23 May, 2022

Paddlers set to streamline down Barron

A HIDDEN gem of the Tableland’s paddling community will once again grace the waters of the Barron River as the annual Barron River Challenge commences this weekend.

Brett McDonald from Perth, David Ahmed from Cairns and Geoff Pearce from the Gold Coast during a recent practice trip down the Barron before the weekends challenge.
Brett McDonald from Perth, David Ahmed from Cairns and Geoff Pearce from the Gold Coast during a recent practice trip down the Barron before the weekends challenge.

On Saturday and Sunday, paddlers will navigate a unique section of the prominent waterway between Mareeba and Kuranda. The challenge was first hosted in 2011 and is being overseen by the Tinaroo Canoe Club, it attracts renowned paddlers from across the country every year who look to compete in the two-day paddle. 

It caters for a range of paddling abilities and crafts and whilst not a race for the complete beginner, the 20km Bilwon leg on day one provides an exciting paddle with a couple of grade one rapids and continuous pathway decisions. Paddlers determined to complete the full challenge are prepared up for the final 30km on Sunday and manoeuvre through several grade two rapids linking some longer pools on the way to Kuranda. 

Race coordinator Terry Mc- Clelland said at the race’s peak before Covid, up to 120 paddlers would participate in the challenge and he is happy if just half that paddle in this year’s event. 

“If we get 60, we will be really pleased this year, so it is building up and people are starting to come now from the Sunshine Coast and WA,” he said. “For a start this river is croc free, there are a lot of races around this time but we have got a warm race, we fall in the water and it is warm. “The difference between paddling here, ocean paddles and also paddling on Tinaroo is that every bend is exciting, there is excitement the whole way down.” 

Returning to claim the crown in this year’s race is Geoff Pearce, the winner of last year’s Barron River Challenge and a previous Tasmanian representative in paddling. Geoff not only represented Tasmania at Down River Racing but also won several state and national titles. 

“My main focus now is the Gregory River race and the Barron River Challenge,” he said. “This year and last year I came third overall at the Gregory - last year I won my second Barron River Challenge at 67 years old.” 

Sunshine Coast paddler, 71-year-old Steve McLay, has an extensive portfolio of paddling in countries over the world, a career that started on the Barron River. “This race caters for the elite and average paddler but offers the marathon paddler some additional variety in a range of white-water levels, seasonal changes in water level, and natural river course changes and obstacles,” he said. “In the northern region of Australia where paddling has almost become extinct due to the protection of crocodiles, the Barron stands out as a unique event.” 

Lifelong paddler John van Ryt said the Barron River Challenge brought him back onto the water and he has not missed a challenge since. “Although I am past my peak in paddling it is a sport which you can continue to do well into your later years,” he said. “Paddling is a great activity to get you into beautiful spots many people can’t get to. “Mareeba is very fortunate to have such a great river flowing straight through town – for me to be able to paddle it regularly with friends and club mates I feel very fortunate.” 

Registrations for this year’s Barron River Challenge are still open until this Thursday, if you would like to nominate to compete head to the Tinaroo Canoe Club’s website at


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