MacRod:   Windsurfing on the Murray
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Trip Report




Marathon Territory
Yarrawonga to Cobram - October 2008


The Red Cross Murray Marathon is one of world's longest annual canoe races. It covers a distance of 404 km in five days, taking paddlers from Yarrawonga through to Swan Hill in Victoria, Australia. This leg of the windsurfer venture covers the first 74 km of the marathon route - a very picturesque section of the river with river red gums lining the banks, many sandy beaches and abundant wildlife.

Planning the trip had the usual mixture of excitement and apprehension. The river level was very low - 20 cm lower than the charts I work from which themselves were labelled 'very low water'. Even at the charted height the river was described as 'peppered with snags'. How many more obstacles would I encounter? Closer analysis of the charts did not cheer me up - I was scheduled to travel through 'Dead River', 'Cemetery Bend', 'Killars (sic) Beach', 'Rifle Butts', 'Black Hole' and 'Frying Pan Creek'! To add to this a sign at Cobram/Barooga, my destination, warned of Submerged Objects, Deep Water, Shallow Water, Strong Currents, Uneven Ground, Falling Branches, Cliff Edges and Native Wildlife. All on the one sign! Fortunately there was an encouraging counter-acting sign 'You can do it!' in big letters on the school building.

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Peter at the Yarrawonga Holiday Park kindly agreed to look after my vehicle while I meandered down the river. Unfortunately I accidentally drove over a gutter on the boat ramp on the way to the water. When I reversed off the gutter there was a sickening scraping sound and a huge puddle of water remained at the spot. Ruptured car radiator? The trip looked over before it began. The car radiator water level seemed to be OK, so I continued loading the board. An hour or so later the puddle remained unchanged, as did the radiator level. Perhaps the puddle was due to a seeping underground irrigation pipe, rather than a problem with the car. I locked the car and pushed off.


I enjoyed my trip down the river downstream from the Yarrawonga Weir. The sun was shining, the water temperature was just warm enough and the tree-lined river banks slipped quietly by. The river level was higher than expected, as more water had been released from the Yarrawonga Weir. After two hours I stopped for a rest on Forges Beach No. 1. Campers from Sale in Victoria were interested in the board and took photographs. The middle photo above is an example. A bunch of tents further downstream belonged to a school group - one of 10 groups from the same school, it turned out. They were canoeing down the river and camping each night. I bumped into these groups regularly on the river over the next few days. The girls and staff were pleasant and considerate of other river users. Towards sunset I set up camp on the river near a property called Richglen, 1977 kms from the Murray Mouth. The weather on the following day was even better, and I travelled a further 19 kms to Redbank Beach.

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The third day of the trip started out very cool. Once again I passed many sandy river beaches, including Nevin's West Beach. I stopped at Duffy's Beach No. 2 for a rest at 11 am. There were 2 caravans side by side on the beach. I spoke to the owners, who also lived side by side as neighbours in Melbourne! After visiting several other beaches I camped at Lange Oonah Bend, 1938 kms from the river mouth.


The bush came right down to the river bank. My tent was surrounded by trees. As I lay in my sleeping bag I wished I had an audio recorder to capture the sounds of the wild animal night life. The guttural sounds on inspiration and expiration (or so it seemed) probably emanated from wombats, kangaroos or koalas. More mysteriously I heard a sound like a heavily built person in work boots tromping through the gritty sand of the beach. This was followed by a splash in the water. Surprisingly I had heard exactly this sound the night before. At that time I thought some fellow campers had over-imbibed and gone for a midnight swim. Now I was hearing the same sound again, at a different beach, with no fellow campers. If you have any explantations for these sounds perhaps you could let me know (rod.mcewin@gmail.com). My latest theory is that these noises are caused by kangaroos slowly hopping through the sand to have a drink/wash. The most mysterious sound of all, though, was a sound like a high pitched dentist's drill. Occasionally this stopped and was replaced by the sound of a dripping tap. I'm not sure if both sounds came from the same animal/bird. If so I suspect that a pet budgie has escaped from a dentist's surgery and settled in the bush at Lange Oonah Bend!

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Day 4 provided some spectacular sights. Cobram Estate is a magnificent homestead on the Victorian bank of the river. The original homestead was built around 1860. The new one dates from 1907. Only 6 kms downstream I came across the ruins of the PS (Paddle Steamer) Julie Fay. This was a complete surprise - I had no forewarning on my charts that I was about to come across this historic wreck. The boat was registered in Port Adelaide, so had to get through the treacherous mouth of the Murray, and survive snags, shoals and strong currents to get so far up the river. Hopefully it had many successful trips before coming to rest on the bank. I spent the night on Buick's beach - another excellent spot. It is only 7 kms upstream from Cobram - Barooga. There were distinct signs that I was approaching civilisation - a couple of tinnies, more campers and caravans, and a buck's party on the river's edge!


The last part of the journey was a pleasant toddle down to Thompson's Beach, Cobram. As I approached the end point I reflected on what I would do differently next time. The major challenge of this trip was sunburn. In spite of regular use of sunscreen and a hat, my face got severely burnt. I've sought advice on this and discovered that even the best sunscreens cannot cope with prolonged sun exposure on the water in the middle of the day. I'll design a cloth 'face guard'.

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In the absence of a landcrew one of the tricks is to get back to the car at the end of the river trip. I tied the board to a tree and started hitchhiking the 36 road Kms from Cobram to Yarrawonga. In the next couple of hours I was given rides by
  • a New Zealander, who had recently moved into the area
  • a leather belt maker who was interested in my board as he had converted his own Bombora board for fishing by bolting a seat and outrigger onto it
  • a local whose daughter was riding her horse in the Cobram show
  • two golfers from Melbourne who were using a break between rounds to go wine tasting. They told me about a winery that had just won an international award. I think it was Bacchus Hill Winery which has just won a Top Gold Trophy for their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon at the 2008 International Cool Climate Wine Show and recently won 4 trophies at the Ballarat Wine Show for their 2006 Shiraz.
  • a vehicle full of local workers, two from Cambodia one from Thailand and one from Hong Kong. I was particularly impressed that they stopped to pick me up as their vehicle was full enough before I got in.

    One thing that was very noticeable on this leg of the trip was that the land along the river is State Forest, Regional Parks and other types of reserves. Tracks give excellent access to the river and isolated campsites overlooking the water. This is a welcome change from some stretches of river in South Australia where 'Trespassers prosecuted' signs and padlocked gates prevent access to the river.

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    Details: Yarrawonga (1988 kms from Murray Mouth) to Cobram (1915 kms from Murray Mouth)
    Distance, time: 74 Kms, 5 days, 4 nights camping on the banks of the river
    River height: Rose from 0.97 to 1.04 metres below the Yarrawonga Weir during the trip
    River flow: Increased from 4 300 to 5 500 ML/day from the Yarrawonga Weir during the trip
    River temperature: Varied from 16.5 to 18.9 deg C


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