Peter’s Paddle down the Mighty Murray

How I got to paddle down the Murray
Well it seemed like a good idea. I had previously ridden my bicycle from Adelaide (well actually Bridgewater) to Melbourne.  I was in the process of finishing off the walk of the Heysen Trail (1200km from Cape Jervis to Parachilna Gorge) and was thinking about what to do next.  It could only be one thing!  Kayak the length of the Murray River.Step 1. Get a kayak.  Research Ð research Ð research.  This is not a simple step.  So many to choose from.  Better change Step 1 to Step 2 and create a new Step 1 Ð Join a canoe club.  Best decision I have made in a long time.  The Adelaide Canoe Club provided everything I could have hoped for Ð and more.  Firstly, there was the opportunity to actually try paddling. And there was the chance to try different boats. And there was the chance to talk to people who knew what they were talking about. And there was the chance to develop some technique. And there was a chance to go away for all sorts of different trips Ð day paddles, weekend trips from a base camp, weekend trips not from a base camp, even surfing, white-water kayaking, and Eskimo rolling sessions (well you never know). And there was a chance to check out other peoples cooking tricks, camping tricks, packing tricks etc.  So that was Step 1 completed.

Now for Step 2 (Get a kayak).  After visiting a few retailers, I decided that I would try out the second hand market for a while, and see what eventuated.  I saw a few potential candidates, but then recognised a problem. Better change Step 2 to Step 3 and create a new Step 2 Ð get a roof rack. After completing Step 2 I saw an advert in the Trading Post for a kayak that I thought was suitable Ð a Penquin. I went out and bought it.  Now it was a matter of practise and planning.  I was expecting to be in Sydney in August 2006: instead of driving home, I could take the kayak to the top of the Murray and paddle home.

The original plan was for Arrienne (wife) and me to dawdle along Ð anybody that wanted to join in was more than welcome.  Some friends of ours that were walking the Heysen Trail with us were interested Ð they even went out, bought some boats and paddled with us. My brother-in-law (Michael) expressed interest.  He bought a boat and started practising.  So we had 5 starters Ð with others more than welcome to join in.  I arranged a dinner for the 5 of us and we started talking about the trip.  It was going to happen.

As time wore on, the Heysen couple got transferred to Sydney with work and getting the time off was going to become an issue. Although Arrienne enjoyed the paddling and the Adelaide Canoe Club members and outings, she soon realised that dawdling would be too time-consuming and anything faster than a dawdle would be beyond her physically.

So it was just me and Michael!  We mused maps. We pondered phones.  We worried water. We talked tents.  We studied sleeping bags.  We fooled with food.  We checked cookers.  We glorified GPSÕs.

Somehow we settled on Khancoban as a starting point and the Murray Mouth as a finishing point.  Michael was expecting to be in Sydney with me, so the timing was pretty much sorted out.  He would take a combination of annual leave and long service leave.

Then along came Ken.  Ken had said from a long time ago that he would be interested in joining us Ð but there was no real sign of his seriousness.  Until he bought a kayak about 2 months before the scheduled departure date. He even went on reconnaissance to the start point and checked it out.  Now there were 3.

Mike and I did our business in Sydney. I took my kayak with me. Ken was taking MikeÕs boat and his own to Khancoban, and we met him there.  I was a little apprehensive about the start because David (a well-respected member of the Adelaide Canoe Club) had expressed his concern about the speed at which water might be moving at Khancoban.

As it turned out the water was moving quite quickly, but I did not consider it to be beyond my capabilities. It flowed at a reasonable pace until we neared the Hume Reservoir. This part of the river passed mostly through cleared farmland.  Although it was easy to find places to stop and camp, there was not always much firewood around.   The banks were lined with willows, which proved to be a source of embarrassment to Ken, who managed to lose out to them on 2 occasions.  He says the water is very cold.  On numerous occasions we would have a platypus bob up to see what was intruding on their territory.

The Hume Reservoir was only down to 19% capacity when we went through. At the top end there was a channel were the river went through and high banks on both sides, beyond which there was only the dried out lake bed. We were just able to get our kayaks over the ferry cables at the top end of the lake.  It is not possible to paddle through the Hume weir. We were met at the wall by some friends who had managed to get a trailer for us to be able to transport our boats from the lake to the river beyond the Hume weir (after we managed to enjoy a hot shower and spend the night in a real bed).

Arrienne managed to meet us at Albury at lunchtime the next day. She would be driving up to meet us again in 2 weeks time.

From here we spent several days paddling to the next obstacle Ð LakeMulwala.  The day we crossed over the lake was very windy.  We found ourselves paddling into quite high waves that were being whipped up by the strong breeze.  Yarrawonga lies at the bottom of LakeMulwala and again there is a weir that it is not possible to paddle through.  We were able to get our kayaks transported from the boat ramp near the weir, to the river beyond the wall.  The caravan park is at the weir and this again provided a welcome hot shower and real bed.

