Noosa River

Excerpts from Discovering Cooloola – A complete guide & map 
by John Sinclair

The Noosa River

…...The Noosa River is at the very heart of Cooloola.  It is the life-blood which pulsed through this great mosaic of landscapes and integrated it into an unsurpassed entity on the southern Queensland mainland.

This silent, serene and secretive waterway feels its meandering way from the Como Scarp, through the expansive treeless plain in the heart of Cooloola.

After it meets its main tributary, Teewah Creek, it then forms a 65 kilometre stretch of navigable waterway through the arcade of artistically arranged melaleucas fringing its banks, through the shallow Lakes of Figtree, which is little more than knee deep, Cootharaba and Cooroibah, past Tewantin, where Lake Doonella is an off-shoot, and Noosaville separating the river from Lake Weyba to reach the sea in Laguna Bay, near towering Noosa Headland.

The Noosa River has three distinct phases – the lower tidal zone, which extends to the head of Figtree Lake; the middle reaches which stretch past Happy's Hut, through the majestic and mystic melaleuca groves which leave an indelible impression of its being one of the most beautiful and natural rivers in the world; and the babbling upper reaches which have a character of their own as the river carves its way into the face of the Wallum and reaches westwards to the head of the Como Scarp.  This Como Scarp is the watershed separating the Noosa River Catchment from the catchment of the Mary River through its tributary Tinana Creek.

The Noosa River must be seen in the perspective of geological history, when it was part of Great Sandy Strait and continued down Tin Can Bay and through the Noosa Plains to rejoin the sea at Noosa Heads.  Even now the headwaters of Teewah Creek are no more than 8 metres (25 feet) above the sea level of Tin Can Bay.  This explains the sluggishness of the Noosa River downstream of its junction with Teewah Creek – where it falls only a few feet in more than 60 kilometres.

There is clear evidence to suggest that the vast treeless Noosa Plain, the river bed and the Lake were once the floor of Great Sandy Strait.  This is supported in the mutuality of plants, found on the eastern side of the Noosa-Teewah Creek system, which are not found elsewhere on the mainland.  For example, the Pink Wax Flower is found only in this area.  The giant Satinay is confined almost exclusively to Fraser Island and Cooloola, although more recently there has been a discovery of isolated specimens on Moreton Island.  These are only two of the many similarities in plants and communities between Fraser Island and Cooloola.

It is thought that the separation of the Noosa River system and Tin Can Bay came about in the same volcanic upheaval which lifted the sandstone mass Mt Bilewillem on the western side of the sandmass (93 metres) out of the Noosa Plain, together with a fall in sea levels which exposed the Noosa Plain.”

“…...Water access is best gained with a canoe or silent craft slipping gracefully through these serene waters without the alien sound of a motor.  ….....Inside the Noosa River, to protect the banks from the wash created by power boats, there is a maximum speed of 4mph which is only walking pace.  The continual violation of these speed limits is now resulting in the question of admitting power boats into the Noosa River being reviewed. 

The middle section of the Noosa River is little more than an elongated peat-bound lake.  The water percolates from the huge spongelike sandmass of Cooloola which acts as an inverted reservoir.  The water released eastwards trickles over the beaches in a constant stream, but the water flowing west is trapped in the peat swamps before filtering into the river which is still and with no perceptible flow except in flood.

Because of the organic staining it has received during its long, slow journey, the water bears the reddish organic colour of tea and, like tea, becomes inky black the deeper it gets.  In the black peat-lined river, the water is so dark as to act as a brilliant mirror unless its surface is ruffled by the wind.  It is the combination of mirror-like stillness, and the fringing vegetation plus the wealth of wildlife which frequent this area, which adds to the magic of the Noosa River.”

