Friday, 7 July 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 16 Gunbower Perricoota Koondrook Forest

Day 16: 1595 km Stanton Break, GPK Forest 31st Oct 2016

Torrumbarry Headworks - Stanton Break - Gunbower Forest 53km

It was a relief to have a relatively calm day after yesterday’s strong winds. I took a more relaxed approach to the day knowing that i did not have to battle headwinds and cruised along at an average of just over 8 km/hr, which is not bad given that I stop paddling to photograph every 250m.

About 10 km in I came across the collection of buses and old vans that exist at Norris Bend. Whether these are still used, I don’t know. I stopped to photograph one old bus whose front axles seemed to be slowly settling into the mud, when I received a message that the lock master from Torrumbarry Weir, would only be available before 11am and after 3pm today. Still 11km away, I had to race, I upped my average speed to just over 10 km/hr but was hitting speeds of up to 12.5km/hr. Not bad for a fully madden boat, especially when I still had to take my photos. Alan Williams, the Lockmaster, was pleasantly surprised when I made it. He opened the gates just enough to let me through, I snuck under the walkway which is raised for larger boats and chatted whilst he closed the first gate and opened the second. Last time I went through this lock, the difference in levels was around 5m. Today there was no difference, however going through the lock saves 2 hours of packing and portaging.

Alan Williams informed me of a small houseboat that had run out of fuel about 6km down from the weir. He was just thinking of conning someone in the caravan park to motoring down to them with a jerry can when Alan Whelan, the fella travelling the length of the Murray in a small yellow tinny called up requesting passage. He volunteered to bring them fuel when he came through at 3pm. Alan and i have passed each other a number of times, beginning in Barmah forest, not far from Tocumwal and last time a few days ago, leaving Echuca. I didn’t expect him to pass me today, but having heard from the stranded couple, and how it could be difficult to get fuel in Barham on Melbourne Cup Day, Alan decided to put in some big kilometres. He travelled all the way to Barham - around 110 km away. Too far for me. I had hoped that he would be my backup through the forest, but once he passed me later in the day this was to be the last time I was to see him on the river. Alan began his trip at Bringenbrong Bridge. The most challenging thing he found was negotiating the rapids at Jingellic. He enjoys the bush camping. One of his prize accessories is a big steel drum, which he uses to heat up water for a shower. Safe trip to the mouth Alan. Keep an eye out for him in his yellow tinny.

Motivated by the story of Alan’s hot water drum, I boiled up a trangia kettle of water and used this to create a hot towel, like they serve on airplanes. It was actually really nice and probably good for the skin to be rid of all that sunscreen and repellent for a while.

I also stopped and chatted with the stranded couple in the houseboat. With the strong winds potentially pushing their boat into the trees and the strong current in the high river to work against, they had underestimated the amount of fuel their twin outboards would use and had pulled to the side once one began to splutter. The good news for me was that they informed me that there were banks all the way to Barham which meant that I would be able to find a camping spot - something I had been really quite concerned about after my experience in the Barmah Forest. 

The river is approximately 30cm higher than the surrounding forest. At Stanton Break, where I am camped for the night, a break in the levee allows water through to the forest. Bizarrely, it uses the roads, running along the graded earth gutters either side like small streams. An unexpected benefit of camping amongst so much running water is that there mosquitoes don’t like it. I hardly had a mosquito in camp until I took a walk through some grass and bought about 100 back with me. I won’t be doing that again.

It was nice to get in camp early enough to dry my clothes, refill my bottles with filtered water, cook dinner and make a start on charging devices for the next day. Come evening, I like to be in my tent. After a long day’s paddling, it is good to lie down, and under the protection of good flywire I don’t need to worry about being bitten.

Tomorrow I hope to get off early enough to have a crack at reaching Barham-Koondrook. If the banks remain, this is not essential, but better safe than sorry. Any recommendations on camping grounds in Barham-Koondrook?

Safety gear for a a big leg through flooded forest all the way to Barham - at this stage still an unknown.
At the front of my cockpit you can see my GPS mount and iPhone for panoramic shots. My main camera, a waterproof Nikon AW1 is tucked in behind my life jacket, and a smaller Nikon Coolpix AW130 pocket camera for videos and when weather conditions become too rough for the larger camera is tucked into a pocket on the life jacket. An EPIRB is in the final pocket, in case of emergency. 

 8:51 a.m. At 1648km, just after the National Channel offtake. I can see some shelducks there. All River Red gum forest, 20 kilometres from Torrumbarry Weir. Much lighter conditions than yesterday. Expecting a sunny and cool day, with a light breeze.
At Norris Bend, about 10km upstream from Torrumbarry Weir is a collection of old buses people have set up as holiday homes. These had pretty wet feet at the moment, but otherwise seemed ok.

