River Retreat: Australia’s Best Kept Secret

If you’re got some spare time before or after your Stray tour, you may have time to check out River Retreat. Hidden away from the crowded coastlines, this authentic Australian bush stay with a real local community is certainly a little different. Unfortunately it is not included in our current Stray tour destinations, as it has been used a centre for the community after the bush fires swept through Nymbodia in 2019.

Here are Emily’s memories of her trip to River Retreat on a previous Stray Tour.

Heading to River Retreat

50km from the coast as the crow flies, lies the tiny town of Nymboida. With a population of just 298 people this place is seriously off the beaten track. As we drove along dusty rural roads with the sound of cicadas humming in the air, our Stray Guide taught us about real Australian culture. We learned what a billabong is, sang Waltzing Matilda, and heard stories about the effects of the war on returning soldiers. Feeling well and truly acquainted with Aussie slang, we were excited to be greeted by our host, Tommy, who was wearing a wide brimmed khaki hat and a shirt that made me think of Steve Irwin.

nymboida river retreat
The entrance to River Retreat

We quickly got settled into our lovely, spacious wilderness cabins and met Tommy back at reception. He had asked us to avoid sunblock, and instead put on a long cotton top like him to protect ourselves. It was early afternoon and the sun was high above us. Everyone was feeling the heat and day dreaming of rushing rivers. Luckily for us, that’s exactly what Tommy had in store for us. We hopped back on our bus and made tracks down to the river a few minutes away. Tommy met us there with canoes and lifejackets.

Canoeing at River Retreat
Canoeing at River Retreat

He certainly had his priorities right! After dragging our canoes down to the water’s edge, he encouraged us to jump in the river, long sleeves and all. While we sank into the water up to our ears, Tommy began to tell us the history of Nymboida, and why it meant so much to them that we were visiting.

A Little Nymboida History

Nymboida was established in 1840 by British settlers, and with such violence that the town’s original name was Pandemonium. These original settlers later changed the name to Nymboida, after themselves of course. Throughout its history, Nymboida has been a key pit-stop for weary travellers, an agricultural centre and a mining town. In recent years, it became hydroelectric power supplier when a dam was installed on the Nymboida river. This created an opportunity for tourism, and the Nymboida white water rafting industry was born.

Canoeing at River Reteat
Go with the flow in your canoe for two

After thriving for many years, the power company unexpectedly shut down and the effect was devastating. By this point the town was built around the white-water rafting community. Now they could no longer operate without the dam to divert the water. The community banded together, volunteering their time to keep the centre going. They adapted to their new environment with canoe and kayak tours. It was still a struggle, until Stray and their awesome passengers came along! Thanks to the early support of Stray, the centre was able to pay their staff and make investments into the future of tourism in Nymboida. It’s now an independent resort in its own right. How incredible to know that we made a difference and helped a small community to get back on its feet.

Now for a Canoe Tour

River Retreat New South Wales
Canoeing is the main activity at River Retreat

Tommy finished this sad but heart-warming story as we gently paddled down the river in our canoes. Being out on the river was a whole new world. Gliding silently through the water, we were able to spot so much wildlife from the safety of our canoes. As you guys probably know, a lot of Australian wildlife is not to be messed with. We came up close and personal with huge spiders nesting in the trees overhanging the river. We saw a snake SWIMMING through the water, which gave me total Jungle Book vibes. Up in the treetops we saw rare cockatoos, sacred kingfishers and other birds that Tommy was able to identify and teach us about. We also learned that the river is home to platypus, but they’re incredibly shy and only come out at dawn and dusk.

An Evening in the Bush

river retreat cooking dinner
The kitchen at River Retreat

Back at base, our Stray Guide Cam organised a group BBQ, Aussie style, and we all pitched in to help cook. After a delicious meal (vegetarian for me), we got a bonfire cranking and Cam whipped out the marshmallows. Sitting around the fire with a cold beer and some blackened sweet treats was the perfect way to end the day. We started telling stories from back home, and as the fire faded and the clouds cleared, we started looking up. Above us, the sky was illuminated with millions of stars. It didn’t take long for us to spot shooting stars and famous constellations. The pot and southern cross are easy ones to start with! Eventually we all peeled off to bed, sleepy and satisfied from another fantastic Stray day at River Retreat.

River Retreat campfire
Now that’s a fire pit…

On our current tours, we have a number of canoeing and kayak opportunities, whether that is sea kayaking, a star-gazing night time canoe expedition or exploring the Everglades near Noosa by kayak. Take a look at all our current tours, destinations, activities and itineraries here.


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Emily is a native creative nerd. This creative crew member's favourite stop is Bay of Islands.

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