Murray River Summit to Source to Sea
From a planning perspective, much of this trip is fairly self-evident. Throw your kayak in around Towong and drift down the river, tracking key towns along the way for supplies. Simple right? What about starting from the source? Or maybe Koscie which is only a stone throw away? That shouldn't make the trip that much harder right?
The biggest headache faced is transporting myself and gear around from Brisbane. This trip is completely self-supported and on a very limited budget.
As such, I'm going to break the journey into two main phases.
The first phase will tackle the upper few hundred Kms, of which there are three major legs:
The second phase will be more of an endurance test tackling 2,300 km of the 2,500 km length of the Murray. Bringenbrong Bridge is the starting point that is just downstream of the Swampy Plains River confluence. This is the point where the Murray River changes from a small seasonal stream into a river.
This would be approximately 55 km on trails, 15 km off trails and 125 km kayaking if I had support and a good water flow. Sadly I had neither!
Include the gear drop to Limestone Creek and other connecting trails walked, there was a total of 180 km hiking. Due to low flows, about another 43 km walking down the Murray dragging the kayak with only about 82 km actual paddling.
My trip was initially planned for mid-November, but was unnecessarily delayed by two or three weeks waiting for the trail to be flagged as open when it was likely easily navigable, followed by an unseasonal late snow fall, and then work. However, even mid-November the flow was low and I would have likely experienced similar difficulties.
Leg One: Summit to Source
On foot from the summit of Mount Kosciuszko down to the source of the Murray River.
Planned to complete the Kosciuszko circuit, a gear drop-off leaving the car at the Cascade Trailhead, dropping the car at Tom Groggin campground, before hitching back up to start the Cascade Trail again.
minus 45 km
Last town on the Bus timetables. It is also the last major supply pickup point with a Woollies and market in town.
minus 7.5 km
The Foodworks in town, the last supplies until small general store at Jingellic (285 km) unless you coordinate a supply drop or detour to IGA in Corryong, VIC (13 km SW from Alpine Way Bridge).
Official starting point.
To chairlift or not to chairlift? Since I am considering the summit to be the real starting point, this doesn't matter to the overall scheme of things, but it would feel more pure doing the walk up too.
With the car parked at Thredbo, this will be a loop to the summit starting from Thredbo and up to the summit (13 km), before heading down Dead Horse Gap trail (5 km), linking back to the car using the Thredbo River Track (4 km).26.2 km975 m6h 14min
- Option One: Merritts Nature Track
- 4 km on directly up from Thredbo on a steep track.
- Option Two: Kosciuszko Express Chairlift
- Sit back and enjoy the view for 15 minutes as you climb 550 m to the Eagles Nest cafe.
- Kosciuszko Walk
- 13 km grade 3 track to the summit and back.
- Dead Horse Gap walking track
- Moderately steep track wides down to the valley.
- Thredbo River Track
- Follows the track down the river to Thredbo.
Ultimately, I walked the entire loop with an overnight bivy at the top of Australia!
Close to the source of the Murray River.
This should have been a fairly easy trek on various fire trails, but was fairly dry and had to carefully watch my water.42.6 km754 m1,124 m9h 17min
- Cascade (Hut) Trail
Easy to navigate Fire Trail past Cascade Huts to the Tin Mine huts.
- Cowombat Flat Fire Trail
The Cascade Trail ends as it diverges at Tin Mine Huts and the Cowombat Trail that heads south west. This leads directly to Cowombat Flats and from there the source.
- Snow Gums & Pilot Creek Trails
Part of the AAWT, these trails are an alternative longer trek that also leads down to Cowombat Flats. I walked the Sun Gums Trail when doing the gear drop to Limestone Ck. Thick steep bush was encountered off trail between the Snow Gums Trail and the Murray River.
Source (Black-Allen Line)
The Indi Springs have become the defacto source for the Murray River, namely as it is the closest tributary to Cape Howe. This has a pipe that was placed by the RMIT survey group in 2006 during a survey of the Black-Allan line. See the planning page for detailed info finding the source.
For me it was an easy hour's walk up the dry riverbed from Cowombat Flat in fairly open terrain to the Black-Allen line, but I hit dense bush as I explored further.
