Another activity that Club members regularly participate in is canoeing and there are many creeks, rivers and lakes in the Shoalhaven where we go to enjoy a good paddle. These include the Shoalhaven Estuary, Hare Bay, St. Georges Basin, Currumbene and Wandandian Creeks, around the islands off Greenwell Point and Lake Wollumboola.
Between 1988 and 1992 the Club programmed at least four canoe trips a year. Among the leaders of these trips were Laurie Dansey, Russ Evans, Ivan Goozeff, Stuart Leslie, Alwyn Martin, Gail Mizon, Ray Reid, Bruce Thompson, Ken Walker, Jim White and Norm Smith (who preferred li-loing).
Gail Mizon remembers with pleasure a trip she led on the Shoalhaven Gorge in February 1989. "'Whenever I look through my bushwalking photo album, the photo that most frequently catches my attention and stirs my memory is one of a large group of people busily preparing their canoes for an assault on the Shoalhaven Gorge. In this photo taken at the top of Tallowa Dam, canoes and kayaks of all kinds have been dragged to the water's edge, and about eighteen individuals wearing yellow and orange life jackets are in the last stages of shoving water-proofed gear into their craft ready for take off. In contrast to this busy scene, in the background of the photo we see the tranquillity of the river - sleepy, with early morning mist rising in wisps from its glassy surface.
"As the leader of this particular canoe trip, I recall feeling at this pre-launching time somewhat less than tranquil. I had been very keen to share the magical experience of Shoalhaven Gorge with those of my fellow bushwalkers who had previously not seen it and so had tried to encourage 'beginner canoeists' as well as the more experienced to come along. For that reason, I had made it an optional 'one or two' day paddle, proposing that the inexperienced could turn back for home at lunchtime, whilst the more practised would continue on for an overnight camp near Fossickers Flat, further up the gorge. It had seemed like a good idea at the time but as I surveyed the inadequate and flimsy looking canoes which some intended to paddle, I was beginning to have serious concerns for safety.
"Fortunately, unaware of their leader's doubts, the high spirited armada eventually set off, now in breezy conditions, and despite lots of near capsizes, much zigzagging and circular manoeuvring, all made it safely across the wide expanse of dammed water and into the start of the Gorge. Moreover, a survival system soon evolved whereby each seasoned paddler escorted a new recruit, offering advice and encouragement to keep faith and keep paddling!
"The efforts of the faithful were soon rewarded. It was not long before the grandeur of this magnificent Gorge began to assert itself and we all felt humbled as we passed beneath those towering cliffs and nature painted rock walls. With only the sound of rippling water and bell- like bird calls to accompany our thoughts, I'm sure we were all thinking how we wouldn't have missed this trip for the world.
"After a couple of awe inspiring hours on the river, we selected a reedy cove for our well earned lunch break and relaxed in conversation with comrades bonded by their Gorge experience. After lunch, our party split, with some of us continuing on further along the Gorge to our idyllic river side camp site for the night, while others reluctantly called it a day, but vowed to return, and next time 'go all the way'!
"Years later I have been told on separate occasions by various individuals who were on this trip how very much they enjoyed their initiation into the secrets of the Shoalhaven Gorge and how its beauty became indelibly stamped on their memory, as indeed, it is on mine."
Another 'Canoeing the Shoalhaven' story was written by Jan Adams in 1990. "Paddling from Tallowa Dam to Fossikers Flat through the Shoalhaven Gorge is a memorable experience. The weekend of March 3-4 was beautifully fine, and the Gorge used these bright, still, sunny days to show itself to full advantage ... many shades of green on steep slopes; beiges, oranges, tans and browns on the towering cliffs above.
"So clear were the reflections that the seven canoeists from the Shoalhaven Bushwalking Club had the sensation of paddling through blue sky and passing over occasional fluffy, white clouds. Cormorants, herons and ducks, disturbed by the interlopers, took to the air to find safe refuge. Water dragons remained on their logs for long enough to inspect the passing canoeists before they, too, escaped into the water and disappeared.
"Saturday night's camp was on a soft, grassy bank above a sandy beach, a dress-circle overlooking the river. Casuarinas provided shade and shelter. A brief rain squall cooled the air in the late afternoon. Casuarinas held enough of their moisture to tickle the skin of those brushing past. Birds emerged from their cool hiding places and sang their appreciation of the cooler air.
"On the return trip on Sunday morning we were met by two other canoeists who had come to join us for lunch. For the extra effort needed to keep those paddles working through the water, we were well rewarded by the magnificence of the scenery."
Sometimes a combined canoeing and walking day is on the program. Yvonne White tells of such an outing held in September 1993. "A group of seven walkers climbed Purri Plateau which overlooks Tallowa Dam. A short paddle from the picnic area to a small inlet, then a steep climb up to the first level. A short break and a drink were a relief while the views over Tallowa Dam were incredible. Then a scrubby push to the cliffs surrounding the plateau. Some rock scrambling and a final squeeze through a hole in the cliff found us up on top. We then headed south along the plateau to a very narrow area of the mountain from which we had wonderful upstream and down stream views of Shoalhaven Gorge... Found a fine cave, then we finished with a rugged climb down to the canoes and back to the cars. This walk is highly recommended."
Alan Thomas tells of another canoe trip, this time in 1998. "A couple of years ago Leila organised a canoe trip down the Clyde River. I've often said this was one of the best weekends I have ever had, and now I will share it with you.
"We started at the 'upside down bridge' on the upper reaches of the Clyde. Ray and Leila in one canoe, John and Gwenneth in another, Rhonda and Tony in a third and Jim and Yvonne in separate kayaks. Very wise!
"I had Denise as my partner - why does it have to be me? The others had no trouble, but I was bullied all the way, tipped out regularly, left to swim after I'd got Denise down a set of rapids at great danger to my own life and generally abused all the way.
"Leila of course had Ray to look after her. The only time she left their canoe was to stand on the top of a ginormous log giving orders while the worker bees manoeuvred their canoes over the log. The rest of the time Ray took her competently through all the hazards whilst religiously ignoring all of her instructions. She earned the name of 'The Duchess'. It was all great fun.
"We camped overnight on Warren's farm at Brooman, where Daphne and Gordon met us with all our gear. We could never have done it without them. Terry also joined us there and they had done a local day walk. Also to greet us were Warren and his family including his son and a neighbour who had been tending four or five camp ovens, each emitting tantalising odours.
"There was a magnificent table set up with all appointments including candles. They fed us cocktails, followed by a gourmet three course meal. Meanwhile we had transformed ourselves into an elegant group. Dinner suits and evening gowns. Wow! The atmosphere was perfect. A lovely balmy night, wonderful food, good company and they even supplied the entertainment. The ladies all looked lovely. Gwenneth's dress really set the adrenalin running and I even changed my mind about Denise and vowed to get her into my tent. It didn't work. Wish I'd had a custard tart.
"Next day we set off with more hazards until the river opened out to a wide expanse through to Shallow Crossing. The faithful Gordon and Daphne were there to meet us and ferried the drivers back to their cars. The end of a really magic weekend. Thanks Leila. Thanks Warren et al. and special thanks to Daphne and Gordon."