Day 1 (28th February 3pm)
Travelled to Mildura yesterday and after a lovely meal and a few local brews, comfortable accommodation at the Buronga Riverside Caravan Park was likely to be our last taste of modern conveniences for some days. Flood warnings and record rainfall in the catchment area reminded me of the kind of weather that I tend to attract when I plan a holiday!!
Woke this morning to a forecast of 20-40mm for Mildura and surrounds. But this is an adventure and we didn’t come all this way after months of planning and anticipation to go soft on the idea. The boat was quickly loaded and after some quick goodbyes to our fabulous ground crew (Julianne and Carolyn), we were off.
Heavy clouds blanketed our travel, but thankfully, very little rain. We pushed about 80km upstream and the river depth decreased from around 25ft adjacent Mildura to consistently less than 5ft over the last 10km of travel. The depth sounder indicated less than 2 feet at some points. It should be noted that the River Murray Charts provide excellent warning with regard to mid river reefs and snags. One could do serious damage to vessel and self if unaware or careless.
A large sandbar was our strategically selected campsite. With buckets of rain forecast, a muddy slippery bank was worth avoiding. The camp at around the 968 mark was very picturesque, but shallow water provided only small carp followed by a couple of small carp and then a few more carp.
As I write this the drizzle continues, only dampening the ground, not our thirst for adventure.
Day 2 (29th February 2012)
We woke this morning to a savagely overcast morning. A cooked breakfast and a steady pack-up saw us back on the water mid morning – our destination, the 1000km mark. A quick stop at the ‘Big Red Gum’, reputed to be the biggest in NSW, possibly the world, was well worth it.
Across the river, the Fisheries Department were stunning fish and we guessed, recording fish numbers in this section of the river.
No sooner had we cast off and the rain began to fall. It then rained and rained and rained. There was not one instant during the day when it stopped raining. I do not recall a day when the rain was so relentless. Later we would find out that the rain was to persist all night also.
We made the 1000km mark after navigating the perilously low river. At times we wedged against the sandy river bed in less than 2 feet of water. At other times we bumped nervously over snags. But we made it, picking our way through the snag strewn ‘Adelaide Bend’ to our destination. How pretty this section of the river would have been under a blue sky. Missing from an adjacent red gum, was the blue and white ‘1000km’ signage. We suspected that someone had claimed it as a trophy for the billiard room. Leaving no stone unturned, Middy suggested we moor the boat and go in search of the illusive ‘1000k bluey’. In the pouring rain we secured the boat a little upstream and began the trek back around the high muddy bank overlooking the snag filled ‘Adelaide Bend’. Then it happened!!! ‘Middy on a mission’, focussed on the task, came within cm’s of slipping over the edge to a watery grave. We have no photo of the ‘1000’, just a misty shot of that treacherous bend.
So, technically, our journey now began – 1000km to the Murray Mouth. In atrocious weather we began. We understand that the local weather made every TV channel. Rainfall records dating back more than 100 years were broken.
Realising that there was to be no let up, we secured the boat on another sand bar. In relentless rain we set up camp just beyond the eucalypt line above the sand bar – quite a trek with all the gear. We miraculously achieved fire and spirits lifted. Lamb chops and pasta, some beer and wine helped a little more. Middy and Peter bunked down in the pop up tent and I took shelter in the swag, in a small gap under a large fallen tree. How sweet it was to be dry and warm for the first time in hours. The sleep was sweet.
Day 3 (1st March)
As dawn broke the rain eased. We made our way down stream, the boat sitting lower in the water, having taken on our soggy gear and water from 24 hours of rain.
We bumped over what must have been five or six snags throughout the day, one totally unexpected in 10 feet of water. Conversation regularly took us back to the paddle steamer days and the incredible challenges captains would have faced.
A trek up the hill at Nangiloc secured 80 litres of fuel. The proprietor of the local ‘Landmark’ outlet seemed totally comfortable with three guys venturing out of the scrub with jerry cans. Perhaps he sees a bit of it.
