My personal take on the dangers of the trip
Daily ramblings from the complete Darling System from the Condamine to the Sea
Blog from my 2022 Source to Sea trip down the Darling System.
A misty start in the clouds at the summit of Mt Superbus in very muddy conditions and a walk down to where the Nth and Sth Condamine rivers meet. This was where I rafted the Grade I/II rapids of the gorge in 2020, but this time I’m only taking my sea kayak and I'm unsure where I'll start the paddle.
I had to wait four days before the flow seemed to have settled enough to allow me to continue on.
I was forced to portage down to around the seventh crossing where the river settles down with some gentler Grade I riffles and smaller rapids that made for a fun afternoons paddle. All of the fences were washed out and only a couple tree portages required. Single capsize trying to duck under a log.
Below Killarney the river quickly narrows and banks rise steeply. Mostly she-oak with some weedy introduced species. It has a very distinctive feel along this leg before it starts to open up around Elbow Vale with a couple weirs and possibly problematic willow trees.
Highlights were the surprising lack of log jams and portages up the high banks. Only 3 jams and maybe a dozen trees to climb through. Couple platypus, water rats and a close up encounter with a large owl.
Two capsizes trying to sneak under logs, one bow/stern pin on opposite banks and an early morning swim after I slipped off a log that I was trying to pull the kayak over on.
Murray Bridge to Chinchilla. These definitely characterised this stretch of the Condamine.
From smaller ones around Murray Bridge that are better described as farm crossings to the larger named weirs along the middle Condamine. I didn't count but you should expect a couple dozen portages. While there was a lot of flood damage and downed trees, thankfully these caused few issues. Three portages above Warwick and only one downstream.
A couple rainy days and generally cool overcast conditions kept me focused on the paddling, but lots of wildlife seen along the way as the sun did break through the clouds.
I've been paddling in a general NW direction to date and I'm currently at the northern most point of the trip. Heading south into the unknown a bit, the last time down was on a comparative trickle of just 100 ML/day.
From a starting flow of 500 ML/day, this gradually increased up to 2,600 ML/day.
A couple hours birdwatching while paddling the Chinchilla weir pool was a pleasant way to start the leg. Seeing a flowing weir was even better.
Just below the weir there was a small rocky section on bend two that was washed out. This helped ease my concerns for this leg (it was the first of four rocky sections), however I was immediately greeted with small log jam on the next bend. I remembered back to my previous trip and was a bit worried. However, these concerns quickly disappeared as I found long slow flowing pools with pleasantly flowing interconnecting sections. This was the general trend seen all the way down to the dam.
I really enjoyed the varied nature of this leg of the Condamine. Lots wildlife along the way to Condamine (township), albeit it declined towards Dogwood Creek. Gas seeps, small cliffs and even some very easy rapids were some of the highlights. Almost every day was sunny and fairly calm, just a bit cool.
Only negatives are the large brown daytime mosquitos and little midges, and the condensation on the tent each morning.
The Balonne was more typical of other inland rivers with high dirt banks lined with river gums and other trees. Lake Kajarabie felt like it almost reached Surat making for easy but slow paddling over the last two days. Like my last attempt, I pushed on into the night to reach the dam, finishing by moonlight with the sound of rushing water from the dam.
While I had about four tricky log jams, all were navigatable with a bit of care. I had no portages on the mainstream and all fences were either washed out or well submerged. The only portages were on the three weirs.
A misty start on the lake lead to a picture perfect morning of mostly flatwater paddling with about 1 km of trees and easy rapids in three separate sections. This is channelled but staying on the right gave me an easy flowing section, a 100 m grade 1/2 boulder scrape through trees and a gentle channel to finish (escape left as early as possible). Bow / stern pin forced me out to clear the final rapid in the middle section. Darn sea kayaks in white water...
While I usually chase the flood, the flood from the rain from day 3/4 in the Darling Downs caught me up at the dam and there will be an increased release over the next couple days. This is on top of a high release over the last week and it looks like the Bokhara is now on the cards. I'll make the final decision at the Balonne Minor / Culgoa split, but 90% certain I'll go left.
