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The Mighty Tweed River

Written by Alison Bone

Beginning high in the Border Ranges, the Tweed River winds 78 km through dramatic mountain ranges, lowland subtropical rainforest, cane fields and secluded estuaries. A haven for wildlife, its tranquil waters provide endless opportunities for cruising, boating and river sports.

Living in the Tweed Shire, I am no stranger to the Tweed River, which I regularly cross over, drive alongside and gaze at while sipping coffee. I have seen it sparkling vibrant blue with the early morning sun, glowing pink at sunset, and flooding its banks after heavy rain. But today, on a leisurely River and Rainforest Lunch Cruise with Tweed Eco cruises, it’s like I finally get to know the river.

There is something soothing about river cruising, which is enhanced by the laidback vibe on board the iconic Golden Swan, an enchanting 1972 river boat. After coffee and cake, we head up to the breezy top deck to lounge on sofas, and take in the views. Passing through the shimmering waters of Ukerebagh passage, I am fascinated to see what lies behind the urban sprawl of Tweed South, chiefly a nature reserve that includes littoral rainforest, and the mangrove forests, salt marshes and small sandy beaches of Ukerebagh Island. Rounding a bend in the river at Fingal village, Wollumbin (Mount Warning) looms into view. Jet skis whizz past, fishermen putter by in their tinnies, and kids wave to us from houseboats. It’s the weekend but it’s hardly busy on the river, and the further we go, the quieter it becomes. We pass coastal scrub, fields of sugar cane, cows grazing on the flood plains and enticing tributaries that beg to be explored by kayak.

Captain Muz has been skippering the Golden Swan on and off for 25 years, and is passionate about the area and its history. His running commentary is full of interesting facts about the indigenous tribes who first lived here, explorers, shipwrecks, conservationists, and floods. A true river man, I ask him what he loves about the Tweed. “The way the bushland comes right down to the river,” he replies, adding “the river is a well-kept secret.”

The Tweed Valley, through which the river flows, is flanked by world heritage national parks and recognised as one of the three most bio-diverse regions in Australia – the other two being the Daintree and Kakadu. And as we near Stotts Island Nature Reserve, traditionally called Keebah, ‘a place to respect,’ the landscape changes. All is quiet but for cicadas and bird song, and I spot black swans and pelicans floating in the water, and terns, osprey and a magnificent brahminy kite soaring above us. Suddenly, it’s as if we have sailed back in time and find ourselves alongside lush, pristine rainforest dense with Bangalow palms, hoop pines, soaring fig trees and cotton trees. The lowlands and flood plains of the region were covered in rainforest just like this, until European settlers arrived, and it’s a privilege to see how our area once looked.

Heading downstream we are treated to a lunch of generous grazing boards. Tweed Eco Cruise Director, Kylie Peterson is keen to showcase local artisanal produce, and sources everything from an 80km radius. There’s plump juicy river prawns, homemade quiche, charcuterie and cheeses, served with dainty finger lime and saltbush. Kylie’s parents started Tweed Eco Cruises in 1988 and she grew up cruising the river. “The river has a character, there is always something new to share and discover about her,” she says. “As much as we share stories on board, the river tells us the stories, that’s what I love, I love listening to her.”  Tweed Eco Cruises is an eco-accredited tour operator and runs various cruises as well as private charters. Check for details

More ways to enjoy the river

For the local Aboriginal people, the Tweed River was a source of food and water, and traversable by canoe. For the cedar getters, it was a way of transporting logs downstream to the awaiting boats. The early 1900s were known as the golden years of river boat travel as paddle steamers and schooners plied the water with people, provisions and produce. These days the calm tidal waters are a perfect playground for boating enthusiasts.

Rent a Houseboat

Rent a BBQ Boat for a fun day of fishing, snorkelling and relaxing. For longer adventures, bring the family and cruise through the prehistoric caldera on a comfortable houseboat. Explore sandy coves, have a swim, drop a line and catch dinner, or take the dinghy to a local village and soak up the atmosphere.

Explore by Kayak

The river's intricate network of tributaries and estuaries allows kayakers to explore hidden coves, navigate through mangrove forests, and discover the untouched beauty of the riverbanks.

Get Wet and Wild

The wider expanses of the river provide ample space for adrenaline-pumping activities like jet skiing, wakeboarding, and paddleboarding. Calmer sections are ideal for stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and paddle boats.

Discover the Rous River Canoe Trail

The Rous River meets the Tweed River in the pretty village of Tumbulgum. Explore sheltered bays fringed in mangroves and rainforest on this eight-kilometre route. And bring binoculars as the birdlife is prolific, and includes kingfishers, cormorants, honeyeaters, osprey and sea eagles.


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