Murrumbidgee River – September 2013
I have just returned to Sydney after spending 3 days paddling down a 125km stretch of the Murrumbidgee River in southern New South Wales. The Murrumbidgee flows from the Australian Alpine region, past Canberra and then heads West across New South Wales. After flowing 900km, it eventually meets up with the Murray River near the South Australia/New South Wales border.
I had been planning to do this section of the river for a couple of years. Originally I had planned to do a 7 day stretch of the river on my own, but never managed to find a convenient time to do it. So when Scott, a mate of mine that I used to work with and do a lot of paddling with, put his hand up to join me on a multi-day paddling trip, I started planning a 4 day version of the original trip.
Day 0 – Logistics
Wednesday 11 September 2013
With any kayaking trip down a river, which is essentially a one way trip, there is a fair bit of logistics required around the vehicles. You need to leave one at the end point so that you can get home. So for this reason, Scott and I organised to meet in Wagga and spend the night in a cabin at one of the caravan parks on the river.
On the way to Wagga, I stopped off at Wantabadgery Reserve, the planned campsite for our second night, to stash a food cache consisting of a jerry can of water and some extra food (mostly snacks and booze).
Once in Wagga, after a few drinks and an excellent meal (yes, in Wagga) we settled in for the night in our cabin, which was about 1 star rating above having bed bugs. Knowing that we were going to spend the next few nights sleeping on the ground, it was survivable.
Day 1 – Gundagai to Limekilns Reserve (plus a bit)
Thursday 12 September 2013
The next morning, after I had finished an early conference call for work, we packed all the gear and squeezed both kayaks onto the roof of my car. We then headed an hour back up the road to Gundagai. We found a reasonable spot on the edge of the golf course, under the historic Gundagai railway bridge, that we could get all the gear to the river’s edge with minimal effort. Not wanting to leave the car in the middle of nowhere, I drove the few kilometers into the center of town, leaving the car in a well-lit would remain safe for the following 4 days and then jogged back to the river. On my return I found Scott had managed to squeeze in all his gear into his boat (which I have now dubbed the “Tardis” because of the huge amount of stuff he seemed to be able to squeeze into it) and proceeded to stuff my pile of multi-coloured dry bags into my boat.
After a couple of false starts, because of the need to find various items that were in the bottom of our various bags, we were finally on the water. It was a beautiful sunny day and the water was not overly cold. We soon discovered that the water was flowing at about 9kmh, so even without paddling we were moving at a reasonable speed down the river.
We cruised down the river for a couple of hours before finding a nice, cow free, beach for a lunch and coffee stop. This was an excellent opportunity to test out the efficiencies (well inefficiencies) of our gear packing. To make lunch and coffee seemed to involve unpacking the entire contents of our boats to get all the bits and pieces we needed. However it was worth it, because one of the things I learnt many years ago was taking good coffee (and a mug that acts as a plunger) makes a world of difference.
With full bellies and caffeinated blood, we pushed on for the afternoon to our planned campsite. As the afternoon went on, the wind began to pick up and by the time we got to our planned campsite at Limekilns Reserve, the wind was really blowing. After a quick survey of the campsite, we decided that it was too exposed to the wind and we decided to push on a bit to find a more suitable spot.
A couple of kilometers down the river, we found an idyllic beach on a bend in the river. It provided good shelter, soft sand to pitch the tent and plenty of firewood to start a small fire. After chilling the bottle of wine I had purchased at the last minute (and that fitted nicely in the nose of my kayak) in the river, we sat on the bank, watching the sunset with our drinks. Scott had a feeble attempt to catch a fish with the drop line he had packed. It still amazes me how much stuff he had in his boat.
With the temperatures dropping quickly, we were happy to crawl into our sleeping bags around 8.30pm and enjoy our soft beds of Thermarest and sand.
Day 2 – Limekilns Reserve (plus a bit) to Green Flat Reserve
Friday 13 September 2013
The weather forecast for Friday had been for a cold front to come across NSW and they were expecting rain; however we awoke to a beautiful sunrise and blue skies. It looked like it was going to be a stunning day for paddling. As we were having a slow breakfast, waiting for the air to warm up before hitting the water, the wind started to pick up. After packing everything back into the boats, we hit the water and headed downstream. The wind proceeded to get stronger as the morning progressed and just before lunch time we could see the clouds rolling across. When you spend all day staring at the sky, it is really cool to watch the weather change over a matter of hours.
The plan had been to camp at Wantabadgery Reserve, where I had placed the food cache a couple of days earlier, but since the river had narrowed and the current had sped up, it looked like we would be there by lunch time. Knowing that the next day was going to be the longest day of paddling (40km) we decided to have a long lunch and then push on further down the river. Plus when we arrived at Wantabadgery Reserve, it was full of Grey Nomads in their caravans, so we decided to go somewhere a bit more remote.
As we were having lunch we were greeted with a light rain shower, but it looked like most of the rain was heading to the South of us and the worst of it would miss us. We decided that we would stock up the food and water supplies and continue on our way.
About an hour later the clouds got darker and it started raining much heavier. We decided that there was no point in stopping in the rain and setting up camp. We were warm in the kayaks and it didn’t really matter if our paddling clothes got wet, so we pushed on.