If I do, it'll add 136 km and increase the trip to 4,053 km, jumping Mekong (4,023 km), Paraná (4,023 km) and Río de la Plata (3,998 km).
The lower Balonne was a lot more sedate at 3,200 ML/day than what I had for my first trip down the Culgoa (4,320 ML/day plus)
The old weir below St George was visible but I found an easy bypass on the right. Camped just downstream on a nice sandy beach. These beaches were fairly common all the way to the split and made great campsites but you had to be careful about the additional releases from the dam. The water level increased nearly half meter on my second night, flooding most of the beach I was camped on.
Compared to my 2020 trip, the river seemed more channelled in the flowing sections and had many long wide deep pools that lacked any real flow assist.
I still hadn't fully decided on what river to take at this point, so I paddled down to the Culgoa weir to have a look. It had a reasonable flow over it. Paddling back up and down to the Balonne Minor weir, I found it to be completely washed out. Easy decision, the Bokhara was on.
The first 10 km on the Balonne Minor started to make me a bit concerned about my decision with a number of tricky paddling sections through trees growing in the river, but it soon opened up with pleasant paddling in what was best described as a large box lined stream through farmland. This was more like what I had pictured in my mind and I started getting more confident about my decision. This continued down to the Bokhara / Ballandool split where I camped for the night.
The next day started badly with difficult tree clogged sections that became increasing worse. I only just clocked 27 km for the day. If unimpeded, I would be getting around 7 kph plus on the flow, easily getting over 50 km for a full days paddle. It was probably the worst paddling experience that I've ever had and I must admit that I did contemplate quitting.
Thankfully the trees started to thin out on the following day as I past Hebel. This roughly marks the end of the rich black soils and the problematic tree that was clogging the river slowly declined in numbers, almost completely gone after crossing into NSW. Flow was around 600 MLD. I can't say if a lower or higher flow would have made things easier or made things worse or potentially dangerous.
From here it was back to mostly open paddling with mostly low banks lined by boxes and occasional river gum. Lots of birds to watch and listen to especially the parrots and honey eaters.
Below the Birrie, I was on 400 MLD and this was enough although I was having to do a few portages over downed trees.
About a days paddle downstream of Goodooga I started to catch the end of the flood and this made for easy paddling to the Barwon. The Cato was flowing well you could be easily forgiven for thinking you were on the Darling or Murray already.
The Barwon was in minor flood, a very pleasant surprise since I hadn't even looked at the flow since starting a month ago. Lots of shortcuts and billabongs to explore.
While I had jokingly thought about the Little Bogan, I had dismissed the idea and done zero research on it. With water flowing *upstream* on the Bogan I decided to give it a try. Great decision with excellent paddling with the only negatives being a couple bridge portages.
I arrived on the Darling at dusk and arrived at Nth Bourke paddling what appears to be a flowing lake albeit it was hard to see the level of flooding by starlight. With the entire Darling in flood its going to be a crazy fun trip down.
I had a 4 kph flow assist passing Bourke, maybe more... I've drifted 3 km just typing up a Facebook post.
I always intended to try and explore a bit on this trip but I never even considered what options I'd have. I was simply hoping for the Bokhara and a couple of the Murray anabranches. I had nothing planned for the Darling.
The Little Bogan set the tune and from Bourke I was taking longer and more ambitious paths the further down the river I paddled.
Ryans Lagoon was the first named shortcuts. It was a tad under 5 km. It was rather wide and open through open farmland. A big mob of Roos was the highlight with around 100 animals.
The next named track was Ross Billabong. I entered from what appeared to be a small non-flowing billabong off the main river only to find a decent flowing creek that was lined by black box (the smaller silver leafed eucalyptus). Absolutely gorgeous creek that had lots of wildlife. It slowed as it neared the long reach from Peoples Dam on the Warrego. It was possible to exit back onto the Darling here but I headed to the lake / Warrego to explore. It was completely fill and wasn't that large but it had plenty of bird life. The dam itself was fully submerged.