We made camp at the 957km mark and laid out the contents of the boat to dry. Middy extracted several litres out of the carpet in the boat using the trust Sham–Wow! Peter enjoyed some fishing success and a magnificent sunset provided the backdrop to an evening that could not have provided greater contrast to the evening 24hrs prior. Middy’s blues podcast eased us into dinner and for a moment, the world stopped. Peace is a wonderful thing.
Day 4 (2nd March)
Blue skies and calm conditions called for a steady, relaxed start to the day. A hot shower with a view over the river was most excellent. A spot of fishing produced a second breakfast before we packed the Trailcraft with dry belongings. My phone died and very quickly I realised how attached we have all become to these magnificent little tools – internet, email and communication are definitely ‘needs’ these days rather than ‘luxuries’.
We made the call to make for Mildura today and seek alternate accommodation in order sit out more extreme weather forecast for tomorrow. Again we bumped over numerous snags along the shallow reaches. River depths of less than 2 feet were not uncommon. We concluded that in many places the river seemed to have produced sandbars mid stream in addition to the points of bends. This is something none of us had observed before.
At around the 950km mark the river deepened and we were able to pick up speed to a healthy 45km/hr, making short work of the remaining 65km into Mildura. After transferring the entire contents of the boat into our cabin at the Buronga Riverside Caravan Park, in preparation for the rain, we boarded the Trailcraft again and headed back to Gol Gol. The local tavern provided the perfect setting to view the ‘Top 10 Shoot Out’ for the weekend’s ‘Clipsal 500’.
One slip of the foot saw the captain take a dip as we disembarked. And let’s just say that the occupants of the adjacent houseboat and the 2nd and 3rd mates on board the Trailcraft, were all suitably entertained!
A lamb roast for dinner and a fair bit of laughter concluded Day 4.
Day 5 (3rd March)
Today was essentially a rest day as we waited for the weather to pass and also waited for Wally and Kev to arrive. Tomorrow they join us as we continue our journey toward Wentworth. No surprise that morning news on every channel reported significant flooding to the east. We are unsure of how this extensive and significant weather event will impact river flows and our journey downstream.
Wally and Kev booked in to the cabin next door. The afternoon was spent indulging in the Clipsal 500 whilst also watching the rain tumble down. We took opportunity to re-fuel, re-food and re-gas.
Coinciding with the Sydney Mardi Gras, Mildura turned on its own street party in the evening. Even though we were initially unaware the spectacle was planned for the town, we happily indulged, heading into the town centre for some live music and entertainment. A couple of frothy drinks from the Mildura Brewery whilst watching live music kicked things off nicely. Middy got friendly with ‘Marvin the Mixer’ who was doing an awesome job mixing the sound from his i-pad in the crowd. Wally and I were of course, very interested as we saw great potential for the application of this technology with ‘Silverhair’ (Hey check us out on Facebook, ‘Silverhair’ one word).
‘Grape Girl’ was kind enough to share in a photo before our appetites got the better of us.
Next stop, ‘The Sandbar’, for some red meat. Mr Security was friendly, encouraging us to ‘Check out the band, they’ve got drums and stuff.” He also recommended the burgers. Melbourne band, the ‘Benson Campaign’ provided some great original live music – just what the doctor ordered after some wet days of travel. Middy got friendly with the lead singer’s dad and discovered he was a resident of Wentworth. Apparently he was restoring an old wooden river boat on a slip, right on the Darling near the caravan park. He invited us to drop in the next day on our journey down stream.
We called an end to night with one last hot Milo from the Mildura Brewery and retreated to our comfortable accommodation.
Day 6 (4th March)
Today was the day that Wally and Kev hit the water with us as we continued our journey to the Mouth. The day began in frustration as we discovered that overnight, some ‘needy soul’ had stolen the fuel stowed on our boats. Nevertheless, we began our trip 60 litres and three jerry cans down on what we had planned, figuring we’d resurrect the situation at Wentworth. ‘Larry the Lockmaster’ had us wait 1 ½ hours to pass through Lock 11 in Mildura. Wally developed a rash because he was simply itching to get moving.
