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South Australia: Joining the Dots
Greenways Landing to Avoca Dell - March 2009
This trip became known as 'Joining the dots' as it filled in the gap remaining from the previous South Australian trip. The entire section between Blanchetown to Wellington has now been covered. The map may be useful.
There is a lot of history in this South Australian stretch of the river. Signs of Aboriginal occupation trace back at least 5,000 years. Noa No near Mannum is the site of the launching of the first River Murray paddle steamer, the PS Mary Ann, in 1853. William Randell built the boat. His rival, Francis Cadell, built a paddle steamer for the Murray at about the same time and named her after the South Australian governor's wife, Lady Augusta. The Mary Ann and the Lady Augusta had an epic race up the Murray to Swan Hill in September 1853, with boilers straining and the lead changing several times. 'The Incomparable Captain Cadell' is a fascinating story of the river boats. It's referenced at Interesting Reading
In 11 days we travelled 110 river kms, from Greenways Landing (south of Swan Reach) through Mannum to Avoca Dell (just north of Murray Bridge).This is 5% of the target river distance. I had good weather and a fantastic ground crew. 435 river kms have now been covered on the windsurfer board - all with wind, water current and paddle power!
I'll describe the river trip in geographical sequence, north to south, ie down river, with date notations. We actually chose sections to do each day based on weather conditions and the location of vehicle access points to the river. Oh, and what time we woke up, of course!
Greenways Landing to Wongulla
(Saturday March 21, 2009)
Greenways Landing is a small beach at the downstream end of a long stretch of high river cliffs. Avid readers of this website will remember it is the site of a 'rescue', when high winds forced the end of a previous trip. The link SA Adventures provides the vivid details! The weather was much calmer now so after a short return sprint upstream to the point previously reached we loaded the board. With a cheery wave to the people on the beach I slipped away from the shore.
After a brief pause at Hermann's Landing, I stopped for lunch at the Ngaut Ngaut conservation park, just downstream from Nildottie. Earlier in the day, on the drive to Greenways Landing, we stopped at an intersection, not sure which way to turn. A local stopped to help. He told us about the Aboriginal history of the area, the burial ground at the top of the cliff and Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park. Ngaut Ngaut is one of the most significant Aboriginal archeological dig sites in Australia.
Aboriginal people lived in a rock shelter in the area for at least 5,000 years. Norman Tindale carried out the first scientific excavation here in 1929. He discovered 12 living layers and evidence of three separate cultural stages. I still like the name 'Nildottie'. It means smoke on the hill - the high cliffs above the rock shelter were used by the Aborigines for signal fires.
After another four kms I pulled into Wongulla Landing to end the day. In one of many 'perfection pick ups' the land crew, Bob and Sue, arrived with the car at precisely the same time I arrived.
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Wongulla to Scrubby Flat
(Saturday March 28 2009)
Before launching at Wongulla we did some exploring by car. A small river now called the Marne joins the Murray at this point. The Marne used to be called the Rhine by the early German settlers. Unfortunately with the effects of the drought it is now a minor muddy creek not at all like the magnificent river in Europe.
The trip down river from Wongulla was spectacular - the eastern side of the river has tall cliffs that shine like gold in the full sun. Local stories tell of a petrified shark 20 million years old that was cut out of the cliff.
I pulled into Walkers Flat for lunch and a phone call from home. This is another pretty part of the river with a grassy park, a ferry river crossing and a shop. I wanted to push on further but wasn't sure of the next down-river vehicle access point. Bob had checked out Fromm's Landing, the planned end point for the day. He couldn't get the car in due to locked gates. I waited near the ferry and pounced on the next person who drove up. Mike was a long time local who described the road access to Scrubby Flat, five kms down river, in very clear detail. In consultation with Bob I decided to continue. On the way out of Walkers Flat I had a good chat to the chef on a modern mostly glass 5 star luxury boatel (house boat).
The rest of the day's trip was very convivial. I stopped to swap notes with a man in a canoe - he was using the canoe to do maintenance under his houseboat. He listened with interest to the story of my windsurfer trip down the Murray and offered to make a donation. This was very generous especially as it occurred to me later that he didn't know what the charity is! Hopefully he remembered the website address I gave him.
