Sping Safari – Victoria

by Rick Fitzgerald

5-12 October

This year’s Safari was very successful in terms of numbers attending and finding good levels to paddle on Snowy Creek, the Mitta Mitta and the Mitchell in Victoria, due to the snowmelt from the Victorian alps and some cold fronts that had come through in the weeks before the trip. By Tuesday our group had swelled to 21 with 6 paddlers joining us from the Snowy Race.

We met at the Walnuts on a clear Sat evening 5th October and paddled the section on Snowy Creek on Sunday morning in good weather from Granite Flat to Mitta Mitta township, about 3 hours’ paddle. This is a delightful little section with many races and grade 1-2 rapids, which provided an excellent warm-up for the Mitta. One of the advantages of paddling this section is that it finishes behind the Mitta pub, where we enjoyed some refreshments on finishing.

That afternoon we travelled to Joker’s campsite on the Mitta where we found we almost had it to ourselves. An impromptu birthday celebration for Katie was held with cake and bubbly at dinner. On Monday morning we did the upstream section from the Bridge at the Big River campsite down to Joker’s, an easy paddle on grade 1-2 water. In the afternoon we paddled from Joker’s campsite to Bundara junction,  a section of grade 1-2 rapids and one long grade 3, the Pinball Rapid, which we inspected from the cliffs on the right before paddling it. This provided some thrills and spills!

Preparing to launch at Bundarra.  Photo by Mercy.

John on Pinball Rapid.  Photo by Mercy.

Simon takes on Pinball Rapid.  Photo by Bron Powell.

Tuesday was the main section of whitewater on the Mitta – from Bundara junction to Hinnomunjie Bridge, about 16 kms taking from about 10am to 3.30pm, with a big fire at lunch to counter the cool cloudy conditions. Fortunately there was no real rain. This section has many grade 2s and six grade 3 rapids, with names such as the “Graveyard,  Dislocation, Big Stopper, the Waterfall, the Gobbler..” – names which heighten apprehension but are really not too difficult at all. Apart from a few swims, we all reached Hinnomunjie unscathed. 

Wednesday dawned sunny- the best weather of the week- and ten of us paddled the section to Hinnomunjie again, the rest opting to do either the top section again or do do some walking up high on the closed alpine road to Falls Creek. Unfortunately Paul before lunch came to grief on a long series of stoppers and waves and banged his dead quite severely on a large rock when he went to roll. He bravely continued on until the lunch spot but decided to walk out on reaching it. Again we were lucky to have Doctor Brian on hand to provide initial aid and an assessment. The majority of the group went with Paul up the steep hillside to the road – a 30 min walk- with young guns Luke and Ben powering up the hill carrying Paul’s and John’s kayaks. John stayed with Paul on the side of the road waiting for a passing car, while the rest of the group went back downhill to resume the paddle. Luckily, there was a passing Council worker who had a two-way radio who called Omeo hospital for an ambulance. 

Paul was further assisted by the paramedics and then driven to Bairnsdale Hospital – about 2 hours further south for scans, while the council worker drove John  and the kayaks back to Joker’s. The afternoon paddle to Hinnomunjie Bridge was very enjoyable and incident free.

That night we undertook what has become a ritual on this trip by having dinner at the Blue Duck pub, about a 10 minute drive from the campsite on the banks of the Cobungra, where Brian called Bairnsdale hospital to check on Paul. He had had his scans but the results weren’t in, but he otherwise was fine, except for a very sore neck. He would be staying in hospital overnight. 

Paddlers at the Blue Duck Inn. 

Fortunately ten of us we were heading to Bairnsdale on Thursday on the way to paddle the Mitchell on Friday. Others decided to go back to the Snowy, head home or go camping out on the Barry Way on the Snowy. Caroline drove Paul’s vehicle with all his gear to the hospital where we collected Paul at lunch – his scans were all clear. He was very glad to see us and we enjoyed a happy lunch together in a nice cafe. Paul headed home to Canberra afterwards and the rest of us drove to the Echo Bend camping ground near the Den of Nargun on the Mitchell.

We decided on Friday to paddle the 18 km section from Angusvale to the Den of Nargun rather than try to do the whole section (another 12 km) down to Final Fling rapid. There is one big downside to this as pulling out at the Den of Nargun involves a long walkout up the steep hillside to the camping ground, about 40mins. Nevertheless we opted for this as we probably wouldn’t have finished in the light if we had of done the long section, as we didn’t start until after 10am.

This section of the Mitchell is through the beautiful Mitchell River National Park with birdsong the whole way.  There are long flat sections interspersed with grade 1-2 races every now and then and only two bigger rapids of note.The first is the Slalom rapid, not long after the start, a grade 2 at this lower level and the main rapid is the Amphitheatre rapid, a long two-stage grade 3 on entering this impressive curved section of steep cliffs. This provided some excitement for the group before lunch was had downstream at one of the few large campsites by the river. Young Max came to the forefront again in getting a huge fire going to have lunch by. From there it was only about 2 hours to the finish at the Den of Nargun, a site steeped in Aboriginal mythology. To the trip leader’s surprise there were very few complaints about the walkout. Oh well, it was worth doing once. The group enjoyed another big fire after dinner, with Max in charge, our final night together.

Thanks so much to David and Max for collecting the firewood during the week and for the big fires we enjoyed at night and the all regulars on the Safari and new chums who enjoyed a very good week away both on the river and around the campfires. It will be on again next year! 

I must say that in all the Victorian Safaris I have done since 1982 it is only in the last couple of years that we have had injuries. We have been very fortunate over the years, and blessed to have had GP Brian with us to attend to those recent ones. I hope that hasn’t put anyone off from considering coming next year! It is some of the best kayaking, camping and scenery that Victoria offers.

Descending Waterfall Rapid.  Photo by Bron Powell.

Rick and his billy – a Spring Safari traditiion. Photo by Bron Powell.

Spring Safari – Victoria