Entering lock 26 at Torrumbarry Weir, the most upstream of all the locks on the Murray, an attempt to make the Murray a year-round navigable waterway to rival those of Europe and North America. To this day all boats (big and small) have right of passage, so long as levels are safe.

Alan Williams, Lockmaster Torrumbarry Weir. The locks and weirs are run by catchment management authorities. Lockmasters record the names of all boats that pass through, maintain equipment and gardens, as well as adjusting the flow of water along the irrigation channels which flow from their weir pools irrigating farms in the region.
Master's Landing, Gunbower.

Old Cohuna Headworks Channel.

Master's Landing, Gunbower. This used to be the site of one of the wharfs which serviced the early Gunbower settlers. The reconstructed building and holding yards are a tribute to them.

The Cohuna Headworks, a little further downstream, were the site of one of the earliest irrigation works in the area. Long before Torrumbarry Weir was built in the 1920's local farmers used steam engines to pump water from the river and run it via channels to their farms. The sites where these pumps stood were called headworks. Rusting old remains of steam engines all along the river are clues to the presence of similar schemes. 

Leaves form beautiful patterns on the surface of the old Headworks Channel.

Alan Whelan in his yellow tinny. He eventually even skippered it across Lake Alexandrina.

With the river right to the top of the bank, high levels provide the chance to look into the bush on either side. After rain, wildflowers bloom making it all rather pretty at times.

My camp on the natural river levees that in times of flood like this, holds the river higher than its surrounding countryside. Where the river has broken through like this, it flows quickly into the low ground. Unlike the Barmah Millewa Forest, the river upstream of Barham, never covered its levees. Water that left the river to the North flowed into the Wakool System. Water flowing to the South eventually entered above Barham.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 15 Echuca to Torrumbarry Headworks Rd.

Echuca to Murray Marathon Day 4 Finish Torrumbarry 63km.

Time to get going again, but what a windy day it turned out to be. Winds were light in the morning, but as the northerlies changed to westerlies, they increased in strength until I was doing saved and holding tightly onto my paddle, lest it take off on its own.

This is home territory for me. Paddling this stretch brought back many memories, particularly from the Murray Marathon, which I have competed in as an individual, school’s team coach and with inland outriggers. I know I share these memories with many others. The great event takes place in three weeks. Not long now.

Sandhills took a knocking today, as did banks which had lost their ground cover of grasses, or protective trees. It seems that once the surface is broken, erosion happens quickly. Large sections of steep and sandy banks have collapsed, particularly when on the outside of bends, or near to infrastructure like boat ramps and jetties.

I was surprised at the number of new developments which offer these facilities between Will's Bend (30km downstream of Echuca) and Headworks Road. Two story villas, luxury houses and holiday developments have sprouted since I last did this trip in 2012. What this means is that previously quiet stretches are within reach of more boats. With more boats, comes more wash. The erosion that is happening now is not from boats, it is caused by the current and action of wind driven waves, but when the base of the channel is widened it destabilises the bank above it. Water softens the soil and it crumbles. Over multiple floods a stable angle is reached, the more clay the steeper the bank. Some of the erosion is a side effect of river regulation. The Murray all but dried out in summer before dams were built. Summer levels eat into the base of the banks and high rivers cause them to collapse. Boat waves eat further in, they are not alone to blame, but they do accelerate the process. What if these developments had to invest in bank protection measures, so that they had a positive effect on the environment, instead of a negative one?

For all the change that is apparent, the stretch remains beautiful. The wind, though challenging, brought sparkles to the surface of the water and the stretch was peppered with friendly campers and people enjoying the river in all manner of boats.

The collapsing banks, form a sediment toe which is then colonised by river red gums. Perhaps what we are witnessing is the beginning of a new cycle of widening and colonisation. Key to the new form establishing and not becoming runaway erosion is the establishment of trees, and in particular the river red gums - which are what my journey is all about.

Setting off from Echuca boat ramp. The change of boats turned out to be fortuitous. I would have been blown all over the river in the double.

Before the wind, the sun came out. Perfect paddling weather - or so I thought then.
Old pier from paddle steamer days and windmill - a look into a past time, when riverboats were a life-line: the means of getting wool to markets and goods to homesteads. 

Bora Bora Wildlife reserve, just down from the Five Mile reserve.

Erosion adjacent to a new boat ramp. Again and again on this trip i have witnessed how the power of the current on outside bends causes bank collapse. In situations like this one, where a new boat ramp has broken up an otherwise stable bank, the river has something to bite on. The grassed bank to the right of the photo is what the bank looked like before the high river.