We shared Lock 11 with the paddle steamer ‘Melbourne’ and then, we were away. We calculated that it was approximately 120 metres into Wally and Kev’s journey when they suffered boat problems. The old girl was losing horse power under load. Kev wiggled some stuff, got some oil on his hands, and miraculously everything seemed OK. We were off again.
We made short work of the 53km run to Wentworth, the site where the Darling meets the Murray.
Mooring close to the town, we walked several blocks for fuel and a few replacement jerry cans. We met ‘Riverboat Rod’ who ran a really cool museum in Wentworth containing many of his handmade paddleboat models. Guys like that keep this great river’s history alive.
We passed through Lock 10 thanking Danny the Lockmaster for offering us some grace on the hourly downstream curfew.
We made camp at the 825 km mark and settled in for a comfortable evening. Great food and good conversation topped off a super day. Bathed in sun, Day 6 was deemed a definite success.
Day 7 (5th March)
Another day in Paradise! Warm, sunny conditions would ensure a cheerful day on the water. The miserable weather of only a few days past is now nothing more than a distant memory. After a leisurely breakfast, we cast off down a magnificent reach of the ‘Great’ River.
The river twisted and turned and continued to delight. We cruised past the 800 km mark and then on past the wreck of the paddle steamer Sapphire toward Lock 9. Again we missed the lock curfew by just a few minutes, probably due to Wally’s mid-river refuel. And this time the Lockmaster’s lunch would be delayed for no man, definitely not a bunch of clowns out for a leisurely cruise.
Another 1 ½ wait gave us opportunity to have a look around the old Kulnine steam pump station above the lock. We also managed a couple of nice catfish during the wait. Through the lock, we began the search for a suitable campsite. We settled for the 750km mark just upstream of Wombeloo Island.
Movie dialogue recitals under the moonlight and a late night rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’, closed out the day.
Day 8 (6th March)
Could any morning be more perfect? The sun rose, woke and warmed us from slumber. Hot showers all round aroused an extra measure of enthusiasm with which to tackle the day. And the day was to have its challenges as Lock 8 remains out of action due to refurbishment.
The run down to Lock 8 was blissful over flat water and through some great country. The river healthy and flowing well with recent releases from Lake Medindie preparation for flood waters from Queensland continues.
Dad, Mum and Betty (Mum’s sister), were to be our saviours for this section of the trip. They drove from Gawler to meet us at Lock 8. Julianne had deposited the boat trailer there on her way back to Adelaide last week. The plan was to pull the boats out above the lock and move them around the lock and simply pop them back in.
We arrived at Lock 8 as did our trusty ground crew. Wally’s boat came out first. The boat came out pretty well despite the trailer not being set up for it. The boat survived unscathed, the trailer suffered a little. Next we transported the Trailcraft with just a few tense moments getting the heavily laden boat down the steep ramp below the lock.
We farewelled our remarkable ground crew and continued the journey. Tomorrow Dad would get on board at the Old Customs House and join us for a couple of days. We ventured down the pristine river enjoying all it had to offer.
Our camp for the night was the 704 mark in the Murray Sunset National Park. A disused boat ramp made a great little campsite for us. It was a pretty little spot, sheltered, with good deep water producing several varieties of fish, which certainly enthused the fishers amongst us. At the end of the day, nothing caught was edible, but a 9 pound carp provided some entertainment. No fish for dinner, but Peter cooked up a J. Oliver special!
The evening ended with a freshly baked chocolate cake and custard. Dreams were sweet.
Day 9 (7th March)
Soon after crawling from our swags we discovered that the unused boat ramp was actually more used than we had determined yesterday. Fisheries surveyors arrived to launch a boat and stun a few more fish in the interests of research. We had a chat and cleared a path for them into the water.
We passed through Lock 7 but not without a few issues. Seems the entry doors wouldn’t seal. Andy the friendly Lock Master managed to get it all together after a few attempts and we were through. High water at Lock 7 had us drop only about 4 inches in the lock chamber to reach the lower pool level.
