Monday, 24 April 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 10 The Gulf to Morning Glory

The Gulf - Morning Glory 71km

At Picnic Point and have 3 bars of reception (sometimes). A good to chance to post some photos of my camp at The Gulf and a few of the sights this morning. Get out into the forest if you can, but keep the waves down. There's not much bank there..).

What an eventful day. First waking up with the kangaroos - literally. A beautiful sunny day, after so many wet and windy ones. Then a magic cruise into Picnic Point, with the bush flowering on either side.
Never underestimate a river, or reckon you know it. First of all, the current stopped. It was slowing down in Picnic Point, down to say one km an hour, but later it just stopped. I thought that the bush after Picnic Point would be drier than upstream. I was so wrong. Most of the bush was under and on top of that, trees had fallen down everywhere, sometimes blocking of all but 8 metres of river. Whilst this is no barrier to a paddler, it must have an effect on river flow.

The further I travelled down the deeper the banks went under. With no dry natural levee animals were stranded and many died. I came across two brumbies who looked like they had already been standing in water for a week or so, totally lost, just waiting for the water to recede. It will, but will it be fast enough for them.
My recommendation to get out in the forest does not apply to the first 15km downstream from Picnic Point. This is best avoided. It is a sad place. As a biologist, it is important to see these things. It is part of the cycle. Nature can be cruel.
There were creatures that revelled in the watery mass. i saw a family of sea eagles, huge birds, silently winging their way through the trees. Herons seemed in their element, many with nesting material in their beaks. Restless fly catchers happily scooped up mozzies from the water's surface, or wherever. There are enough of them. Sacred kingfishers gave the impression that this was a good year. And ducks, nirvana.
The still and high water lasted all the way to Barmah. In the end i paddled through about 30km of dead still water. A short section where swifts creek entered the Murray was black, giving lovely reflections to the photos and important organic matter to the river ecosystem - so long as there is not too much of it. The still water was covered in streams of duckweed, a bright green fern, which slipped silently around my boat.

In this watery expanse, at the top of circular bend I saw the guardian of the forest. Never before had I seen it in so much water. This tree is acknowledged to be at least 800 years old. The oldest tree in the forest. it even has its own Koori name - though I have forgotten it (can anyone help me on that). How many floods and droughts has this tree seen? How insignificant by comparison are our short lifespans? I stopped to honour the tree as is appropriate. Happily it seems to be recovering. When I last saw it a few years ago, it had lost most of its branches. As a kid I had stood under this tree. We visited it even then. Its branches were so wide and so thick, that each could have been its own massive tree. At the end of the millennium drought and an extended period where the forest it stood in had not been flooded it had lost most of these. Now they seem to be growing back. What a survivor. It left me happy.

After Barmah, the river changes, the current comes back (what a relief) and it gradually becomes contained within its banks again. Black Box alternates with Red Gum on the undulating river's edge and along remnant sand dunes. The evening light made being on the river and photography a pleasure again. I continued on, enjoying every minute, until paddling up to a cabin I had booked at Morning Glory. After 70km, I needed a shower.
Echuca tomorrow and a few days with family, before continuing.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 9 Tocumwal Timeout Resort to the Gulf in the Barmah-Millewa Forest.

With most people away, kangaroos had taken over Time Out Resort.

A much appreciated dry place for the night. 

Ready to go. Aiming for the Gulf (Yielima Station). Blue skies. Thanks for your hospitality Barry Bell and Time Out Resort. Hidden Gems.

Spoonbill on the bank.

The river appears wide and calm.

Lunch break in the Barmah Forest

This was a road on top of a bank. Now wetland plants are growing

I could not believe the amount of water flowing into the forest. Not over the bank in most cases, but via flood runners or distributaries (because they distribute the flow).

This picture shows someone's campsite but it looks nothing like that now. To say that floods bring life to forests is an understatement, it fundamentally change them. They have become and oasis of life. The silly thing is, they always were, we just didn't see it. Jump in a tinny and take a look you won't be disappointed.

Paddling next to the bank, it was absolutely clear that the river was higher than the forest. I had never actually taken this in. It had been told to me, and I thought I had seen it in the Narrows, the section of river which travels between, and Barmah and Millewa Lakes. However being on the river which is higher than the land around it and seeing it flew out through these gateway like streams was a revelation. Streams leave the river in places every hundred meters. This is why places like picnic point did not flood this year despite 200,000 ML a day of water being released at Yarrawonga three weeks ago. The explanation for the whole phenomena lies with the Cadell tilt. 70,000 years ago, earthquakes began to lift the block of land between Deniliquin and Echuca. Look the river, causing me to drop its sediment and build a floodplain. This floodplain is now the Barmah Millewa Redgum forest. Every time the river floods into the forest, it slows down and drops some of the sediment carries. This builds a natural levee along the river's banks. The flood runners are where it has broken through.

Survivor... who's the boss?
Close to water.
Normally not so close... but prepared.

