You can tell a lot about a man by his dog.
Hartley is part dingo, part cattle dog and completely enamoured by his owner Travis, so it’s no wonder that he is about as true blue as they come these days. Don’t let the north American accent fool you – he knows more about the parks and waterways in the Highlands than many people who have lived here all their life. And just like Russell Crowe, Peach Melba and the Beef Pie – we made the smart choice and have adopted him as one of our own!
Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see what is right in front of you and that is what happened when Travis Frenay was coaxed to Australia in 2003. He came from a culture of outdoor adventures where hiking and canoeing are normal weekend activities to find a region so untouched, undiscovered and unknown to most Sydneysiders that he knew he wanted to explore it. Life here started in Robertson where he had easy access to all the National Parks and wilderness areas.
“the Highlands and bushland surrounding it, are amongst the most diverse and amazing places on the planet….it has everything that interests me from bushwalking to paddling, canyons, waterfalls, rainforest, sandstone escarpments, caves, climbing, mountain biking and even proximity to the coast and the beach when you want a change of scene. I was hooked first visit and knew this was my new home.”
His business started out of the need to really educate the local market. Working in the Outdoor Education industry for the Outdoor Education Group and now for TAFENSW he was pretty stunned by the poor quality of canoes and kayaks available so he started importing a better product, Wenonah Canoes. And that was when Paddle & Portage began and it has since evolved into a guiding business also with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Now for those of us not in the know, canoes and kayaks are different not due to the boat shape but in fact it’s all about the paddle. In a kayak you use a double blade paddle and sit lower in the bottom of the boat than you do when canoeing, which uses a single blade paddle usually while you are kneeling or sitting higher in the boat. So, when we reached out to Travis and asked him to be interviewed for The Fold its seemed appropriate that we chat in a boat on the water so he could show us some of his favourite local places and there are a lot. And that is exactly how he started to explore the area. He made friends and asked them to show him a few cool spots and it just grew from there.
“Visitors here don’t realise the extent of the wilderness and nature based activity options. Its endless and the animals in this country are incredible – everyone knows about wombats, koalas, kangaroos etc , but there are so many other creatures… water dragons, goannas’, azure kingfishers…Seeing my first quoll was mind blowing. “
Back then Travis had a huge education if front of him from learning where to go caving, paddling or hiking to studying local flora. “The only trees or plants I recognised were either weeds or introduced plants so most of the knowledge I learned from the Australian bush came from the National Parks Aboriginal discovery rangers and other guides. I had to start from scratch in terms of learning about the bush but the culture felt very familiar so that was really easy to assimilate into. Once I meet and married Sarah the process was complete and of course my kids Samson and Estelle were born here”
Life now is a juggle between running a business, teaching at TAFE, managing the kids and working with local companies like Wildfest running our programs. And both Travis and Sarah have found a way to make it all work. Quite often the whole family, Hartley included, are off together exploring some waterway on the weekend and just spending quality time together doing what they love best. So where are Travis’ favourite spots? we had to ask and whilst the list is very long a few stand out for him: Kangaroo River Gorge below Carrington Falls, Gerringong Falls and Bridal Falls in Robertson were top of mind. And exploring cool spots in the region is the future Travis hopes for his kids.
“We need to adopt the US mentality here for our National Parks. Given the size of the land and resources we need better access and infrastructure in place to allow more people to visit spots like Belmore Falls safely and to do that the NSW Parks need revenue. The money pit from government is not endless and this is a vast continent so something has to give. So if we want a well maintained track to the base of Belmore Falls, Carrington Falls and Fitzroy Falls then park fees are the way forward which can be topped up with sustainable tourism visitors. Not huge fees but something to help invest in the preservation and protection of these areas. Its workable if we get the right systems in place.”
In a recent article Travis wrote for Wild Australia he describes an incredible family canoeing trip into Tallowa Dam and up into Bundanoon Creek and we feel that his words best finish our insight into our adopted Highlander far better than we could. What he may not realise is that when he takes out guests to explore the area, his likeable nature, guiding style, respect for the outdoors and great tales of adventure make him the seasoned paddler they just want to hang out with.
“Canoeing and paddle sports have become the way in which I make a living, but I ‘ve been careful not to force this onto my children. Rather, they have been able to sample smaller and more enjoyable, experiences in the outdoors from a young age and they have come to the conclusion that it’s a wonderful thing to do……..I occasionally meet an old paddler who tells captivating tales of the Kangaroo River and the Shoalhaven before Tallowa Dam existed and I think how magical it would have been. 40 years later because of the dam, we have the unique privilege of paddling among the standing ghosts of the former trees which, in and of itself, is an incredibly magical experience. It’s fascinating to think that, in another 40 years, those trees will no longer be standing, but my son or daughter might be the older paddler telling stories of what is it was like to canoe through them as a child”
Image credits: Aron Hailey, Adrian Mascenon and Travis Frenay
Article written by Amanda Fry for The Fold Southern Highlands