Paddle – Murrumbidgee River

Over the years I have done a lot of driving up and down the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney. There is a small town called Jugiong that sits between Yass and Gundagai (yes… on the road to Gundagai) within a stunning valley. The valley is surrounded by agricultural land and through which the Murrumbidgee River snakes. Jugiong always caught my eye and imagination because I (and many others) had dreamed of ballooning in the valley (which we did about 8 years ago). It also grabbed my attention because I had previously imagined what it would be like to paddle down that stretch of the Murrumbidgee.

The route

After I bought my sea kayak, I was thinking about possible multi-day paddles I could do in NSW and the idea of the Murrumbidgee hit me. I went online to see if anyone had done it and written about it. To my surprise there was a guide in the NSW Government website describing a 7 day paddle that covered the exact section of the Murrumbidgee that I was thinking of paddling.

Knowing that I would not be able to get enough time off to do a major expedition (i.e. 7 days) for a while, it happened that we were coming down to Binalong (near Yass) to our family property for the weekend. So I thought it might be a good chance to do one section of it. The challenge though would be organising the car shuffle so that I could leave my car at the top of the river and then get back to it once I had finished. Fortunately there is a great cafe (The Long Track Pantry) in Jugiong, so it did not take too much convincing for my family to agree to meet me there for lunch. This was the deciding factor in choosing the Nanangroe Reserve to Jugiong section.

The guide described the first leg of the paddle as being 32km and should take 6 hours of constant paddling. You never know with hour indicators in guides and on walking trail signs what type of person and fitness they rate it on.  However based on the 6 hours, I know had to get up pretty early to drive (about 30 mins) to the start point and try to be on the water first thing so I could be in Jugiong by lunch. Plus the forecast was for 33 degrees Celsius, so I wanted to get the bulk of the paddle done before it got unbearably hot.

To get to the start of the leg you turn off the Hume Highway in Bookham, you head down the Childowla Road through spectacular hills and valleys. You head through a couple of sheep properties down to the river. Nanangroe Reserve is a tiny piece of crown land on the edge of the river that sits in the middle of nowhere. When I got there I was pleasantly surprised to see that the water was flowing quite quickly because it is about 10 kilometres downstream from Burrinjuck dam. This would mean that the current would help make the paddling easier.

The road to the river

I ended up getting on the water at about 7.30 and headed downstream. As I went around the first corner, I heard the sound of rapids. To my surprise there were quite a lot of rapids (little Grade 1’s) on the river. Whilst they were not difficult rapids, it was interesting learning how to use navigate my Sea Kayak around the various rocks and snags. It reminded me of watching the barges steering around obstacles in the canals in Europe,  in that you had to turn early on and hope the boat made it around in time. I also spent a lot of the paddle lifting and lowering my rudder so it didn’t get ripped off by any of the rocks.

One of the mini rapids

The bird life on the river was fantastic. Every variety of Australian bird and duck you could possibly imagine to see or hear was there. The two stand outs was what I assumed and later confirmed was a massive white and brown Sea Eagle (that apparently do come this far inland) and a cormorant sitting on a rock that proceeded to cough up a massive fish as I went by.

Getting warm

About 2 hours into paddle, I came up against my first major obstacle. The river forked around a small island, and both forks (which were moving very quickly) were blocked by fallen trees. I knew I would have to somehow carry my boat around these blockages and since the banks were too steep, the only option was to push through middle (at some speed) of the fork and portage through the bushes on the island. Paddling as hard as I could as not to get sucked left or right into the trees, I smashed up onto the rocks on the island and proceeded to carry the kayak through the bushes to the other side of the island.

Portaging through the trees

At the point where I felt like I was about half way to Jugiong, I managed to get some mobile reception and called Kath to tell them to meet me at Jugiong at 12.30pm. I don’t know why, but for some reason I had convinced myself that it was a 5 hour paddle rather than the 6 hours in the guide book (I only just realised this as I am writing this). So my good old friend Murphy and his stupid laws visited me as soon as I had committed to a meeting time. The river suddenly widened into what felt like a series of mini lakes, hence slowing the current down, and a strong head wind picked up. So what went from a leisurely drift down the river became a 2.5 hour workout.
The times when the river did start speeding up from that point on was generally because the river got shallower. I was met with a number of “pebble runs”, which are shallow rapids that you end up dragging your arse across lots of rocks and scratch the shit out of your boat. On one occasion I had to get out and walk my boat down the pebble run because I was stuck and fear trashing my boat too much. There is nothing more painful the sound a rock screeching down the bottom of your new kayak right under your butt. However my philosophy with kayaks (and it is the same with new cars) is that you need to get a scratch them early on, otherwise you spend your whole time fearing you might get one.

Slowing down

After a couple of hours of paddling against the wind, hoping I would make it on time (my GPS said I would be there dead on 12.30pm if I didn’t stop), the river turned West and I started hearing traffic on the Hume Highway which meant I was getting close to the end. I pulled up against the steep bank at the finish point and scrambled up to the top to see Kath, James, mum and dad driving up to the meeting point. So it was perfectly timed in the end.

With the kayak lashed to the roof of dad’s car, we headed across the road the Long Track Pantry and I scoffed down my lunch in record speed. Apparently I was somewhat hungry.

The Long Track Pantry

Despite the hard work, the paddle was fantastic. In hindsight, I will not try to do a 6 hour paddle non-stop. A leisurely lunch half way along would have been a better plan. As write this it is the following day and I am happy to report that I am not sore in the arms at all. I did however crash last night at about 8pm.

One day I will take on the rest of the Murrumbidgee.

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