Current Musing: Murray and Darling River Systems (On hold - COVID-19)
Sunrise at Balonne River

Darling River

15 Feb 2020 till ?

Map

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.
RiversStatesLength
Condamine RiverQLD657 km
Balonne River
To the Culgoa River.
QLD409 km
Culgoa RiverQLD, NSW489 km
Darling RiverNSW1,472 km
Murray River
From the Darling River to the sea.
NSW / VIC border, SA828 km
Total length3,855 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!

Condamine River

Even in flooding, the upper 15 km is not traversable via any form of watercraft and runs through private farmland. Please respect the farmer and the farms biosecurity and do not walk across their land.

Map with 100 hazard and warning icons all over it

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.

Key Waypoints

  • 0 km

    Source

    green paddocks with gully
    Date 3 Jun 2020
    Elevation 781 m
    Coordinates 28° 13' 53.0" S, 152° 28' 56.3" E
    Looking over farmland with a stream towards large rounded and forested mountain

    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 the gorge.

    Looking across paddocks to clift lined forested 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.

  • 12.8 km

    First Crossing

    River rapids
    Date 15 Feb 2020
    Distance between locations 12.8 km Elevation 650 m
    Coordinates 28° 13' 53.0" S, 152° 28' 56.3" E
    Gauge: The Head, BoM
    Flow: recommended: 2.2 m to 2.5 m
    Kayak with heavy load

    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.

    Clifts sticking out of the forest

    Two hours with a river height of 2.23 m made for nice journey down the upper gorge. Waking up the next day to a noticeable lower level of 2.08 m was still pleasant paddling experience with enough control to stop for barbwire fences that were common in the lower sections!

  • 33.8 km

    Killarney

    Logs blocking river
    Date 16 Feb 2020
    Distance between locations 21 km Elevation 508 m
    Coordinates 28° 20' 17.2" S, 152° 17' 43.1" E
    Population 954 General Store
    Gauge: Brosnans Barn, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 3 m, moderate: 4 m, major: 5 m
    Flow: no flow: 0.36 m, recommended: above 0.55 m
    Kayak with rips to canvas

    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).

  • 104 km

    Warwick

    Bridge
    Date 19 Feb 2020
    Distance between locations 70 km Elevation 447 m
    Coordinates 28° 12' 32.0" S, 152° 2' 16.4" E
    Population 15,380 Supermarket(s) Climate
    Gauge: Warwick, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 5 m, moderate: 6 m, major: 7 m
    Flow: no flow: 0.69 m
    Brown snake hidden in the vegetation

    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.

  • 326 km

    Cecil Plains

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 222 km Elevation 355 m
    Coordinates 27° 32' 1.3" S, 151° 12' 14.8" E
    Population 429 General Store
    Gauge: Cecil Plains Weir, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 6 m, moderate: 7 m, major: 8 m
    Flow: no flow: 3.66 m

    Tiny general store in town.

    Condamine River (North Branch)

    I am assuming that the main river is best. The north branch does not go past Cecil Plains.

    Gauge: Lone Pine, Nth Condamine Branch, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 3.5 m, moderate: 4 m, major: 5 m
    Flow: no flow: 1.81 m
  • 387 km

    Loudoun Weir, Dalby

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 61.5 km Elevation 328 m
    Coordinates 27° 13' 26.4" S, 151° 11' 3.5" E
    Population 12,719 Supermarket(s) Climate
    Gauge: Loudoun Br, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 2.5 m, moderate: 3.5 m, major: 5.5 m
    Flow: no flow: 1.78 m

    10 km from Dalby.

  • 530 km

    Chinchilla Weir

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 142.5 km Elevation 298 m
    Coordinates 26° 48' 2.9" S, 150° 34' 39.0" E
    Population 6,612 Supermarket(s)
    Gauge: Chinchilla Weir, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 6 m, moderate: 8 m, major: 10 m
    Flow: no flow: 0.74 m

    7 km from town.