In the late afternoon I passed another moored houseboat. Don and Joyce were sitting on the stern deck (notice the nautical terminology!). I accepted their offer of a beer enthusiastically! I had been offered many cups of tea and coffee by fellow river users, but a beer was a first. It tasted great - the setting was just right - good company, warm afternoon and a good day on the water. It was tasty home made beer, Cooper's style.
Buoyed by the beer I reached the river houses at Scrubby Flat. There was no boat ramp or cleared public park to pull in to. Luckily a woman on the river bank said I could land at a little beach in front of private property. She offered me a house phone to call the landcrew - there was no mobile reception. I couldn't get through on the house phone so I hiked up a steep long hill through parched paddocks to a distant high spot with mobile reception. This was successful but I had to hurry around a deep gully to reach the road to intercept Bob. I wasn't keen on the long walk back to the board if I missed the ride! This all worked. Bob noticed that I was very pleased to see him! After a chat to the holiday makers we loaded the board and drove back to the campsite.
Scrubby Flat to Bow Hill
(Sunday March 29 2009)
I was determined to cover 17 kms today. This would complete our goal of 'joining the dots' between Blanchetown and Wellington, a total of almost 200 river kms. This would then be the last river day of the current 11 day visit to South Australia. (You may remember that this trip report is arranged in geographical order rather than chronological.) It turned out to be one of the most memorable days of the trip.
When I arrived back to Scrubby Flat I was pleased to see that my life jacket was still where I had accidentally left it the evening before. I pushed off and headed downstream. At 11 am the 3 storey high paddle boat 'Murray Princess' churned passed me on its way upstream. a magnificent sight and a boating design miracle. In spite of its huge size it draws less than a metre.
My notes record another highlight. At 11.38 am (note the precision!) I saw a small head protruding from the water. It was moving across the river leaving small ripples behind it. I assumed it was a snake as so many people had told me about the snakes on the river. I edged tentatively closer for a better look. The animal did a 'duck dive' which revealed its shape. It wasn't a snake, or a duck. It was a platypus! I was excited as this was the first platypus I had seen in the wild. I followed it at a discreet distance. It crossed the river then went into a hole in the bank. Not satisfied with that hole it re-emerged and chose another one. I waited a while but it didn't reappear.
At 12.33 pm the 'Murray Princess, passed me again, this time going downstream. The precision that you will have admired in my time recording did not apply to my navigation on this day. I got a little confused about where I was, and which cliff on the chart matched which cliff in real life. This was a pity because I had set a big target for the day, and I was pushing myself. It would have been handy to be able to monitor my progress accurately.
A landing came into view on the western side of the river. This will tell me where I am. I clambered ashore and looked for a signpost. I walked up the track as far as the main road. Nowhere could I see a sign to identify the area. I was still lost. I made a phone call to the landcrew and pushed off again. Just downstream from the landing there were some houses on the river. I saw a man. 'Where am I?' I yelled. 'You're on the river' was the helpful reply. I was still lost. I managed to convince the man that a little more information would be useful. 'Caurnamont' he said and went on to estimate how far I was from the Purnong ferry. I had covered more ground, well actually water, than I thought.
Only a few minutes later I received a call from the land crew. We arranged to meet at the Caurnamont marina, which was coming up on the right. Caurnamont is an aboriginal word for high cliff. I was reluctant to stop so soon after having a break at Caurnamont landing, but the cold drinks Bob and Sue gave me renewed energy and without any doubt secured to the success of the day. I left the marina at 2 pm. Bow Hill, the destination, was six kms away. I would need to step up the pace if I was to get there today. I reached and passed Purnong, which has a mention on another page of this website. (On a previous reconnaissance trip to Purnong I found a man cleaning up the riverside park after a busy weekend. He was not happy about the rocks children had thrown onto the lawn he was about to mow. 'This is a nice spot,' I said. 'It is when no-one is here,' he replied. I wondered how he knew!)
It was a hot day but the temperature dropped as I pushed on. Renewed motivation arrived in the form of signs advertising how far to go to the Bow Hill General Store, which is like an oasis in the desert. I knew that this oasis provides iced coffee. The end was close when I reached Chucka bend. Apparently Charlie Craven, a colourful englishman who farmed this area was chucked from his horse into the river mud at this point, giving the bend its name. The boat ramp of Bow Hill came into view. I made a last effort, reached the ramp, pulled the board up on the bank, and made a beeline for the store.
The dots had been joined. 110 kms covered. Many good memories and a feeling of satisfaction.
