Gloucester is akin to base camp for the World Heritage-listed Barrington Tops. It’s the first stop on My Legendary Pacific Drive through the Gloucester Shire, where the country meets the coast.
Just three hours’ drive north of Sydney, we arrive at the Barrington Outdoor Adventure Centre where we meet manager Tristan Lever, who will be our guide for the day. Lever, who has tumbled down rivers everywhere from Africa to Scandinavia, is an expert guide. After wriggling into our wetsuits and being fitted with lifesaving vests, we watch a safety DVD, before heading to the crook of the river known as Rocky Crossing.
The backdrop to the river is stunning: with the big bony ridge of the monolithic hills known as The Buckets – the Aboriginal name is Buchan Buchan – looming in the distance, like a slumbering giant.
If we weren’t bound for the Barrington River, there are countless hidden treasure trails, which trace the area’s history as a gold mining centre, wend their way to waterfalls and pass by panoramic scenery, painted green-to-grey.
Today, we are geared up for a Grade One series of rapids for our guided family tour. After a quick safety talk, in situ, while sitting in our canoes in a calm pool in the river, we start heading downstream.
Lever has become an ornithologist and flora expert by default. He urges us to listen for the rainbow bee-eater’s sweet song, and to try and spot the ugly-as-sin Friar bird which he says “has a face only a mother could love” and suplhur-crested cockatoos which swoop in and out of the window of blue sky. There are also echidnas, red-neck wallabies, platypus and bandicoots that call the river and forest home.
Lever, who grew up on a dairy farm near Murwillimbah, on another stretch of The Legendary Pacific Coast, is very zen. He calmly talks us through the procedures we watched in the video before nudging us down the river, where the water is moving deceptively fast behind bending reeds.
For starters, it’s a breeze, with the occasional cormorant shattering the glass of the river, and bursting out of the reflection into a cloudless sky. With the sun shining, bright and furious above, we pass through smooth sections of the clear-as-crystal river before braving rapids that are not as scary as their names suggest. We survive Graveyards, known for its cemetery of fallen casuarina trees, curl pass the Rootball Rapid, scene of many a capsizing caper, and tumble through The Shute before arriving at Bradford’s Hole.
As well as the gentle ride we have experienced today, which shows off pockets of pasture, steep-sided valleys and rare dry rainforest, there are many more options on offer for those who want a wilder ride.
“Grade one is for families, the rest of it is mostly grade two but there are grade three rafting options available when the river is up. After grade two you need to know what you are doing in a kayak or canoe, otherwise, if you are in a raft, you can relax and rely on the guide to get you through,” says Lever.
Lever lives at the Steps of Girrba campground, located at the most picturesque section of the river. What he loves about living in the region, he says, is the fact “there is no busy bustle … it’s stress-free and peaceful”.
As just one section of the 930km Pacific Coast corridor, the Bucketts Way is just one way to see more than just the highway.
After enjoying coffee and a cake, we return to Gloucester and check in at 37 Queen Street, a heritage homestead in the centre of the historic village before joining half the town at Bistro 19, Gloucester Country Club. Tomorrow: onward and upward to Krambach and the Kings Creek Retreat in The Manning Valley.