Murrumbidgee River – Gundagai to Wagga Wagga

Last week I spent three very enjoyable days paddling down the Murrumbidgee River from Gundagai to Wagga Wagga. I have done a couple of multi-day paddles on the Murrumbidgee this year (Jugiong to Gundagai and Wagga Wagga to Narrandera) and this was the stretch of the river that joined these together.

This was the trip I did for my first multi-day paddle back in 2013. As detailed in an early blog post (Murrumbidgee River – September 2013), I did that trip with a paddling partner, Scott, and we were both new to this type of multi-day paddling. So it was nice to come back to do this trip with a little more experience under my belt.

The Murrumbidgee River Canoe & Kayak Trail Guide recommends this trip should be done in 4-5 days, however I only had a 4 day window to do the trip before I needed to be back in Sydney. This was ok, because from previous trips on this river, I knew that the I was able to paddle a lot further in a day than what was recommended. Plus, the water levels were pretty high (2.8m at Gundagai) which meant that there would be a good current to push me along.

My plan was originally to combine the first 2 days into one by skipping the Limekilns Campsite (which is pretty exposed and basically just a paddock) and then do the rest of the paddle as recommended by the guide. This would include campsites at Wantabadgery, Green Flats Reserve and Oura. In the end, I also skipped the Green Flats Reserve campsite and did the entire trip in 2.5 days.

The Route

Day 1 – Gundagai to Wantabadgery

I had planned to spend the night before the trip in the Gundagai Caravan Park, however there was a lot of rain forecasted for that night and I did not really want to start the trip with wet gear, so I spent the night at the Gabriel Motor Inn. This was the right decision because a squally front moved its way through the area which brought a lot of rain and wind. The rain did clear at about 3am, but there was still a forecast for strong Westerly winds to kick in later in the morning. I decided I would get on the water right on sunrise to allow me to make good progress before the wind picked up. It would also be a chance to take some nice sunrise photos and video of the Gundagai bridges.

Gundagai at Sunrise

Since I wanted to get on the water early and I had a fair bit of car/kayak logistics to sort out, I checked out of the hotel around 4.45am and drove down to the river. The main logistic was that I needed to drop my kayak and gear at the river and then drive back into to town to leave my car somewhere safe (outside the police station). The plan was that my parents would pick up my car and drive it down to Wagga for me. As you will read later, this didn’t quite go to plan.

I originally was going to set off on the Gundagai (North) side of the river, under the old railway bridge, however the grass was too long and the bank was too steep. So I had to start on the other side of the river, on the South Gundagai side, which meant my walk back from town was going to be much further. In the end it was a great launching spot, with a nice dirt road (Ferry St) that goes right to the waters edge and plenty of space to sort out all the gear. It ended up being a 30 minute (2km) walk back from where I had left the car. It also ended up being a great photography spot.

Ferry Street (South Gundagai) launch spot

The river was absolutely pumping. A lot of water was being released upstream from Burrunjuck Dam and the level at the Gundagai gauge was 2.8m. To put this into perspective, when I did my trip in March, from Jugiong to Gundagai, it was around the 1.5m mark.

With all the car shuffling complete, photography done and the kayak packed up, I ended up getting onto the water at around 6.45am. Straight away I knew I would be travelling a lot faster than I had planned. I was paddling between 10-12kmh and when I stopped I was still drifting at about 5kmh. The water was pretty swirly, with lots of current changes, little whirlpools and eddies created by the banks, trees and other obstacles in the water. I certainly had to concentrate in most sections to ensure I did not drift into any of the many submerged trees, logs and willow trees.

The paddling was pretty uneventful. However it was a lovely chance to soak in all the beauty of the gum trees and listen to the constant squark of the cockatoos.

The wind held off until late morning however, when it kicked in, it was strong and straight in my face. Progress was still fast due to the river flow, but having the wind pushing against me made it feel a lot slower than it really was.

I passed the first campsite in the guide (and where Scott and I spent our first night in 2013), called Limekilns Reserve, at around 10am. I was glad I had planned to push on to Wantabadgery. A few hours later (at around 2pm) I reached the Sandy Beach campsite at Wantabadgery and was delighted to find a nice spot on the edge of the river including a table and shelter. There were a few caravans scattered around the area, however it is a huge campsite (with a couple of relatively clean drop toilets), so I was able to keep to myself.

Sandy Beach campsite at Wantabadgery

As the sun dropped, the wind picked up even more so I retired to my tent to read my book. I soon realised I had made a bad decision on the tent that I had brought. I normally use my 2 person Macpac Duolite tent however I (stupidly) decided to bring my 1 person Nemo Hornet tent on this trip. I discovered that it is not at all suitable to spend much time in (other than sleeping) because you can’t really sit up fully and moving around was very difficult. I won’t be making that mistake again.

Sunset at Wantabadgery

Day 2 – Wantabadgery to Oura

Oh my god… the cockatoos were so noisey in the mornings. Being that it is so late in the year, they were waking up at about 4.30am and proceeded to wake up everyone and everything.

I had originally planned to paddle to the Green Flats Reserve campground on this second day, however, after such a fast water the day before, I realised it was only 15km away and I would be there in a couple of hours. So I decided that I would skip that campsite and push on to Oura. This meant I was in for another longish paddle of 41km.

They had forecasted rain later in the day and predicted more strong westerly winds. Fortunately I was greeted to a nice sunny morning with scattered clouds. It had been cold overnight (9 degrees) but it warmed up pretty quickly and by the time I hit the water (at around 7am) it was a very pleasant temperature.

Windy clouds

The paddling was very enjoyable and there seemed to be a lot more bird life on this section of the river. There were also plenty of cows and sheep on the banks to give me strange looks as I paddled past.

