Sunrise at Balonne River

Balonne & Culgoa Rivers

11 to 22 March 2020

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.

Key Waypoints

  • 730 km

    Dogwood Creek

    Mouth of a river with high dirt banks
    Date 20 April 2020
    Distance between locations 106 km Elevation 261 m Slope 0.12‰
    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.

    River Red Gum timber survives for decades in the water so old fallen trees are common all throughout the Murray Darling Basin.

    Fallen trees in the river
    Four dingos looking at camera

    I paddled this section with a falling river of just 4.45 m and 95 ML/day. There were a small number of particularly bad sections of fallen trees between Chinchilla and Surat. The few kms by the confluence of Dogwood Ck was one of these.

  • 834 km

    Surat

    Wide slow flowing river lined by gum trees
    Date 11 March 2020
    Distance between locations 104 km Elevation 241 m Slope 0.19‰
    Coordinates 27° 8' 60.0" S, 149° 4' 23.5" E
    Population 407 General Store
    Toilets
    Gauge: Surat, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Catchment: 47,250 sq km
    Flood: minor: 4.8 m, moderate: 6.8 m, major: 8.8 m
    Flow: no flow: 2.88 m

    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.

    Aerial photographs of Lake Kajarabie empty and filled
    kayaker on the river

    In 2020, I was dropped off late and bivvyed by the river before leaving early in the morning. River height of 3.7 m with a flow of 34 Cumecs.

    In 2021, I paddled past on a much lower flow. River height of 3 m with a flow of 2.5 Cumecs. I portaged over numerous log jams, as well as a 7 km portage along the road from the dam down to the Carnarvon Hwy as there was no water being released.

  • 1,016 km

    St George

    Weir and bridge on a river
    Date 14 March 2020
    Distance between locations 182 km Elevation 196 m Slope 0.25‰
    Coordinates 28° 2' 37.7" S, 148° 34' 0.8" E
    Population 2,395 Supermarket(s) Climate
    Fountain near toilets
    Gauge: St George, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Catchment: 75,370 sq km
    Flood: minor: 6 m, moderate: 8 m, major: 10 m
    Flow: no flow: 1 m

    Make good use of the two supermarkets in town, a Foodworks and IGA. It is a long way to Bourke! Other possible stores are a long way from the river and could be closed.

    Bird on a nest in a lake

    The section below the Dam was the shallowest seen on the decient flows I had on my first trip and there was no water being released from the dam at all on my second trip. I was forced into a 7 km portage to make it to the weir waters above St George.

    I made a quick stop for supplies, though I only brought a couple days extra food and some fruit. I'm carrying 35 L water for the next leg.

    I left St George with a river height of 3.4 m with a flow of 133 Cumecs.

  • 1,095 km

    Culgoa River Head

    Flooded river with trees
    Date 14 March 2020
    Distance between locations 79 km Elevation 177 m Slope 0.25‰
    Coordinates 28° 25' 44.0" S, 148° 16' 15.6" E
    Gauge: Whyenbah, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Catchment: 79,330 sq km
    Flood: minor: 3.5 m, moderate: 5 m, major: 5.8 m
    Flow: no flow: 1.9 m

    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.

    Aerial photograph of flooded river

    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.

    Map

    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.

    Sunset reflecting off the water

    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.

    Dirranbandi
    Elevation 172 m
    Coordinates 28° 35' 59.3" S, 148° 12' 31.3" E
    Population 640 General Store
    Foodworks in town. This is 28.1 km downtream the Culgoa and a 13.5 km walk along Bollon Dirranbandi Rd; 35.0 km down the Balonne Minor River.
    Hebel, QLD
    Elevation 153 m
    Coordinates 28° 58' 9.5" S, 147° 47' 49.2" E
    Population 149 General Store

    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.

    Goodooga, NSW
    Elevation 142 m
    Coordinates 29° 6' 40.7" S, 147° 26' 52.4" E
    Population 247 General Store
    85.5 km downstream from Hebel if on the Bokhara River. This is 15 km along Goodooga Brenda Rd if taking the Culgoa River, 195.0 km from the rivers head.

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

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

  • 1,372 km

    Weilmoringle

    River in flood, banks overflowing with no clear way on what way to go
    Date 19 March 2020
    Distance between locations 277 km Elevation 125 m Slope 0.19‰
    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

    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.

    Old rusty farm machine
    Selfie photo of two guys with beards

    At Weilmoringle, the river was classed as being in moderate flood with a height of 5.4 m with a flow of 83 Cumecs. I could paddle across to the flood banks beside the town where 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!

  • 1,538 km

    Darling River Head

    Date 21 March 2020
    Distance between locations 166 km Elevation 114 m Slope 0.07‰
    Coordinates 29° 57' 29.5" S, 146° 18' 28.4" E
    Mob of 6 emus

    First time around, 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.

    On my return trip, the river was in minor flood from the Barwon River. River height of 9.4 m with a flow of 30,000 ML/day at Bourke.

    Paddling both flows was pleasant, the main difference was one didn't have to climb the banks much to camp!

Culgoa Basin 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.

  • Balonne River
  • Balonne Minor River
  • Culgoa River
  • Narran River
  • Bokhara River
  • Ballandool River
  • Briarie Creek
  • Birrie River
  • Barwon River
  • Cato Creek
  • Darling River