Talowla Billabong was the next named system to explore and I managed to paddle a floodplain from the Warrego into a billabong (open farmland, a few black and yellow box), to another stunning billabong with flooded black box, to a long third that was a bit overgrown with lignums. These completely choked the main stream but the high water allowed me to bypass these on the edge. This made for fairly nervous paddling, especially with the minimal flow. Talowla was a mix of living and dead box and fairly average padle overall. Having nearly no flow, shallow with some fences (only one portage required) and a difficult entry, I wouldn't recommend this one.
Nearly Louth I tossed a coin to either explore Douglas Range or to push on to Louth for some fresh supplies. With a channel flowing close to the range it wouldn't be that much of a hike, but thinking about downstream options, I decided for the latter. Much to my disappointment the pub was shut. Notice on the door said it was due to bad health. The doors have been closed for a few months now, so I would assume it is closed if you are paddling past. It was too late/far to paddle upstream against the flow in my yellow plastic tub. The camping ground was flooded and there were a number of campers tightly cramped together on the only dry areas so I pushed on downstream to camp just on dusk.
Next opportunity to explore were Monday and Talyawalka Creeks. Note this is Talyawalka Creek above Tilpa to the west of the Darling, not the main creek below Tilpa to the east. A couple shortcuts on the Darling and I was quickly to the first entry point for Monday Creek only to find it dry. One by one I was paddling past non-flowing or dry entry points to Monday and then possible Talyawalka Creek entrances. It was 1pm before I neared the official start of Talyawalka Creek, which was also the last observable entry point. I was fairly happy to see a strong flowing channel there. The creek is about 50 km long but skips 115 km of the Darling. There were a number of old healthy river gums that suggest fairly frequent flows or semi-permanent waterholes, although the ones lower down in the creek were flooded (ie dead), suggesting a couple weirs along the creek. About 2/3 of the creek had wide slow flowing pools up to 100m wide. All fences were well submerged and no signs of any weirs. A fairly enjoyable side-trip.
So far since the start of the Darling I've managed to bypass over three quarters of the river, paddling just 98 of the 450 km to Tilpa. I wonder what I have to explore downstream!
Likely path is the lower Talyawalka Creek followed by the Darling Anabranch starting from the Tandou Creek from the Darling, maybe a detour up to the lakes. I'll have to see the flows and will make a final decision as I reach the outflows.
Also happy to report I haven't sent the big brown daytime mossies since reaching the Barwon and no condensation issues over the last few days either. There is a definite chill to the air with the overcast days I've had since Bourke. Strong southerlies for the last couple days too. I am missing the picture perfect weather that I had on the Bokhara.
I lost track of time chatting and playing about at Tilpa and I didn’t make it very far before having to set up camp for the night. As fate had it that was great as it allowed me to do a bit of research on the eastern Talyawalka that quickly showed me that I really needed to do even more research to ensure I could complete it safely. So rest day number one was on the cards since I started the kayaking leg back in late May.
So apparently a couple weeks of high flow at Wilcannia are needed for the system to start flowing (30,000 ML/day plus) and it takes around 21 days for the flow to make it through. The first condition would soon be met with the flood peak at Tilpa. The summer flood plus that the fact that the creek never stopped flowing at the Barrier HIghway were good signs that the system would have a decent amount of water in it, hopefully cutting the 21 day period down to around 10 days, which was my ETA for making it downstream. A call to NSW Water also let me know the Darling flood reach had completed its way up the system albeit I didn’t know how far that actually went. The rather intrepid side adventure was definitely on. Along with the NSW topo maps, I made a series of screenshots of satellite imagery for a secondary reference.
