The northern NSW town of Grafton is divided by one of Australia’s largest rivers, the Clarence. The river’s size makes it an excellent location for water activities, so we invited friends down for a ski on the river — providing they brought their boat with them, of course!

Jacarandas in bloom, Grafton, October 2008
It's jacaranda season in Grafton, where many streets are lined with the purple-flowering trees.

Before the Rs arrived on Saturday, I had been apprehensive about how their two older boys would play with our girls. But it soon became apparent that the kids get on very well. They chased each other around the house, playing elaborate imaginary games of mermaids and pirates while the adults chatted.

On Saturday night, David and I tried out the trailer as a sleeping space. We had enough room to lay two single mattresses side-by-side, so there was plenty of room. However, the trailer isn’t insulated and the night temperatures dropped to about 10°C (50°F), so we huddled together for warmth under our sleeping bags.

In the morning, David and I agree that insulation is vital before we can use the trailer as the girls’ sleeping room. We want to set up some bunks in the back of the trailer so we can reclaim the sleeping loft in the truck as our own.

Later in the bright, sunny morning, our convoy through Grafton — across the historic bent bridge — was an odd procession. Woodoo led the way in his restored FJ Holden, we followed in our truck and trailer with Debbie and Anthony driving their [normal] family car towing the blue boat to a park with boat ramps.

FJ Holden in Grafton, October 2008
Woodoo took this photo of his FJ Holden a couple of years ago.

When we pulled into the park, my heart sank because the boat ramp looked busy with half a dozen cars and trailers parked around it. Of course — it’s a Sunday — probably the busiest day of the boater’s week. We continued along the parking lot to a second ramp that wasn’t as busy.

Skiing the Clarence, October 2010
At the Clarence River, we backed up the truck and trailer to provide extra shade for those sitting on the bank.

By the time we positioned ourselves and put the boat into the water, I noticed that there weren’t any other boats in the water. The Clarence River is a huge freshwater way, and its length and breadth means plenty of room for everyone!

Skiing the Clarence, October 2010
It wasn't long before the boys took the boat out.

Skiing the Clarence, October 2010
6yo H is already a pro! Here he's standing on the longboard.

The water was chilly, but I didn’t let that put me off as I strapped myself into the wakeboard for the first time in perhaps six years. (I think I was pregnant when I last went wakeboarding, but surely that was with Aisha, and not Brioni.)

Skiing the Clarence, October 2010
I had my own turn wakeboarding. It has probably been close to six years since I was last on the board. I did fall off sometimes and was generally more cautious than in my younger, wilder days.

Boating on the Clarence, October 2010
I also had fun just driving a boat again.

David, Anthony and 6yo H also had a turn on the boards. We borrowed Woodoo’s longboard and we all tried skurfing behind the boat. I’ve seen videos where seasoned riders can surf a boat’s wake so skilfully that they don’t need to be towed by a rope, but our boat doesn’t create a big enough wake, and I was simply proud of myself when I managed to stand up on the longboard!

Brioni, 4yo, October 2010
Off the boat, the kids played in and out of the water with whatever they could find.

Climbing a tree near the Clarence, October 2010
The boys liked showing our girls how high they could climb.

Later, I joined Debbie and Anthony as we mounted a boating expedition upstream. Their boys and Brioni came along for the ride. We stopped at Susan Island, which I’ve assured them is a lovely park, but it was wildly overgrown. We found the ride-on lawnmower locked away tidily, and Debbie and I hid in an old timber outhouse hoping to give the children a fright, but they didn’t ever come near enough when they were searching for us.

Back on the boat, Anthony tried some line fishing, and of course, the children wanted to have a turn too. After H and Brioni snagged themselves with the multi-hooked lure, Anthony put the reel away.

We motored across the river to investigate some old buildings that turned out to be a majestic Anglican school. After walking around the block, admiring the trees and buildings, we boated back to our park and David went for a ski.

Brioni on the boat, October 2010
My fearless daughter — Brioni loved riding in the boat, dangling her feet in the water as it sped across the river.

Boating the Clarence, October 2010
C too, liked hanging over the side as H drove the boat with Anthony.

Exploring the Clarence's banks, October 2010
On shore in front of the Catholic school, the boys tried balancing on the fence poles. H was very good at it!

With Debbie on the bank with the other kids, I was free to canoe myself and Brioni over to Elizabeth Island directly opposite our boat ramp. We climbed to its peak and picked lantana flowers with which we decorated our hats.

As the sun began to drop in the sky, Brioni and I coaxed 9yo C into the water for a short swim between the jetty and the riverbank. He didn’t want to be shown up by a 4yo girl, so he let himself be persuaded to slide into the chilly water.

As the Rs packed up to return to their Brisbane/Gold Coast home, the wind started strengthening until David could once again fly his kite effortlessly. Then we headed for “home” at dusk, feeling a bit sore from the skiing but exhilarated from the shared adventures with friends.