Wilcannia to Menindee

Wilcannia to Menindee, 310 km, 11 days

Fri 11 Sep 2020, 31 km

Depart Warrawong at 8 am after lugging my gear a few hundred metres  from my room to the river in several trips. Paddle 2 km to get to Wilcannia weir and then spend 50 minutes doing the portage on the right bank. If spending the night at the caravan park just slightly downstream of the weir then exiting on the left bank could be easier and then taking gear up to the caravan park. Launch again at 9:15 am. The current seems to be good and there is an E-NE tail wind. There is the dead stalks of some type of shrubbery that must have grown in the river channel when the water was low. These stalks indicate the shallows. After a few km the river seems to deepen. I see only 2 goats all day. I make good progress till 2 pm where I find an easterly facing beach to camp at 29 km below the weir. There are budgies chattering in the trees nearby but I can't see them. A large flock of sheep come nearby and then leave. Perhaps I have taken their favourite  beach. There's lots of pesky little flies. Weak phone reception at the top of the bank.

Sat 12 Sep 2020, 37 km

Slept well. Relatively warm night, did not zip up the sleeping bag. Launch at 7:45 am. There is a light NE tailwind for most of the day. I paddle and pedal without stopping till I find a great campsite at 66 km at 2 pm. I had seen this spot on the satellite photo on Back Country Navigator last night. Its easterly facing so I have afternoon shade which is welcome with 28 degrees forecast. In terms of distance it is perfect, 37 km, and it also gets me precisely on schedule of 33 km per day to Nelia Gaari Station. Of course on the satellite photo I can't tell how level the beach is for camping but it has a huge area of flat ground. As a bonus the best phone reception is weak but beside my kayak rather than at the top of the bank. A few goats seen today but way fewer than seen above Paroo-Darling NP. There are fewer flies here compared to yesterday - perhaps due to the absence of sheep. No mosquitoes.

Sun 13 Sep 2020, 33 km

Warm night. High cloud and a few drops of rain during the night. Treat some water by filtration after alum treatment, tastes quite good but is a slow process squeezing it through the filter. Depart at 8 am. Pass a pair of wood ducks who have about 15 young ones, usually only see half that number. Parent puts on an injured bird display. See a sow and piglets walking along the top of the bank then later a sow rooting at the waterline and then wallowing. It seems to smell me and then runs up the bank. I see what I think is a ring tree but from what I could see on the reverse side I think it could be a scar tree where the dead wood has been burnt out. The current seems to diminish by the 90 km mark. I wonder if it is backed up this far by the Menindee Lakes. Campsites with flat ground near the water are few and far between but at 99 km on the left bank there is a lower ledge with plenty of flat ground and a gentle slope at the waterline. I arrive at 1:30 pm. I think TRK camped here also. There is vehicle access here but not recent. No phone reception and the flies are bad on a warm sunny afternoon. Golden whistler in the tree. I wash my clothes and find bird shit on my food dry bag and two smaller bags. These get a wash. Shelter in the tent from the flies and read and drink coffee. No campfire, too many flies and too warm. Use gas stove to make dinner. I've just about finished the second cannister for the trip of nearly 5 weeks and neither was completely full.

Mon 14 Sep 2020, 37 km

Southerly wind comes up during the night. Warm night. Take some sunrise photos. Depart at 7:30 am. Paddle for the first hour as the wind is mostly a crosswind. See a kangaroo and sow with piglets. Good campsites are limited. Most of the sandy beaches would be underwater. I have heard that Lake Wetherell has water but not the main Menindee Lake. I suppose they want to minimise evaporation by have water in as few of the lakes as possible. Total Menindee storage apparently is about 30%. At 2:15 pm I arrive at the TRK camp at 136 km. They have carved TRK into the tree. As I arrive I check phone reception and find it is weak at the top of the bank. I get a text message from Bill and I tell him I'm at their camp and will send a photo of their carving. I camp close to the water on sloping ground as higher up there were ants and some prickles. There is a dead goat in the water but just downwind of my camp. It's quite windy but not hot which is just as well because I get late afternoon sun. Elbow is feeling a bit sore. Hopefully after Menindee it will be ok paddling the Kakadu which is lighter and more streamlined than the Hobie. I may also need to reduce my daily distances to nurse it along.

Tues 15 Sep 2020, 36 km

Didn't sleep well because tent is on too much of a slope. Cool night and only light winds in the morning. Launch at 7:40 am. See two kangaroos. The water is getting closer to the tops of the banks. The high water mark from earlier in the year is now only about 1 metre above water level compared to several metres above Wilcannia. I stop at 169 km where TRK camped but didn't like it and it was only 12:30 pm. At 1:15 pm I found a beautiful camp at 172 km on a bend on the left bank about 2 km beyond Tintinology Station. It's not too difficult getting out of the kayak and there is plenty of flat ground up on the bank. There are big old trees to provide shade whilst it being easy to find a spot clear of overhead branches. There is a variety of bird life including a grey shrike thrush singing beautifully. There is weak mobile reception at the southern end of the camp. A great spot to spend an afternoon in the mid 20s with a light breeze. I read and have an afternoon nap. Not too many flies but once in the tent I can hear mosquitoes buzzing outside. The 36 km for the day is probably more like 34 km because some of the 5 km sections on the map seemed rather short. I now have done 1022 km in 5 weeks and today finished my second gas cannister.