We wound up the tinnies and headed toward the SA border. The run without a fuel stop from Wentworth to The Old Customs House is about 200km and it looked achievable with good river flows aiding our ground speed. The 70 km run to the Customs House was a ‘corker’, the highlight being the narrow, tight ‘Higgin’s Cutting’. No photos could ever do justice to the real-life experience of travelling this magnificent twisting turning section of the river. SA’s liquid lifeline also supported a magnificent array of native flora and fauna, many visible along this reach.
We entered South Australia twice, as you do when you’re heading down stream. Check out a map and you’ll work out just why that is so. A few km’s further and we arrived at the Old Customs House. This was a critical point in our journey, being a required fuel stop and also giving opportunity to replenish basic supplies. Let’s just say the stop stirred up an assortment of emotions. Firstly Kev saved Wally from stepping on a brown snake. Wally ran away and Jill the proprietor donged it with a shovel. Supplies where indeed basic, such so, that unleaded petrol was not to be acquired on this day. In fact, it would be a couple of days before the fuel truck would arrive. Jill to her credit was prepared to help us out in whatever way she could.
As planned, Dad arrived at this rendezvous point with his gear packed, ready to join us for a couple of days. Despite be unable to source fuel, we decided to press on, calculating that Wilkadene Homestead was possibly within reach, given the fuel economy calculated over previous days.
Continuing downstream we moored at the 632 km mark. The afternoon was unusually windy, but we’d had an awesome day, so nothing would dampen spirits. After struggling to catch fish throughout the trip, our new recruit led the way. A mix grill was on offer in the fast flowing off-shoot near our camp. The afternoon catch was cleaned and stored on ice ready for lunch tomorrow.
A roast dinner followed by an evening slideshow of Middy’s photographs to date, recalled memories of the last nine days. How sweet things are these days compared to the wet beginning we experienced.
Day 10 (8th March)
The day began with a ‘big breakfast and a steady pack-up. We then experienced the calmest conditions to date on the water. The blue skies, glassy water and limousine smooth ride, was breath taking.
Neville the Lockmaster at Lock 6 was a top bloke – friendly and encouraging. After traversing the Lock we held our breath, trusting that our fuel supplies would take us through to Wilkadene Homestead. As we rounded Wilkinsons Cutting and veered left toward Wilkadene, we had achieved more than 230km on the tank (Wentworth to Wilkadene). Given our heavy payload, this was an excellent achievement.
The Woolshed Brewery at Wilkadene was a beer lover’s paradise. We sampled the Amazon Pale Ale and also the Judas Dark Ale – both were excellent beers. Jack the head brew guy was friendly and informative. Our questions definitely kept him from his work, and so we were very appreciative of the time he sacrificed to yak with us. Tom from Wilkadene also helped us out with fuel to see us through to Renmark. We recommend Wilkadene at Murtho to you all. They’ve got an awesome range of houseboats too, on a sensational section of the river.
With some souveniers tucked under our arms we boarded the boats and headed down stream. Our camp on a sandbar at the 599km mark, was without a doubt, the most picturesque so far. The late sun lit up the cliff in brilliant shades of orange and red. After dark the full moon put on a show rising over the cliffs.
This was to be our last evening with Wally and Kev. They are on a tighter schedule and will tomorrow leave us to make Morgan in three days.
Day 11 (9th March)
A crisp cool morning was quickly transformed as the sun peaked over the cliff face. Pancakes for breakfast and a swifter pack-up would ensure Wally and Kev can make Lock 5 before the Lockmaster’s long lunch. Handshakes all round and the lads were off. A few minutes later the Trailcraft followed. Although they still have a way to go, I think it would be fair to say that any fears about the reliability of Wally’s runabout have been shattered. It has skipped along like a Swiss watch.
We refuelled at Jane Eliza Landing, Renmark. This was an easy exercise with fuel at the river’s edge -no carrying of jerry cans. After taking only 20 litres on board at Wilkadene, the Trailcraft was definitely thirsty. The 120 litre tank swallowed 112 litres. Renmark allowed us to also restock our gas, food, and beverage supplies.
