Murrumbidgee River Canoe Safari
Wagga Wagga to Narrandera
21-28 January 2023
Trip Leader: PETER CALEY
Trip report and photos from the crew of 18
This Murrumbidgee trip traverses Wiradjuri Land. The Wiradjuri are people of the three rivers: the Wambool—now known as the Macquarie River, the Kalari—the Lachlan River and the Murrumbidjeri—the Murrumbidgee River. The Wiradjuri suffered dispossession and violence along the Murrumbidgee as a result of colonial expansion in the nineteenth century. We pay our respect to Aboriginal people of this region and acknowledge the impact of hostilities on Wiradjuri Country and people.
We met up at Wagga Wagga for our first night and introductions. A torrential downpour cleared out the rain for the rest of the week and the next morning 18 of us—aged between 9 and 81 including 4 parent-offspring pairs!—in eight double canoes and two singles (one unplanned …) set off on our Murrumbidgee adventure through Wiradjuri Country.
The trip from Wagga Wagga to Narrandera covered 200km of winding river and river red gum over five and a half days of paddling in mostly warm and dry conditions with only occasional head winds.
Day One of paddling was about 40 kilometres downriver away from BIG4 and the small grey-headed flying fox colony adjacent to the boat ramp and campground. For those not used to canoeing, the day proved a challenge despite the assistance from the river. We averaged around 7-8 km/hour when paddling—5 km/hour including stops. The flow of the river gave us about 2-3 km/hour assistance most days.
The rules of the trip from day one were simple:
- All canoes to carry two rockmelons each
- Compulsory swim stop at all and any good swimming spots (or as it turned out if there was coffee and donuts as on Wagga Beach only minutes after we started!)
- Stop for coffee and rockmelon at 10.30am
- Lunch at good swimming spot from 12.30pm and no later than 1 pm
- Afternoon tea and more rockmelon around 3.30pm
- Watch out for Murrumbidgee crocodiles* while paddling
With stops for the night only at good campsites which met the following criteria:
- Sandy beach for swimming
- Good camping area away from potential tree fall
- Pleasant outlook with shade from afternoon sun
- Campsite to be inspected and approved by Steve—official camp site selector and card game scorer
And so the rhythm of the week was established.
Day Two started with a raucous dawn fly-by from a large flock of little corellas. The corellas were one of 55 bird species recorded on the paddle including sulphur crested cockatoos, kookaburras, Pacific black ducks, dollar birds, yellow billed spoonbills, sacred kingfishers, kites and eagles.
Day Two was another longish paddle of about 43km meandering past the sculptural twisted red gums, stopping for cooling dips and swims and ensuring we were all well-caffeinated and fed—shout out to Mel’s on- water humbug deliveries. Highlights for Day Two include a platypus sighting, more continuous red gum forest, Cath and Protty tracking straighter—with Cath now in the rear—dragonflies galore, and a juvenile nankeen night heron narrowly escaping a series of attacks by a peregrine falcon.
Murray endured another day solo without complaint. The sandy beaches disappeared for some reason (too much water?) and camp was made on a steep and muddy bank with plenty of trees for berthing—don’t paddle the Bidgee if you can’t handle some mud.
Day Three covered a similar distance. Highlights included an impromptu swim to celebrate completing 100km, Cath and Protty experiencing some excitement from a lurking Bidgee Croc. Team “Wear and Tear”—Steve and Simon Longworth—swapped positions, and this proved crucial in keeping the cardmaster in shape. We found a campsite among picturesque mature redgum “parkland” after our first option was taken over by some local pigs! We lost MRQ^ Shirl down the sandbank late at night mid-sentence as a result of one of the expensive chairs with no effective sand feet…
Day Four involved the only portage on the trip—at Berembed Weir we had to haul the canoes and gear up a short and steep bit of river bank and then carry everything about 50m around the weir. The sandbar downstream from the weir was an intended campsite but was really hot and the shaded section quite busy—trip Leader Peter didn’t realise there was road access to the southern bank of the weir… whoops. Once we’d moved all the gear and cooled off in the weir we decided to paddle on to look for a better (sans Australia Day revellers) sandy camp spot for the night.
The first bend delivered and we were rewarded with another fabulous night sky. Offwater activities included the game of “Up and Down the River— a card game of winning while losing and losing while winning. Taken quite seriously by participants with written records diligently kept for each game the rules remained obscure to some! By now, everyone with expensive lightweight chairs had gone A-over-T on the sand. Dave caught a Murray cod, much to his delight—undersize so released. “Bidgee Madness” started to touch a few, and a process of extracting cow teeth from a skull ensued, with one participant exclaiming “This is the best thing I have ever done in my whole life.” The task also revealed that within the float kit was a set of multigrips.