First things first, the Marra Billabong was calling. This is around 50 km and one of the longer side trips to date. The entry was flowing well and I had no concerns as I started paddling the very fast flowing box lined channel at the start. This quickly slowed as I reached what was effectively a massively long waterhole with low banks and very few trees. It stopped flowing as it reached a large mostly dry lakebed. While this provide rather stunning vistas of the surrounding landscape, it also provided no protection to the strong southerly headwinds. The lack of current and the winds prevented me from finishing the same day and I was forced to camp on a marshy area on dusk after failing to find a decent campsite. Another long day on the Darling followed as I pushed all the way down to the head of the Talyawalka where I camped for the night.
I awoke early and felt fairly refreshed but the second I tried to move I had the worst back pain as if every nerve was on fire. After the initial shock, I done a self assessment and it seemed like it was purely muscular and nothing serious like a slipped disk. I had to wonder if my trip down the Darling was still going to go ahead, let alone my side trip into the most remote creek in the Murray Darling Basin. So another rest day was on the cards as I gave it time to recover with some help with the last of the voltaren gel that I had in my first aid kit.
Thankfully moving around seemed to help settle the pain and I woke up the next day feeling about 60%. Well enough to consider a look at the first 10 km down the Talyawalka; from the official entrance to the main entrance downstream. With no major pain on the way, I made the decision to keep going to the Barrier Highway about 40 km, the final pullout point before hitting the main and most remote section. My back was settling down nicely so I decided to keep going albeit I hitched to Wilcannia and back to get some more voltaren gel and tablets just in case.
There was nearly no flow at the offical entrance to the Talyawalka. The small flow only became obvious as I reached a shallow section around 1 km down, maybe around 200 ML/day. This was filled with Lignums. Soon I was paddling a wide open and fairly treeless channel similar to the Marra Billabong. As I reached the main flowing channel the flow increased to around 2,000 ML/day. Very gradually the system slowly changed what was best described as a flooded paddock to a more defined stream with small banks and some trees. As the system turned southwards it felt like one very long waterhole with minimal flow. It wasn't until I was past the Teryaweynya that it changed from what seemed like a singular very long waterhole to what was best described as a series of waterholes separated by a small flowing section. These slowly got more shallow and I was soon hitting the bottom of the creek with my paddle and nearly grounding out. I had to use my paddle as a pole to push forwards on the very last shallow secion before the old Boundary Dam. Flow would have been around 50 ML/day. At this rate I'd be walking the next shallow section and I was starting to stress out with the Darling that was still nearly 50 to 100 km away. Thankfully this also marked the reach of the flood water and soon I was paddling deeper still waters from the Darling.
The southern section of the system wonders across its own floodplain and this is lined with some nice red sand banks. There is a distinct lack of fish eating birds but otherwise fairly abundant wildlife. I saw two nesting emus and some pink cockatoos. On a slightly sad note, the system seems to be the final resting area for a number of old and weak Pelicans that are unable to fly onwards to better feeding grounds as the fish supply dries up. And the maze of blue lines on the NSW topo maps didn't eventuate. For most of the system I was forced to stay in the mainstem that tended to be the longest possible path possible on the maps. Apparently a couple flow events in succession are required for it to spill out more onto the floodplains.
With a lot of arm paddling along the way, I was nearly back to 100% as I finished the creek. The final two km were paddling against a strong current as the Darling was pushing down the Talywalka into Charlie Stones Creek.
After a side trip into another unnamed Billabong, I headed towards the Lakes by paddling down Tandou Creek. This only flows when the lower Darling is above 23,000 ML/day at weir 32. This was a pleasant paddle through a box landscape with lots of roos and emus. The first half was a mix of flowing sections and big waterholes. The second half of the upper section was a large waterhole down to the Cawndilla Channel. Note that the main entry to Tandou Ck is the most upstream channel. The official entry point was barely flowing and was blocked by fallen trees.
I really had to battle to paddle up the Cawndilla Channel to reach the lakes. Around 2,000 ML/day was being released. I managed some respite in the middle sections where the channel had spilled over the banks, but it was one heck of a workout. Thankfully my back didn't give out again, though I was completely stuffed as I set up camp at the head of the man-made section for the night.