Mum and Betty had been staying at the Paringa Caravan Park, so the river at Paringa was our rendezvous point. Tony, the proprietor of the caravan park was a ‘salt of the earth’ bloke. He’d spent some time in previous days, sourcing repair options for the broken bits on the trailer. He also welcomed us to use the park’s facilities gratis. If you’re in this neck of the woods, don’t be turned off by the fact the park is a small distance from the river – the service will win over.
A BBQ dinner on the Bert Dix lawns near the Paringa Bridge and Day 11 was drawing to a close. Accommodation on the river was non-existent due to long weekend tourists, so Middy and I decided to roll the swags out after dark on the reserve – not technically allowed, but we really had no other options available. Peter opted for the spare bed in the cabin.
A chat with four travellers in two Winnebago’s from both far north Queensland and Victoria added to the pleasant tally of great folk that we’ve met along the way. We heard the story of how the day prior, one of the beaut machines had mysteriously caught fire somewhere in the slide out section under a lounge. A quick response obviously saved the thing. Unfortunately, it’s back to Sydney for repairs.
The late arrival of some less than encouraging late night revellers on the lawns adjacent, caused us minor concern, but when their eskies ran dry at 3.15am, they also called it a day.
Day 12 (10th March)
An early rise so as not to be too conspicuous in our unofficial campsite was called for. Overnight, Mum had decided to take up the offer to join us on the run to Berri.
We traversed Lock 5 and enjoyed the run to Lyrup. Dave C texted this morning and recommended lunch at the Lyrup Club and that sounded perfect. We secured the boat and asked a local yokel to keep an eye on it – still a little nervous after our fuel theft in Mildura. We walked the half kilometre to the Club to find the best on offer was ‘Super Dry’ and a reheated roll. We made the call after rehydrating, to head to the Berri Hotel for lunch.
Lunch at Berri gave our trip more of a cosmopolitan feel as we sipped wine and peered out over the stunning river from the upstairs cafe. We farewelled the trusty ground crew and the ‘terrific trio’ continued.
Passing through Lock 4 we enjoyed another chat with Mr Lockmaster. Don’t know his name, but he did remember Wally and Kev passing through 24 hours earlier. He also found it necessary to comment on the selection of lures displayed on my fishing rods. I have beaten the water to a pulp with those lures with no success. I didn’t need him to tell me I needed yet another colour!
Our chosen camp was close to the 508 mark, just short of Sawmill bend, the site of an ols sand washing machine. Another eight km’s and we’ll be halfway! Plenty of tinnie traffic passed up and down this narrow section of the river and a lovely little paddle wheeler. Carp again graced our hooks – the floods of 12 months ago have clearly boosted numbers incredibly.
Middy whipped up butter chicken for dinner, interrupted only by the catfish that rushed for our baits on dark.
Day 13 (11th March)
Although relatively close to civilisation, we all agreed that our overnight campsite gave an overwhelming feeling of isolation. The river was narrow and fast flowing, the bushland was dense and after the whir of tinnies returning home ceased, it was deathly silent all night. An uninterrupted sleep prepared all for the day ahead.
Boris the ‘surf ski guy’ paddled past, also on his way to the Mouth. Even an invite for early morning coffee did not tease him from his focussed stroke.
Just eight kilometres down the river we passed the 500km blue marker sparking celebration of the mid-point of our journey.
A few bends later and we arrived in Loxton. After securing the Trailcraft we took a walk around the Loxton Historical Village. The locals sure have worked hard on a vast display of yesteryear.
We gave the Hammo’s a call to see if they were in town, and the short chat turned into lunch at the pub. Schnitzel and schooner for $10. The Hammo’s will begin their own Nullabor adventure the following day with their camper trailer. We bid farewell on the well maintained Loxton wharf and continued downstream.
The river becomes very straight and wide below Loxton so we opened the Honda up and blasted toward Cobdogola.
