Sunday, 9 February 2014

Yarrawonga to Cottadidda Forest Camp. Beaches, snags and memories.

On our way again. Glad to be back on the water.

After today's paddle from Yarrawonga, I have heightened respect for all those kids on school relay teams who have paddled the stretch. The legs on the Marathon are long and full of snags; some stretches are windy and open and despite the many campers, you get the feeling if isolation. Junior school TK2 relay teams, including kids as young as 13 have completed this stretch. Start to Alpha is just under 30km: it was a gutsy effort for those kids to negotiate all of those snags, to not be disheartened on the long straights and yet another bend when they thought they were almost there.

St. Joseph's Murray Marathon Team 2006

In contrast to most other sports, they were on their own on the river. There was no-one to help them. It is difficult enough as an adult, where life experience builds resilience. So, respect to any kid who has completed long legs like these on the Marathon. You have earner your stripes.

Lunch break in the shade of a beautiful gum tree.

Quiet beaches.

The river always changes. Downstream from Yarrawonga, the banks are becoming taller. Most of the way we have been surrounded by forest, at times with the original tussock grass (Poa) understory, which must have been similar to what Sturt saw when he first travelled down the Murray in 1830. These tussock grasses will withstand grazing by cattle, but not intensive grazing as is common on most properties today. This was the type of countryside that Mitchell saw on his 1836 expedition through NSW (crossing the Murray near Swan Hill). He called it Australia Felix - the fortunate country. There has been a recent trend back to these drought tolerant, highly nutritious grasses, however their height in summer worries many farmers, as they fear that they heighten the bushfire risk of areas.

Families enjoying the river. Most kids wore life jackets - a change from when I was a kid growing up on the river.
Sunbaking after a cool dip - but with a little more sun protection than we did when we were kids.
I remember lying on the hot concrete and baking till we were covered in sweat, then jumping in the pool and doing it again.

Several European trees survive on the beaches.
This one spent welcome shade to a family enjoying their summer holidays.

A more obvious feature is the beautiful beaches. On almost every corner, beaches reach into the middle of the river. They are made if coarse white sand. A smattering of larger rocks and pebbles can also be found - evidence of times of faster stream flow. Roads follow the Victorian bank, allowing campers access. We saw family after family. Some had pool areas made from safety fences wrapped around star spikes, others placed gazebos in the water and tied giant floating thongs so that they would sway back and forth in the shade. Almost all kids had life jackets on, which was good to see - river beaches are dangerous places. Some if the older campers looked more or less permanent, as though they had elected a transient lifestyle instead of a nursing home, hybrid fishermen gypsies. Some felt patriotic about their camping, with Australian flags marking their claim to that patch of beach.

We paddled by, waving, gesturing hello's to find what the next bend would bring, until finally we found our own little piece of paradise on the downstream side of a beach in the Cottadidda State Forest and called in for the night.

Links to more information about this area:

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