Thursday, 17 January 2013

Day 30: 133 to 76 km from the sea: Woodland Reserve - Wellington

Day 30: Monday 17/12

Woodland Reserve - Wellington
River markers: 133 to 76 km from the sea.
Distance travelled today: 57 km. 
Total distance travelled: 1636 km


Day 30: Look what pulled up in the night! Glad I didn't camp there. The Proud Mary, with very strong spot lights!

Day 30: Sunrise and calm water. Time to make the most of it!

Woodside reserve was a great camping place, so long as you did not camp on the lawn area. As another team of paddlers noticed, to their detriment, the sprinklers come on at 4:30 am. It was a bit of a rude awakening.

Camp here and you will get wet. Sprinklers come on at 4:30am.
To be fair, there is a 'no camping' sign. 

Today’s goal was to get to Wellington. This is the last town on the Murray while it is still a river. Four kilometers downstream from Wellington, the river opens up into Lake Alexandrina. As I have mentioned before (I think), this lake is my nemesis - the big test at the end of the paddle. Unaccompanied paddlers usually go around the lake, which is longer, but safer. If you can get someone to paddle with you who has experience, or have the company of a boat for the passage, and the weather is good, you can risk the direct crossing. The direct crossing is 26 kilometres across, after 13 kilometres of a widening inlet. This means 39 kilometres of rough water, without the chance for a break. I have been training up to be able to do this distances without risk of injury for some time, but the proof is in the pudding.

I wanted to get to Wellington, because there was a favorable weather forecast for the next day, and also Ruth and Anna were coming down from Echuca to meet me at the Wellington Hotel. We had a bit of a race going, seeing who could get there first.

Day 30: Old homestead on the run into Murray Bridge.

I stopped in Murray Bridge about 9 am after two hours of paddling. Most of the town seemed to be up on the hill, but just before the bridge which gives the town its name there is a very interesting little dockyard / museum. I drifted in, enjoying the ‘mess’ made up of bits and pieces of machinery from the river boat days and all sorts and sizes of boats, in various states of repair. There was a quirky little paddle steamer with an even smaller boat on a derrick above its paddle wheel box. It was so small that only one person could fit in it - and you would have to think carefully about whether you took your shopping along too.

Day 30: The docks at Murray Bridge, boats of all shapes and sizes.

Day 30: Little boat for a small paddle steamer, the Lady Rae.

Day 30: The docks at Murray Bridge, works in progress.

Day 30: Murray Bridge. Bridge. One of the few in South Australia; most river crossings are by ferrie.

A lot of towns along this end of the river have beautiful riverside parks and Murray Bridge was no exception. Immaculate lawns, shady trees, playgrounds, artwork and... the bunyip. The bunyip is an aging automatic monster. Placed in a pond, under a curving corrugated iron roof which looks like a bunker, children are encouraged to place a dollar in the money slot. If you are lucky and the machine is working, a big toothy green monster with big claws comes out of the water and scares the daylights out of the little kids. As if to give their parents a legitimate reason for doing this, there is an information board about what Australia was like when diprotodonts (sort of a giant wombat) were cool kids on the block. I am not sure the information is necessary, I think the parents would do it anyway. I would. :)

Day 30: How I keep in touch, my iPhone and river guide - always on my lap.

When the bridge was built at Murray Bridge there was no other crossing the river on the route between Adelaide and Melbourne. Cattle and sheep were swum across, or had to take turns with people and drays on the punts which are still a feature of the lower Murray. The place chosen for the bridge would have had major economic benefits. The South Australian government of the time decided for this location (a bit like early Canberra, in the wilderness with no infrastructure) over Wellington by one vote because of solid basalt in the river bed. A new town sprung up around the bridge, a railway line and subsequent bridge for it was built as well. Wellington’s trade suffered and it became the sleepy little hollow it is today.

Day 30: Carved stone seat celebrating the creatures of the river. Murray Bridge.

Day 30: Murray Bridge bollards carving project.

I tried to call in on Tailem Bend, but the shorefront was so steep and so canoe unfriendly that this was almost impossible. Eventually I managed to find a spot under an old willow and extracted myself from my kayak with a twisting rolling move, which almost dumped me in the water. Apart from a brilliant view over the Murray from a lookout on top of the cliff, which showed just how large its bends are, it was hardly worth it. Tailem Bend is full of franchise takeaways, car part warehouses and the hungriest flies around. These followed me down the river when I left, constantly trying to get into my eyes. Not a good impression.

Day 30: Last 100!

Day 30: Old ferry landing at Tailem Bend.

Day 30: Tailem Bend. One last big curve before Lake Alexandrina and the sea.

Ruth and Anna beat me to Wellington, but only just. We moved into a unit, prepared for the day and went to the pub to check out local knowledge about the lake and Monday’s schnitzel specials. Here we met Jack, Bill and Heather. They were traveling across the lake the same day I was planning to in their 15m cruiser. A magnificent, but aging vessel, this was to be its last voyage in their hands. It was time to sell. It had never been officially given a name, it was always just Jack’s boat. Jack’s boat was built for the Coorong and they had spent decades exploring it. It was big enough to handle any weather and they had often served as a safety boat in races when smaller boats were going under. We joined tables and had a really good chat. “You have to be on the lake by dawn, not just on the water, on the lake” said Jack, “that is when its calmest”. We swapped phone numbers and they agreed to scoop me out of the water if they hear I am in trouble. There was plenty of room on the back to carry the boat if need be. Having someone look out for me helped me to feel more confident about the next day. They were taking their boat to Goolwa, no longer the sleepy little seaside village from ‘Storm Boy’, it was the best place to sell their boat. Jack said it was worth $300,000 but he would take $175,000. Heather commented that they should take $50,000 if it was offered. It was time to get rid of it. 

With a 3:30 get up and 4:30 start, we went to bed before 9 and tried to sleep. I woke after 2 hours and every hour after that, sure it was time to get going. I was that fired up for the next day.

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