We’d heard that Peter and Loris Milham were spending the weekend at Kingston on Murray, so we attempted to make contact. A short time later we’d found their residence on the cliffs near the bridge and we settled in. We eyed off the flat green grass as a perfect location for the swags and in no time it was pretty clear we were settled for the night.
We shared a BBQ and watched the sunset. Loris was particularly interested in our high tech, wooden toilet seat, insisting that she road test it for comfort and durability. Clearly she is another who is in awe of our impressive facilities and resourcefulness!
The swags felt particularly comfortable on the soft grass. Sleep was no problem except for Middy, who was located next to a dodgy water pump that fired up continuously. His decision to turn it off didn’t work well for those inside the house, so it was a noise he would need to get used to!
Day 14 (12th March)
Most appreciative of our swanky accommodation, I took the opportunity to ease into a lounge chair and update the blog this morning. Middy and Peter had the boat nicely loaded when I was done. I should update in the morning more often!
The run from Kingston on the Murray to Waikerie was absolutely superb. I had not travelled this section of the river before. Glassy water gave a mirror to the world above and the long reaches of cliffs provided yet another contrast in scenery and serenity. We passed through Lock 3 and to our surprise Boris shared the lock with us. We are travelling much fast than ‘surf ski guy’, but he’s obviously putting in longer days.
Remnants of an old steam boiler lay on the bank and provided some intrigue as we pondered its past.
On arrival in Waikerie we unloaded the jerry cans to begin the long shuffle of fuel from the main street down to the river. Only about 100 metres up the hill, a gentleman appeared from under a carport and very matter of fact said, Here, take these, just drop it back when you’re done,” and then he threw me his ute keys. He didn’t ask any questions, he didn’t want to know who we were, he simply offered generosity and trust. Middy and Peter did a supermarket run and I shuffled fuel to and from the main street. At the end of the exercise, in the same matter of fact way, he grabbed the keys and shot through. We know very little about him. He’s a local with a boat – we don’t even know his name. I’d love to know more about what makes him tick, but I’m guessing I’ll never get the chance.
We continued downstream through Lock 2 and shared a laugh as we passed numerous long weekend campers packing to head home. Our journey, although in the final stages, still has some days to run. We settled for a camp at the 349km mark opposite Hogwash Bend.
Day 15 (13th march)
Perhaps I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but the conditions this morning were awesome.
Leaving Hogwash Bend, we continued downstream through Cadel, Morgan, Murbko and Blanchetown, a total distance of around 80km. We again passed some great sites, including some boats with real character.
We paused and took in the enormity of the Morgan pumping station. The Morgan – Whyalla pipeline is a lifeline for so many.
After a walk around the historic Morgan, ‘The Terminus’ served us up some quality schnitties. The wharf precinct and the incredible history that it has written as one of the most vibrant river ports, is now largely derelict. The A H Landseer Ltd building, by contrast, houses a cool display of all that Morgan once was. A short documentary on the ’56 flood was really worth the look.
Our final lock was traversed at Blanchetown before we headed toward a great sandbar at the 268km mark where we made camp. The spectacular Murray River Princess passed us by as we approached our camp. Later the Proud Mary graced us with her presence too.
A swim and a wash in the river refreshed after the long, hot day. We got all ‘arty’ with some night shots after dinner and called it a day.
Day 16 (14th March)
Today I woke early from my ‘very’ riverside campsite and enjoyed the sunrise.
After loading the boat I enjoyed a day of travelling from the rear facing seat. Peter and Middy steered the ship. This gave me a chance to reflect on how well things have progressed. We have a lot of gear, but the Trailcraft is handling the journey beautifully. Our ‘making and breaking’ of camp each afternoon and morning has been efficent and hassle free.
Early in the day we experienced another beautiful display of cliffs as we headed through Swan Reach and down through Nildottie and Walkers Flat. We passed a couple of guys who have paddled all the way from Echuca.
