Turon and Macquarie Rivers
6-8 January 2021
By SIMON WILKES
It was the Christmas-New Year break, and we had our annual leave booked—with a kayaking trip to Coffs Harbour planned and camping paid for. But the weather forecast was staring to look epic. Camping in torrential rain—yeah nup. So a small intrepid crew—with a quick turnaround, couple of Zoom meetings, rain checks, accommodation checks and river levels monitored—eddied out of the Coffs plan and went with the flow to the Turon.
Mind you, this time period was filled with anxious checks of the rain forecast—the Turon at this point was in its usual unpaddleable state. We were relying on rain to bring the level up. Our hopes were on a wavetrain as the amount of rain forecast changed every time we looked at it: “Looks about right…”, then “Too much rain— river is going to be too high!”, then “The forecast rain didn’t happen—river is going to be too low!”, then Monday was looking good (40mm forecast), which would mean a peak on Tuesday and paddle it on Wednesday as it’s dropping (it rises and drops very quickly)—so we aimed to start on Wednesday.
So less than 48 hours after the change in plans, we had seal launched out of Sydney/Dubbo/Wollongong and were on the Turon, checking-in to our rustic log cabin accommodation overlooking the river—camping in rain vs log cabin with hot showers was a no brainer. More people had joined in—being the first week of January, people had time off work and could join in at short notice—bringing the total to eleven people.
Our log cabin accommodation had a line of beds all around the edge. The beds were set up to have two heads pretty much joining each other, so we had to rearrange them to all lie in the same direction to avoid kissing one another in our sleep! With our rearrangement, you’d likely get kicked in the head by the person in the bed up the line from you—our feet hung over the end of the short beds—but at least it was a little more Covid-physically-distanced.
DAY ONE: Turon National Park to Turon Gates bridge
None of us had paddled this section before, and didn’t know anyone who had. But Bron had walked the entire river a few months prior as part of her job, and had mentally noted a good 19km section to paddle, with public put-in and take-out points, stunning rugged mountains, remote terrain and a beautiful small, winding river enclosed by overhanging trees.
We got to our start point—end of Lochaber Link Road—and assessed the river levels. It was definitely up! It wasn’t whitewater—it didn’t have the gradient drop—but was fast moving water and the strainer risk was high. We assessed the risk, including the fact that it would be 19km with no phone reception—although we had a sat phone—with no vehicle access, and no pull-out options for the bulk of it. But we were reasonably confident, and Kevin and Aaron were happy to lead the way.
It was a good paddle-ish. Let’s just say that Bron’s memory of the number of fallen trees across the river was a little sketchy. We launched, pushed and pulled ourselves over most of them, although Duncan’s method was the best—whilst we were pondering the best gap to squeeze under a fallen tree, Duncan climbed out of his boat onto the tree, and it collapsed, meaning we could paddle straight over it!
We still arrived back at camp (cabin) with plenty of time before dark, after a stunning, unique and adventurous paddle.
Participants on Day One were Kevin S, Aaron W, John W, Karen W, Deb C, Fran B, Shannon B, Duncan C, Jim C, Simon W and Bron P.
DAY TWO: Sofala to Hill End Road
A shorter paddle this day meant we had time to check out the new—and only—café in Sofala before we hit the water. It was a good, easy whitewater section—we were all secretly relieved, after the adventure the day before—which some of us had paddled before, and only 7km, so a much tamer paddle, but thoroughly enjoyable and a relaxed. Kevin gave us some whitewater skills tuit
We headed to Long Point via Hill End, and camped at our Day Three take-out.
DAY THREE: Turon Ford Bridle Track to Long Point, Macquarie River
We departed early, not being sure if there’d be enough water left on the Turon, or if we’d be walking most of it—this section does the last 3.5km of the Turon before hitting the Macquarie. We cheered as we hit the Macquarie with not a single portage! Then it was smooth sailing/paddling down the Grade Two rapids on the Macquarie. This section of the Macquarie is very wide, and again our paddle was very relaxed, soaking up the scenery. Our group had reduced in numbers in each day, so it was a small group of us.
Our plan to move downstream with the water levels had worked. In fact, there was a window of only one day in which the Upper Turon was paddleable—the day before was too high, and the day after too low—and we nailed it. And unbelievably, while Sydney and the coast were getting hammered by rain, we had none the whole time!