Current Musing: Murray and Darling River Systems (On hold - COVID-19)
Sunrise at Balonne River

Planning

Stores, distances & coordinates below are only approximations from using various maps and online tools, but should be accurate enough for the trip.

Coordinates will generally be at a takeout point or bridge for most locations. Various reports suggest views of the small towns could be obscured by the river banks, so some care needs to be taken while navigating down the river.

Water

Flow

Flow is one of the most important considerations.

In the upper section, low flows will make this unpaddable and in high flows it will be very dangerous.

In the lower sections, the river should usually have enough flow to make the journey possible at nearly any time. A good high flow will make this trip much faster and more enjoyable than a low flow where you are fighting snags all the way down. Floods will likely provide good paddling conditions though take care in any high volume flows!

Flow was looked at over the last 40 years, noting that the last two decades have shown a drying trend not observed before and could be a sign of things to come with climate change.*

The following box and whisker charts show the lowest value observed using the bottom whisker; the box is constructed with the 25%, 50% and 75% quartiles; and the top whisker marks the 90% percentile. The top 10% of records (floods) are excluded as these stretch the chart and make it unreadable.

Blue-orange box plot represents observations between Jan 1 1980 and Dec 31 1999, while the brown-yellow box-plots represent observations between Jan 1 2000 and Dec 31 2019.

Binjura is very characteristic of the alpine flows, peaking with the spring snow melt and slowly petering off over summer to a low at the end of autumn.

It is interesting to note while the recent two decades have seen a reduction in flow, this is not as dramatic as the reduction seen in stations further down the river.

Whisky plot of river heights
Whisky plot of river flow

Gundagai flow is boosted by the influx of the Tumut, with a corresponding decrease in the water temperature. The Tumut is supplied with additional water depending on the water diversions due to the hydro-electric power stations on the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Whisky plot of river heights
Whisky plot of river flow

Narrandera shows the reduced flow after the outflows at Berembed Weir and other lesser irrigation areas, but is still above a number of other controlled outflows at Yanco Ck, Coleambally & Strut Canals.

Whisky plot of river heights
Whisky plot of river flow

Darlington Point should serve as a good indication of the final leg down to Redbank Channel. While there are still agricultural draws on the river, these are much smaller compared to the upstream canals and diversions.

In the last two decades, approx. half of the water has been taken out of the river between Narrandera and Darlington Point over the summer and autumn months. Winter shows less of a water draw, with the flow reducing by 20 to 30%.

Whisky plot of river heights
Whisky plot of river flow

Redbank Weir (downstream) marks the end of the main irrigation outflows. Depending on conditions, the flow could potentially drop significantly between Darlington Point and North Redbank Channel.

Whisky plot of river heights
Whisky plot of river flow

Balranald represents a low point in the flow after the majority of the water has been withheld or diverted upstream. Even with very low levels, this section should be paddable. Mike Bremers paddled Maude to Balranald in 2008 with flows of 150 ML/day to 200 ML/day) still managed 30 km days.

Whisky plot of river heights
Whisky plot of river flow

Chart of the river flow at various locations The average time it takes for water to flow down the Murrumbidgee from Jugiong to the River Murray confluence is approximately 25 days, or 45 km per day. The overall flow will slowly decrease as water is taken out of the system.

* Lower flows appear to be a mix of lower rainfalls, increased irrigation and increased (and sometimes unregulated) construction of dams and levees that don't even allow the water to enter the river system. ABC (2017)

Temperature

Water temperature is the secondary consideration. This can be near freezing in the tablelands and frozen near the source in winter. Even on the lower section, it is unlikely to be above 10°C in winter. In summer, temperatures can climb close to 30°C in places, warm enough to no longer be refreshing.

The following charts show the temperature at Hall (near Canberra) and three stations along the lower section. Gundagal is cooled due to the influx of cool water from the Tumut River, but this warms quickly in the summertime heat.

Chart of water temperatures
Chart of water temperatures
Chart of water temperatures
Chart of water temperatures

Weather

The Bureau of Meteorology provide a number of various tools to look at forecast rainfall including:

Rainfall Observation
Map of daily, weekly and monthly rainfall observations can show potential inflows.
Rainfall Forecast
Raw data from their computer models to estimate 5 day rainfall amounts. Useful to use in combination with local area forecasts.
Rainfall Outlook
A longer term outlook looking ahead up to 3 months.
ENSO Outlook
La Niña, a negative IOD and a positive SAM all point to a wetter forecast for the eastern coast.
Landscape Water Balance
This can provide an insight to what runoffs can be expected with rain. If there is a water deficit, much of any rainfall will be sucked up by the dry soil, before feeding the creeks and streams.

