Taylor Maiden Voyage Across 450km of the Hunter River

Lauren and Ben Taylor (members of Newy Paddlers) raised nearly $50,000 for Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, the amazing cancer hospital that looked after their mum. 

Here is their story:

Taylor Maiden Voyage took place over 15 days, 450km and more than 100 hours of walking and kayaking. There was blood, there was sweat and there were blisters. The worst of which was the blisters Josh got from doing the dishes on the first morning. Diabolical weren’t they Josh?

A lot of people have asked what our main challenges were, of which there were quite a few.

The elements were a big challenge. On our first night we literally froze. We woke up to a massive frost and all our drink bottles had frozen overnight. But that didn’t last long. Soon it was stinking hot, so we were lucky that the cool river was never far away. We had some bad days on the kayaks with wind blowing straight in our faces pushing us back up-river. But, luckily, Ben and I don’t get grumpy at all when it’s windy. It makes us so happy! We’re super pleasant to be around in the wind.

Obviously, the water was a big challenge. To start with, there was heaps and it was fast flowing and throwing us into trees. As you can see from the videos, Ben and I got really good at a graceful dismount from our kayaks. And then there was no water. Dragging a kayak for 50km is just fantastic! Highly recommend it. When we finally got to the bottom end of the river and found water again, we had the tides to contend with. And for some reason the incoming tide always seemed to coordinate exactly with the wind just to really make us feel like we were going absolutely nowhere. I’m pretty sure mum was having a right old cackle at our misfortune.

The wildlife also kept us on our toes. Ben aged about five years every time he saw a snake and we saw seven all up. As you can tell, I’m the clever one of the family that let him go first and scare them all off. There were giant lizards all along the banks. Whenever they saw you, they would jump into the water with an almighty splash and scare the hell out of you. We had birds swoop us, giant mullet attacking us and then there were the killer carp. They were huge. They would wallow in the shallows until you came right up alongside them and then take off straight at the boat. My screams didn’t seem to deter them.

Fences created quite a challenge. We came across 130 of them during the trip. Most of them were during the walking section where in one day we would have to navigate 30 fences, crawling under them, ducking though them or climbing over them. Up on the farms where it was hot, dusty and dry, a mirage didn’t take the form of a cool oasis, it would appear as a fence with lots of gates and an easy to use latching system.

Luckily some of the farmers have fences about as solid as my Uncle Alan’s, so they were easy to navigate but others were built of much sturdier stuff. There was barbed wire fences and electric fences or a combination of both. And the really fun ones are those across the river that are really hard to see as you’re approaching in a kayak and risk getting coat hangered on. But we managed. I’ll tell you what, it is certainly an exercise in trust when your little brother is holding up an electric fence while you pass under it in knee deep water with a kayak. Luckily, he wasn’t brave enough to pull anything. Otherwise we might not both be here tonight.

I learned a lot on this trip. I learned just how beautiful the river is. It’s largely forgotten by the majority of people who live nearby but it is absolutely beautiful and so very important. We are so lucky that so many have been able to rely on it for so long.

I learned that deciphering Dad’s packing system was like trying to crack the enigma code. Camping equipment was never where you’d expect it to be and every day each item would have a new home that was unknown to everyone, including Dad who had packed it. ‘It’s in the system’ was the common phrase used to explain the unknown whereabouts of the sunscreen, toilet paper or frying pan.

I learned about the people who live along the river and the communities nearby. We were blown away by the amount of people who came down to the river to cheer us on, made signs for us to ‘just keep paddling’ or just wanted to have a yarn. I learned how many of these people have lost loved ones to cancer or have seen their nearest and dearest battle this terrible disease. It made me sad and angry to hear their stories, but I learned that Hunter people are tough and willing to fight to find a cure.

I learned that Ben and I have been bred tough too. Mum and Dad have instilled in us a resilience that I didn’t know existed, well not in myself anyway. It seems like a cliché, but when it got tough on the river we would put our heads down and get it done. I mean I whinged a bit but we got it done. You hear sports commentators say that an athlete had left it all on the field or pitch or track. I can say that each day we left it all on the river. At the end of each paddle I was spent, having given everything just to take those last few paddle strokes. But I learned to get back up and do it again the next day.

And it was so worth it. Coming around the headland at Stockton to see that crowd of people standing on the rocks was a moment of pure elation. Made all the more wonderful by Ben stacking it on the beach.

And we’re so happy that we were able to hit our fundraising goal and then smash it because Chris O’Brien Lifehouse is such an amazing organisation and we know that this money will go towards helping those people diagnosed with cancer and their families, and providing hope that one day we will find a cure.

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to my boyfriend, Josh, and Ben’s girlfriend, Gemma, for being so supportive and for supporting the support crew. To Dad, we couldn’t have done it without you. You made sure that we made it each day and I’m sure if either of us couldn’t have finished you would have got in the kayak and done it yourself. To Mum, thanks for showing us how to be tough, how to put our heads down and just get it done. And to my brother Ben, thank you for saying ‘c’mon Lozzy’ when I was doing it tough, for listening to my whingeing, for scaring off the snakes, for dragging my kayak over trees, for giving me your walking sticks, for bribing me with Allen’s lollies and putting up with me for an entire two weeks. You’re my favourite brother, my mate and I’d follow you anywhere. Bring on Taylor’s Second Voyage.

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