You can explore Lake Cootharaba by boat from Boreen Point, Elanda Point, Teewah landing and the Noosa River entering from the south.  “Not only the Lake, or the Noosa River, but you can also explore Kin Kin Creek, the other major stream draining into this large Lake.  The top end of Lake Cootharaba is extremely shallow and difficult to navigate.  Kin Kin Creek and Kinaba Island create an illusion of a separate lake at the northern end, known locally as Fig Tree Lake.  This area is also better known as 'the Everglades' and only the presence of alligators would be needed to complete the fancied resemblance to the Florida Everglades, especially as this area has almost an exactly equivalent latitude and climate.”

“…..The shallowness of the river lakes is another argument that they are just submerged extensions of the Noosa Plain which itself was once a submerged passage between Cooloola sandmass and the mainland...........There are a number of perched dune lakes – Poona, Cooloomera, Broutha, Thannae, Freshwater and a number of other very small unnamed lakes nestling high in the thick forested dunes of the sandmass.  These lakes by contrast have some of the purest, freshest water to be found anywhere, because it has been leached of most chemical impurities leaving only the organic tea-coloured stain in the water.

Despite its colour, the water in these creeks and lakes is pure and drinkable as found,  There is almost no risk of pollution.  

Because of their clarity and purity the dune lakes support very small amounts of biota.  Only a few crustaceans and miniature fish are to be found.  This results in very few waterfowl, providing quite a contrast to the shallow brackish river lakes and their lake flocks of waterbirds, particularly pelicans.”

“.....The water in the dune lakes although pure clean drinking water is a low (acid)pH of about 4.7 or lower, caused by the organic acids.  It is not as low though as Lake Cooloola at the end of a drought.  Lake Cooloola is flushed out and recharged during glood but as the water remains unchanged it accumulates greater concentrations of humic acids until the next flood rains occur.”

Lakes and Tidal Wetlands

“...........The Mangroves extend as far as Lake Cootharaba.   In March 1972, the Australian Littoral Society undertook a study of the Noosa River Estuary.  This voluntary group's work has provided some invaluable data which has been published in their journal 'Operculum'.

The tidal range of the lower Noosa River estuary rapidly declined from 1.8m at the ocean beach to 1.4m in North Channel (a few hundred metres from the estuary mouth, to 1.2m at Munna Point and only 0.9m at Tewantin (4.6 km from the mouth).  Current velocities of 2.5 knots were measured in the estuary in spring tides.

This decline in tidal influence is affected by the very small ventilation through the narrow shallow channel of the Noosa River linking the estuary to Lakes Cooroibah and Cootharaba.  Indeed, the tidal range at Lake Cootharaba is almost imperceptible.

However, despite this minimum ventilation, the water at Lake Cootharaba is still brackish enough to grow Mangroves, and some sizeabale specimens of Avicennia marina are growing on Kinaba Island at the entry of Kin Kin Creek into Lake Cootharaba.

The mangroves reported in the Noosa estuary are:

It is not only mangroves which contribute to the tremendous  productivity of the estuary, but also the extensive sea grass beds.  There are more sea grass beds in this complex than in any other Queensland estuary south of Bowen.  Six different species are to be found.  Seagrasses can provide the basis of estuarine food chains and, in some circumstances, provide shelter for small and juvenile fish, prawns and other marine creatures.

The Littoral Society Study also revealed that surface temperature of the water in the estuary varied only 2° to 3°C per day whilst offshore the diurnal fluctuation was of the order on only 1°C.  The seasonal range moved from a minimum of 17°C to 30°C.”

Womalah Wallum – Western Catchment

“In contrast with the flat alluvial open plains of the Noosa River in the centre and the rugged sharply contrasting rugged sandmass east of the main north-south flowing river, the west-east section of the river flows through an entirely different landscape, which is softer, more open and more subdued.  Although more subtle than the multifaceted mosaic of the sandmass, the'Western Catchment' as it is now more popularly known, contains as much magic as any other part of Cooloola.

The forests are more open and have a grassier understory.  The soil, instead of being of deep siliceous sand, is derived from decomposed sandstone, with soft rolling hills and more gradual slopes until the outer boundary is reached.  The western watershed of the Noosa River starts at the Como Scarp.