Recent Climate Observations / Trends

Where possible, weather statistics are based on the 30 years between 1990 and 2020. Canberra observations started in 2008. Deciles are 1 to 9, meaning these figures exclude the lowest and highest 10% of observations. i.e. they are normalised to exclude the extreme values.

Temperature

Canberra is 3° to 4°C cooler than the lower sections between Jugiong and Balranald. Expect a 1.5° to 2°C decrease in temperature around the source that is 1,000 m higher than Canberra. Snow is likely in winter.

In the lower sections, Wagga Wagga reflects a very similar climate to Gundagai, and there is a very slight increase in temperature as you head out west to Balranald (1° to 2°C).

Temperature (°C)Upper Section Lower Section
SummerWinterSummerWinter
Min Mean 13.4 0.6 15.4 4.0
Deciles 8.817.4 -4.16.2 10.820.4 -1.08.8
Extremes 0.326.7 -8.711.8 3.830.2 -8.711.8
Max Mean 28.913.5 32.016.3
Deciles 22.535.010.716.4 25.439.510.222.3
Extremes 14.844.04.121.3 12.547.45.729.3
Graph of temperatures at Canberra
Graph of temperatures at Wagga Wagga
Graph of temperatures at Balranald
Graph of temperatures at Canberra

Rainfall

In the upper catchments, rainfall is more common in the summer months albeit the spring snow melt in the main driver of the alpine creek flows. It is interesting to note that in the last 30 years that in the western slopes around Wagga Wagga, the winter rains have been higher than the summer rains. Out west the rainfalls are definitely more sporadic.

Maps

The full sized quality images (A4 300 dpi or A3 150 dpi) can be downloaded here.

The maps were created by manually stitching together the NSW Topo Maps and National Map (Map 20 VIC section) map tiles. The distances were generated by manually digitizing the river path from Bing aerial images in QGIS, then using the QChainage plugin to create points at 1 km spans along the line. These were overlaid manually onto the maps.

Note that there is a slight discrepancy between the distances given in the distance table of 3.1 km or 0.3% over the 1,143.1 km span between Jugiong and the Murray River due to the QChainage plugin.

