Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 17 Gunbower Perricootta Koondrook Forest to Barham

Gunbower Perricoota Koondrook Forest - Barham 73 km
My campsite at Stanton Break, about 30km into the Gunbower Perricootta Koondrook Forest.
The Murray is full of surprises. This is a distributary (a stream which leaves a river, spreading the flow over the floodplain) next to my camp. It kept my area mossie free and provided beautiful, fresh, easy to access, flowing water for cooking and cleaning. The only thing I had to watch out for was that on launching I would not get washed into the forest instead of heading down the river. 
Up with the sparrows and ready to go. Mornings are beautiful on the river.
I got up early this morning, not long after I heard a big roo bound through my camp. It was impossible for it to do this quietly, as it had to hop through the little streams that surrounded my tent first. The morning chorus was wonderful, as it has been every day in the forest, however, today the bird call continued the whole day with none of the usual pauses. Perhaps it has something to do with the floods and the abundance of food this has brought.
The Gunbower Perricoota Koondrook Forest (GPK) is quite different to its cousin, the Barmah Millewa Forest. Although both are river red gum forests adapted to flooding, the Barmah choke restricts water flow, turning the area into one huge lake. I was worried about the townships of Barham and Koondrook having the same effect. It is over 100km from Torrumbarry weir to Barham. 100km without landfall is too much. Without advice and encouragement from locals I would have called this section off. There are natural levees which run throughout the forest, making it possible to get out almost anywhere and plenty of camping opportunities. I'm glad I paddled this section. Not only will my study of the condition of river red gums be complete for the length of the river, but it was really beautiful.
The reason why the river is so much higher than the forest is not just due to the levees. When Australia had an inland sea, this was where the Murray entered it, building its own delta, much like the Coorong is today. Trapped within its levees the river continues to run along high ground, with anabranches like the Gunbower Creek and Thule Creek feeding the lower parts of the forest before returning to the river lower down. Fascinating.
Near Burkes Bridge, Gunbower-Perricootta-Koondrook Forest 

For most of the day I saw no-one. It's a quiet stretch - another thing to recommend it. However, about 20km out from Barham I came across a four wheel drive. My first thought was that it had been abandoned. I've seen a few abandoned vehicles and vans, when people didn't manage to get them out in time, or were surprised by the rising water. However this one was not deserted. I called out its resident, asking whether he had taken the river road (it follows high ground). He let me know that he had been there 'for some time' after having become 'inundated'. He didn't want help, or me to let anyone know he was ok, so I left him to his fishing. At least he would not lack for water. I hope he had plenty of repellent.
In the Murray Marathon (aka Massive Murray Paddle) the section from Murrabit to Swan Hill is famous for swirls and whirlpools that can turn a boat. This section is just the same, the current swells and whirlpools have to be seen to be believed. I am not sure what causes them, but they are on almost every corner.
The forest is clearly worked. Most trees are tall and straight (encouraged that way because they are more valuable as saw logs). Old trees were rare. In a natural forest these will be scattered throughout and particular along old water courses. In worked forests they tend to be along the banks, however here they have been removed for some reason.
Another surprise was how big an effect the millennium drought has had. In higher areas, trees are still recovering. It might still take another 10 years before the forest reaches full health again - assuming it has access to water in that time.
As I near Barham, farms began to appear, then fishing shacks, then houses. Going off the number of picnic tables, bush furniture and Tarzan swings, the people who live here really love their river.
I pulled into Barham Lakes Caravan Park because it had units right down at the water’s edge (and it was the first one I came to). Park manager Helen said "The forest protects the town, it always floods the forest first. You know, the river is actually higher than it was in 2011".
Tomorrow I make for Morton Lane, a high spot near Benjeroop, halfway between here and Swan Hill.
I paddled past a big floating log today. I hope I've gone far enough that it does not pass me while I sleep. The river never stops.
Calm reflection.

Park hut.

Brad's Bend.

Bush carpentry.

Paterson's curse? The bees love it.

Ring barking. One reason why there aren't many old trees on the banks along this stretch of the river.

Wildflowers along the river bank.

River landscape.

Forestry often provide firewood. Kind.

Loo with a view. It has also been used for target practise - hopefully not at the same time.

Reflections.

Fishing shack. Weekend glimpse of paradise.