To any person who appreciates the aesthetics of tree studies in the Australian bush, the forests of the western catchment contain an invomparable treasure, especially of Scribbly Gums Eucalyptus signata.  Although other trees rival them for shape, composition, colour and character, the dominance of the ubiquitous Scribbly Gum makes it outstanding.  At any time the western catchment exerts its special magic but, in December, the beauty, colour and contrast of the tree studies excel themselves.

The curvaceous and bumpy Rusty Gum, or Smooth Barked Apple Angophoro costata glows to a bright vivid orange instead of its usual smooth flesh coloured bark and is covered with a mantle of thick creamy blossom exuding a fragrance of honey.  The Scribbly Gums start shedding their normally steely grey bark revealing a pale yellow new coat which is already ingrained with the same graffiti of the old bark.  The dappled effect of greys and blues against the soft lemon in this moulting period add new attraction to the always shapely and appealing Scribbly Gums.

Not to be outdone, the Bloodwoods Euc. intermedia burst out with their profuse mantle of blossom and although their bark, in contrast with the Angophoras and Scribbly Gums, is scaly like a crocodile skin, they can assume shapes and poses which can excite the photographer and artist in any person with a feeling for aesthetics.

Interspersed between these main varieties are Stringybarks, Paperbarks and Swamp and Brush Boxes which all add to the character that highlights the landscape.

Although December is a favourite month to appreciate the forests, the Wallum of the Western Catchment has other appeals in other months.  In Autumn the Paperbarks Melaleucas and Banksias, particularly the spectacular Banksia collina, come into flower.  In late winter and early spring the wildflowers put on their showiest displays. In short, all year round the western catchment has some special feature to arrest and hold attention.

…..The Womalah area contains a variety of open forests and included communities containing Grey Ironbark, Forest Red Gum, Rusty Gum and Queensland Stringybark on the drier ridge tops; Pink Bloodwood, Scribbly Gum and Woody Pear on the rolling hills and Swamp Red Gum, Swamp Box and Common Paperbark on the lower, more swampy areas.

Wallum was a term used by aborigines to describe the Banksia which grew on these sandy soils.  To the aboriginal, whose diet included no sugar and little other sweetness, the ripe 'Wallum' Banksia aemula and Banksia serrata flowers dripping with honey in the early morning dew were precious delicacies.  The aborigines were more concerned with the productivity of land for hunting and food gathering than with the concept of soil fertility and aesthetics and to them the Wallum was good land with a fair abundance of game and food. 

…..The Noosa River in the western catchment is popularly known as the Little Noosa, even though it is a well defined stream 2-6m in width, lined with deep sandy banks, and fringed with thickets of shrubbery.  Two miles west of the Noosa bridge the riverside vegetation is crowned by about 12 hectares of vine forest with Kauri Pines, Cabbage Palms, Lillypillies and White Birch.  This is an unusual forest, all the more so because it appears only a hundred metres from the treeless Noosa Plain.  Crowned with Crows Nests and other epiphytes it appears an oasis – a sharp contrast to its surroundings.

The western catchment has some special biological features not found in other parts of Cooloola.  Amongst these are two Boronias: B. keysii and B. rivularis.  Although Boronia rivularis is found I nother parts of Cooloola, Boronia keysii is limited to the southern part of the western catchment, near Kin Kin Creek.  This plant was rediscovered in 1971 after being lost for 50 years.

There are fine stands of the handsome Banksia collina in the western catchment, which mans that all six varieties of Banksia of southern Queensland are well represented in the Cooloola area.

Because of the controversy over whether the western catchment should be clear-felled and transformed into pine plantations, it has become the subject in recent years of some very extensive research, led by CSIRO and Griffith University School for Environmental Studies and the Cooloola Committee.  Now because of that research and a greater understanding of the special interest of the area, a lot more is known about it.  Because of this new appreciation it is now much less likely that it will be destroyed after all.  It may be that the whole of Cooloola, including the western catchment, will remain forever as it once was when the Kabi Tribe knew it.


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