All of the hard work to reach the lakes was made worthwhile it as I was lucky enough to see a small flock of pink cockatoos feasting on some ground melons near the regulator to Lake Cawndilla. They are such cute little birds 🙂
The next two days had strong northwesterlies, perfect for fairly much everything other than a paddle up the lakes. Like Lake Alexandrina, the Menindee Lakes are shallow and exposed, so any wind creates a choppy soup. Even early in the morning I had to push hard to reach the shelter of the western shore of Lake Cawndilla. Staying close to the western shore, I had a fairly pleasant paddle to Cawndilla Creek where I had a strong tail wind for the first 10 km and managed to get shelter in the gums as it turned back to the NW. Even in the creek I got the occasional big wave coming in from Lake Menindee, the largest being a couple 2 ft waves with a 2 sec period. These were surfable but very daunting considering I was still sheltered and would be heading out directly into them without a sprayskirt (my new sea to summit deck ripped early on in the trip, not happy...). Luckily Lake Menindee has a large number of sapling gums around the shore and I was able to use those for shelter and made it halfway up the lake before setting up camp. After a night listening to the waves, I made it to the northern shoreline just as the sun rose and the wind picked up with the energy from the sun. A slight shift in the wind direction allowed me some shelter and a tailwind in the afternoon as I reached the main regulators at Lake Pamamaroo. I had what felt like a sedate paddle back downstream to Menindee arriving just before dusk.
I was trying to keep a primary track that didn't have any upstream paddling, so I headed back to Talyawalka and followed the flow into Charlie Stones. This felt like a rather confused creek, it was lined with both Box and River Gums of all ages and many were dead. My guess would be that the box likely drowned and the gums died from a lack of water.
Back on the Darling, a short paddle down to Coonalhugga Ck. This is the forgotten third tributary / feeder creek to the Great Darling Anabranch along with the Cawndilla Channel and Tandou Creek that both feed into Redbank Creek that joins the anabranch. There were very extensive floodplains at the start before turning into a more uniform creek that was periodically interrupted with small lakes and marshes. It probably has the most variety of any of the rivers that I have paddled in the basin, packed into just 50 km. Large inflow from the Darling, above 1,500 ML/day at a guess, but this was down to around 150 ML/day near the bottom. I don't know if water was being lost to distributaries or if the large system of floodplains and lakes were still filling.
A large floodplain greated me at the Anabranch confluence. Just to tick off this river, I paddled 5 km upstream to the Darling before turning around. This was almost harder than the Cawndilla Channel, slower current but it never broke its banks to give me any respite.
The upper 30 km section of the anabranch was a fast flowing creek through box woodlands with a couple of large marshes in the middle, but there was a distinct channel through these. The river gum saplings choking the river only start after the Redbank confluence. These were much easier to navigate with a higher flow, otherwise the previous trip report I posted describes the rest of the system fairly well. There was 4,000 ML/day combined flowing into the system but most of this was being redirected into Travellers Lake, only 600 ML/day passing Dam 182.
I had a bit of a Cato Creek moment after discovering that the reach from weir 9 was pushing up much further than my previous trip. The Murray must be really high. Seeing the weir waters reaching so far also helps to explain the large number drown river gums along this section.
The final day to Wentworth was just a 45 km paddle that I was thinking would be relatively easy. To my horror, i discovered that I had a 20 km paddle against a fast moving current. Isn't the Murray meant to be a pond below Mildura!? I was fairly low on supplies so I had to aim for Wentworth. I hugged the shoreline for the first 5 km but was getting nowhere fast. So I took the more aggressive approach and straightlined corner to corner effectively ferrying from side to side. This definitely paid off and I made it to the weir at 3:30 pm, much to the surprise to the lock master seeing someone paddling upstream. There was about a 10 cm drop at the weir.
With over 3,000 kms done, I figured it was time for my third rest day. I have a surprisingly nice camp in Vic opposite Junction Island. A small colony of sulphur crested cockatoos with a couple kookaburra's makes for a pleasant evening chorus, a short paddle to a sit down toilet is also a benefit.
