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Calm waters pre-dawn on Lake Alexandrina

Lake Alexandrina

A closer look at Lake Alexandrina and the Coorong

House and lighthouse on the shore

Lake Alexandrina is the last major section of water in any trip along the Murray. It is 17,100 hectares (roughly 15 km across and 30 km long) and it has an average depth of just 2.8 m and a max depth of 6 m.

Even experienced paddles and boaties can struggle with the lake as it is very exposed to the wind and the shallow nature of the lake creates large choppy waves. Ensure you tackle it with care and respect she deserves.

Gear

A correctly fitted sea kayak with bulkheads and a full spray skirt is recommended. Fittings should include watertight hatches, deck lines and toggle handles.

Basic camping gear. Food for at least one day, maybe more depending on the weather forecast. Enough water for drinking or a way of treating the lake water if it hasn't become too saline to drink (i.e. due to very low water levels.)

There are special requirements from the SA government that vary depending if you stay within two nautical miles from the banks (Semi-protected Waters) or if you travel out more than two nautical miles of the banks of Lake Alexandrina, Lake Albert and the Coorong (Unprotected Inland Waters).

Protected and Semi-protected Waters

  • one PFD Level 50 or above, with a whistle attached
  • one bailer with a line attached, or a bilge pump
  • one waterproof and buoyant torch or lantern when operating between sunset and sunrise

Unprotected Inland Waters

All items required by Semi-protected Waters and:

  • one litres of fresh water
  • a fitted compass
  • a two-way marine radio
  • V distress sheet
  • two hand-held red flares
  • two hand-held orange smoke signals
  • map or chart of the area of operation
  • one tow line or at least 15 m
  • spare paddle

A Paddle Leash and EPIRB (or PLB) are also highly recommended if doing the open water crossings. A GPS unit can help you make judgement calls by accurately showing the distances from the shorelines. Mobile phone coverage seems fairly good in most areas of Lake Alexandrina. Finally a signal mirror is a great backup signalling device.

Note that SA requires an EPIRB for all craft in Unprotected Ocean Waters, a PLB doesn't suffice. Marine Safety Inspectors occasionally conduct safety checks at various locations along the Murray including the lower lakes and lagoons.

The latest SA Government Guidelines can be found here.

Safety

Looking along the shoreline of a lake with waves

The most important factor is the wind. If this rises about 10 knots it can become a slog padding and above 15 knots it can be start to get dangerous on the water. Either wait for the weather to calm down, potentially camping another night before starting, or to proceed along the shoreline without taking any wide crossings. If time is a factor, consider abandoning the final leg rather than pressuring yourself into a potentially dangerous situation.

You should be aiming for a forecast that provides at least a 10 hour window of stable weather with less than 10 knot winds. Southerly winds are common, you will most likely be padding into some form or head / cross wind on the lake.

If you are heading out past where you can swim back to shore comfortably, make sure that you can either self-rescue if you are alone or perform an assisted rescue if you are in a group, both as the rescuee and rescuer. It is wise to have practised in rough and choppy conditions that are likely to be experienced on the lake.

Landmarks

These are the main landmarks and towns around the lake:

A. Wellington
Last town on the Murray. There is a ferry crossing here.
B. Brinkley Homestead
Here you effectively leave the Murray and into a long narrow arm of Lake Alexandrina.
C. McHughes Lake
The area directly right and behind where the Murray meets Lake Alexandrina.
D. Pomanda Island
The southern point is Pt Pomanda.
E. Poltalloch Station
Another historical farming station.
F. Point Malcolm
There is an historical lighthouse built on the point.
G. The Narrows
The channel between the two lakes.
H. Lake Albert
Smaller of the two main lakes.
I. Narrung
Small town (pop. 200)
J. Raukkan
A small Aboriginal community (pop. 100)
K. Loveday Bay
Long narrow bay
L. Tauwitchere Barrage

The barrage at the eastern end of the lake. Separates Lake Alexandrina from the waters of the Coorong.

A hand-operated lock can be found at the western end.

M. Milang
Small town (pop. 1,000))
N. Sturt Peninsula
Distinctive cliffs marking the entrance to the channel to Goolwa.
O. Clayton
Small town (pop. 250)
P. Goolwa
Town and way point for those wanting to be listed in the Inland Rivers National Marathon Register.
Q. Murray River mouth

The channel between the Coorong and Southern Ocean, the official mouth of the Murray River.

You will possibly meet a couple of semi-permanent dredges keeping this open.

Map

Tracks

Sunrise over a lake

There are two main tracks across the lake, either directly to Goolwa via crossing to the Sturt Peninsula or to follow the eastern / southern shorelines to Tauwitchere Barrage. The latter is the safest and depending on conditions you can cut across one or more bays to reduce the distance paddled.