A Kookaburra chorus as per usual starting around 0500. The beginning of the Andy Murray canoe ascendancy with Cath now joining Dean in embracing the solo option. Lots of swims. Met the manager of a large hazelnut plantation supplying for Ferrero Rocher. He thought what we were doing was brilliant. The final and most serious game of Up and Down the River occurred, including a very fast current-assisted “Down” section. Cathryn and Simon McClusky were joint winners, with the card master (Longy) mixing up his spades and clubs. A grunting koala was heard in the night. The first camp with a good view of the southern sky, with Rob again providing astral navigation and Arena bringing out the watercolours. There were spotted marsh frogs hopping everywhere—including over peoples’ tents and amongst equipment—and lots of mozzies up the bank among the redgums, but very few down on the sandy beach. Those in the combined cooking enjoyed pasta with bolognese sauce, with matched Anderson’s wines cooled down to “room” temperature in the river. The use of dry ice in eskies was declared a success, with drinks still cold six days after departure.
From early morning a rhythmic drumming noise announced the “gas gun” deterrent for corellas and cockatoos from the hazelnut trees which for most part were hidden behind the narrow band of river red gums which lined the shore as we paddled each day. It was a half-day paddle into Narrandera and then home. A highlight of Day Six was paddling through the koala sanctuary in Murrumbidgee Valley Nature Reserve and stopping to take a closer look at a koala sighted from the canoes—and another found nearby.
We hit the Narrandera boat ramp as the Garmin ticked over to 199.5km for the trip. With the temperature hitting 40degC it was good to finish. A great trip with a great bunch of paddlers. For Simon McClusky, Shirly, Peter and Polly it was the completion of the final section of the Murrumbidgee River below Gundagai—an achievement ten years in the making.
Thanks to trip leader Peter for fabulous logistics, planning and knowledge, the drivers who managed the car shuffle and carried boats and people, the cooks who carried the gear, built the fires and prepared the nightly meals, the card and camp master, the jokers, the artist, the nurses, the animal dentists, the astrologer, and the generous sharers of local knowledge and canoeing tips from the more experienced members of the crew.
Useful trip details
Distance: 199.5 km
Speed: About 7 km/h (5 km/h including stops)
Flow: About 16,000 ML/day downstream from Wagga Wagga then about 12,000 ML/day downstream of Beremebed Weir—difference diverted in canal towards Griffith as part of Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme
Car storage: Big4 Caravan Park at Wagga Wagga (also launch point—very convenient). Narrandera Caravan Park at finish (1.5 km from pull-out at the Narrandera boat ramp)
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5||Day 6||Totals|
|Start Location||Wagga Big4 Beach||Kohlhagens Beach||“Missing Beach”||“Pigs Beach”||“Below Weir Beach”||“Mozzie Beach”|
|Moving Time (hh:mm)||5:59||6:21||6:01||3:53||4:20||2:35||29:09|
|Average Moving Speed (km/h)||6.7|
|Wagga Big4 Beach||S35.118594, E147.389385||///promising.admittedly.clincher||Start|
|Donuts & Coffee||S35.105229, E147.376548||///bookmark.necklines.allegation||0:19|
|Morning Tea||S35.096902, E147.340247||///ranking.winner.soulful||0:33|
|Afternoon Tea||S35.099878, E147.246588||///importantly.sofa.numerical||0:15|
|Kohlhagens Beach||S35.082571, E147.192442||///lawnmower.probed.rheumatoid||Overnight|
|Morning Tea||S35.065567, E147.138780||///goalkeeper.teaspoons.sportswear||0:26|
|Afternoon Tea||S35.017626, E147.050125||///blending.mansion.summertime||0:10|
|“Missing Beach”||S35.014978, E147.019671||///marrow.swats.marsh||Overnight|
|Morning Tea||S35.006863, E146.989721||///desires.stubborn.techy||0:31|
|Afternoon Tea||S34.980848, E146.927843||///filling.origin.evens||0:10|
|Short Stop||S34.968586, E146.910927||///thorny.helpfully.numbs||0:06|
|“Pigs Beach”||S34.945751, E146.926945||///turnaround.roadway.multilevel||Overnight|
|Morning Tea||S34.900267, E146.881271||///coding.regulator.roared||0:38|
|“Below Weir Beach”||S34.872033, E146.829915||///alright.binding.dangers||Overnight|
|Morning Tea||S34.844259, E146.787001||///relieves.hooked.unfiltered||0:46|
|“Mozzie Beach”||S34.803348, E146.653190||///overheated.sickle.grouping||Overnight|
|Morning Tea||S34.786377, E146.590918||///costumed.always.eldest||0:34|
|Narrandera Boat Ramp||S34.754794, E146.551266||///indications.sunscreens.blackouts||End|
*Murrumbidgee or ‘bidgee crocs are aggressive semi- submerged tree logs which attack canoeists without provocation.
^Murrumbidgee River Queen