Upper Murray River
Digest of the key info on tracks and stops above Bringenbrong.
Key Waypoints and Information
Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.
The lower Murray will be more of an endurance test tackling 2,350 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.
I have roughly broken the trip into four legs:
Fast running flat water from Bringenbrong Bridge to the vast Lake Hume and onto Albury. ~200km
A water level of at least 1m at Bringenbrong Bridge is recommended, above 1.2m is likely preferrable.
The normal starting point with the glass kayak. This is also the point where the The Inland Rivers National Marathon Register (IRNMR) starts their Murray River speed records from.
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.
Small historic village with a pub (c. 1867) and cafe (c. 1864).
The lake is approximately 50 km paddle if full, or a 85 km river paddle if empty.
Portage for the dam is up the public boat ramp prior to the camping ground and the dam itself. It is a long portage, nearly 2 km up and over the hill at Lake Hume Village.
Quick word of caution. Lake Hume is one of the most deadly areas on the entire system for paddlers. This is mainly due to the large number of beginner paddlers on the lake, but it can also get very rough in bad conditions that will test even experienced paddlers. You should keep an eye on the weather including the long term forecast as there is no mobile phone reception at the very top of the lake.
Albury to Echuca, ~480km.
Echuca is a Yorta Yorta word meaning "meeting of the waters". It is named for the confluences of both the Goulburn and Campaspe rivers that are in close proximity to each other.
There seems to be a fairly consistent flow down to Lake Mulwala that made for decent paddling down the river that was mostly lined by river gums.
Expecting the river to be easily navigable 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 10,000 ML/day or so. Any flows higher than this will spill out over the floodplains.
Deep, fast, strong, clear and very cold waters await for you below the dam.
Camping (BCF, Anaconda) and / or hardware supplies (Bunnings) are most easily obtained in North Albury, a short walk from the river, though the main supermarkets are a few blocks away from the main town waterfront at Hovell Tree Park.
The weir at Yarrawonga / Mulwala creates Lake Mulwala that is very shallow. It is a graveyard for the river gums that were flooded when the weir was first constructed. It makes for a surreal experience.
This is the second of the two portages on the Murray River, 700 m. From here you will have locks on all weirs. On the Yarrawonga side, follow the road around and across the train tracks / channel and keep going straight into the Yarrawonga Caravan Park. A public boat ramp can be found just past the main office.
The lake is about the first time on the trip you have to start taking more care with power boats in the holiday periods.
Echuca to Wentworth. ~825km
The river transforms slowly from a medium sized flowing river to a much wider and slower flowing river. The number of weirs increases and finally you lose the main current assist around Nangiloc (just upstream of Mildura).
There were once two significant tributaries flowing into the river along this stretch, the Darling and Murrumbidgee rivers, as well as the rejoining of the Wakool River. Sadly due to low rainfalls and irrigation these will now rarely flow freely.
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.
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.
19 km downstream of Swan Hill, take the shorter left anabranch (5.5 km) rather than the longer main branch (11 km). This deviates off the NSW / VIC border. The Speewa ferry is about 1 km downstream from where these two branches converge.
Small town 45 km downstream of Swan Hill with a few shops but you only really see a couple houses and the harness track paddling by.
Another small town 60 km downstream of Swan Hill that you could easily miss with about a dozen houses and a caravan park / store.
Small town with a pub / general store, 500 m from the boat ramp. It is also the point where almost all of the current assist disappears. A gentle breeze will push you back upstream!
Into SA and the ocean via Lake Alexandrina. ~800km
This marks the real start of the stunning cliffs that line the river. The hint of the red clay cliffs truly come alive as you enter SA and these slowly give way to towering golden limestone cliffs that stretch on for many miles along the river.
While you get willow trees along many stretches of the river from Biggara, it is below Swan Reach where these become increasingly common and completely choke the riverbanks making it difficult to come ashore. Finding camping spots are much harder.
The final stretch is the shallow waters of Lake Alexandrina. The shoreline is generally free of willows and a few beaches can be found in among the reeds that line the shore. This lake can get rough and has claimed the lives of many boaters in the past, including a kayaker just weeks before my crossing.
With nearly no flow assist, and being at the end, this section is often considered to be the toughest physically and mentally of the entire trip by many.
The Rufus River just below lock 7 would allow one to paddle up to Lake Victoria.
This is a three-way border (MacCabe Corner) in the centre of the Murray River, 48 km downstream of lock 7. Up till this point, the Murray River was completely within NSW with one or two minor exceptions, and for the next 11 km the VIC - SA border runs along the centre of the river.
The VIC border is 11 km downstream of the NSW border. This particular anomaly between the two borders is due to errors when first surveyed resulting in the VIC-SA border being 4 km west of where it should have been drawn.
9 km downstream of Berri.
Town is fairly spread out along the river banks upstream ~5km before the main town centre.
Katarapko Creek has a small stone weir near the top. It is a 16 km shortcut that has numerous campsites and provides a quiet retreat from the main river in school holidays with more abundant wildlife than along the main river.
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.
20 km downstream of Moorook
Blanchetown is 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:
Nearing the end. The lake is roughly 15 km across and 30 km long.
This lake can get very rough due to it being shallow and fairly unsheltered, so ensure you tackle it with care and with an updated weather report. The left hand side shoreline is considered the safest.
The Lower Lakes barrages prevent the influx of sea water into Lake Alexandrina.