Leg Two: Source to Limestone Ck
Following the upper Murray River down to Tom Groggin is the big unknown in the trip. Potentially impenetrable bush and / or dangerous flood waters will make this an intrepid journey.
This was the shorter first part of this section, where I walked the Murray River. It was a small mountain stream with lots of log jams and thick surrounding bushes.
Source (Black-Allen Line)
Other than having to scramble around two waterfalls, this involved walking down in the Murray River itself.
Significant increase in the flow as the two creeks meet and is the likely first place you can paddle.
I kept walking to my gear drop about 1.5 km further downstream (the given coordinates mark this bivy) and this was about 1 km upstream of the Poplars campground, a 4wd only access camping ground.
Leg Three: Limestone Ck to Tom Groggin
This was the longer section in the Pilot Wilderness Area, where plans were to pack raft this in a kayak down the Murray River in a couple of days.
Worst case estimate could be as long as 7 days to traverse this 70 km section of the river. Conditions were fairly bad with low flows and I took 4.5 long days on the river and another 3 days walking to get to the source. Due to the hot & dry conditions, I was hauling the kayak nearly 45 km through unpaddlable waters. I was averaging 1.5 km/hr wading the river and only 1.2 km/hr when hauling the kayak. With a good flow and whitewater experience, this would only takes one to two days (49 km).
While planning various escape routes before starting this trip, smoke haze obscured most key bearings and the terrain / thickness of the bush made me extremely wary of trying to do any more offtrail hiking than what was absolutely necessary. Especially after already losing key survival gear doing the same thing during the gear drop. As such, I really only considered traversing up or down the Murray river as the only viable escape options here.
I pushed on and this leg was completed without having to leave the river other than to skirt around the occasional log jam.
A water level of at least 0.5m and flow of 500 ML/day is a likely good base level (Biggara gauge). With the higher flood flows there is a higher risk when kayaking. Without any floatation device (kayak / raft / lilo), trekking this section is likely difficult in places due to deep pools and steep rocky outcrops. Note, the actual flow at the Poplars would be about 20% of that at Biggara.
Marked the start of two solid days dragging the kayak.
Tin Mine Creek
It was only with the influx of the various triburaries down to around Tin Mine Creek that allowed me to start paddling short sections (~80% dragging, ~20% paddling).
Leather Barrel Ck
The additional flow finally allowed me to mostly paddle the remaining section down to Tom Groggin.
Tom Groggin Campground
This was my base camp for the first phase.
Leg Four: Murray River Gorge
Raft or walk?
Grade 3 / 4 rapids would be a risky trip solo so contemplating a guided raft or walking an extra 50 km
If I get a guided tour of the gorge, the logistics should be fairly easy to finish this leg off. Otherwise, it will be traversing the gorge solo somehow, then hitchhiking the 80 km back to the car or vice versa.
Finishing leg two on Christmas day and knowing that the flow will be terrible, I didn't even try to contact Rafting Australia about the possibility of a guided trip. With a possibly suicidal mindset, I bit the bullet and decided to keep going. Surely it couldn't be that dangerous with these flows?
My rather stupid decision paid off and I had an amazingly fun trip through the gorge on what were probably mostly technical class 2+ sections. Second day was mostly flat water paddling down to the Alpine Way where I caught three separate rides hitching to make it back to the car within 4 hours.
A water level of at least 0.8m for the gorge is recommended for a true whitewater experience, which roughly corresponds to a height of 0.45m at Biggara.
Tom Groggin campground
Grassy Flat Rd
Last easy take out point before the Murray River Gorge, and marks the start of the VIC Harrington's track should you want to bypass the class 3/4 rapids.
Murray Gates Rd
There is a road / track apparently. Didn't see, can't confirm. This marks the start of the harder whitewater section.
I paddled this section with about at 0.22 m at Biggara, about the absolute minimum level in a rubber ducky. This level was too low for a creek boat.
End of the gorge. Scattered farm houses.
Potential put in spot for a kayak doing the lower section, albeit a glass boat would need to be carefully handled down the very shallow class 1 rapids.
Bringenbrong Bridge, Alpine Way (B400)
Common starting point for those skipping the upper sections.
