Merging of the Culgoa and Barwon to form the Darling river

Darling River

7 - 22 May 2021

Wallaby sitting beside a river

Onto this Australian iconic river that is formed by the merging of the Barwon and Culgoa Rivers.

As the river is fed by multiple basins in the upper Murray-Darling Basin, flow is more consistent than the other upstream rivers of the system. However, the river has still run dry for months and even years at a time recently, making it effectively impassible by boat in many sections. While there are reports that a tiny flow will be enough to traverse the river at 20 ML/day, a minimal flow of 100 ML/day or 200 ML/day is more realistic. Above 400 ML/day will be much more enjoyable. Minor flood conditions (~40,000 ML/day) made for a fantastic and memorable trip albeit take care as some "shortcuts" are actually distributaries!

Carefully assess the flow and speed of the water through the system before any trip. See the planning page for more details.

Riverbed without water
No flow
Riverbed with some water and weeds
Low flow, ~0 to 1 kph currents
River with high banks
Good flow, ~2 to 3 kph currents
River completely filled with water
Minor flood, ~3 to 5 kph currents

Key Waypoints

  • 1,538 km

    Darling River Head

    Wide slow flowing river lined by gum trees
    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

    The character of the river instantly changes as you enter the Darling. It now has all of the characteristics of a major inland perennial river with broad waters and high banks.

    The Darling is most commonly started from Brewarrina (Bre for short) that is 121 km above the head of the river, a 205 km trip to Bourke.

    Walgett is the next major town upstream of Bre on the Barwon River, accessible with a 5 km paddle up the Namoi River. Walgett is 407 km above the head of the Darling, and 491 km from Bourke.

    Mob of 6 emus

    First time around, almost all of the flow was being generated from the waters flowing 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. A 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!

  • 1,622 km


    Wharf hidden among some gum trees
    Date 22 March 2020
    Distance between locations 84 km Elevation 108 m Slope 0.07‰
    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

    The old wharf was having a bit of a facelift when I passed through and seems like it'll be a popular spot for the grey nomads in the cooler months. It is only a short walk to the IGA in town.

    kayak packed on road ready for transport

    COVID-19 stopped my progress at Nth Bourke in 2020, it was a relief to be able to paddle past just over a year later.

  • 1,825 km


    Empty street with old buildings
    Date 9 May 2021
    Distance between locations 203 km Elevation 91 m Slope 0.08‰
    Coordinates 30° 32' 5.7" S, 145° 6' 50.8" E
    Population 43
    Gauge: Louth, BoM; WaterNSW
    Catchment: 489,300 sq km
    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.

    Tent in the bush
  • 1,993 km


    Bridge over river
    Date 11 May 2021
    Distance between locations 168 km Elevation 80 m Slope 0.07‰
    Coordinates 30° 56' 12.1" S, 144° 25' 2.6" E Date Boat ramp
    Population 44 General Store
    Gauge: Tilpa, BoM; WaterNSW
    Catchment: 502,500 sq km
    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.

    Multiple large birds on a tree beside the river
  • 2,264 km


    Date 13 May 2021
    Distance between locations 271 km Elevation 66 m Slope 0.05‰
    Coordinates 31° 33' 35.6" S, 143° 22' 46.3" E
    Population 549 General Store Climate
    Gauge: Wilcannia Main Channel, BoM; WaterNSW
    Catchment: 569,800 sq km
    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 are apparently petty crime issues so keep a watch on your gear. (RK).

  • 2,569 km


    Date 16 May 2021
    Distance between locations 305 km Elevation 58 m Slope 0.03‰
    Coordinates 32° 23' 48.8" S, 142° 24' 56.9" E Date Boat Ramp
    Population 551 General Store Climate
    Gauge: Menindee Town, BoM; WaterNSW
    Gauge: Menindee U/S Weir 32, BoM; WaterNSW
    Catchment: 569,600 sq km
    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.

  • 2,855 km


    Date 20 May 2021
    Distance between locations 286 km Elevation 48 m Slope 0.03‰
    Coordinates 33° 23' 7.9" S, 142° 34' 1.8" E
    Population 166 General Store Climate
    Gauge: Pooncarie, BoM; WaterNSW
    Catchment: 611,000 sq km
    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.

  • 3,008 km

    Ellerslie / Palinyewah

    Date 21 May 2021
    Distance between locations 153 km Elevation 40 m Slope 0.05‰
    Coordinates 33° 50' 36.5" S, 142° 0' 45.7" E

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

  • 3,085 km


    Wide river with houseboats and a bridge
    Date 22 May 2021
    Distance between locations 77 km Elevation 34 m Slope 0.08‰
    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
    Catchment: 906,000 sq km
    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.