Varied journey through farmland and forest areas.
Flat, dry and hot... you will actually be "out the back o’Bourke" in some of the most remote parts of north western NSW.
The Balonne River starts where the Condamine and Dogwood rivers join around halfway through the most remote section of the section between the small towns of Condamine Township and Surat (~200 km) in QLD; that is in turn halfway between Chinchilla and St George (475 km).
The Culgoa River starts about a day's paddle from St George as a distributary of the Balonne that channels off almost all of the water under non-flood flow. The Balonne technically finishes downstream at the Ballandool - Bokhara split, though often this section is known as the Balonne Minor River. You cross the border while paddling the Culgoa River.
The Barwon and Culgoa Rivers meet to form the official starting point of the Darling River.
Surat is a small country town with a general store.
The Balonne River is generally deep and wide with some narrower sections on good flows before a decent day's paddle along Lake Kajarabie. On a low flow, expect to fight through a significant number of log jams. Note while Surat is only 104 km from Dogwood, it is 296 km from Chincilla.
When Lake Kajarabie is filled, the waters extend a long way up to around Wycombe. Below the dam there are some fairly shallow rocky sections just before the flat waters created from St George Weir. This would likely be impassible with a very low flow.
What way to go????
I had initially thought the Bokhara River was the best choice as it has multiple small 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 443 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 84 km to go to get to Bourke. This means that you will be facing a 606 km leg without supplies unless you organise a food drop somewhere along the way.
The Birrie River is the third major river that flows from the Bokhara River back into the Culgoa River and the Narran River is another major river that is a distributary of the Balonne River. This flows into the ephemeral (temporary) and endorheic (closed, no outlet rivers) Narran Lake.
The river lengths are:
Culgoa River 442.7 km
Balonne Minor River 79.1 km
Bokhara River 413.0 km, total of 492.1 km to the Barwon River
Birrie River 266.3 km
Ballandool River 104.0 km c/f staying on the Bokhara River at 110.3 km
Narran River 311.4 km
The combined lengths from the start of the Culgoa to the start of the Darling are:
442.7 km for the Culgoa River
543.1 km for the Balonne Minor (79.1 km), Bokhara (138.0 km), Birrie (266.3 km) and Culgoa (59.7 km) rivers; 100.4 km longer.
578.4 km for the Balonne Minor (79.1 km), Bokhara (413.0 km) and Barwon (86.3 km) rivers; 135.7 km longer.
The Ballandool River looks heavily modified around Ballandool station. Use a lot of caution if attempting this. The lower 30.6 km section was excluded from the above length calculations as it appears that the river rejoins the Bokhara before becoming a new anabranch. This lower anabranch has Briarie Creek as a tributary.
Don't forget to include the 79 km from St George to the Culgoa and the 84 km to Bourke when planning supplies, a total of 606 km via the Culgoa; via the Bokhara, 114 km to Dirranbandi where you can resupply before the 627 km leg to Bourke.
There is an interactive map with key rivers marked at the bottom of the page.
If you are paddling along the Culgoa, you could walk over to one of the towns along the Bokhara River. If you are lucky you may even have some luck with a passing car.
Small store. 114.0 km downstream from Dirranbandi if on the Bokhara River. This is 28 km along Woolerbilla Rd if taking the Culgoa River, about 124.5 km from the rivers head.
Both Hebel and Dirranbandi are on the St George to Lightning Ridge bus route.
Gauges at the border, or see the BoM Northwest Rainfall and River Conditions Map.
Map of the major rivers and creeks in the Culgoa section.
The map has markers every km starting from 0 at the confluence where the Darling meets the Murray. Zoom in to see all of these markers. These numbers do not correlate with any existing numbering system on the river.