In the early dawn light, the bride stands on the shores of the Katherine River and watches, wordlessly, as canoes are carried to the sand; waterproof barrels are packed with sleeping bags, mosquito repellent and toilet paper; spare paddles tied securely on. She offers no help, or comment. Her husband is excited. This, a three day canoeing trip on the Katherine River in the Northern Territory, is the start of their honeymoon. He has kept all the plans a surprise. And she is surprised all right.
Paula, their guide, tries not to look nervous. This is her first job with the company and she wants to make a good impression. The humid air is thick with silent tension. The bride gazes after the diminishing dust trail left by the departing 4WD. It was now returning to Katherine leaving just the three of them alone for the next three days. Finally the girl breaks the silence. She turns to her new husband and asks tonelessly: “What made you think I would want to do this?”
It is now year later and Paula, a now more experienced guide with Gecko Canoeing, is entertaining us with this story of her first trip on the Katherine River. Our family is about to embark on the same three day canoeing tour and I feel I can relate to the honeymooners. It was my idea to do this tour and as we listen to the safety briefing before setting off into the great unknown, I am sure my family is thinking the same question of me: “What made you think we would want to do this?”. When I sign the waiver which mentions, among other things, crocodiles, I start to wonder myself.
Paula quickly allays any fears however and by the time we make our first stop for lunch and we are shown a natural water slide in a river siding, any former reservations are quickly forgotten. The kids go back and forth floating down the gentle rapids, buoyed by their life jackets. Our six year old claims he wants to stay there forever.
We spend three glorious days in complete wilderness, drifting with the flow of the river, on water so clean and fresh that we dip our drinking bottles over the side of the canoes to fill them. We are awed by the bird life, challenged by the rapids and excited by suspected crocodile sightings. After each exhilarating day we sleep soundly in swags under a sky thick with stars. I would be happy to eat anything that I haven’t had to prepare myself but Paula works magic over the campfire and produces gourmet meals including Barramundi and roast lamb.
On the second night we sit around the fire, now relaxed into the rhythms of our foreign surroundings. As the kids’ test their maths skills by attempting to divide a packet of Tim Tams equally, I ask Paula how the honeymoon couple finished up. Apparently it didn’t take long for the bride to come around, especially when she arrived at their first campsite and saw the candlelit dinner set up on the beach, complete with white tablecloth and champagne, and their tent set back among the trees, romantically draped with mosquito netting.
Just like my family, I’m sure she was also thinking, “Why would anyone not want to do this?”