Macquarie Marshes Safari
17-20 November 2022
By JENNY SALEEBA, BRON POWELL and KEVIN SONGBERG
Five keen Club paddlers (Bron, Kevin, Liz, Kelvin and Jenny) headed out to the Macquarie Marshes wetlands for a multi-day adventure.
By late in the day on 17 November, we had arrived at the remote accommodation of Willie Retreat in the Macquarie Marshes for a three day stay. Travel times of up to eight hours had been clocked up by some drivers—the Marshes are a long way from Sydney! The last stretch included about six sections of flooded road. Driving through flooded roads was a new experience for me, but our borrowed ute and Bron and Kevin’s guidance—they had driven through it a few times before—enabled us to complete the journey in safety.
Bron had done an amazing job organising the trip from her extensive knowledge and contacts, and by securing permissions to paddle on private land and in the National Parks and Wildlife Service Nature Reserve. Furthermore, extensive reconnaissance and organisation by Bron and Kevin meant that they could guide Liz, Kelvin and myself to a variety of landscapes within the Marshes in boats better suited for the trip. The high water levels from floods also meant that we had access to areas not normally able to be paddled. This was a truly unique opportunity trip.
Our first paddle included passing under part of a colony of nesting birds and through a large variety of Marshes aquatic vegetation zones. Our second paddle was through slightly different vegetation right up to the face of the infamous northern reed bed which is impossible to paddle through. Our final paddle was though a different open expanse of Marshes then into open water to quietly observe—at an appropriate distance—a huge colony of nesting birds of many species, with even more flying around.
The impact of experiencing so many birds and such a variety of abundant plant life and aquatic life is hard to describe. It was peaceful and serene, and gave a feeling of awe, but it was also noisy in a whole new nice way, with birds calling over the top of all the other birds, which spiralled into a cacophony of sound. To top off the experiences we also managed to fit in a walk at Burrima boardwalk with a view over some of the northern reed bed plus a few snake encounters. All up a richly rewarding variety of paddles, vegetation and birds.
At the second paddle site there was a very small leafed, beautifully green-coloured plant called duckweed. At times there was so much duckweed on the surface of the water that every time we raised our paddles out of the water a clod of duckweed would land on our boats or bodies with a soft thud. It’s a wonder that the Marshes can provide such a special variety of lifeforms. Once covered in duckweed we felt that we were much closer to being part of the delicate ecosystem.
At one stage I saw what I thought was a piece of litter floating near my boat. I was shocked because it was so surprising to see an entire plastic bag at such a remote location. I scooped it up and was startled to see a phone inside. After catching up to the other paddlers Kelvin realised that the dry bag holding his phone had accidentally slipped from his neck a few minutes earlier. It was certainly very lucky that I had closely followed his trail, plus a solid lesson to make sure gear is securely fastened.
Another remarkable sight was seeing the remnants of a fantastical yabby feast. As the floodwaters had receded the abundant yabbies must have been easy for birds to spot because around the drying ponds at the edge of the marshes were the scattered claws of hundreds of yabbies. Kelvin tried to pick up one of the live yabbies but the yabby had other thoughts—it was Yabby 1, Kelvin 0.
While on the subject of wildlife, our experience with the Mega Leech needs to be told. At this point in the trip none of us had sighted a leech, but after Liz had sponged out her boat at the end of a paddle, what looked like a trail of soil had been left behind. I spotted it and was about to point it out when it began to wriggle ominously. Thinking it was a baby snake I shouted to Bron and Liz to come and see. As we watched in awe it contracted from its original 12 cm length down into a leech shape. Liz and I had never seen anything like it before. The moniker Mega Leech swiftly came to our lips but the thought of how much blood that thing could drink could not be spoken. Mega Leech was carefully lifted out of the boat and put back into its natural habitat.
Back at Willie Retreat we enjoyed the comfort of having roofed living space that included a kitchen and showers. Over dinner Bron described different seasons at the Marshes. Liz and Kelvin shared their experiences of pack rafting. Kevin and I shared appreciation of the identical double walled stainless steel mugs that we had both recently bought. We all ate lots of cherries that had been bought from a farm stall during the drive up.
The abundance and variety of life was remarkable in the Marshes. It was truly a great privilege to be able to experience and paddle in such a gem of a place at such a unique time and with permissions. We can’t thank Bron enough for sharing it with all of us.