Wellington to Dubbo on the Macquarie River
17-20 November 2021
By JP COLLINS
WOMDOMNOM is a classic multi-day touring event now firmly entrenched on the annual kayaking calendar—bringing together paddlers from all over New South Wales from a variety of clubs (as well as independent paddlers) on a four-day, 155km tour of the Central West on the Macquarie River, from Wellington to Narromine via Dubbo.
With Womdomnom 2019 cancelled due to low river conditions, and Womdomnom 2020 a skeleton event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, excitement was building for Womdomnom 2021, and with the final lifting of New South Wales regional travel restrictions lifting just a few weeks prior to the event, it was all systems go—albeit for a slimmed-down, COVID-safe event with around 60 paddlers (down from the more usual 120), with a contingent of six paddlers from the River Canoe Club participating this year.
In eleven years, Womdomnom had never seen a drop of rain—but La Nina put an end to that record. Torrential rain in the lead-up saw the Macquarie River in a minor flood condition, with the current really moving—anywhere from 5 to 10 km/h. Scrutineering, boat setup and breakfast all took place between heavy showers, drizzle and then more downpours. If we didn’t know how to ferry-glide before, we learned fast, as it was a battle just keeping in the same spot when paddling hard against the current.
The fast moving water conditions claimed their toll just an hour into the first day, when a dozen paddlers found themselves entangled in trees and debris when negotiating a tight bend. With empty boats and paddles drifting down the river, eight or so paddlers were marooned mid-river on a debris island for some time. Great teamwork from everyone ensured that all boats and paddlers were collected, and one-by-one the stranded paddlers were brought across to shore. In particular, Dave Slattery deserves special recognition for bravery and technical skill in leading the effort to rescue the stranded paddlers.
After a few hours on hold, Womdomnom 2021 continued on its way, with most of the paddlers continuing on in the challenging but exhilarating conditions. The fast-moving water at times was closer to whitewater conditions, particularly around obstacles, and when streams and rivers joined the Macquarie. Intermittent rain squalls continued to punctuate the day.
Due to the time lost with the earlier incident, it was decided to curtail the day and paddle around 25km rather than the originally-planned 36km, and camp for the night at Ponto Falls Reserve instead of Bril Bral Reserve. Dinner was much appreciated—along with the Esky of cold beer! The epic conditions continued overnight, with howling winds, driving rain, a mini-tornado a kilometre up the road, and a field full of cows mooing in the storm. Quite a memorable night—doubly so if you found your tent to be less waterproof than might be desired.
We emerged soggy from our tents and checked out the river, hoping it might have dropped—but all the rain meant it was only ever going to be even higher and faster than the first day. A number of paddlers elected to discontinue the event, leaving a core of 36 paddlers to embark on Womdomnom 2021 day two. A short but intense blast of torrential rain as set off set the tone for day two.
The second day called for long (50km) journey from Bril Bral Reserve to Lazy River Winery on the outskirts of Dubbo. The speed of the river flow meant we made incredibly fast time—with the river doing at least half the work—but demanded utmost concentration. We encountered everything from whirlpools to whitewater to logs flowing downriver. As we passed Little River, the amount of debris increased markedly—including at various times abandoned kayaks, tyres, an entire willow tree, as well as a dead cow, and a huge python sunning itself on a tree mid river. Another challenge were the hordes of large spiders along the river banks that wasted no time in clambering over our kayaks—a great reason to wear a spraydeck!
After many hours on water, with stops for morning tea and lunch, we finally arrived at Lazy River in the late afternoon. Once again we had to set up tents in driving rain—and then move them again when it was decided there was a risk of the river breaking its banks.
We woke on day three to find the river unsurprisingly even higher and faster. At this point the entire river system was closed for recreation, and Womdomnom 2021 was suspended. Although this meant we’d only really done the ‘Womdom’ rather than the Womdomnom, we’d still put in a solid 75km over two intense days on the water.
Over the course of the two days, many friendships were formed and others renewed. Womdomnom is a really great way for the paddling community of New South Wales to come together annually for this epic journey down the river, and long may it continue. We’re already looking forward to heading out west again for Womdomnom 2022. A special thanks must be expressed to Andrew McKay and Julee Hunt for their tireless work organising Womdomnom each year.