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Trip Report

Corowa Downstream
Corowa to Collendia Lagoon - November 2008

This leg of the trip demonstrated once again how helpful people can be. For example I was unable to reach the trip's final destination - a boat ramp up a side creek. The current against me was too strong. I pulled over to the bank and wondered what to do. I was ready to stop. The next alternative car access point on the charts was at Bundalong - a day and night away. I heard a motor and saw a man's head moving along the near horizon. Man on motor bike? Good I thought, this will be the farmer and I can ask if I can drive the car over his property to reach the board where it is. Then a tinnie shot around the bend of the creek. Ah, tinnie not motor bike! "Need any help?" the skipper asked. "Well yes - I can't make any progress against the current because of the barrels I'm towing". "What if I take the barrels up the creek in my boat?" This was a great solution and I was very grateful to Martyn Cunningham for making the offer. He could have looked that other way and cruised past me without stopping. Incidentally Martyn's boat was only the second one I saw in the 44 km trip. I didn't see any in the first 40 kms. One can be quite isolated on the river.

After a good chat with Terry from the Ball Park Caravan Park in Corowa I left the car in his care and paddled out under the red gum timbers of the historic (1862) John Foord bridge. My departure point was very close to an aboriginal canoe tree and on my left was the small Murray River town of Wahgunyah. The land around here was once occupied by the Whroo people, a subgroup of the Bangerang tribe. In 1838 John Foord and his business partners established a 30 000 acre run called Wahgunyah on the south side of the river. The area boomed with the advent of paddle steamers to facilitate trade, and the discovery of gold in the area. At one time Wahgunyah had seven hotels and was the busiest Murray port upstream of Echuca. Foord went on to purchase land on the northern side of the river and established the township of Corowa. Tensions over customs duties on goods going across the state border (bridge) between Wahgunyah and Corowa added to the impetus for federation. The 1893 Corowa Federation Conference laid the foundation for the Commonwealth of Australia which was proclaimed in 1901.
Source and further information:  Walkabout Wahgunyah

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Day one was a leisurely cruise down the river, occasionally talking to people on the sandy beaches of the Corowa Common. Late in the afternoon I pulled into an empty beach at Stanton Bend (photo above). As I put the tent up a car arrived, then another - it turns out that this is the beach for Rutherglen, the nearby wine producing area and town. I spoke to a few of the people - some had a swim, a couple of dogs were exercised, then the cars left again restoring peace and isolation to the beach for the night. The sunrise the next morning was spectacular - the gleaming golden trees on the far side of the river were reflected in the still water (photo above). I pushed off, planning for a big day. I resisted the temptation to explore a small offshoot of the river called Boiling Down Creek. I looked up the meaning of 'boiling down' when I got back to Sydney. In the days before refrigeration, surplus animal carcasses were boiled down to cure them in brine and to make tallow for candles. Apparently a very smelly process.

During this second day I noticed I wasn't progressing as fast as I had on other legs of the trip. I considered the reasons for this. Am I getting older? Yes! Is the luggage heavier than usual? Yes - I have to cart everything I need for the four or five days, plus emergency gear and extra provisions to cover any contingencies, such as being held up in an isolated spot due to foul weather or injury. Was the current slower than usual? Yes - I looked up the Murray Darling Basin Commission records when I returned to Sydney to discover that the flow rate was reduced just before my trip started. The result of all this was that I was travelling at the rate of 16km on a good day, compared to up to 33km on other trips. I adjusted my planning and camped on a deserted beach on Forestry Commission land at Taylors Bend that night.

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As I lay in my tent on the morning of the third day I could hear the noise of strong wind in the trees. Not a good sign, particularly as head winds were forecast. Nevertheless I made reasonable progress, until the wind became so strong that a gust threatened to blow me off the board! By pure good luck this occurred at a small sandy beach at Buddhas Bend, so I pulled in and waited to see what the weather would do. There was no-one around, just a few empty caravans.

I spent a lonely 3 hours considering my various options. I could set up camp for the night, but if the wind was just as strong the next day I hadn't gained anything by waiting. I could secure the board and walk the 10km to the nearest bitumen road, and hitchhike back to the car. Tantalisingly I could see what looked like a car track on the opposite side of the river. If I could get to that the track would almost certainly end up at the main road on the NSW side of the river which was much closer than the 10km walk on my side. Alas I was not confident that I could get to the tiny beach on the other side - the wind and current would make it difficult. It would be easier, and perhaps possible, if I abandoned the two barrels I tow. But then if I was swept below the small beach landing spot the river banks downstream were high with overhanging trees and not easily accessed. Then I would be on my way down the river without my warm bedding and camping gear. Unfortunately the board will not go upstream against the current.

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As I grappled with the various scenarios I realised that none of them were all that great. Then, after 3 hours, the wind dropped slightly and I decided to push on in the remaining daylight. I came across a fisherman in a tinnie. He gave me some useful information about the river ahead which helped my planning and decision making. He offered me a yellow (yella) belly that he had caught. Unfortunately in the windy conditions I had no way of cooking it so I had to refuse the offer. Before long I reached a very good camp site in a cleared paddock. As I was putting the tent up the owner approached in a truck. I have become so used to freecamping on the river that I hadn't thought about asking permission to camp. Fortunately the owner allowed me to stay, at no charge, provided I took all my rubbish with me. I was grateful for this as I was exhausted and the night was rapidly approaching.

The last day of the trip was short and uneventful, until I met the current in the creek, as described above. Having reached the boat ramp with Martyn's help, I tied the board to a tree stump. This was the point that I realised the fin was hanging on by a thread (photo above). Repair needed! I walked the 30 metres or so to the road to hitchhike. I couldn't believe it - the second car picked me up and took me all the way back to Corowa. I had waited less than a minute!

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Details: Corowa (2080 kms from Murray Mouth) to Collendina Lagoon (2036 kms from Murray Mouth)
Dates 11 - 14 November 2008
Distance, time: 44 Kms, 4 days, 3 nights camping on the banks of the river
River height: Rose from 1.64 to 1.84 metres at Corowa during the trip
River flow: Increased from 5 600 to 7 000 ML/day at Corowa during the trip
Unfortunately the river flow rate dipped from 7 500 to 5 600 ML/day just before the trip started, significantly reducing current assistance and the rate of progress down the river.
River temperature: Varied from 20.5 to 23 deg C

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