Sunset near Warwick

Condamine River

Completed 20 April 2021

The Condamine River is the most diverse section of the entire waterway. From a gentle stream in highland farmland surrounded by rainforests, it is channeled into a forested gorge before entering the wide farming plains of the Darling Downs.

The Condamine River is also the most technical of the rivers that make up the Darling River system. Grade II rapids, highly variable river levels and notoriously bad log jams make for a challenging trip.

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. I was able to complete some sections, most noticeably the Condamine Gorge and the Culgoa River, but COVID-19 restrictions delayed the rest of the trip for nearly a year. A rare flood event in 2021 allowed me to finish the trip with a fantastic high flow.

I paddled the upper Condamine on a moderate flow, but well below flood levels. Due to the high banks along with the large number of fences, strainers and log jams, I would not recommend tackling the section from The Head to Talgai Weir in flood conditions.

Key Waypoints

  • -5 km

    Mount Superbus

    Looking over farmland with a stream towards a large rounded and forested mountain
    Date 3 Jun 2020
    Elevation 1,375 m
    Coordinates 28° 13' 18.1" S, 152° 27' 22.3" E

    Detour up South East Queensland's highest peak that towers over the source.

    A steep and hard Grade 4 walk up the ridgeline to the viewless summit that would get very slippy if wet. Some navigation required, especially if you head to the second cairn. Interesting detour to the Lincoln Wreckage or the lookout at Lizard Point and The Steamers.

    Additional information about the walk can be found here.

    Pile of stones in among tree ferns

    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.

    Any hope of doing the sections below Warwick were dashed due to a lack of water.

  • 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

    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 farm's biosecurity and do not walk across their land.

    Spring near the Main Range.

    There is a seep in the paddock beside Spring Creek Rd, but there is a spring within the cliffs that is usually considered to be the true source of the South Branch of the Condamine River.

    Looking across paddocks to the gorge lined with cliffs and forested sections
  • 12.8 km

    Cambanoora Gorge (First Crossing)

    River rapids
    Date 15 Feb 2020
    Distance between locations 12.8 km Elevation 650 m Slope 10.23‰
    Coordinates 28° 13' 53.0" S, 152° 28' 56.3" E
    Gauge: The Head, BoM
    Flow: recommended: 2.2 m to 2.5 m

    Cambanoora Gorge runs between the source of the Condamine River and Killarney, QLD. It is also known as the Condamine Gorge.

    Put in at or just above the first 4wd crossing of the river. I started near the gate as you leave the farmland for forest about 4.5 km upstream of the first crossing.

    Clifts sticking out of the forest

    Levels under 2.1 m at The Head are likely to become difficult to paddle the bouldery sections of the gorge. You should expect about a dozen or more fences across the creek. Most farmers used barbed wire so be careful!

    1.9 m at the Head represents almost zero flow and levels drop quickly after heavy rain. On an average year, there are 55 days at or above the recommended flow at Killarney (Brosnans Barn), but only 4.5 days at or above 1 Cumecs (~2 m) at the Head.

    Creek with hardly no flow

    Normal flow, gauge height 1.9 m

    Rapids in a creek

    High flow with heavy rain, gauge height 2.2 m

    Kayak with heavy load

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

  • 33.8 km

    Killarney

    Logs blocking the river
    Date 16 Feb 2020
    Distance between locations 21 km Elevation 508 m Slope 6.76‰
    Coordinates 28° 20' 17.2" S, 152° 17' 43.1" E
    Population 954 General Store
    Gauge: Brosnans Barn, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Catchment: 92 sq km
    Flood: minor: 3 m, moderate: 4 m, major: 5 m
    Flow: no flow: 0.36 m, recommended: above 0.55 m

    From what would best be described as a narrow deep drainage ditch surrounded by River She-oaks (Casuarina cunninghamiana) below Killarney, the river started to open up around Murrays Bridge (~halfway to Warwick) where farmland dominated with sections lined with River Red-gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) as well as willow trees.

    Steep bank beside creek
    Creek through farmland with scattered trees
    Kayak with rips to canvas

    I used the section from Killarney to Warwick to determine the feasibility of this trip.

    Falling river height from 0.98 m to 0.64 m was still enjoyable but the decreased flow was definitely slower. It was easy enough to control the kayak around the million log jams from the recent floods. This section was tough on both my boat and my skin tackling the log jams.

  • 104 km

    Warwick

    Bridge
    Date 19 Feb 2020
    Distance between locations 70 km Elevation 447 m Slope 0.87‰
    Coordinates 28° 12' 32.0" S, 152° 2' 16.4" E
    Population 15,380 Supermarket(s) Climate
    Toilets in Rotary Park
    Gauge: Warwick, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Catchment: 1,360 sq km
    Flood: minor: 5 m, moderate: 6 m, major: 7 m
    Flow: no flow: 0.69 m

    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 around Warwick.

