I love Red Balloon vouchers because they force you to do something that lies light years outside of your regular routine. And, if you’re anything like me, you always find yourself in a panic choosing something to spend the voucher on within seven days of it’s expiry date.
This is how I recently found myself on an eco tour with Sydney Harbour Kayaks, storming Sydney’s Middle Harbour in a sea kayak, and totally pretending I was Jack Sparrow. Despite the last minute voucher panic I absolutely loved every second of it, and I cannot bully you enough to add this experience to your repertoire of things to do in Sydney.
Life jackets on
Departing from Sydney Harbour Kayak’s little beach landing near The Spit Bridge, the four-hour eco tour kicks off at 8:30am every Saturday and Sunday. (Note: allow a bit of extra time to find the spot as the sat nav sent us to Bendigo and back, and make sure you book ahead).
After being life jacketed up and running through a paddling lesson, safety demo and acknowledgement of the Aboriginal land we’d be exploring, our tour group of eight climbed into our double sea kayaks. The kayaks, which were pre-stocked with water, were incredibly stable, in immaculate condition and even had a foot rudder in the back, which compensated greatly for our shonky steering skills.
“What are the chances of falling in?” I asked, of course.
“Unlikely,” replied our friendly tour guide Angela. “You’d have to really try.” She explained that in all her years of being a tour guide she’d only ever had one couple fall into the drink, and that was because they’d paddled too close to a boat that had a territorial dog. The dog barked, they instinctively leaned back and the kayak tipped over from the uneven weight distribution. I felt assured that I could stay dry.
Tour requirement: a sturdy bladder
After setting sail we travelled underneath The Spit Bridge, scooting over to Beauty Point, past plenty of docked boats, across Sailor’s Bay, up to Sugarloaf Point, across Fig Tree Cove, past Yeoland Point and finally docking at Flat Rock Beach in Garigal National Park for a picnic of cheeses, dips, fruit, Tim Tams and coffee, tea and hot chocolate.
Not that I drank any liquid. After learning that there aren’t any toilets at Flat Rock Beach, I had three nervous pees before we left land, incredibly anxious about how my highly-challenged Chihuahua-sized bladder was going to hold up. You’ll be happy to know that I didn’t wet my shorts or need to pee in a bush. Winning at life!
What to expect on a canoe tour
Gliding through the glassy waters of Sydney’s lesser known harbour, meeting birdlife and coming face-to-face with nature so beautiful it could make a grown man weep, I quickly forgot about the morning’s grumblings of getting up pre-10am on a weekend. (For the record, my sleep ins are more precious to me than my passport).
The weather was perfect and the water quiet and calm with only a few rowing troupes breaking the silence as our brightly-coloured kayaks sliced through the water.
The sun is baking once you’re out on the harbour, so don’t forget sunscreen and a hat. The morning mist definitely scammed me – I was tomato-coloured by midday. I’m also grateful for stripping the jacket off right before we set sail. My sweaty back definitely didn’t need the extra layer.
Also expect to learn lots about the area. Like the time in 1877 when dare devil Henri L’Estrange walked across Willoughby Bay on a tightrope, watched on by 10,000 spectators. Plus, you’ll also learn lots about the natural history of the area. Like the rock that’s permanently charred black from centuries of Aboriginal bonfires. I was also pretty pleased to learn that there’s a coffee boat that cruises the harbour delivering caffeine to those in need. Too bad I was currently banned from liquids.
The best bits of the tour
To be honest, it’s all pretty spectacular and such a unique way to experience this beautiful body of water.
You get to see protected coves, fish cruising about the underwater highways and ridiculously expensive houses that teeter on the harbour’s edge.
If the tide is high, you can even meander into the mangroves, which we sadly didn’t get to do.
All up we paddled 12 kilometres. Fortunately, I had a motor in the back (not Nissan Marine but the husband’s right and left arms), so my two rice noodles faired pretty well after the four hours. I may have even forgotten to paddle many a times.
If you don’t have a Nissan Marine-armed husband, you can do a shorter ‘coffee tour’ of two hours. Or if your rice noodles are super strong, Sydney Harbour Kayaks also has a three-hour mini wellness retreat that includes stopping for an hour of downward dog.
Oh and did I tell you that there was an actual pirate boat in the water! That’s reason enough to give this activity a twirl and become a sea pirate for the morning.
Sydney Harbour Kayaks
Smith’s Boat Shed, 81 Parriwi Road, Mosman, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 9969 4590