The understory has sprung to life. The ground is covered with luscious looking wetland plants, whose seeds and tubers must've laying dormant in the soil waiting for an event such as this.I've seen this place in summer. It looks dry and dusty. Grasses look like excuses. The ground is hard and cracked. Everything looks heavily grazed. What a contrast to now. I wish everyone could see it. We have a Kakadu in our own backyard.

The Gulf, where I'm camped tonight.

Luscious green growth with wild flowers in the background.
Height is relative. Everything in the Barmah-Millewa forest is close to water. My camp on high ground is only about 10 cm about the river. I know the levels are dropping but I have a stick placed at the last watermark and I'm checking it every now and then just in case.
I disturbed quite a few kangaroos today. They were resting on the natural levee which runs alongside the river. This really isn't very wide and most of them looked tired and wet. I think that had enough of this high water and can't wait for it to go down so that they can move back to their favorite spots.
My camping site is a large natural levee. There is a group of brumbies, a couple of kangaroos and koala interested in it. The brumbies I saw earlier in the afternoon with three healthy foals. The kangaroo went bounding off into the distance. The Koala I heard wadding through a deep puddle and then proclaiming its territory with grunts high up in a tree.
There are quite a few shacks on the NSW side where people live very close to water. Not all are permanent. On a small rise a group of caravans were clustered. I wonder how they decided who got the highest ground?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 8 Langi Oonah Station to Timeout (Tocumwal) Oct 23

Langi Ooonah Station to Time Out Resort downstream from Tocumwal (58km).
Overnight the river dropped another 10cm leaving wet sleeves around the bases of trees and muddy edges along its banks. It continues to flow very quickly, meaning that I had to be conscious to give snags and trees an even larger berth than usual.
There were many more fallen trees than yesterday, however the current has pushed most of these so that they lay parallel to the banks. This should actually help reduce further bank erosion by slowing the current down in future. In a sandy section, about 6km upstream of Cobram, the river took at least 2 metres of bank away in front of some houses and further undermined some of the older trees. A no wash sign has been erected, but unless something is actually done to protect the bank the owners risk losing their property. I feel that along most of the river we should take a more active role in protecting what is there. More care is taken along our roadside verges than on our rivers and yet these deliver the water we need to drink, irrigation for our crops, and water for forests and wildlife. It seems disproportional given the value of the asset.

Palm trees along the river bank mark the site of Seppelts Winery.

The river was quiet again today. I saw one couple in a tinny, but other than that saw no-one, until I surprised the manager at Time Out Resort. They weren't expecting any customers, having been shut off for 6 weeks by the high river, which reached major flood level in Tocumwal. The manager (Jacki) said that they had actually had three separate flows, each bigger than the last. She also told me a sad story: a mob of kangaroos had been found drowned 36 in all, in a big pile. Though kangas are good swimmers they must have not known which direction to go and stayed on their ground until submerged.
Tocumwal bridge. The central span was designed to be raised to allow paddle steamers through. 

On a more positive note, the first of the beaches are emerging. Fresh, clean sandy spits were beginning to show at Cobram, and many of the larger beaches near Tocumwal: these should be a real treat this summer. New growth is emerging on the trees, giving them hints of red and a light green, which seems to glow when the sun shines through it.

Forgotten caravan on a flooded beach near Tocumwal.
Being on the water, you are able to see things that people left in hurry, or forgot. On the town beach at Tocumwal a caravan had been forgotten and going off the markings had almost been completely covered. It must have been tied down, otherwise it would have been washed away. On another bend, a campervan had become bogged, before being abandoned. I guess that they could have been international tourists, out of touch with daily news and warnings. it would have been a rude awakening. i hope they had insurance.The nicest was a home built houseboat with an extension on two plastic drums, wedged amongst saplings for protection from the wind. Someone seems to live on their. i wonder if the back room is a fishing hole.

Home on the river... could the back extension be a fishing hole? Just lift the boards and fish...
The current continues to flow strongly, averaging around 4-5km/hr, but up to 7.5km/hr. This will make the Murray Marathon this year a fast race, however the high river has also made the Murray wide and its low banks offer little protection from the wind, so I hope that the weather is calm for those paddlers. I have had two days of headwind, though today was not as bad as yesterday. At the moment often only one bank is above the water on the river's edge, so paddlers are going to have to look after each other. It can be a long way to swim, and with nasty snags in some places, it will be important to look after each other. Although we can expect the river to drop another metre before the race, it will still stay higher than usual because the catchments are so wet, so it will be important to plan for safety.
There were a lot more fallen trees today. I saw and heard many fall in yesterday's big winds.

I chose Time Out as a flood safe destination. I did not know that a friend owned a caravan their. Rather than tent, he put me up for the night, meaning not only creature comforts, but also that I will be able to get away earlier in the morning. Thanks Barry :).

Kilometer marker.
Tomorrow I hope to find a patch of ground at Yielma Station, which is just before the Gulf in the Barmah Millewa Forest. From there it will be a short day to Tarragon lodge, before a leapfrog to Echuca. The forest is like home territory and i look forward to seeing it full of water. Should make for some good photos too I hope.