An hour or so before sunset we got Green Flat Reserve, which was a campsite mentioned in the trial guide. It was not the most picturesque spot and did not permit fires (and had no firewood), but at that point we decided it would do. In a lull in the rain we pitched the tent and made a makeshift shelter with a tarp, a paddle, some string and a lot of duct tape (I had a bit of a Macgyver moment). Not wanting to spend too much time in the rain, we promptly cooked and ate our dinner, then bunkered down in the tent. After a long day of paddling, we both tried to read for a bit but were asleep by 7.30pm.
I have decided that doing a trip like this is a bit like having jet lag. Since your daytime is dictated by sunlight, you tend to go to bed early and wake up early. Going to sleep at 7.30pm also means that you also spend many hours in the night snoozing and listening the sounds of the bush at night.
During the night, the rain became very heavy; we had thunderstorms and howling wind. At about 1am we discussed the idea of doing the next two days of paddling in one big day. The idea of putting up a wet tent again for the sake of saving a few extra hours of paddling really didn’t excite us. However we decided that we would wait and see what the morning looked like.
Day 3 – Green Flat Reserve to Wagga Wagga
Saturday 14 September 2013
I crawled out of the tent at around 6am and found that the weather had completely turned (for the good). The sky was blue and there was no wind. In fact it was a perfect ballooning morning (we could have flown until 11am). I think at this point we had both mentally prepared ourselves for a big day of paddling, so we decided we would do the 54km to Wagga in one day. Looking at the distance and time, we predicted that we would be able to make it by about 5pm and have enough time for a good lunch break.
The weather was fantastic all day. The sun was beaming on the water and there was no wind all day. The river did start widening out in parts, which meant a number of long stretches of slower water. This was not too bad, because we had both got into the paddling rhythm and could go into our own mental zones and push on at a good pace.
Probably the highlight of the day was that we saw 3 platypuses at different points in the river. One popped up right next to my boat at one point, giving me the fright of my life and nearly made me flip over. Considering the only non-bird wildlife we had really seen to that point was a lot of cows, a couple of kangaroos and a fox, seeing these rare little critters was a pleasant surprise.
The bird life on the river was plentiful. I could not help think about my Dad, the avid bird watcher, and how he would have gone crazy with the binoculars, ticking off the different species of ducks, pelicans, cormorants, cockatoos, parrots and eagles. There were a lot of white-bellied sea-eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) living in the trees on the river banks. These massive birds stand about 80cm tall and have a wing span of about 2 metres. It provided us with a lot of entertainment watching these massive birds being attacked by tiny magpies and cockatoos when they flew too close to their nests.
After a good solid morning of paddling in the sun, we got to our planned lunch spot at Oura Beach Reserve (which was our original planned campsite) at around 11.30am. The 2 yapping Jack Russell dogs attached to a caravan confirmed our decision that we were going to push on the final 26km to Wagga that afternoon. So we decided to have a big lunch and throw out any of the excess food we didn’t need to carry. This lunch included breaking out the plum pudding and cream I had retrieved from the food cache the day before. It was like a mini Christmas lunch on the shores of the river. However, like every Christmas lunch, the desire for an afternoon snooze kicked in pretty quick.
Despite the food induced sleepiness and sore muscles, we packed all the gear (which had nicely dried on the beach over lunch) back into the boats and pushed on to Wagga.
We had spent the last two days in peaceful tranquility. The occasional cow would stare us down and the cockatoos would squawk at us as we got too close. As we got closer to Wagga, the activity on the river bank began to change. There were a lot more people on the banks of the river fishing (well sitting on Eskys, drinking beer) and even a couple of blokes doing circle work in their utes.
At around 4.30pm, we rounded the final bend and pulled up on Wagga Beach, right next to the caravan park we had spent the first night at. Considering we had just paddled solidly for 7 hours, covering about 54km, we both felt pretty good. We slowly packed all the gear into the car and checked into the nearest hotel. Once we both had a well-deserved shower, we ducked across the road to a local brewery, ate a whole pizza each, had 1 beer and were ready for a 12 hour sleep.
Thoughts on the Trip
Looking back on it, even though it ended up only being 3 days of paddling, it was a fantastic trip. The Murrumbidgee is a beautiful river and full of wildlife.
The trip was a great way for us to work out what gear we would need and not need for this sort of multi-day paddle. I think I managed to pack exactly the right amount of gear (maybe a pair of socks too many). Scott probably over catered to some degree, but his boat has about twice the volume as mine and could get away with all the extra bits and pieces.
Without knowing how fast we would be moving with fully laden boats, I had planned the trip based on the distances and times set in the guide provided by the Department of Lands. They had pretty much outlined each day to be about 30km in length. In hindsight, 40km is better distance to cover in one day, especially with the current. I thought this might end up being the case, as I predicted that their estimations would be like the suggested walking times on hiking trails in National Parks, where they cater for the lowest common denominator.
So overall it was a great trip. It has definitely got my mind thinking about future trips and interesting places we could explore.
I have also decided that after not shaving for 10 days, that I really don’t like having a beard. As soon as I got home I had the pleasure of shaving the damn thing off.