  • 615 km

    Condamine

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 85.5 km Elevation 274 m
    Coordinates 26° 55' 33.6" S, 150° 7' 50.5" E
    Population 384 General Store
    Gauge: Condamine Township, BoM
    Flood: minor: 5 m, moderate: 7 m, major: 8 m

    Maybe a small general store.

  • 723 km

    Dogwood Creek

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 107.3 km Elevation 261 m
    Coordinates 27° 3' 21.6" S, 149° 37' 32.9" E
    Gauge: Cotswold, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 7 m, moderate: 10 m, major: 11 m
    Flow: no flow: 4.3 m

    Balonne River starts where the Condamine and Dogwood rivers join.

Balonne & Culgoa Rivers

11 to 22 March 2020

Flat dry and hot...

Key Waypoints

  • 723 km

    Dogwood Creek

  • 826 km

    Surat

    Wide slow flowing river lined by gum trees
    Date 11 March 2020
    Distance between locations 103.3 km Elevation 241 m
    Coordinates 27° 8' 60.0" S, 149° 4' 23.5" E
    Population 407 General Store
    Gauge: Surat, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 4.8 m, moderate: 6.8 m, major: 8.8 m
    Flow: no flow: 2.88 m
    kayaker on the river

    Small general store

    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.

  • 1,005 km

    St George

    Weir and bridge on river
    Date 14 March 2020
    Distance between locations 179.6 km Elevation 196 m
    Coordinates 28° 2' 37.7" S, 148° 34' 0.8" E
    Population 2,395 Supermarket(s) Climate
    Gauge: St George, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 6 m, moderate: 8 m, major: 10 m
    Flow: no flow: 1 m
    Bird on a nest in a lake

    Foodworks and IGA in town

    Just a quick stop for supplies. Just a couple days food but 35 L water for the next leg. River height of 3.4 m with a flow of 133 Cumecs.

  • 1,079 km

    Culgoa River Head

    Flooded river with trees
    Date 14 March 2020
    Distance between locations 74 km Elevation 177 m
    Coordinates 28° 25' 44.0" S, 148° 16' 15.6" E
    Gauge: Whyenbah, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Flood: minor: 3.5 m, moderate: 5 m, major: 5.8 m
    Flow: no flow: 1.9 m
    Aerial photograph of flooded river

    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.

    Camping by river with tent, kayak, gear and water purification setup

    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.

    Sunset reflecting off the water

    Gauges at the border, or see the BoM Northwest Rainfall and River Conditions Map.

    Gauge: Culgoa River at Brenda, BoM; WaterNSW
    Gauge: Bokhara River at Goodooga (U/S Weir), BoM; WaterNSW
    Gauge: Birrie River near Goodooga, BoM; WaterNSW

    Flow from the Beadmore Dam peaked slightly overnight and this ensured a great flow down one of the most remote sections of the river.

  • 1,350 km

    Weilmoringle

    River in flood, banks overflown with no clear way on what way to go
    Date 19 March 2020
    Distance between locations 280 km Elevation 125 m
    Coordinates 29° 14' 55.7" S, 146° 55' 30.4" E
    Population 80
    Gauge: Weilmoringle, BoM; WaterNSW
    Flood: minor: 5.2 m, major: 5.8 m
    Flow: no flow: 1.7 m
    Old rusty farm machine

    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.

    Selfie photo of two guys with beards

    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!

  • 1,515 km

    Darling River Head

    Date 21 March 2020
    Distance between locations 165 km Elevation 114 m
    Coordinates 29° 57' 29.5" S, 146° 18' 28.4" E
    Mob of 6 emus

    The Barwon and Culgoa Rivers merge to form the Darling River.

    Almost all of the flow was being generated from the flow out of the Culgoa floodplains. River height of 5.2 m with a flow of 108 Cumecs at Bourke.

Darling River

ETA Unknown

Wallaby sitting beside a river

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.

