Macquarie Marshes Safari
8-10 April 2021
Trip Leader: BRON POWELL
Text and Images BRON POWELL
Sometimes you just have to seize the opportunity when the planets align.
It was a rare and exciting opportunity to have:
1. A great crew already on their way out to Western New South Wales—just finishing part one of the canoe adventures on the Upper Macquarie;
2. A favourable weather forecast;
3. A river system with a water level just peaking from torrential rains two weeks prior—usually the Marshes are only paddleable in spring with an environmental release from Burrendong Dam;
4. Local knowledge and expertise, enabling us to secure an access permit—the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve is not accessible to the general public.|
Eight of us started off in Dubbo for a unique and fun adventure. With the benefit of a good BBQ food, no shortage of insect repellent, some custom maps and a good sense of adventure, we overnighted at the bustling—well, bustling with mosquitoes at least—metropolis of Warren and then headed yonder.
The Macquarie Marshes are not open to the public—it’s all either private property or Nature Reserve, so there are no car parks, signage or campgrounds. The Nature Reserve is set aside for conservation and scientific purposes, not recreation.
With this mind, our adventures consisted of: navigating under bridges, over fences, around fallen trees and through the marshes; keeping an eager eye out for wildlife—with various birds, frogs, emus and snakes—and setting up base camp on a constructed channel.
After paddling for 2-3 hours solid with the flow—being a little curious as to the trip back home, upstream!—we made it to our dedicated base-camp location, as defined in our permit as the only place to camp and free of the flood zone.
Day two started with a fab sunrise, the likes of which you can only really find in a remote area. We helped Deb C wash out her kayak, having survived/endured Day 1 in a rat-stinking cockpit—the kayak was borrowed in Dubbo and was evidently a victim of the current mouse plague.
We spent the day exploring, eating and maybe a cheeky nap before heading out for an afternoon of exploring returning on dusk. Some amazing swans and other birdlife treated us to a visual feast. We made it to the North Marsh reedbed—the biggest reedbed in New South Wales—and weaved our way through channels in the phragmites. The weather was warm enough for a swim, albeit risking leeches, but was definitely worth it.
It turned out that we were lucky with the mosquitoes—the locals had definitely warned us to be prepared for being pretty much transported in our sleep. We’re thinking that with the abundance of freshwater, just peaking, there wasn’t much stagnant water that led to mosquito breeding… yet. Give it a week or so and it might be officially feral.
The frogs put on a good show for us, calling all night and hopping around our campsite. And where there’s frogs there’s snakes feasting on them—so they also hung around our campsite. Deb saw a snake which she described as having a “white head and grey body”, so when she asked what type of snake it was, Bron didn’t know, but tried to string everyone along, saying “ah, that would be the rare white-headed marsh snake”, of which no one was too convinced… until…. later we find out that it was a pale-headed snake, never seen before in the Marshes, and is a threatened species! The Ranger is now going to go and camp where we camped and try and find one.
On the final day, we made better time than expected—with a couple of hours solid paddling getting us back upstream and back to the parked cars.
It’s a 90 minute trip on the open road back into town. Back at the Window on the Wetlands centre in Warren), it was time for a well deserved feast—complete with ‘Avogado’ and Amelia’s favourite, fairy bread (bread with hundreds and thousands).
Heading home, there was a polar blast coming up from the south. In hindsight, can definitely see why the Walker family decided to make a late night dash for home— probably a good move. Kevin, Deb and Simon made an early dash for a coffee and brekkie in Bathurst before cruising back to Sydney to mildly defrost.
A little weary in some ways, totally refreshed in others—everybody was looking forward to future adventures. Thanks everybody for a great time. As is so often the case, it’s really the people that help make the trip truly memorable, safe and enjoyable. It’s part of the rich diversity of paddling experiences that can really be enjoyed in the Club.
Some memories from the trip:
“I liked when I paddled with Kevin because he was really good at paddling.” Amelia Walker (7) …. (move over, Robert and Cathryn!… )
“I’ll never forget when the swan flew into the tree, it was noisy and a little concerning. I loved the scenery of all the birds flying off the water and identifying plants and in some cases eating them with Bron.” Elizabeth Walker (11)
About the Macquarie Marshes
The Macquarie Marshes is one of the largest remaining inland semi-permanent wetlands in south-eastern Australia. It includes extensive areas of Phragmites reeds, River Red Gum woodlands and mixed marsh floodplains, and was listed as a Ramsar wetland of international importance in 1986.
It’s an area that is now recovering after a challenging few years—with droughts and then fires affecting the area, but now starting to brim with life.
On a practical level, it’s around eight hours drive from Sydney—so a fair way. At the same time, it offers a unique experience. As it is not open to the general public, and being a remote experience without any passers-by, you do need to be self-sufficient with food, water and emergency communications.
The river level we enjoyed—perfect timing, being in the nature reserve for the peak flow on 8-10 April, meaning the water spread out over the land, forming beautiful wetlands and meaning we could paddle to some amazing areas.