We stretched the legs with a quick stop at the Bow Hill General Store – the store with more! It’s soon after Bowhill that the river straightens out and opens up, losing the beauty of the upper reaches. Houseboats grace this section of river as Mannum is close to Adelaide, making it a good destination for a weekend break. We spotted the wreck of the PS Tarella just upstream from Mannum.
After a short lunch stop we continued toward Murray Bridge ever aware of the storm clouds brewing. We then got smashed by rain for about 10 minutes, the drops so big each one would drown a small cat. We scrambled to keep the important things dry.
After refuelling at Long Island Marina in Murray Bridge we made the sprint to Tailem Bend. Bruce and Judy have a place on the river and we would seek refuge there, with storm clouds and lightning now virtually surrounding us. There we a few texts from friends and family back in Adelaide who wondered how we might be coping – thanks for thinking of us. As it turned out, Bruce and Judy were heading to Adelaide for a few days, but were kind enough to leave us a key and the run of the place.
Between storm showers we jumped back in the boat ad headed down to the pub for a couple of well-earned refreshments and we’d hoped, some ‘Coorong Mullet’. The thunder roared and we knew the call to not ‘camp out’ was a good one. The power went out at the pub and we lost track of time. Staff were in a bit of a frenzy and our meal order was quite late. The trip back to our accommodation was in the wind and rain, after dark. Never thought I’d use the navigation lights on the Trailcraft this trip! Peter’s dab hand on the rechargeable spot light located the house through the haze. We made it back!
Middy insisted we watch an old movie before bed and fired up ‘Ghost Busters’. Indoor swags were comfortable except for Middy’s. He decided to set up on the balcony before heading to the pub, only to discover at sleep time that the rain in Tailem falls mainly on that balcony.
Day 17 (15th March)
After a night of severe storm activity we woke very thankful that our Tailem Bend haven ensured a safe and dry night’s sleep.
Today was a short one involving a lazy 12km run down to Wellington where we would set ourselves for a crossing of Lake Alexandrina at dawn on Friday, weather permitting. The river is deep between Tailem Bend and Wellington at around 50 feet.
After poking the Trailcraft out into the lake for a bit of reconnaissance, we retreated back to the Wellington Hotel for lunch. The wind was strong today, but we are hoping for a window of opportunity at dawn tomorrow, to take on the lake. It’s a big body of water, about 45km across (65 km to Goolwa), so we’ll need a couple of hours minimum if conditions allow us to ‘put the hammer down’.
Middy knows a guy who knows a guy and lined up a campsite at the Wellington Marina. The Marina itself appears to be a largely failed venture. Whilst there are some ritzy places over the back, the wharf, kiosk and facilities appear long closed and in a state of disrepair. I’m guessing that during the drought years the Marina was reduced to a muddy pond and people left in droves.
We met Rory, the only guy on site at the time. He was preparing the PS William Randell, a self built paddle-streamer, for a run to Morgan. He invited us on board and the sights and smells of the ‘real deal’ was fascinating.
Our campsite for the night was on the wharf under the old pavilion/BBQ shelter. If the rain was to come in again, we’d be fine and the sound of water lapping underneath our swags should be quite therapeutic. With the wind blowing, we hit the hay.
Day 18 (16th March)
I woke at 4.00am and the wind seemed to have increased. I stirred again at 5.45am and still the wind was blowing, probably around 15 – 20kts with the low cloud overhead ripping by. Several locals including the caretaker of the Marina had told us yesterday, that there’d be little chance of a lake crossing before Saturday, but we really couldn’t wait that long. It needed to be today, or not at all. The forecast was for 10-15 kts increasing in the afternoon – it should have been better than this at dawn.
I’ve read enough to know that Lake Alexandrina must be respected – it’s claimed too many unsuspecting lives over time. A wave of disappointment consumed me as it became apparent that Wellington was likely to be the end point of our River Murray Odyssey. I told the other guys to stay in bed!
