paddle steamer cruise. Costs $45.
Where? Near Bellingen, NSW coast
For mixing scenery with shock factor, there can be fewer better places in Australia than the Nymboida. The river makes its way through stunning forest landscapes and the odd canyon on its way towards the ocean – but the water’s passage isn’t always smooth. A series of Grade 3 and 4 rapids line the route – and while they’re hardly death-defying, they’re challenging enough to get the heart going. In terms of a rafting adventure, it offers the perfect mix – time to drift along enjoying it, interspersed with thrills that’ll have you grinning like a simpleton.
Details: Wildwater Adventures do a one day rafting adventure. It costs $185 including morning tea and lunch. Or for a more cruisy option, just grab one of the hostel’s tubes, walk up river and float back down past the hostel.
Nearest YHA: Bellingen YHA
Where? Goldsborough Valley, near Cairns
If fighting through white water doesn’t appeal, then the more sedate alternative is just as much fun. River tubing is the art of sitting inside a giant, inflatable tyre inner tube as you casually float downstream. On the Mulgrave River, you’ve got a few more aggressive stretches of water to combat, but on the whole it’s about being taken along by the current for a couple of hours, enjoying the rainforest scenery.
Details: Foaming Fury offers tubing trips from Cairns – with approximately two hours on the river – for $59.
Nearest YHA: Cairns Central YHA
Where? Adelaide, South Australia
You’d have to squint really, really hard to convince yourself that Adelaide is a southern hemisphere Venice, but at least the gondolas are authentic. There’s a delicious absurdity to being gently paddled along the placid waters of the Torrens in a gondola imported from Italy, but the city views, twittering birds and glass of wine should relax you into the O Sole Mio vibe.
Details: The Adelaide Gondola Company offers 40 minute trips for $110 and hour-long gondola rides for $135.
Nearest YHA: Adelaide Central YHA
Where? Strahan, Tasmania
For postcard scenery, the Gordon River in western Tasmania is tough to top. The water can seem like a blue, glassy mirror and the surrounding rainforest and craggy mountains make you feel very small indeed. In short, there are fewer better places for a day cruise. The boat heads through Hell’s Gate – the tiny entrance where Macquarie Harbour opens into the sea, and around world class salmon farms. There’s also a stop off with walking tour at the notorious Sarah Island convict settlement.
Details: Book the five and a half hour cruise through Gordon River Cruises for $110.
Nearest YHA: Strahan YHA
Where? Noosa, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
The Hawaiian sport of stand-up paddle surfing has taken on in Noosa in a big way, and sickeningly healthy types can be found propelling themselves along the waterways that adjoin the Noosa River every morning. In theory, it’s quite simple, you stand on an oversized surfboard and paddle yourself along. Maintaining balance isn’t that straightforward, however, and you’ll have a few dips in the water before you graduate to the river proper and the real surf off the beach.
Details: Two hour lessons/tours with Stand Up Paddle Surfing cost $50.
Nearest YHA: Halse Lodge Guesthouse YHA
Where? Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Who says you need water to have river-based entertainment? You certainly don’t in Alice, if the world’s weirdest regatta is anything to go by. During Henley-on-Todd, boats are raced Flintstones-style along the dry river bed. The winners are decided on foot-power rather the oar power...
Details: The Regatta takes place annually in August
Nearest YHA: Alice Springs YHA
Where? The Blue Mountains, New South Wales
The Blue Mountains is a hotbed for canyoning, the sport that takes going downriver to new levels. The premise is simple – you follow the creek or river through canyons by whatever means possible. Sometimes this involves abseiling, sometimes it involves leaps of faith from great heights and sometimes it involves sliding down waterfalls. Degrees of difficulty vary massively, but there are some relatively fun routes throughout the river system of the Blue Mountains to go along with the brutes. The Grand Canyon trip is a comparative trip to the playground, and should have you shouting “wheee” as you slide down the rocks.
Details: High n Wild offers Grand Canyon day trips for beginners for $180 with $10 off for YHA members.
Nearest YHA: Blue Mountains – Katoomba YHA
So what are you waiting for? Get your swimmers on and go get wet!