Monday, 10 March 2014

Entering the Barmah-Millewa Forest. Gulf camp. Bushfires.

Today, Ruth and I paddled 57km from just outside of Tocumwal, just upstream from the rather unfortunately named 'Bottom Beach' until the Gulf, a bend in the river deep in the Barmah-Millewa National Park, which bends right back on itself. 

Our camp site is quite picturesque and well worth the awkward clamber from our boats to the bank, as we can see down both stretches. With just over 100km to go on our trip from the Hume to Echuca, Ruth thought the campsite could not be better - "the river is showing us where we have been and where we still have to go". The Gulf is also where two feeder channels for the forest head off, controlled by regulator gates, to be used for forest watering. Reeds cloak the banks and there us an abundance of bird life. Lively wrens hop around the campsite looking for insects too small for us to see. They are such bundles of energy, it is quite a task just to follow their activities. Small tree creepers dart up the massive tree trunks and then dive, kamakazi-like down before flattening out just above the ground to glide to the next tree. The sky is full of cockatoos, which seem to spend there evening hour flying back and forth for no apparent reason and with no clear destination. They squawk the whole time. I wonder whether they use this time to bond socially, mimicking each other's cry and flight path, and at the same time clearing the area of potential competitors for their roosts.  The beat of their wings sounds like an engine. The shadows from the flock as they fly past moves swiftly over the tree canopy; a projection of the activities above.

The Betsy.

Hair pin bend campsite.

We have seen the river change today from a broad stream with beaches on almost every corner, to a low banked meandering forest river, flanked in reeds and seemingly as high as the surrounding forest. The river flies swiftly here. It's banks are like levees which keep it out of the low lying forest on neither side. The forest is thick with grasses that shine copper and golden when the sun is behind them. It looks healthier than I have seen it for many years. From Murray Marathon days I know this stretch as a dust bowl, it's bull dust hides holes and makes vision difficult.

Remains of a steam engine: now river art.


lunch break

None of that today. The forest and the river are quiet. There has been very little traffic, only a handful of fishing boats and one speedboat which was fulfilling the noble function of 'bus' to tow two young girls one bend above their campsite in the river in a large tube and then release them to flits back down again. We watched this activity whilst we had our lunch break on a small beach in the shade of a tall gum.

Forest regulator.

The Gulf.

The Gulf.

Campsites are simpler as the river enters the forest. At Ulupna Island, famous for its koalas, some prow competed for the most patriotic camp. One man, proud in his deck chair beneath his awning had at least 20 flags. We hope that it is their way of showing appreciation if the beauty if the river - something that was evident in everyone we spoke too. Further into the forest the camps become more alternative, many taking on a gypsy like flavour. Must were creative and orderly. Some were more or less permanent. One 'home' was made of three trailers, each designed to be a room, sitting on trestles. Others were real man caves - single room shacks and battered caravans. Fishing boats were everywhere.


Gulf campsite.

Tonight smoke drifted through our camp. We have good reception, surprising for the forest and have our fire apps (fire ready) which tell us as soon as a fire is reported and provide map locations and running updates. There does not seen to have been anything local. The smoke must have blown in from elsewhere. All the same, our boats are pack ready and we have several exit strategies. 

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