Barham-Swan Hill (First Attempt 16-19 March 2003)
The plan for this trip was to paddle from Barham-Swan Hill over three days and then return to Barham and to explore the Gunbower Creek over two days between Cohuna and Koondrook. It took 8 hours and 40 minutes to drive from Canberra to Barham. I arrived at 3:10 pm. The forecast was for northerly winds strengthening over the next few days and temperatures getting into the mid thirties. Instead of doing the car shuffle on the Sunday morning and launching at lunch time I decided that I would spend the next couple of hot days exploring the Gunbower Creek and do the car shuffle on the Tuesday and launch on the Wednesday.
On the Tuesday morning I drove to Swan Hill and caught the bus back to Kerang ($7.10) and the Taxi to Barham ($40.00). At about lunch time the northerly winds were fairly strong and I decided to paddle up the river in order to see how difficult the winds would make paddling. I paddled up to the 1530 km mark and then back down to the Caravan Park. It took 1 hour to paddle the 6 km upstream and just over 40 minutes to paddle downstream (i.e. 8.5 km/hr). This meant that the current assistance is about 1.25 km/hr. The northerly winds did not significantly effect my progress. For the last couple of days the northerly winds did not pick up until lunchtime or early afternoon and the hottest part of the day was late afternoon. I then realised that I should have started paddling down to Swan Hill on the Sunday morning and retrieved the car on my return. By now I knew that the change due on Wednesday was going to produce several days of fairly strong SW winds.
On Tuesday night the northerly winds continued all night with small branches coming off the trees. I decided that it would be too windy to paddle in these conditions and because the forecast for the following days was not too good I decided to retrieve my car and return to Canberra. I caught the bus from Barham to Cohuna and then another bus an hour later to Swan Hill. It was 12:00 noon by the time I left Barham. By now dust storms had developed and I was glad not to be paddling on the river. I arrived home at 9:00 pm.
Some lessons from this experience:
- Do not delay launching if hot weather forecast. The winds will not pick up until lunch time and the hottest part of the day is late in the day. Most of the paddling can be done between 7 am (reasonable light for launching) and lunch time.
- Don’t waste time doing the car shuffle at the start if the weather is fine. It is much better to use that time for paddling down the river and spending an extra day (if it comes to that) retrieving the car in bad weather than to end the last day with difficult paddling conditions.
- V/Line buses are generally empty, can be booked over the phone and paid for at the bus stop or to the driver. Therefore don’t let the bus timetable effect the decision as when to launch.
- Taxis are an option to get from small towns to the larger towns if the bus does not stop at the small town. This provides extra options for changing plans due to injury etc. and provides for access to the more frequent bus services through the larger towns
Barham-Swan Hill (Second Attempt 6-7 March 2005, 114 km)
I intended to paddle this 114 km section over 3 days. However, two-thirds of the way through the first day I realized that I could do it in two days. I left Canberra early on the Saturday morning 5 March, left my gear at the BarhamCaravan Park, drove to Swan Hill Riverside Caravan park, left my car there and caught the 4:35 pm bus to Kerang and then taxi to Barham. The river heights were 1.88 m at Barham and 1.00 m at Swan Hill.
Sunday 6 March 2005
I woke up to a cold morning (6 degrees), packed and launched at 8:40 am. It was a sunny day with a light SW breeze. I had a rest at 1513 km and then lunch at 1501 km at midday. I had further breaks at 1489 km (where the Little Murray rejoins the Murray) and at 1480 km where on the Victorian side there was a memorial stone to a 21 year old who had died. There was no phone reception at these two stops. At about the 1485 km mark I had paddled in total about 1200 km on the Murray (including Swan Hill-Robinvale) which is about half the length of the Murray from Bringenbrong Bridge. The banks were generally muddy after the recent high water levels (1.5 m higher than at present) due to floods in Victoria a month earlier. At 4:40 pm I found a nice sandy beach at 1471 km on the NSW side at which I decided to camp. This made for 53 km in 8 hours but I was left with two large blisters. One of these I burst collecting firewood and the other burst as I swatted a mozzie. I made a note in my notebook to bring work gloves next time for collecting wood. A big flock of ibis’ arrived to roost in the nearby trees. I went to bed at 8:30 pm. Fifteen minutes later a motor boat went past in the darkness without any lights at all – very dangerous in the snaggy river. It was still 17 degrees after a maximum of 22 degrees. Tomorrow is forecast to be 24 degrees.
Monday 7 March 2005
It was another cool morning with a minimum of 9 degrees. I put tape and a bandaid on my blisters. I had breakfast in my tent then packed up and launched at 7:30 am. I paddled up until the Marraboor junction at 1462 km. I continued until 1452 km where I had morning tea at 10:10 am. Here there is a nice bend in the river with bubbles shining in the sunlight and drifting downstream with the current. I saw a large flock of pacific herons and the occasional spoonbill. At midday I have lunch on a nice sandy beach at 1442km. Soon after at about 1440 km I saw two deer at the waters edge. I even managed to take some photos before they wandered off into the bush. This is after spotting a wild pig on the bank and a large goanna swimming across the river earlier in the trip. The river was narrower and there seemed to be more sandy beaches than previously. I stopped again at 1430 km and 1418 km averaging 8 km/hr. There was still no sign that a major town is just downstream. At 1414 km I passed the Murray Downs Estate where there are big new houses on the bank. I arrived at Swan Hill at 4:50 pm which makes for 61km in 9 hours and 20 minutes. This is the most I have paddled in a day. I had three new blisters all of which burst while I am transferring my gear to the car.