About an hour later as we were lamenting the weather, things seemed to improve a little. The wind dropped and the sun poked through the heavy cloud. With each passing minute, the wind seemed to drop even more. In an instant, we calculated that this was the opportunity we needed, but we’d need to move quickly as the forecast for the afternoon was winds of 25 – 30kts. We loaded the boat and in the blink of an eye we were committed as we left the Marina.
Conditions were not like we observed yesterday when we ventured a short distance onto the lake to scope things out. If we thought that it was rough yesterday, today provided an instant reality check. There’s about 10km of the river as we know it, below Wellington, before it opens into the lake. This morning, white caps were being pushed right up into the river by the south wester. What would the lake produce?
The lake became rough without being treacherous, but it was definitely unnerving, pounding into the steep wind-driven waves with weather closing in all around us. This was unfamiliar territory and visibility was limited as the windscreen and clears were constantly pelted with spray from the bow busting through the wind-driven chop. Navigation was by GPS. Out on the lake we met a fisherman who was trying to find a net, suggesting it had either broken free or had been stolen.
The run to Goolwa took around 3 hrs, with no real let up due to the wind direction. We passed under the Hindmarsh Island Bridge and made for the Island Marina to inform of our arrival and seek out a plate of fish and chips. Marina staff were very welcoming and were really keen to link our blog to their website. We appreciated the offer of their amenities to clean ourselves up.
What now? Finding somewhere to stay would be difficult as there are no real waterfront camp areas near Goolwa. We popped across the river hoping we might be able to catch up with a few of Middy’s mates who were staying close by. We slipped temporarily into a little Marina to scope out the area and make contact. From that point everything turned ‘golden’. Mike, living on a houseboat was up for a chat. He’d come down the river too and had been in the marina since Christmas. He gave us a contact for Jess, the manager and after a phone call it appeared we’d be set for the night.
We met Jess a short time later – a young bloke who builds and restores wooden boats. His product is awesome. He and his family have a passion for the river. After selling their home, Jess built ‘Emu’, a magnificent river boat and last year, they travelled to Yarrawonga and back, achievable due to the great levels and flow after widespread flooding across the Murray – Darling Basin.
We settled in and met Jess’ family – wife Mel and girls, Millie and Beth. We stoked the Weber and invited them over for dinner.
An added bonus was the twilight yacht racing. The sun lit the sails and provided a real spectacle for us.
After a lamb roast, young Beth shared a freshly baked cake with us. The evening was packed with great conversation and laughter. A better final destination for our adventure would not have been possible. The conversation and hospitality we received created a lasting memory.
Day 19 (17th March)
Today Julianne and Carolyn would arrive with the trailer. But before we could close the door on our Odyssey, there was one task remaining. The Murray Mouth is only a short distance downstream. We boarded the Trailcraft one last time and ventured down through the lock in the barrage and down to the Mouth.
I have flown over this spectacular location numerous times, but it was a special experience to be on the water. There is no dredge keeping the mouth open and the rip of water out through the mouth demanded extreme care. As we motored across the mouth our speed slowed and then reversed. The pull of the water toward Antarctica was much stronger than our selected cruise speed. More horsepower quickly rectified the situation. We moored a few hundred metres past the mouth and a celebratory photograph marked the end what has been a most fulfilling experience.
1000km of the River Murray has only heightened my love and intrigue for the River. I’ve travelled some vast distances around our country and there are many locations that I’m pleased I have seen, but they don’t draw me back like the Mighty Murray does. It’s different. The peace, the romance, the people and the stories will definitely call me back at sometime in the future.
With reluctance I write… The End. Be sure to keep checking this blog – I’ve got lots of updating to do yet!
FOR SALE – ONE AWESOME TRAILCRAFT!
I purchased the Trailcraft second hand late last year in order to undertake this odyssey with family and friends. Odyssey complete, it is not practical that I hang on to it. If you’re interested, feel free to make contact.
2003 Trailcraft 5 metre, economical 90 HP Honda (less than 100 hours – 1/2 of that in fresh water), hydraulic steering, bait board, rod holders, GPS, fish finder, radio, all safety gear, rod holders, bimini, and clears.
I’ll take a few photos and post them soon.