The river downstream from Yarrawonga appears to be well paddled with numerous picnic spots and camping sites Ð some with firewood already cut.  There are sections that the authorities are clearing of willows in order to make it safer for paddlers.

ArrienneÕs next visit was going to coincide with us being near Swan Hill. We arrived at Swan Hill at about lunch time and booked into the caravan park. I had asked Arrienne to bring a large fluffy towel with her Ð However, I couldnÕt wait for it and I enjoyed a hot shower followed by a nap on a real bed while waiting for her to arrive with my replenishments. Ken did not seem to be too bothered by his own body odour (well he did spend more time in the river than Mike or I), and he was glad to make full use of the towel.

After several more days on the river our next shower and real bed stop was Echuca.

Ken had been dropped off at the beginning of the trip by his brother Garry and friend Warren.  They wanted to catch with him again when we got to Mildura and wanted to know when we would be getting there.  We worked it all out and told them we would be in Mildura on the night of Friday 29th September. We were on target, but Friday developed into a very windy day and we battled long and hard into a predominantly head wind against large waves. It was necessary for us to pass through the lock at Mildura to get to the caravan park on the other side of it. We knew that the lock was closed from4pm. At about lunchtime we agreed to let Mike (our strongest paddler) go off in front to reach the lock in time. He arrived at about3.45pm and told the lockmaster that he had a couple of mates that Òwere just a few minutes behind himÓ. With Mike sitting in his kayak in the lock, and with Garry and Warren standing there waiting and talking with him, and with the wind getting stronger, and with a small crowd gathering to watch, the poor lockmaster was under a little pressure to wait for us. Every couple of minutes one of the small crowd would disappear to the bridge nearby to report on whether Ken and I were in sight yet. Eventually at about 4.45 we were. Although we were able to enjoy a hot shower that night, all available real beds were taken up with the Country and Western weekend that was taking place in Mildura that weekend so it was another night in the tents and sleeping bags, although we did enjoy some take-away pizza instead of having to cook.

The next stage of the river would see us arriving intoSouth Australia. Ken wanted to take the obligatory photo at the border, but unfortunately his mobile phone followed his camera out of his deck bag and is now lying at the bottom of the river.

I had hoped that ArrienneÕs next visit would coincide with us being in Renmark on the Thursday prior to the long weekend. However there was one day that we awoke to a day that we all felt was too windy to tackle Ð especially since we were still recovering from the paddle into Mildura. So we met her at lunchtime at Customs House instead. The next night we were able to enjoy a hot shower at Renmark, but being the long weekend settled for another night in the tents and sleeping bags and a meal at the pub.

We were now into slightly more populated areas.  Although it was still possible to camp on the side of the river, this was not always easy if you happened to be near a lot of shacks at the time you wanted to set up camp.  Also, with the school holidays, some of the potential camp spots were taken up by others.

We arrived at Morgan mid afternoon with an unusual tail wind.  The forecast was for quite high temperatures and it had been quite warm.   The choices here were to keep going while we had a tail wind and camp beyond Morgan and have an easy paddle next day to get through the lock at Blanchetown or to cool off, spend the night at Morgan and risk having to camp upstream of the lock at Blanchetown.  It was decided to have a break at Morgan Ð a welcome shower, but we again settled for the tents and sleeping bags and a meal at the pub.

Next day proved to be milder, but the wind was now into our face again. Mike was determined to get through the lock and was unsighted from before lunch. Arrienne had driven up fromAdelaide to check on our progress and saw us going through the lock. We stopped at the caravan park in Blanchetown Ð a welcome shower, but we again settled for the tents and sleeping bags and a meal at the pub.

We had camped a couple of hours upstream of Mannum. The morning we paddled in to Mannum was again very windy and into our faces. The waves were yet again quite high. Ken and Mike were (again) ahead of me and were waiting on the first bit of green grass into Mannum. It turned out to be the caravan park. It didnÕt take long to agree that it was just too rough and that we should spend the rest of the day in Mannum Ð a welcome shower and a real bed and a meal at the pub.

We had always spoken about finishing the trip at the Murray Mouth.  This involved crossing Lake Alexandrina.  We had rough ideas of how we would tackle this.  These ideas were fluid and were gradually taking shape.  However, I felt that I was not strong enough to take it on.  Mike and Ken were reluctant to take on the lake alone and so it was agreed that the finish would be at Wellington. The respective family members and friends were informed of this and it was a wonderful feeling to paddle to the homecoming banner that was stretched out for us just before the ferry. We had paddled about 2400 km, taken about 6 _ weeks and I lost 7kg in the process!                                             Peter Wynen