Distance table

Distance (KM) Source Tantangara Dam Binjura Canberra Wee Jasper Burrinjuck Dam Jugiong Tumut River Gundagai Wantabadgery Wagga Wagga Currawarna Berembed Weir Nerranderra Yanco Creek Yanco Gogeldrie Weir Darlington Point Carrathool Hay Maude Lachlan River Redbank Weir Balranald Murray River Boundary Bend Robinvale Distance (KM)
Source 0 65 178 307 367 422 473 519 540 594 662 730 808 861 882 898 915 964 1,091 1,209 1,314 1,381 1,414 1,512 1,616 1,630 1,723 Source
Tantangara Dam 65 0 113 242 303 357 408 454 475 529 598 665 743 796 817 833 851 899 1,026 1,144 1,249 1,317 1,350 1,447 1,551 1,566 1,659 Tantangara Dam
Binjura 1 178 113 0 129 189 244 295 341 362 416 484 552 630 683 704 720 737 786 913 1,031 1,136 1,203 1,237 1,334 1,438 1,453 1,546 Binjura
Canberra 2 307 242 129 0 60 115 166 212 233 287 355 423 501 554 575 591 608 657 784 902 1,007 1,074 1,107 1,205 1,309 1,323 1,416 Canberra
Wee Jasper 367 303 189 60 0 55 105 152 173 226 295 363 440 494 515 531 548 597 723 842 947 1,014 1,047 1,145 1,249 1,263 1,356 Wee Jasper
Burrinjuck Dam 422 357 244 115 55 0 51 97 118 172 240 308 386 439 460 476 493 542 669 787 892 959 992 1,090 1,194 1,208 1,301 Burrinjuck Dam
Jugiong 473 408 295 166 105 51 0 46 67 121 190 257 335 388 409 425 443 491 618 736 841 909 942 1,039 1,143 1,158 1,251 Jugiong
Tumut River 519 454 341 212 152 97 46 0 21 75 143 211 289 342 363 379 396 445 572 690 795 862 895 993 1,097 1,112 1,205 Tumut River
Gundagai 540 475 362 233 173 118 67 21 0 54 122 190 268 321 342 358 375 424 551 669 774 841 874 972 1,076 1,090 1,183 Gundagai
Wantabadgery 594 529 416 287 226 172 121 75 54 0 69 136 214 267 288 304 322 370 497 616 720 788 821 918 1,022 1,037 1,130 Wantabadgery
Wagga Wagga 662 598 484 355 295 240 190 143 122 69 0 67 145 199 220 236 253 302 428 547 652 719 752 850 954 968 1,061 Wagga Wagga
Currawarna 730 665 552 423 363 308 257 211 190 136 67 0 78 131 152 168 186 234 361 479 584 652 685 782 886 901 994 Currawarna
Berembed Weir 808 743 630 501 440 386 335 289 268 214 145 78 0 53 74 90 108 156 283 401 506 574 607 704 808 823 916 Berembed Weir
Nerranderra 861 796 683 554 494 439 388 342 321 267 199 131 53 0 21 37 54 103 230 348 453 520 553 651 755 769 862 Nerranderra
Yanco Creek 882 817 704 575 515 460 409 363 342 288 220 152 74 21 0 16 33 82 209 327 432 499 532 630 734 748 841 Yanco Creek
Yanco 898 833 720 591 531 476 425 379 358 304 236 168 90 37 16 0 17 66 193 311 416 483 516 614 718 732 825 Yanco
Gogeldrie Weir 915 851 737 608 548 493 443 396 375 322 253 186 108 54 33 17 0 49 175 294 399 466 499 597 701 715 808 Gogeldrie Weir
Darlington Point 964 899 786 657 597 542 491 445 424 370 302 234 156 103 82 66 49 0 127 245 350 417 450 548 652 666 759 Darlington Point
Carrathool 3 1,091 1,026 913 784 723 669 618 572 551 497 428 361 283 230 209 193 175 127 0 118 223 291 324 421 525 540 633 Carrathool
Hay 1,209 1,144 1,031 902 842 787 736 690 669 616 547 479 401 348 327 311 294 245 118 0 105 172 205 303 407 421 514 Hay
Maude 4 1,314 1,249 1,136 1,007 947 892 841 795 774 720 652 584 506 453 432 416 399 350 223 105 0 67 100 198 302 316 409 Maude
Lachlan River 1,381 1,317 1,203 1,074 1,014 959 909 862 841 788 719 652 574 520 499 483 466 417 291 172 67 0 33 131 235 249 342 Lachlan River
Redbank Weir 1,414 1,350 1,237 1,107 1,047 992 942 895 874 821 752 685 607 553 532 516 499 450 324 205 100 33 0 98 201 216 309 Redbank Weir
Balranald 1,512 1,447 1,334 1,205 1,145 1,090 1,039 993 972 918 850 782 704 651 630 614 597 548 421 303 198 131 98 0 104 118 211 Balranald
Murray River 1,616 1,551 1,438 1,309 1,249 1,194 1,143 1,097 1,076 1,022 954 886 808 755 734 718 701 652 525 407 302 235 201 104 0 15 108 Murray River
Boundary Bend 5 1,630 1,566 1,453 1,323 1,263 1,208 1,158 1,112 1,090 1,037 968 901 823 769 748 732 715 666 540 421 316 249 216 118 15 0 93 Boundary Bend
Robinvale 6 1,723 1,659 1,546 1,416 1,356 1,301 1,251 1,205 1,183 1,130 1,061 994 916 862 841 825 808 759 633 514 409 342 309 211 108 93 0 Robinvale
Distance (KM) Source Tantangara Dam Binjura Canberra Wee Jasper Burrinjuck Dam Jugiong Tumut River Gundagai Wantabadgery Wagga Wagga Currawarna Berembed Weir Nerranderra Yanco Creek Yanco Gogeldrie Weir Darlington Point Carrathool Hay Maude Lachlan River Redbank Weir Balranald Murray River Boundary Bend Robinvale Distance (KM)

1 Binjura is measured at Mittagang Crossing. Cooma is 5.2 km SES along Mittagang Rd
2 Canberra is measured from Cotter Road crossing. The easiest access to shops is likely from Point Hut Rd crossing, a 2.3 km walk. Point Hut Rd crossing is 22.7 km before Cotter Road Bridge, 101.7 km from Binjura.
3 Carrathool is 5.2 km north of the bridge along Carrathool Rd.
4 Maude Weir is is 300 m upstream of Maude
5 Boundary Bend Rest Area is one bend before Boundary Bend. Uncertain about river access from this rest area but would save 5.2 km.
6 Robinvale, VIC was measured at Murray Valley Hwy Bridge that separates this town from Euston, NSW, which is just across the river.

