Rain, even flooding... Maybe, maybe, maybe, is this trip really possible?
I only caught the news of the flood after it had affected some of the towns inland, but I still managed to get 6 days in the water and completed the first navigable leg of the Condamine River from just below the source at the Head down to Warwick. I was in a slow inflatable and there were a million log jams so I slowly fell off the back of the flood water.
Three weeks later, and with a lot more planning, I'm ready to start again at Surat on the Balonne River, closer to the flood waters. The upper Condamine will simply have to wait for the next 1 in 8 year flood. An amazing trip down through the Culgoa floodplains and sadly the trip was interrupted again with the Coronavirus outbreak.
The Condamine River is the source of the longest continuous river system in Australia. This joins Dogwood Creek to become the Balonne River. Below St George the river disperses out over the Culgoa floodplains, where the Culgoa River is the major distributary. Eventually most of these branches rejoin up with the Barwon River where they form the Darling River. The exception is the eastern most branch, the Narran River. This flows into the endorheic Narran Lake.
- First Leg: Upper Condamine
15 - 19 Feb 2020
Inflatable kayak from the first crossing in Cambanoora Gorge.
3 - 4 Jun 2020
Walking from the summit of Mt Superbus down to the first crossing.
- Second Leg: Lower Condamine to Surat
- After the next rain maybe? Fences will be fixed and a lot of portages likely needed along this 800 km section...
- Third Leg: Balonne & Culgoa Rivers
- 11 - 22 March 2020, started from Surat
- Fourth Leg: Darling River
- After the virus and the borders are reopened.
|Condamine River||QLD||657 km|
To the Culgoa River.
|Culgoa River||QLD, NSW||489 km|
|Darling River||NSW||1,545 km|
From the Darling River to the sea.
|NSW / VIC border, SA||828 km|
|Total length||3,855 km|
GeoScience gave a length of 1,195 km for the Condamine/Balonne/Culgoa Rivers and 3,672 km combined from using 250K maps, well short of individual river lengths from Wikipedia that in turn was significantly shorter than actual measurements off the satellite images. I'm uncertain if there is an official length!
It was by a campfire beside the Condamine River back in Christmas, 2015 where the idea to kayak the Murray-Darling river was first seeded. However, this also marked the beginning of a severe dry spell that plunged the eastern states of Australia into a prolonged drought. There was no flow in the system at all.
Four years later, I was able to put my inflatable kayak into the headwaters to finally begin the trip as the rivers of the Darling Downs had their first significant rains in over five years.
Spring near the main range.
Intentions are hike the road down to the first crossing where you can put in a boat in high flow. I deferred this short hike to try and maximise the high flows currently in Cambanoora Gorge. .
It was nearly 4 months after I had first started the trip in February that the COVID-19 restrictions eased. This relaxation allowed me to head out and tick off the return hike along the road to the source (22 km) and at the same time I also ticked off South East Queensland's highest peak Mount Superbus (1,375 m) that towers over the upper Condamine River.
Put in at or just above the first 4wd crossing of the river.
I put in at the start of the forested section about 4.5 km upstream of the first crossing.
From here to Warwick will determine the feasibility of this trip.
Falling river height from 0.98 m to 0.64 m was pleasant but the decreased flow was definitely slower. It was easy enough to control the kayak around the million log jams from the recent floods.
From what would best be described as a narrow deep drainage ditch below Killarney, the river started to open up around Murrays Bridge (~half way to Warwick).
River felt like it had dropped to a more "normal" level with a healthy rainfall at 0.91 m, as opposed to no rain for years. Crossings and weirs made for mostly flatwater paddling and minimal assistance from the flow.
Leaving Warwick could result in less weirs making the flow more important. Sadly my inflatable kayak had a fatal run in with a sharp log and my initial trip finished slightly prematurely here.
Loudoun Weir, Dalby
10 km from Dalby.
7 km from town.
Maybe a small general store.
Balonne River starts where the Condamine and Dogwood rivers join.
Balonne & Culgoa Rivers
Flat dry and hot...
Surat is a small country town with a general store. The Balonne River is generally a wide deep with some narrower sections before a decent days paddle along Lake Kajarabie. Below the lake there are some fairly shallow rocky sections before St George.
Arrived late and bivyed by the river before leaving early in the morning. River height of 3.7 m with a flow of 34 Cumecs.
Culgoa River Head
What way to go????
I had initially thought the Bokhara River was the best choice as it has multiple towns that could be used for supplies, but the Culgoa River appears to have the best overall flow when there is water. The Bokhara River appears to be mostly dry outside of flood events.
Culgoa River is 489 km long and rejoins the Barwon River to form the Darling River. It did have a store about half way at Weilmoringle but this is now closed. Even after joining the Darling River you still have 108 km to go to get to Bourke, making close to a 600 km leg from St George.
The Birrie River flows from the Bokhara River back into the Culgoa River and the fourth major river distributary of the Balonne River, the Narran River, flows into the ephemeral (temporary) and endorheic (closed, no outlet rivers) Narran Lake.
Gauges at the border, or see the BoM Northwest Rainfall and River Conditions Map.
Flow from the Beadmore Dam peaked slightly overnight and this ensured a great flow down one of the most remote sections of the river.
Tiny indigenous community in the middle of nowhere! The Post Office / general store has been closed from about 2018, so expect up to a 600 km leg without supplies unless you organise a food drop somewhere.
River was classed as being in moderate flood with a height of 5.4 m with a flow of 83 Cumecs.
I stopped to ask for water from one of the locals. It was cool hanging for 15 to 30 minutes with Luke who got some additional water for me, the only social interaction I would have in nearly 600 km!
Onto this Australian iconic river
While the are reports that a tiny flow will be enough to traverse the river at 20 ML/day, it is likely minimal flow of 1 Cumecs is more relatistic and likely only enjoyable above 10 Cumecs. Carefully assess the flow and speed of the water through the system before any trip. See the planning page for more details.
Darling River Head
IGA in town
Avoid leaving your gear unattended here (RK).
Shindy's Inn (02 6874 7422) is a pub that serves as a cafe and store. They stock basic supplies and you could possibly be able to organise a food run beforehand.
Tiny town with pub and petrol station, no supplies unless organised beforehand with the owners of the Tilpa Hotel (02 6837 3928). They do a food run about once per week.
An IGA in town (the Friendly Grocer 08 8091 5989). There is apparently petty crime issues so keep a watch on your gear. (RK).
Darling River Friendly Grocer (08 8091 4288) in town for supplies.
Port Pitstop Pooncarie Fuel Stop (03 5029 5267) is the only general store and fuel.
Ellerslie / Palinyewah
Ellerslie is a small citrus-growing community. Likely no shops etc.