I passed Green Flats Reserve at around 9.30am which confirmed that I had made the right decision to keep going. It is a nice open campsite but I didn’t really feel the need to spend all day hanging around there, especially if it was going to rain.

During the morning, clouds started forming overhead and the wind picked up more and more. Fortunately the rain held off and I arrived at the Oura Beach campsite at around 1pm.

Clouds forming over Oura Beach

The Oura Beach campsite is very large, however all the good spots near the river had been taken by caravans. Unfortunately a lot of the area has large river gum trees, with threatening looking “widow maker” limbs, that I had no desire to camp under in such strong winds. So I ended up having to lug all my gear to the back of the reserve, where I would be clear of trees and where there was another table and shelter. By the time I had set up camp, the wind had really picked up and there was a bit of drizzle around. To provide a bit of protection I was able to use my lightweight tarpaulin to create an awning on the shelter.

My makeshift shelter

Having spent a lot of time in campsites, I have experienced all levels and types of toilet facilities. I always prepare myself worst when visiting one of these loos. However, I was amazed when I visited to the Oura dunny, which from the outside looked like the normal drop toilet. On entering the tin shed, I found a very clean, flushing toilet. In addition, there was also a rack providing a variety of romance novels and scientific journals to read while enjoying the facilities.

The library in the loo

The rain finally kicked in around 8.30pm, so I retired to my coffin like tent and enjoyed listening to the patter patter of the rain on the nylon tent.

Sheltered from the drizzle and wind

Day 3 – Oura to Wagga Wagga

Once again the symphony of cockatoos acted as my alarm clock at 4.30am. This time they were joined by a quartet of kookaburras to add an extra chorus.

My morning chorus

Sticking my head out of my tent I saw that the rain had all cleared and the wind had dropped off completely. I only had 26km (about 3hrs) of paddling to do, so I took my time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and to spread all my gear out to dry in the sun before packing it in my boat.

Drying the gear in the morning sun

I hit the water around 8.30am and paddled slowly down the river. I wasn’t in a rush because I had booked a camping site at the BIG4 Wagga Wagga Holiday Park and I wouldn’t be able to check in too early. It was a beautiful morning and I spent a lot of time just drifting with the current.

A lovely day

I pulled up on the makeshift boat ramp at the caravan park in Wagga Wagga around noon, just as the GPS ticked over exactly 120km for the entire trip. As I walked (the long way) to the office of the caravan park, I saw that the “unpowered” camping area was a massive, exposed, football oval sized lawn in the middle of the park. There was a solitary tent and suitcase, containing a strange old lady, planted right in the middle. I decided that I had no interest in spending another day/night in my 1 person tent in the middle of an oval, so I upgraded to a cabin. I then had to haul all my gear and kayak (three trips) across the caravan park. This is the last time I don’t take my kayak trolly with me on a multi-day trip.

A lonely tent in the caravan park camping area

After a nice shower, I hiked the 3km into the main part of town and enjoyed a nice lunch and a good coffee. This was soon followed by a couple of beers and meal at the Farmers Home Hotel and some time to reflect on my adventure.

Little did I know… the adventure was not over…

Stranded in Wagga Wagga

As mentioned earlier, the plan had been for my parents to pick up my car in Gundagai and drive to Wagga to pick me up. As I arrived in Wagga, my Mum messaged me to say that Dad had the flu and he had to stay in bed. She said that in the morning she would drive the 2.5 hours from their place in Binalong to pick me up. However, as I was leaving the pub, feeling full of food and beer, my wife, Kath, rang me and said “ring your Mum”.

Talking to Mum, I found out Dad had got worse and she had just called an ambulance for him and he was heading to Yass hospital. So I told her not to worry about me and I would get the daily bus from Wagga to Gundagai. When I got back to the cabin I found there wasn’t going to be any seats on the bus for 3 days.

Kath and I discussed options. She suggested I check find out what an Uber or a taxi would cost. Uber didn’t cover Gundagai, so that wasn’t an option. I got a quote from the cab company and it was going to be a whopping $230. My son, James, offered to drive down from Sydney to pick me up, but we realised that a taxi was going to be cheaper than the petrol and another night of accomodation. So a taxi was booked for the morning.

At 7am the next morning I jumped in a taxi, driven by a very friendly driver, and we began the 80km drive down the Sturt Highway to Gundagai. The driver said it was likely to be more than $230, so I spent the entire ride watching the price on the meter slowly ticking over, wondering where it would end. As we pulled up at the police station, where my car was parked, the meter read $260. Definitely one of my more expensive cab rides I have done.

I then headed back to Wagga to pick up my kayak and gear, and headed back to Sydney.

My dad was diagnosed with pneumonia and ended up being transferred from Yass to a hospital in Canberra. Having just got back to Sydney, Kath and I decided that we should head back down to Binalong to give Mum a hand and to help her with the daily 1 hour commute from Binalong to Canberra. I am happy to say that after a few days in Canberra, Dad is now home at Binalong recovering from his “deep” pneumonia.

The Paddle Details

Distance: 120km (exactly)
Duration: 2.5 days
Water Level: 2.8m at Gundagai
Average Speeds: Paddle speed ~10kmh, Drift speed ~5kmh
Starting Point: Gundagai – Ferry Street in South Gundagai (-35.07185, 148.10211)
Finishing Point: BIG4 Wagga Wagga Holiday Park (-35.11855, 147.38934)
Day Breakdown
Day 1 – Gundagai to Wantabadgery – 53km in 8hrs
Day 2 – Wantabadgery to Oura – 41km in 6hrs
Day 3 – Oura to Wagga Wagga – 26km in 3hrs

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