Wed 16 Sep 2020, 26 km

Slower packup this morning as I don't want to get to Nelia Gaari too early. Depart at 8:15 am. Light winds but 31 degrees forecast. See a ring tree that I think is a natural graft but then I see that there is a canoe scar on it and that close by there is another canoe tree. Further on I see a dead fallen burnt out canoe tree on the left bank and on the right bank is another canoe tree. About 10 km from Nelia I see fishermen in three boats, these being the first humans I've see since Wilcannia 6 days ago. There is a shortcut where there is a loop in the river that passes Weiteringa Station saving 3 km. Get to Nelia Gaari at 1 pm (198 km mark). Easy landing, no one at the homestead so unpack kayak and wait at the picnic table by the water. It appears that there's no phone reception which isn't what the Telstra coverage maps suggest. Greg and Lily come home soon afterwards and show me the Overseers Cottage which has 4 bedrooms and all facilities for $80 per night, great value. Find phone reception at the yards up the road -10 minute walk away.

Thu 17 Sep, Rest day, Nelia Gaari Station

Sorted food. Have about 5 days of excess food in addition to the 5 days emergency food and 4 days food to get to Menindee. Go for a drive with Steve and Bob(?) to look at the new yards and accommodation for workers being built about 10 km north of the river. Two thirds of the farm was sold off two years ago and on the remaining 19000 hectares they will farm dorper sheep rather than merinos. Dorpers are for meat and don't require shearing or crutching but more robust fencing is required. Saw some Sturt Desert Peas in the sandy country. Go with Lily for the rounds of the campsites as she empties bins and cleans showers and toilets. Nice campsites along the river amongst the redgums. Lily explained that in the 5 weeks from early June since Covid lock down was lifted they had 500 campers which is equal to the total for a normal year. Invited for BBQ with Greg and Lily and Woody and meet Hayley and her mother Maree. Hayley runs the Neli Gaari Facebook page and will put up a post about me. In a few weeks they plan to travel down the river in tinnie from Wilcannia to Nelia Gaari. I tell them I will send GPS coordinates for campsites along the way.

Fri 18 Sep 2020, 47 km

Light rain in the early morning gone by the time I get up. Depart at 7:45 am. Light winds and light rain starts to fall but it's too warm and humid to put on raincoat. See ring tree with 2-3 rings and later another with two rings. Also see a number of scar trees. Since the forecast is for windy (up to 55 kph) and stormy weather tomorrow I plan to go as far as I can today and find a good camp with light tree cover so that I can have another rest day. I inspect a spot at 150 km. It's got a good landing and open area nearby but the dark grey soil looks like it will turn to thick sticky mud with a bit of rain. There is no grass or leaves on the surface. I eventually find a good spot on the left bank at 152 km at 4:20 pm. That's  54 km via map distances but only 47 km paddling distance because there were two shortcuts during the day. That leaves me with 30 km to get to the regulator on Sunday. The soil here is more like fine sand of lighter colour, being on the outside of the bend.  I find that a few hundred metres up the slope to the east I can get phone reception good enough to call Christine and to bring up the forecast on my phone. Light rain starts at 7:15 pm not long after I get into the tent.

Sat 19 Sep 2020, rest day due to bad weather 

Warm, windy night. Light rain starts about 6 am but the wind is not too strong. Rain stops and I go up the hill for phone reception. Bit of light rain during the morning then some sun around midday. Strong winds pick up and by 1pm there is thunder and some heavy rain that does not last too long. It is enough to cause a bit of brief run-off on the ground. Rain continues till about 5:30 pm and rapidly clears so I go up the hill and get some beautiful sunset photos. Also see turtle shell about 40 cm long. Broken Hill has had 32 mm, Nelia Gaari  42 mm and Wilcannia 15 mm of rain. I estimate closer to 20-30 mm here. That's good because over the last week I've noticed that the soil is very dry. I also notice that local run-off seems to have given a boost to the flow in the river i.e. it is noticeable now. At about 11:30 pm several grunting piglets come towards the tent. I try to scare them off but they just  continue past. At 1 am they return but don't come so close.

Sun 20 Sep 2020, 37 km

Beautiful, clear morning. Take photos of sunrise. Get back spasm whilst loading the kayak but it eases and I can continue. Depart at 7:40 am. Paddle for 13 km. Find that the topo map is not correct. Lake Wetherell is basically confined to the river channel which winds about. It probably adds 7 km to the distance between 265 km and the regulator at 282 km i.e. 24 km compared to 17 km on the map. Probably paddled 37 km today which makes up for the shortcut taken two days ago. Camp at 2:40 pm close to the regulator on the left bank near the toilets. There is a roped off area that likes like it once was a camping ground right next to the regulator. Nice sunset.

Mon 21 Sep 2020, 26 km

Strong SW wind gusts from 3:30 am till about 6 am as a front passes through. Nice sunrise with a bit of cloud. Easy portage over smooth dirt road and easy launch below regulator. Start paddling at 8:10 am. Light headwind. Not many convenient landings or campsites down to Menindee. River seems to be under the influence of Weir 32 downstream of Menindee. On approach to Menindee I see a number of cottages that look like holiday homes (for Broken Hill people?). Arrive at the boat ramp at 12:40 pm with Kevin waiting. Pack up and have lunch at Maidens Hotel. Not much social distancing but there is sanitiser and a sign-in sheet. Drive to Broken Hill and stay in luxurious Tarrawingee Holiday Units.

Tues,Wed 22-23 Sep 2020, rest days in Broken Hill

Sort gear, go to Desert Sculptures for sunset. Go to Siverton and nearby Reservoir.