The wide river is quiet and peaceful. I have it pretty much to myself.
Erosion up to the high water mark. The overhanging soil will also collapse, eventually leaving a new, stable bank sloping up from the river behind it. Hopefully, over time, new red gum seedlings will be able to establish on the bank toe and face in the coming years.
The roots of these trees show where the bank once was. Without them it is difficult to imagine what the bank once looked like. The age of the trees gives a clue to how long the bank looked like that.

2:41 p.m. Just passing 1668. This was the location of my first camp on my first long journey down the river 2012. It was quite a bit hotter back then. River Red Gum on the fringe on the New South Wales side… with forest on the Victorian side…

Thunderbird lake was built by a farmer for the purpose of racing hydrofoil boats. It was made by building a rectangular levee bank one kilometre long and several hundred metres wide and then pumping it full of water from the river. Races no longer take place and I am unsure what became of the lake, but the sign still remains.
Ruined farmhouse. Typically the first dwelling was single room. Initially a chimney made of flattened kerosine tins would be made. Later other rooms would be added and the chimney replaced with brick. Up until that time, the houses were made purely with materials from the surrounding bush and repurposed supplies. They are a testament to the resourcefulness and resilience of the early settlers.
Whilst the day began peacefully, the wind became progressively stronger, until I found myself punching through 40 to 50 cm high waves and against a wind which gusted regularly to 50 km/hr. It became difficult to take the photographs I depended upon for my research of bank condition. I had to give up on using my good camera and resorted to hurried single handed shots using my pocket sized Nikon AW130. 

Amongst the wind and the waves there were still moments of sunshine and peace. I guess that is one of the benefits of having a river that meanders all over the place - at least some of the time you are out of the wind. These were moments to savour.

...and back into the wind... the nose of my boat would disappear up to my water bottles underwater at times. I was so glad for the work of the designers and manufacturers in building such a solid and reliable boat. 

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 11 Morning Glory to Echuca

Morning Glory to Echuca 41km.

I enjoyed the novelty of having the river so high. Usually the banks are 8 - 10 metres above us. Now the river is almost level with them. In low areas it flowed through the forest. Flood runners were like small rivers themselves, replenishing the billabongs where turtles feed and breed and the black box forests which depend on such occasional drinks to remain healthy.

Coming into Echuca the river moves into a new landscape. Along the higher areas, groups of black box begin to dominate. Because they need less frequent floods than river red gum, black box are often thriving in areas where red gums were suffering, gradually replacing them.

In Echuca, I have had a few days together with family and have swapped over to a smaller boat (paddling the double as a single I was being blown around by the winds too much). Tomorrow, I set off again towards Torrumbarry and the beautiful Gunbower-Perricoota-Koondrook Forest.

Just downstream from the Kanyapella Sandhill. Drinking in the early morning atmosphere. The river is still dark in colour from the organic material forced into it by the Barmah Choke. The green plant on the surface is Azolla (duckweed, a floating fern which grows in shallow, still water) from the same source.

Pulling up in a shallow spot, this egret seemed unfazed by my presence.

A shallow area where I was able to pull up at for a rest.
Sneaking along between the trees is one of the pleasures of paddling on a high river. You can glide almost silently and able to witness wildlife close up.
Early morning birdcall 8:47am. Approaching 1774km
The dark colours in the water are due to organic matter from the forest. At this stage of the river, this is a healthy amount. I have not seen any of the fish kills that I have heard of below the junction with the Edwards-Wakool System.

The banks are usually 8 - 10m high. With the high river, it was like canoeing on a lake.
Azola, otherwise know as duck weed adds colour to the water surface.

Headed for Echuca, this video was taken just after 1736 on a South-Easterly straight, with light rain falling. Water is at, or near the top of the bank and is flowing through flood channels into adjoining billabongs. 10:15am

This home classifies as temporary because it is set on wheels, but i don't think this old truck is going anywhere fast.
Cottonwood caravan park's huge wall was not enough to stop the high water, with staff having to sandbag the entrances to these riverside villas.
Kilometre trees mark distances to the Murray Mouth.

Big Bend, 10km upstream of Echuca by river.

At this height the paddlesteamers found it difficult to pass under the bridge. The captain on the Emmylou edged up to the bridge watching how many centimetres there were between the top of its flag pole and the bottom of the bridge. Too high and they would knock off the funnel.

The river is so high at the moment, that the paddlesteamers, normally so far below the wharf, now are able to see over it. When you see the river like this, it makes sense that the wharf is so high. Before dams were built in the upper reaches of the river, it used to be this high every year.