Key Waypoints

  • 1,515 km

    Darling River Head

  • 1,597 km

    Bourke

    Wide slow flowing river lined by gum trees
    Date 22 March 2020
    Distance between locations 82.5 km Elevation 108 m
    Coordinates 29° 55' 31.8" S, 146° 41' 60.0" E
    Population 1,824 Supermarket(s) Climate
    Gauge: Bourke, BoM; WaterNSW
    Flood: minor: 9.5 m, moderate: 11.4 m, major: 12.7 m
    Flow: no flow: 3.92 m
    kayak packed on road ready for transport

    IGA in town

    Avoid leaving your gear unattended here (RK).

  • 1,802 km

    Louth

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 205 km Elevation 91 m
    Coordinates 30° 32' 5.7" S, 145° 6' 50.8" E
    Population 43
    Gauge: Louth, BoM; WaterNSW
    Flood: minor: 8.6 m, moderate: 10 m, major: 12 m
    Flow: no flow: 1.21 m

    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.

  • 1,970 km

    Tilpa

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 168 km Elevation 80 m
    Coordinates 30° 56' 13.7" S, 144° 25' 3.2" E
    Population 44 General Store
    Gauge: Tilpa, BoM; WaterNSW
    Flood: minor: 9 m, moderate: 10.5 m, major: 11.5 m
    Flow: no flow: 0.18 m

    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.

  • 2,241 km

    Wilcannia

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 271 km Elevation 66 m
    Coordinates 31° 33' 35.6" S, 143° 22' 46.3" E
    Population 549 General Store Climate
    Gauge: Wilcannia Main Channel, BoM; WaterNSW
    Flood: minor: 9 m, moderate: 9.7 m, major: 10.4 m
    Flow: no flow: -0.19 m

    An IGA in town (the Friendly Grocer 08 8091 5989). There is apparently petty crime issues so keep a watch on your gear. (RK).

  • 2,559 km

    Menindee

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 318 km Elevation 62 m
    Coordinates 32° 23' 52.0" S, 142° 24' 48.0" E
    Population 551 General Store Climate
    Gauge: Menindee Town, BoM; WaterNSW
    Gauge: Menindee U/S Weir 32, BoM; WaterNSW
    Flood: minor: 8.5 m, moderate: 9.1 m, major: 9.7 m
    Flow: no flow: 2.18 m
    Maps and aerial images

    Darling River Friendly Grocer (08 8091 4288) in town for supplies.

  • 2,854 km

    Pooncarie

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 295 km Elevation 48 m
    Coordinates 33° 23' 7.9" S, 142° 34' 1.8" E
    Population 166 General Store Climate
    Gauge: Pooncarie, BoM; WaterNSW
    Flood: minor: 6.8 m, moderate: 7.6 m, major: 8.7 m
    Flow: no flow: 0.63 m

    Port Pitstop Pooncarie Fuel Stop (03 5029 5267) is the only general store and fuel.

  • 3,012 km

    Ellerslie / Palinyewah

    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 158 km Elevation 40 m
    Coordinates 33° 50' 36.5" S, 142° 0' 45.7" E

    Ellerslie is a small citrus-growing community. Likely no shops etc.

  • 3,092 km

    Wentworth

    Two large slow moving rivers joining together
    Date eta unknown
    Distance between locations 80 km Elevation 34 m
    Coordinates 34° 6' 38.4" S, 141° 54' 12.8" E
    Population 1,248 Supermarket(s) Climate
    Gauge: Murray River at Lock 10, BoM; WaterNSW
    Flood: minor: 32.08 m, moderate: 32.68 m, major: 33.88 m
    Flow: no flow: 22.97 m

    Final stop before joining the waters of the Murray.

Author on kayking at Surat.

Blog


Daily ramblings from on the trip down the Darling River.

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bridge on the river

Planning


Some additional info for anybody considering doing the Darling River and tributaries.

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Spreadsheet

Trip Table


This is my trip table for the Darling River.

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Past Darling River Expeditions


Other notable Darling River expeditions.

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Map screenshot with the basin and major rivers marked

River Basin Maps


Interactive maps for selected major rivers in Australia.

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