The distances were calculated by manually digitizing the river path from Bing aerial images in QGIS (WGS 84 / UTM Zone 55S). The measured distance between Jugiong and the Murray River was 1,143.3 km was greater than the recorded distance of 1,077.7 km from the GPS unit used by Rod Boswell and Christine Charles in 2000 albeit high flows for the first half of their trip may have allowed for a few shortcuts. ;)

Previous trips

Fairly minimal detail about the upper section has been found online other than the whitewater paddling guides at Waterways Guide.

This (Murrumbidgee Gorge) is a hard walk with rock hopping and no track, expect wet feet.

And the following online blogs about the lower section, all by canoe or kayak:

  • 2000/1

    Rod Boswell and Christine Charles

    Canoe

    Rod Boswell and Christine Charles trip down the 'bidgee to the sea. Very heavily ladened canoe with a small engine and a fridge!?

    They caught a high flow from Jugiong down to about Narrandera (up to 12,600 ML/day) but various commitments on the way meant that they fell off the back of the flow and they had to do the last sections with a very low flow under 300 ML/day with some difficulty in their laden canoe.

    Blog

  • Oct 2014

    Peter Phillips

    Kayak

    8 days between Hay and the Confluence in Sept 2014. Without knowing the exact dates, river flow was likely around 1,400 ML/day and the journey didn't note anything major. Approx 60 km per day.

    Blog

  • 2004-2016

    Mike Bremers, partly solo, partly in teams

    Kayak

    Done on multiple short trips over the years, occasionally repeating sections too!

    Sections done with flows under 500 ML/day note issues with snags albeit decent progress is made, including the Maude to Balranald leg with a flow of just 150 ML/day to 200 ML/day where he managed 30 km days.

    Blog and Trip Notes

Public Transport Options

NSW 725/726 Cootamundra/Mildura
Stays with the lower Murrumbidgee with stops at Euston/Robinvale, Balranald, Hay and Darlington Point before heading to Cootamundra that acts as a hub
NSW 727/728 Wagga Wagga/Tumbarumba
The bus connects Wagga Wagga with Gundagai if you go via Wagga Wagga. Continues on past Tumut
NSW (Train) 621/2/3/4 Southern Cross
Connects Sydney to Melbourne, with stops at Cootamundra, Wagga Wagga and Albury
NSW 701/702 Canberra/Wagga Wagga
Passes both Jugiong & Gundagai.
NSW 703/704 Canberra/Wagga Wagga
Passes through Cootamundra, bypassing other towns on the Murrumbidgee River.
NSW 723/724 Cootamundra to Tumbarumba
Passes Gundagai and Tumut. It is the closest the NSW public transport gets to the upper Murray, though there is a VIC bus from Albury to Corryong that services many upper Murray River towns.

Tumut

Possible alternative start of the lower section rather than from Jugiong. It is the Tumut River that feeds the baseline flow for most of the season from the hydro scheme. Aerial images suggested an easy route along the valley below the dams and Waterway Guides confirmed this as a long two day grade 1 section from Tumut Township to Gundagai (links below).

The upper sections are within Kosciuszko National Park, but WaterNSW maintains sections at Blowering Dam. Additional information can be obtained from Hume and Hovell Track Website that intersections the Tumut River between Blowering Reservoir and Jounama Pondage.

Upper Tumut
Fully in the remote upper Kosciuszko National Park region with minimal details. Grey Mare Trail crosses the Tumut very close to the source on the slopes at Mount Jagungal in the High Plains area of the park. Below the Tumut Pond Reservoir, you cross into the Tumut area of the park. Placeholder pages without details (as of July 2020) can be found for above and below the reservoir.
Talbingo Reservoir
A 26 km paddle down the lake from Elliot Way to the dam wall. Portage across the dam is from a boat ramp off Murray Jackson Drive on the eastern (right) side.
Jounama Pondage
Short section between the two main dams where the Jounama Pondage is found beside the small town of Talbingo. Apparently there is no access allowed, so expect a 15 km shuttle or portage along the road.
Blowering Reservoir
Blowering Reservoir would provide about a 20 km paddle along the lake that lies partially within Kosciuszko National Park.
Blowering Reservoir to Tumut
Narrow and fast flatwater paddling mostly down to Tumut (26 km). Stay with the main channels to avoid willow trees.
Downstream Tumut
Fast flatwater down to the Murrumbidgee River (52.5 km) and before paddling down the Murrumbidgee River to Gundagai (21 km).
Map