Saturday, 7 March 2015

Goulburn River Paddle Day 7: Forest Bend (downstream from McCoy's Bridge) - Echuca.

Goulburn River Paddle
Day 7: Forest Bend (downstream from McCoy's Bridge) - Echuca
389 - 462 (73) km

Forest Bend
Keen to get underway as soon as possible, I woke an hour before dawn. The sound of undernourished mosquitoes trying to find a way through the fly wire of my tent however, dissuaded me from doing anything outside before first light. It had been a good camping site with an exceptional view of the river. Camping under grey box was also safer than under redgum, no matter what size. After a large breakfast, I nosed the boat into the current and was off.

The location of my campsite at Forest Bend relative to McCoy's Bridge (Murray Valley Highway).

Ready to go as the first sun of the day's sun-rays touch the river.
Perfect reflection in the stillness of the early morning.

Sunlight on the river.
As the river meanders through the landscape, I am alternately find myself hidden in sleepy shadows, or bathed in warm sunshine.

As the morning sun shone through the trees, it was as if each leaf contained its own source of light and down the straits the water sparkled as if covered by diamonds.

The Goulburn is a quiet river. Except for the circus like excitement of the Lake Nagambie area, I saw very few people during the entire 462 km. Most days I would see one or two campers, fishermen enjoying the Goulburn's reputation for cod and yellow belly, or families sharing time in the bush together. Today was no different. The birds were my companions. Kingfishers whose silent flight along the river, flashes of blue and bobbing heads amongst the branches gave away their position. Ducks, leading me away from their nests before wheeling back kilometres later. Corellas and cockatoos feeding on the salt in the clay banks, small groups on low snags drinking from the water, or filling the trees on either side, and always the watchful sentries. Honeyeaters diving low, snapping insects, or bouncing off the water for a refreshing bath on the hot days. Willie wagtails battling with them for the best feeding sites. If honey-eaters, with their arrow like flight and powerful wing beats are the spitfires of the Redgum forests, willie wagtails are the helicopters, able to fly vertically and change direction in an instant. No insect can outfly them. Superb blue wrens, bravely declaring their territory from the tallest twig, despite their size. Tree creepers, the woodpeckers of the Australian bush, able to run vertical up a tree trunk in their search for insects hiding amongst the bark, but doing their best to hide on the side you are not with little sideways hops. As you progress down the Goulburn, the banks become taller and the river more sheltered, a true ribbon of life running through an increasingly dry environment.

Pump stands like the remains of this one, are often set high enough to keep their electric motors above flood level. Some have ingenious arrangements to lift their motors even higher than the main superstructures. This one looked old enough and solid enough to be the remains of a jetty and I wonder if some have had previous lives.

An immature white bellied sea eagle watches me pass. 

Typical campsite in the last section of the Lower Goulburn: a low sloping ledge with young grey box woodland above. In popular places, like this one, there may even be steps cut into the bank by previous campers.

Even though in most places the banks are steep, there are beautiful sandbars every now and then. As with other spots, the safest places to camp are usually a little bit back from the river (avoiding overhead branches).

Approaching the Murray there are signs of people enjoying the river. This homemade special demonstrates one of the things I like about the Goulburn: it is less flashy, there is less keeping up with the Joneses. You hardly find boats like this on the Murray anymore. In there place are $90,000 spaceship like craft with plush seats, stainless steel pontoons and aerodynamic sunshades. The builders of this boat didn't compromise on everything; it has a very impressive sound system.

Today was the best day for sighting wallabies and kangaroos so far. The two have different strategies on being seen. The eastern grey kangaroos hop away as soon as they can, stopping only when they think they are out of sight. The smaller, darker swamp wallabies stay in the shadows, still except for their watchful eyes and twitching rounded ears; Ewoks with tails.

Another good campsite.
In the 80's this was the site of a nudist colony. Now a caravan park, some of the original signs are still visible from the river. One sign I saw read 'Men 50m ->'. I was unsure if this was meant as a warning, or a direction. 
Other than the occasional gusts of wind, which you can see and hear moving through the tree tops towards you long before they actually arrive with showers of leaves, there was no other background sound for the bird calls and movement of animals than the splash of my paddles and my own breathing. Once I heard voices and thought I had accidentally turned on my radio, but it was two fishermen discussing tactics hundreds of metres further down the river.

Stewart's Bridge, just 4km from the confluence of the Goulburn and Murray Rivers. 

Home built boats.

After 470km, at the point where the Goulburn spills into the Murray.

Approaching the junction with the Murray things began to change. With still 20 km to go, I could hear the high powered engines of large speed boats and as I rounded the last bend their wash, travelling up the Goulburn, met me like an incoming tide. Before I knew it, the current from the Goulburn swept me into the Murray and the swirling water where the two rivers meet. The Murray appeared wide and powerful, I felt like I was in a river estuary, experiencing a change of tide, being swept downwards to the sea. Gone was the intimacy of the Goulburn with its high banks and comparative isolation. The Murray was a hive of activity, experiencing the peak of its water skiing season. Gone was the idea that I could paddle wherever I liked, dodging snags and taking the course of my choice. With so much traffic, I followed the rules and stuck to the right; every river crossing a potentially dangerous situation. Most of the boats were of the largish kind; full of happy families, but producing a big wash. Such a wash is difficult in a smaller boat, but my sea kayak revelled in it, almost calling for more, ignoring its consequences for the banks. Bring it on! I had smelt home.

Back home in Echuca and wondering why I had never paddled the Goulburn before. I thoroughly recommend it. The Goulburn is a beautiful and isolated river. Set in the middle of Victoria, it is a touring paddler's dream.  

The final 18 kilometres ticked away as if they were a walk in the park. I felt no tiredness, no pain. I knew every bend from here. I was home. What a great paddle. What a fantastic river. A hidden treasure. It has become part of my life.

Thanks for sharing it with me.

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