The additional flow generated from the waters of the Swampy Plains River changes the nature of the trip instantly, from a mountain creek to a true river. There are even reports of people putting in at Swampy Plains River at Khancoban. Even with the additional water entering the system, the flow was only 560 ML/day.
This marked the end of the first phase for me, as I was interrupted by commitments in Brisbane, QLD.
Leg One: Free Flowing River
Fast running flat water from Bringenbrong Bridge to the vast Lake Hume and onto Albury. ~200km
The Corryong (Green Valley) Fire has seriously affected the Murray River upstream of Albury, so plans are on hold till these are fully controlled and all roads reopen. Originally planned a late Jan or very early Feb start date. These plans were deferred after a rare rain event in the Darling allowed me to kayak down the Cambanoora Gorge, as well as the Balonne and Culgoa rivers, Sadly, just as I would have 3 months of autumn paddling to finish the Murray and Darling river legs, COVID-19 lockdowns came into place.
A water level of at least 1m at Bringenbrong Bridge is recommended, above 1.2m is likely preferrable.
Bringenbrong Bridge, Alpine Way
The normal starting point with the glass kayak.
Alternatively, you can start at Khancoban, upstream of Swampy Plains River. Swampy Plains River confluence is 2.4 km above the bridge, and the river is 12.2 km long as measured from the spillway at Khancoban.
Leg Two: Meeting of the waters
Albury to Echuca. Slower flat water, ~480km.
Expecting the river to be easily navigatble in any conditions, but higher flows will mean faster speeds. Refer to the Doctors Point gauge for the combined flow of both the Hume Dam water release and Kiewa River that joins up before Albury. August to March tends to have the highest flows.
Upstream of Echuca, the Barmah Choke restricts the flow to 7,000 ML/day. Any flows higher than this will spill out over the floodplains.
Howlong / Wahgunyah
Yarrawonga / Mulwala
Barooga / Cobram
Note, Barmah is about 30 km after Picnic Point, NSW that has a couple of caravan parks.
The Barmah Choke is upstream. This is actually three key flow constriction points between Tocumwal and Barmah: the Tocumwal, Barmah and Edward Chokes.
Echuca / Moama
Barham / Koondrook
- Murray River Divergence
8.5 km downstream of Barham. Stay on the major branch by going left rather than cutting back hard to the right. These meet back up in 26.5 km.
- Little Murray River
Second major split in the river, 26 km downstream from where the last branches converged, or 60 km downstream of Barham. Stay on the obvious major branch by going right. These meet up again just before Swan Hill that is about 55 km away.
Split in the river
19 km downstream of Swan Hill, take the shorter left branch (5.5 km) rather than the longer right branch (11 km). This deviates off the NSW / VIC border. The Speewa ferry is about 1 km downstream from where these two branches converge.
- Wood Wood, VIC
Small town with about a dozen houses and a caravan park / store.
- Tooleybuc, NSW
Small town with about a dozen houses and a caravan park / store.
Small town with a pub / general store.
Midura / Buronga
Lock is to the left of the weir going downstream.
- Merbein, VIC
Small town slightly off the Murray.
The main services in town are 1.5 km up the Darling River.
Lock 10 is 600 m downstream.
The historical Paringa Lifting Bridge is 3.8 km further downstream at Paringa (pop 950) that is on the eastern side of the river.
1.3 km downstream of the bridge.
Town is fairly spread out along the river banks upstream ~5km before the main town centre.
Small town on the left (western side) as you head downstream. Cobdogla (pop 230) is on the right and Barmera (pop 1,900) is 5 km east.
Roughly half way through SA where the A20 crosses the Murray. On the way to Mannum, you'll pass a large number of holiday homes and tiny towns including, but not limited to:
- Swan Reach (left)
- Punyelroo (right)
- Nildottie (left)
- Walker Flat (right)
- Bowhill (left)
Town centre appears to be near the Bowling Club, 500 m downstream of the ferry.
Lake Alexandrina (Head)
Nearing the end. The lake is roughly 15 km across and 30 km long.
The finish line or just the start of something new?
The Lower Lakes barrages prevent the influx of sea water into Lake Alexandrina.