    The next section downstream is mostly unregulated until you reach Talgai Weir. You really need to be ready to go quickly after heavy rains to use the current. A flow higher than 1.5 m above normal should allow you to paddle over many of the fences across the river.

    Warwick is the last major supply pickup before Chinchilla, which is 426 km downstream. The small country store at Cecil Plains can be used for basic supplies. Dalby is a fairly long detour off the river. Benz Auto Dismantlers in Warwick may be able to offer long term car storage.

    Large number of parrots in a tree
    Brown snake hidden in the vegetation

    Sadly my inflatable kayak had a fatal run in with a sharp log and my initial trip finished slightly prematurely at Warwick. A year later I was back with a plastic sea kayak and a much higher flow.

  • 326 km

    Cecil Plains

    Country town with deserted streets
    Date 13 April 2020
    Distance between locations 222 km Elevation 355 m Slope 0.41‰
    Coordinates 27° 32' 1.3" S, 151° 12' 14.8" E
    Population 429 General Store
    Toilets at Apex Park or the Caravan Park in town
    Gauge: Cecil Plains Weir, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Catchment: 7,795 sq km
    Flood: minor: 6 m, moderate: 7 m, major: 8 m
    Flow: no flow: 3.66 m

    Tiny general store and a pub in the town.

    Running river
    Flowing Condamine at Cecil Plains. 710 ML/day
    River with hardly no water
    Five days later, there was no flow

    Other possible towns on the way to Cecil Plains seem very limited and off the track:

    Clifton
    Coordinates 27° 55' 45.1" S, 151° 54' 22.0" E
    Population 1,456 Supermarket(s)

    19 km E along Clifton Leyburn Rd

    Millmerran
    Coordinates 27° 52' 44.0" S, 151° 16' 9.5" E
    Population 1,563 Supermarket(s)

    13.2 km SW along Gore Hwy from the bridge

    Insignificant creek inlet

    Condamine River (North Branch)

    The main river is best with the North Branch rarely running except for flood events. At 86.4 ML/day, the inlet was dry, the confluence near Tipton Weir is shown above,

    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
    Twisted gum trees reflecting off the still waters
  • 387 km

    Loudoun Weir, Dalby

    Weir with water spilling over it
    Date 14 April 2020
    Distance between locations 61.5 km Elevation 328 m Slope 0.44‰
    Coordinates 27° 13' 26.4" S, 151° 11' 3.5" E
    Population 12,719 Supermarket(s) Climate
    Gauge: Loudoun Br, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Catchment: 12,380 sq km
    Flood: minor: 2.5 m, moderate: 3.5 m, major: 5.5 m
    Flow: no flow: 1.78 m

    Dalby is 10 km north east of the Moonie Hwy Bridge.

    Warra
    Coordinates 26° 55' 49.1" S, 150° 55' 13.1" E

    6.5 km north of the bridge along Warra Kogan Rd

    Brigalow
    Coordinates 26° 51' 19.1" S, 150° 45' 37.1" E
    General Store

    3.75 km north of the bridge along Banana Bridge Rd.

    Bridge with large pile of logs
  • 530 km

    Chinchilla Weir

    Weir with water spilling over it
    Date 16 April 2020
    Distance between locations 142.5 km Elevation 298 m Slope 0.21‰
    Coordinates 26° 48' 2.9" S, 150° 34' 39.0" E
    Population 6,612 Supermarket(s)
    Gauge: Chinchilla Weir, BoM; QLD WMIP
    Catchment: 19,190 sq km
    Flood: minor: 6 m, moderate: 8 m, major: 10 m
    Flow: no flow: 0.74 m

    The weir is 9 km from town. I stopped beside the rifle range and walked to town (6.5 km) for supplies to get me to the next major town that was St George (475 km).

    The first true rapids since the gorge were a few kms from the weir. This was the first of about four or five rocky sections before Surat. Under 86.4 ML/day, I had to portage the kayak through these tiny rapids, but having a guess I would think these would be around Grade I or II at 432 ML/day and will likely wash out with higher flows.

    Gas bubbles on the water

    Methane seeps were fairly common on the lower Condamine. There is still some debate on the cause of these, from being a natural phenomena to a byproduct of the large gas fracking industry in the area.

  • 615 km

    Condamine

    Weir with water spilling over it
    Date 18 April 2020
    Distance between locations 85.5 km Elevation 274 m Slope 0.28‰
    Coordinates 26° 55' 33.6" S, 150° 7' 50.5" E
    Population 384 General Store
    Toilets in Pioneer Park beside bridge
    Gauge: Condamine Township, BoM
    Flood: minor: 5 m, moderate: 7 m, major: 8 m

    Roadhouse and pub.

    River flowing over shallow rocks
  • 723 km

    Dogwood Creek

    Mouth of a river with high dirt banks
    Date 20 April 2020
    Distance between locations 107.3 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.

    This is approximately halfway between the small towns of Condamine Township and Surat (~200 km); and halfway between Chinchilla and St George (475 km).