A third option is a mix of both to get to Goolwa with a crossing from Raukkan to the Sturt Peninsula.

Note that the Coorong can be shallow at low tide and it is best to keep close to the navigation markers.

#1 Direct

When using a GPS unit or compass, you can directly head to Sturt Peninsula that is about a 26 km crossing on open water from Point Pomanda. If you are navigating using landmarks, the following guide by Brad Butler should see you across safely with a slightly more cautious elliptical path:

  1. Stay right as you pass Brinkley Homestead into the wider open arm of the lake. This can be shallow if the lake is low.
  2. Keep going for ~10 km to Pt Pomanda. Some historical ruins (c. 1930s) mark the access to a beach that provides a good camping spot. This is located on the far western side of the island.
    This needs confirmation, the only building was on the eastern end prior to Pt Pomanda in the satellite photographs studied.
  3. Looking south, you should see the buildings / lights of Poltalloch Station, and far in the distance the red Raukkan cliffs. Take a bearing to the port side of the cliffs towards The Narrows. You may be able to see a tiny white pimple that is the lighthouse.
  4. Once Sturt Peninsula is visible, take a bearing to the left of the cliffs. This will lead you into the channel that will take you to Goolwa.
  5. Alternatively if you want to head directly to the mouth, once you near the Raukkan cliffs head south to the far side of the Tauwitchere Barrage and out into the Coorong.

There is only about 300 m difference between going straight across and the path Brad gave. Using this track, Bred worked out it has a rule of 13, or there are roughly 13 km between:

  • Wellington and Pt Pomanda;
  • Pt Pomanda to the centre;
  • the centre to Pt Sturt;
  • Pt Sturt to Clayton, and;
  • Clayton to Goolwa.

#2 Eastern Shoreline

Barrage wall and lagoon

This will provide the shortest path around the lakes edge and provides some shelter from the predominant southerly winds. When you pass the Brinkley Homestead stay left in the deeper channel and head out towards Low Point (opposite side of the wide arm that Pt Pomanda is on). From here either keep following the shoreline or take one or more of the more open crossings if conditions are not too rough and these are within your personal abilities.

The route marked in the map above has the following 3 crossings:

  • Low Point to Poltalloch Station is one of the larger crossings at 6.0 km. If you head out directly before Low Point, taking a bearing towards the point to the right of the station you will have a 8.0 km crossing.
  • Crossing Loveday Bay to Wamwarrum is 1.3 km at the shortest point, closer to 2.0 km for the more direct route.
  • Crossing directly from Wamwarrum to the LHS of Tauwitchere Barrage is about 2.3 km. Note that if you head directly to the lock on the far side, it is about 3.8 km from Wamwarrum.

#3 Eastern Shoreline to Point McLeay

An alternative route to Goolwa where you start doing the eastern shoreline to Raukkan.

The crossing between Pt McLeay (just south of Raukkan) and Sturt Peninsula is about 6.5 km. By doing the two smaller crossings between Low Point to Poltalloch Station and Pt McLeay to Sturt, then expect to add about 3.5-4 km more to the distance for the direct Goolwa route.

Weather

When planning a crossing assess the stability of the weather, note the wind speed and direction. Aim for at least a 12 hour window of stable and favourable weather before heading out onto the lake.

Here are some weather sites that will help you plan for the trip across:

Website screenshot

BoM Marine Forecast


Also check the Murray Bridge and current radar for a more complete picture of the local weather on the lake.

Visit Site

Website screenshot

Windy.com


Visualisation of wind patterns with data from 4 major international weather agencies.

Visit Site

Website screenshot

WillyWeather


Local weather forecast for Milang, NW shores of Lake Alexandrina.

Visit Site

Also a quick mention for WeatherZone Meningie forecast that has a 28 day rainfall forecast for the district too.

Campsites

A free campsite can be found at Narrung beside the ferry. Toilets but no water.

Most of the land around the lake is private though there are campsites to be found around Low Point, Pt Pomanda and Pt Sturt in case of emergency.

If you do get forced to stay somewhere, leave as clean or cleaner than you found. As the old saying goes, take only pictures and leave only footprints. Definitely avoid using a campfire. Use a gas stove or go with some cookless meals such as couscous.

Tragedies

The lake is notorious for having very strong winds and rough choppy waves due to the shallow nature of the lake. As well as many near misses, it has claimed many lives over the years, including swimmers, fishermen and boaters. These included the following paddling incidents:

Nov 2020
31-year-old man drowned after two men set off in an inflatable canoe near Milang.
Aug 1987
Four drowned after a group of 13 in were caught out in rough conditions 1 km from shore.

This was not intended to be morbid but added as a simple reminder that there are inherent dangers in our sport and we need to respect the water we play in.