Today began with sunrise over the forest. My campsite was wet from dew, so I trampled paths to move on and stay dry. It had been a cold night and my summer sleeping bag managed to keep me warm if I tightened the hood until there was just a hole big enough to see and more or less breathe through. So after a cold night, I stood outside my tent and watched the sun rise over the forest next to me.
I had once again camped on one of the ancient river banks, high above the river. It is a bit like being in a tree house, except with grass. I cooked up a nice hot porridge for warmth and tried to work out how I could carry everything down to my boat in one go to get as little wet as possible. Down below mist rose from the river's surface. It does this when it is warmer than the air. It looked magical.
Once packed I pulled my boat back into the water. I always get wet doing this, so i don't know why I made such a fuss earlier. I guess I just felt clean and wanted to hold onto that for as long as possible. No sooner was I in the water than the current got hold of the boat and turned me into the stream. It was good to be on the way again.
The days paddle started off with the high bank which I had camped on, but with a steep crumbling face and trees on top. Who knew for how much longer. It then passed into the narrow bird filled canoeist's paradise I had paddled the day before. It is pure pleasure to paddle in such a pretty river. I found another camping site which would be suitable for canoeists just after Taylor's Bend. The farm has riparian fencing, like many others in the area, to keep stock off the river banks and help them to regenerate. It is an initiative of the local catchment management authorities and landcare. For paddlers, or fishermen, it leaves room to camp. This bend had a gentle sloping bank and some majestic old gums, but you could go further back to be out of the way of their branches. After about 8 kilometres I reached the main flow. The river was twice as wide and twice as fast.
I was a little confused though. Something didn't make sense. Pulling to the side of the river I realised that according to my map, the river should have been flowing the other way. So much water was passing through the anabranch I had seen the day before that the river had changed direction in this section. I decided to have a go at paddling against the current to try and reach my survey points. After initially attacking it at race speed, I realised that if I use the eddies it was not so difficult after all. It also gave me a good look at the bush - and a workout.
Once at the other end I turned into the original course of the Murray around 'snake island' (sounds like an inviting place to camp), where I experienced a similarly slow and narrow river to earlier in the day. Reeds reached halfway into the river and were so full of reed warblers arguing with each other about who had the nicest voice that I was able to sneak right up on one, before it realised there was a 7 metre red boat with a human in it within arms reach. Suddenly it was no longer so brave and disappeared.
Approaching the Ovens River water levels rose to the top of the banks and spilled over in places. I could see, however that they had been higher. Remarkable how fast the grasses and reeds recover after having been underwater for so long. The closer to the Ovens and Lake Mulwala, the thicker and more frequent the reed beds became. Above me two sea eagles circled causing a ruckus amongst the cockatoos in the trees below them. I began to see swans, one family with signets in tow, the parents trying to hurry them up and keep them swimming in the right direction.
Entering Lake Mulwala via the old river channel, I paddled past an ibis rookery. These don't smell the best, but the sight of so many birds nesting in one place and the way they took off and circled in waves was both music and symmetry. Honestly, I tried not to scare them. Lake Mulwala is full of logs. The recommended path for canoeists is along the southern shore, however you need the eyes of an eagle to spot them. If you go paddling here, be prepared for unexpected jolts. No wonder they want people near the shore. The banks are almost entirely filled by houses, some simple, some grand, each different. The way people interact with water says something about them. Perhaps that is why I used to enjoy walking along the shores of the lakes in Europe. This reminded me of those times.
There are only a few potential camping places that are accessible by canoe on the southern shore. There are two or three boat ramps, where you can pull out, or put in, but the only free ground with a gentle slope are at the furthest south point on the lake. The farmland at this place looked inviting. If I had not prearranged with the Yarrawonga Yacht Club Commodore to camp in their grounds I would have stopped there.
There are advantages to being in the bush. Just as I was trying to get changed, a yoga class who had booked the facilities arrived - lots of laughs (from them), but they let me in, which meant I could take a shower, which was So nice.