Three thousand and something km down of four thousand and something... it's going to be near impossible to get a final tally. My Garmin stopped working after a week or two and Avenza Map app keeps glitching, so I can't even guess... 🙁
I should also note that as I left Wentworth the flow was peaking at 50,000 ML/day and was around 45,000 ML/day as I passed through at Renmark. This is about 4 times the flow that most people would have experienced in recent times. Some of the anabranches done may not be possible in lower flows / water levels, all would likely be more difficult due to reduced flow and lower water levels exposing more snags.
I had a relaxing day exploring Tuckers Ck up towards Mildura, paddling up Tuckers and down the Murray. Both seemed sedate compared to the windy day I had paddling up to Wentworth. Tuckers was a bit reedy in places with two low bridges right at the very start (or end for those paddling upstream).
The first VIC anabranch explored was Wallpolla Ck. I exited onto Mullroo Ck that allowed me to paddle up an unnamed channel to the Murray. Two bridge portages on Wallpolla and a log portage on the channel exiting up to the Murray, the first log portage since the Bokhara if my memory serves me right.
I camped on the banks of the Murray before heading into Frenchmans Creek, or maybe I should say Frenchmans Canal as it is mostly man-made.
Frenchmans was running strongly with a good gentle assist. I exited on Big Rigamy. In VIC the high flows seemed to be running freely in many areas of Murray Sunset National Park. In NSW, the leeve of Frenchmans Ck seems to have choked the smaller creeks. Portages required at the inlet regulator and over the leeve. I believe there are two more regulators downstream if you plan to go all the way to Lake Victoria and down Rufus.
It was a bit unclear where Potterwalkagee started, but I found a running creek that joined Snake Lagoon just before Lock 8 and took that down. Three log portages and one bridge portage on the small intake channel. Snaggy but portage free creek to the intake just below weir 8 (this has a blockbank and is clogged with sapling gums), before mostly wide and open river to finish.
A small unnamed billabong at Ned's Corner cut off a bit more of the Murray and that re-entered just before the Lindsay River. I had planned to camp at the mouth but this already taken by a large group of campers, so I paddled a couple km into the closed park before making camp for the night.
The Lindsay started off as a fast flowing creek before opening up ino a wide open channel. Any thoughts of paddling up the Mullaroo to get to the Toupnein were quickly discarded when I saw how well the Mullaroo was flowing. So it was a long and slow paddle down to the mouth on almost wide deep still water. I tried Scotties Billabong as a shortcut but that ran dry less than 500m from the Murray. A portage was tempting to bridge the gap but I backpaddled. I did note the azure colour in the billabong before I started. This suggested it didn't have any floodwaters but I took the gamble on an upstream blockbank. Oh well it was a pleasant paddle.
Finishing the Lindsay, I had a 3 km upstream paddle to reach Salt Ck, camping at the entrance.
There was a large flow into Salt Creek and it made for easy paddling across the Chowilla Floodplains. I took Salt to Punkah to Chowilla before exiting into the Murray. With so much water almost every creek in the floodplain was either flowing or full. Single portage at the regulator on Chowilla. After a long days paddle I camped on the Murray at the mouth of Chowilla Ck.
Big Hunchee and Ral Ral creeks bridged the gap between Salt Creek and Renmark. Both were flowing freely with no portages albeit slight flooding allowed me to bypass a low bridge that would likely usually require a portage. Parts of Ral Ral were fairly open and I had a bit of wind chop.
In the high flow it was an easy paddle around Causeway Island, bypassing Renmark albeit there's a portage on the causeway itself.
Hopes of bypassing the lock using either Margaret Dowling or Deep Creek failed as both creeks are restricted and fenced off. It would have been trivial to walk around the fencing at Deep Creek (10 m walk into private property) but Margaret Dowling would be difficult due to the almost absurd amount of fencing. But I was good and kept paddling downstream where I got access to Pike River via a regulated channel just around the next bend that i believe is the top of Mundic Creek. It was fairly late in the day as I finally made camp at the top of Snake Creek.
