Friday, 7 July 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 16 Gunbower Perricoota Koondrook Forest

Day 16: 1595 km Stanton Break, GPK Forest 31st Oct 2016

Torrumbarry Headworks - Stanton Break - Gunbower Forest 53km

It was a relief to have a relatively calm day after yesterday’s strong winds. I took a more relaxed approach to the day knowing that i did not have to battle headwinds and cruised along at an average of just over 8 km/hr, which is not bad given that I stop paddling to photograph every 250m.

About 10 km in I came across the collection of buses and old vans that exist at Norris Bend. Whether these are still used, I don’t know. I stopped to photograph one old bus whose front axles seemed to be slowly settling into the mud, when I received a message that the lock master from Torrumbarry Weir, would only be available before 11am and after 3pm today. Still 11km away, I had to race, I upped my average speed to just over 10 km/hr but was hitting speeds of up to 12.5km/hr. Not bad for a fully madden boat, especially when I still had to take my photos. Alan Williams, the Lockmaster, was pleasantly surprised when I made it. He opened the gates just enough to let me through, I snuck under the walkway which is raised for larger boats and chatted whilst he closed the first gate and opened the second. Last time I went through this lock, the difference in levels was around 5m. Today there was no difference, however going through the lock saves 2 hours of packing and portaging.

Alan Williams informed me of a small houseboat that had run out of fuel about 6km down from the weir. He was just thinking of conning someone in the caravan park to motoring down to them with a jerry can when Alan Whelan, the fella travelling the length of the Murray in a small yellow tinny called up requesting passage. He volunteered to bring them fuel when he came through at 3pm. Alan and i have passed each other a number of times, beginning in Barmah forest, not far from Tocumwal and last time a few days ago, leaving Echuca. I didn’t expect him to pass me today, but having heard from the stranded couple, and how it could be difficult to get fuel in Barham on Melbourne Cup Day, Alan decided to put in some big kilometres. He travelled all the way to Barham - around 110 km away. Too far for me. I had hoped that he would be my backup through the forest, but once he passed me later in the day this was to be the last time I was to see him on the river. Alan began his trip at Bringenbrong Bridge. The most challenging thing he found was negotiating the rapids at Jingellic. He enjoys the bush camping. One of his prize accessories is a big steel drum, which he uses to heat up water for a shower. Safe trip to the mouth Alan. Keep an eye out for him in his yellow tinny.

Motivated by the story of Alan’s hot water drum, I boiled up a trangia kettle of water and used this to create a hot towel, like they serve on airplanes. It was actually really nice and probably good for the skin to be rid of all that sunscreen and repellent for a while.

I also stopped and chatted with the stranded couple in the houseboat. With the strong winds potentially pushing their boat into the trees and the strong current in the high river to work against, they had underestimated the amount of fuel their twin outboards would use and had pulled to the side once one began to splutter. The good news for me was that they informed me that there were banks all the way to Barham which meant that I would be able to find a camping spot - something I had been really quite concerned about after my experience in the Barmah Forest. 

The river is approximately 30cm higher than the surrounding forest. At Stanton Break, where I am camped for the night, a break in the levee allows water through to the forest. Bizarrely, it uses the roads, running along the graded earth gutters either side like small streams. An unexpected benefit of camping amongst so much running water is that there mosquitoes don’t like it. I hardly had a mosquito in camp until I took a walk through some grass and bought about 100 back with me. I won’t be doing that again.

It was nice to get in camp early enough to dry my clothes, refill my bottles with filtered water, cook dinner and make a start on charging devices for the next day. Come evening, I like to be in my tent. After a long day’s paddling, it is good to lie down, and under the protection of good flywire I don’t need to worry about being bitten.

Tomorrow I hope to get off early enough to have a crack at reaching Barham-Koondrook. If the banks remain, this is not essential, but better safe than sorry. Any recommendations on camping grounds in Barham-Koondrook?

Safety gear for a a big leg through flooded forest all the way to Barham - at this stage still an unknown.
At the front of my cockpit you can see my GPS mount and iPhone for panoramic shots. My main camera, a waterproof Nikon AW1 is tucked in behind my life jacket, and a smaller Nikon Coolpix AW130 pocket camera for videos and when weather conditions become too rough for the larger camera is tucked into a pocket on the life jacket. An EPIRB is in the final pocket, in case of emergency. 

 8:51 a.m. At 1648km, just after the National Channel offtake. I can see some shelducks there. All River Red gum forest, 20 kilometres from Torrumbarry Weir. Much lighter conditions than yesterday. Expecting a sunny and cool day, with a light breeze.
At Norris Bend, about 10km upstream from Torrumbarry Weir is a collection of old buses people have set up as holiday homes. These had pretty wet feet at the moment, but otherwise seemed ok.

Entering lock 26 at Torrumbarry Weir, the most upstream of all the locks on the Murray, an attempt to make the Murray a year-round navigable waterway to rival those of Europe and North America. To this day all boats (big and small) have right of passage, so long as levels are safe.

Alan Williams, Lockmaster Torrumbarry Weir. The locks and weirs are run by catchment management authorities. Lockmasters record the names of all boats that pass through, maintain equipment and gardens, as well as adjusting the flow of water along the irrigation channels which flow from their weir pools irrigating farms in the region.
Master's Landing, Gunbower.

Old Cohuna Headworks Channel.

Master's Landing, Gunbower. This used to be the site of one of the wharfs which serviced the early Gunbower settlers. The reconstructed building and holding yards are a tribute to them.

The Cohuna Headworks, a little further downstream, were the site of one of the earliest irrigation works in the area. Long before Torrumbarry Weir was built in the 1920's local farmers used steam engines to pump water from the river and run it via channels to their farms. The sites where these pumps stood were called headworks. Rusting old remains of steam engines all along the river are clues to the presence of similar schemes. 

Leaves form beautiful patterns on the surface of the old Headworks Channel.

Alan Whelan in his yellow tinny. He eventually even skippered it across Lake Alexandrina.

With the river right to the top of the bank, high levels provide the chance to look into the bush on either side. After rain, wildflowers bloom making it all rather pretty at times.

My camp on the natural river levees that in times of flood like this, holds the river higher than its surrounding countryside. Where the river has broken through like this, it flows quickly into the low ground. Unlike the Barmah Millewa Forest, the river upstream of Barham, never covered its levees. Water that left the river to the North flowed into the Wakool System. Water flowing to the South eventually entered above Barham.

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