Upper Murray – 8 Day Paddle
October 2 -11, 2007
We left a car at Moama ( the NSW side of Echuca) and traveled on to Yarrawonga to Ôput inÕ below the massive weir holding back Lake Mulwala. The wind was blowing, there were small white caps on the river and 12 girls doing the expedition part of their Duke of Ed. Gold Award were also preparing to launch. It would have been interesting to hang around and see how they coped with the headwind in open canoes but we were keen to get half a dayÕs paddling behind us.
My kayak was jammed to the hatch covers with supplies, drinking water, camping gear and clothes. After half an hour I began to relax when I realised my kayak was so heavy it wasnÕt going to do anything unpredictable and was quite capable of plowing through anything the wind or waves could throw at me. The river turned and twisted in quick succession so the wind was never a problem for long.
We covered 24km that first afternoon and 40 to Cobram the next day. There was plenty of forest on both sides of the river but the NSW bank was private property while the Victorian side was Barmah State Forest practically all the way to Echuca. It was also school holidays so sand beaches had family campers with dogs, bicycles, trail bikes and recreational canoes in abundance. However there were no motor boats as the river was low, exposing long submerged logs that had lain hidden for decades especially on the river bends. Ken and Peter, who had paddled the Murray just 12 months earlier, estimated the water level was now a good metre lower.
One day we counted 30 koalas Ð all bar one on the Victoria side. Then they suddenly disappeared. The kookaburras, cockies and galahs were our constant noisy companions for most of our journey and we disturbed a magnificent sea eagle on the bank tearing apart a freshly caught fish. The most unusual sight was a swimming echidna paddling just under the surface and would pop up his pencil-like snout to take a few breaths.
Our group consisted of all singles: a Sea Lion, Penguin, Eclipse, Contour, Dagger and Voyager. On the 4th morning we pulled into Tocumwal, 100km downstream from our start, and there were Rob and Marg, fresh from China, with their 2 loaded Penguins waiting to join us. A quick visit to the supermarket for fresh supplies, the bottle-o for the essential casks of red and of course a caffeine fix and we were off again. Rob and Marg just happy to be in wide open spaces without hordes of people.
Here few fishermen were out in their tinnies cautiously picking their way around logs and sandbars. Campers were now leaving and the kangaroos were returning to the riverÕs edge. Our traveling was 35 – 45km per day at 6-9km/hr with current assistance. By lunch we had usually put away 20 – 25km easily but I struggled with the afternoon 15kms. The Murray now had a 3m high muddy bank and the reed beds were metres from the water. Days were sunny and pleasant and we enjoyed crackling campfires at night. Picnic Point had old shacks and new cabins with the unusual sight of ladders and jetties all high and dry well above water level.
We passed through The Narrows with dry lakes/lagoons on either side and camped at Broken Creek Ð a wide confluence and a pretty campsite. David walked across the Murray channel with water at only waist deep and this could probably be done at a number of places. Under foot was a prolific carpet of Murray mussels and a feast for anyone with a clever recipe to make these creatures palatable!
Upstream from Echuca we passed a welcome sign for Cape Horn Winery and popped in for wine tasting – muddy feet and strong odours included. The usual clientele of riverboats was absent as the river was too low limiting the movement of all houseboats out of Echuca.
We met the Goulburn River at its joining with the Murray where the river banks were now 5-6m high. I had expected it to be clearer but it was just as dirty as the Murray. We did however have a group photo in the Goulburn channel. The yellow banks and dusty trees still made a beautiful reflection on the still morningÕs surface.
Now as we approached Echuca, more rope swings were hanging idle from tree limbs, more pipes and pump sheds became visible, Ôprivate propertyÕ signs appeared, bird sounds diminished and mechanical noises grew. Things very noticeable after 8 days of paddling. We passed moored houseboats and finally reached our destination. They tell me that paddling through the historic township of Echuca is a scenic experience but our caravan park was 2km upstream. Something to do on another day. We had done 270km and now had grand plans to paddle other sections of the Murray and possibly the Goulburn in the near future.