Snake Creek was impassable due to reeds so I exited directly down Pike River which was a pleasant paddle in mostly open waterways. Lot's of bird life compared to upstream. Two portages at the regulators at either end of the system. It was fairly exposed in places.
The final side trip was just a faint hint of a creek on my satellite images and an unnamed blue line on my map. It was flowing well so I jumped on in. I soon discovered it was a nice little creek popular with other kayakers with lots of freshly made drag marks and footprints. This was Eckert Creek using Jarrets Creek as a shortcut and I paddled upstream on Sawmill Creek to reach the start of Katarapko Creek. Staying on Eckert would have also joined back onto Katarapko Creek below the stone weir but I wanted to reach Whirlpool Bend before it got dark so I took the shorter route. Two regulators and low bridge.
The final section was fairly sedate compared to the upper sections; there aren't too many anabranches to explore along the way. I actually skipped Katarapko Creek, the most commonly done anabranch that many people do that saves 15.3 km. I had been taking these side trips to explore rather than to save time and I have paddled Katarapko before. I still poked the kayak down a couple of creeks though. An unnamed billabong just upstream of Gerard; a looksie at a few creeks around Moorock, turning back when the reeds got too thick; an unpleasant hard battle with reeds, snags and a low bridge in a short unnamed creek to reach Wachtel's Lagoon that itself was windy and choppy; a pleasant shortcut through Loch Luna Game Reserve via Chambers and Nockburra Creeks exiting on Loch Luna (a great shortcut when flowing); a couple of unnamed lagoons; and finally Yackta Creek. While some of the lagoons on the lower Murray are open at both ends and are fairly easy to navigate, the majority seem to have barriers such as bridges, regulators or even block banks. I didn't explore as many of the lagoons as planned as I was losing my will to explore after being turned back too many times in a row, especially with time starting to become a factor albeit I was also being slightly paddled out too after nearly 4,000 km on the river.
The SA cliffs are still stunning, even on my third time on the lower Murray. In saying that, I was happy to have a two day race with the houseboat "The Bin Chicken" to push me through from some of the longer straights above Blanchetown. It had originally past me at Moorock as I was pulling into camp, but the race itself only really started after Hogwash Bend. I managed to pip it to Morgan for the night but it took final honours making it to Blanchetown first albeit we shared the same lockage down. That was where I humbly bowed out of the race with a short break exiting the lock, especially after the exhausting final push to get there before the lock master went for lunch. Even then the thought of possibly catching up again helped me push down to Big Bend for the night but I didn't see the houseboat again.
Conditions on the river were fairly good. I generally had pleasant paddling with northerly tailwinds although I did use my mended sprayskirt once below Loxton. Of the three Murray trips in SA, both winter trips have had mostly tailwinds and my one summer trip was spent fighting strong headwinds. Go figure…
Lake Alexandrina went fairly smoothly albeit it felt appropriate that Hera didn't allow me to cross easily. The strong tailwinds down from Murray Bridge had subsided by the time I reached Wellington late in the afternoon. With a nearly full moon rising, I decided to push onto the lake hoping for an evening crossing before the forecast winds picked up again. Since I was heading to the Coorong, I only needed a small lull to tackle the only significant crossing between Low Pt and Poltalloch. Entering the northern arm of the lake I knew I was out of luck. Even with the limited wind fetch in the arm, the NW wind was making the waters fairly choppy. Cold showery squalls were also starting to become a factor. So I made camp in the fading dusk light at the point itself, on one of the first nice sandy beaches seen since the Balonne River. The wind never really faded that much overnight and these were stronger in the morning. Even from my sheltered position, I didn't need to even leave the tent to check on the conditions; simply listening to the waves break on the shore was enough to know there was a significant chop on the lake. I would have to wait for light before starting. At dawn I could see breaking waves in the less sheltered waters and I knew I was going to be having a fun day hugging the shoreline hoping for some shelter along the way. The morning NW winds created an irritating choppy side swell that became a strong headwind as I neared Poltalloch. The mid-morning southerly change soon after ensured a continuous headwind down past Narrung to the northern shores of Loveday Bay. Exhaustion mixed with constant exposure to the cold lake waters and showers had me mildly hypothermic by the time I made an early afternoon camp. While my mended sprayskirt did keep out much of the wash, I still had a few litres of cold water seeping through and down my back throughout the day. The wind strength was consistently 35 to 40 kph with gusts of up to 50 kph at Hindmarsh, similar to what I thought I was experiencing on the lake. They were the type of conditions that if you miss a couple of forward strokes you end up moving backwards. Waves weren't as bad as my last trip, but I still had to low brace a few times. In surfing terms the waves were around 1 ft with the occasional 2 ft wave (0.5 to 1 m wave faces). It was the multi-directional swell that made it mentally taxing at times having to watch for larger waves both ahead and to the sides. Periodic squalls would reduce visibility down to 500 m, the cold being the main issue with these.
There were calmer conditions the following day, winds only just causing a few white caps. A failed shortcut attempt to reach the Coorong via Salt Lagoon and resulting paddle back to the Tauwitchere Barrage took up most of the morning, but I still made it to the first big sand dune to camp for the night. The waters of the Coorong were high and flushed with the big flow coming down the Murray and were only slightly brimmy. Great paddling conditions with lots of birdlife, seals and roos to be seen.
I had one of the earliest starts of the trip the next day with two hours pre-dawn paddling down to Square Sand Hill with still near mirror like conditions. After a small hike I started continuing down towards my original target of Hells Gate but with increasing clouds and a rain forecast for the next day, I decided to turn back early as I got to Nine Mile Pt. Pushing hard I got to the mouth of the Murray mid-afternoon mostly due to a good outgoing tidal assist and to Hindmarsh Island camping ground just before dusk. I think my final day's paddle ended up being my longest paddling day of the entire trip. It was good to be finished.
While this trip was originally penned as a way of self reflection around events happening in my life in 2015, it ultimately became the last remaining bucket list item that I wanted to complete before heading home. The journey itself to paddle Australia's longest river system in a single continuous push ended up nearly as convoluted as the trip itself. With droughts, fires, covid and a car accident, this goal was delayed and even changed multiple times over the years. When I had finally finished the system the first time, it didn't really feel truly completed. While the Murray felt completed having had the pause at the transition between the upper and lower sections at Bringenbrong Bridge, the Darling didn't as it had been abruptly interrupted at irregular intervals along the way. It had taken five separate trips spread over two separate flow events to finish every individual section of the system. This was the main driver behind my second attempt on the system. The ability to explore rarely paddled sections along the way was an amazing bonus.
I had wondered if completing the trip would fully scratch the itch that started 7 years ago, but with an almost unprecedented third la Niña predicted I think I'll be likely delaying a return to normal life for a tad longer. Flooding in the Macquarie and Murrumbidgee, good flows in the Murray, Darling, Lachlan, Goulburn, Ovens, Kiewa, Mitta Mitta, Bogan, Naomi, Barwon and Gwydir Rivers, even good flows in most of the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan anabranches. The main problem will be having to choose which rivers not to do…
Rivers paddled are listed sequentially and those with an asterisk indicate an anabranch that returns to the last main river paddled. Upstream paddles were minimal and are noted. Some of the distances marked are only very rough estimates.
With many more unnamed channels, anabranches and billabongs along the way. I think by doing the various side trips that I missed around 90% of the paddling of the Darling River and also the upper Murray River down to Berri.
I'm guessing that the trip has included a possible first descent of the Bokhara River as well as first likely descents of the Talyawalka and Coonalhugga creeks. These rarely flowing creeks were probably the most memorable sections of this trip but I can't really say what my personal favourite section of the system is. The upper Condamine gorge; Culgoa floodplains in flood; remote sections of the upper Darling and east Talyawalka; cliffs of SA, notably Border Cliff and Big Bend (east); and the Coorong are all excellent paddling and camping experiences.