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Bow Hill to Julanka Holdings
(Sunday March 22 2009)
A southerly wind greeted us as the land crew vehicle pulled into Bowhill, not far from Chucka Bend. Bowhill has a pleasant well-kept park on the river with outdoor tables and chairs, a boat ramp and a general store. Chucka Bend has an unfortunate name.
The wind made the first (southerly) reach hard work, but I knew if I could get to Coolcha the wind would be with me after that. And so it turned out. The day went well. There were a few good stopping points with vehicle access near Teal Flat but I wanted to push on. The risk was that I wouldn't be able to find a suitable landing when I wanted to call it a day. Ralph and his family came to the rescue. They allowed me to pull the board up to his jetty and invited me in for a cup of tea. He explained he had bought the land a long time ago, and used it as a family retreat since then. He named the property using parts of his three daughter's names. Was it Julie, Anne and Katrina to make Julanka? This part of the world is called Younghusband and the old stone Younghusband Hall is near Ralph's house. The Younghusband store is about six Kms downstream. After a good chat with Ralph the land crew arrived to take me away.
Julanka Holdings to Younghusband store
(Monday March 23 2009)
We didn't want to disturb Ralph and his family the next morning so we launched upstream of their house, at Younghusband Holdings. This was a considerate thing to do, but I must say I found it hard to spend the first Km of the day on water already covered. Ralph, his wife and two friends were standing on their front lawn admiring the river as I passed. I paddled close to the bank to say hello.
About a Km further on I approached some river houses (too good to call shacks). I heard a loud piercing whistle. I looked up to see Max (the whistler) and Von standing on their verandah. I accepted their invitation for a cup of tea. After all, I had covered two Kms by then, one of which counted! We found we had something in common - my sister and her husband were working in Dubai at the time, as were Max and Von's daughter and son-in-law. Some friends of Max and Von stayed in their house for a weekend. They saw 44 different species of birds in that time. The list is included at the bottom of this page.
I met the landcrew just upstream of the Younghusband store, picked up the sail, ran out of wind and ran into the recurring hassle of having the tall mast on board when I was paddling. Read on...the solution is imminent. For the second time that day the landcrew had to wait quite a while for me to arrive. We adjourned to the Younghusband store for coffee and some improvements to my planning.
Younghusband to Noa No
(Wednesday March 25 2009)
Todays trip tackled the notorious Pellaring Flat. This area of the river is exposed to winds from all directions. Charles Sturt was held up for three days waiting for the wind to die down so he could continue his exploratory trip to the mouth in 1823. Luckily for me the river today was like a mirror. Nevertheless we took the precaution of fortifying ourselves with iced coffee at the oasis (Younghusbnd store) before departing. I wonder if Captain Sturt did the same? The trip down the river was very pleasant, with the occasional houseboat providing variety. The low level of the river was very evident with lagoons along the river dry and crusty. As usual the landcrew were right on time to meet me at Noa No.
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Noa No to Mannum
(Thursday March 19 2009)
I drove up to Noa No, about 6km upstream of Mannum. After what seemed an age of unpacking the car and loading the board I took off. This was the first day of the trip so the paddle back into Mannum was a useful shakedown. I passed a bird sanctuary and the remains of two paddle steamers. The 2 ferries at Mannum provided some excitement as I paddled furiously to avoid their scissor movement. Then I glided (?glid) with as much elegance as I could muster back to the bank and secured the board to a tree at the free campsite opposite Mannum.
So far so good - but the car was still near the little beach at Noa No. I started walking up the road - only six kms to go! It was a hot day. I stuck my thumb out hopefully. Before long a woman in a ute pulled up. She suggested I move the carton of groceries from the front seat to the open tray of the ute so I could get in. During the ride she pointed out the effects of the deterioration of the river, told me about the lack of rain and other local news. When I got out the sun was still beating down on the groceries. 'Would you like me to put the carton back on the front seat?' I asked. 'Yes please, I've got milk in there!' I was doubly grateful for her generosity.
I drove back to Mannum and went into a shop for a treat to celebrate the first leg of the trip. There was a woman buzzing around behind the counter and no other customers. I waited to be served, and waited. Eventually she came up to me and said 'I saw you standing there.' 'Huh?' I thought.
I went back to the campsite and sat in the car (free camping doesn't come with seats) studying the charts in the River Pilot, whilst keeping a watchful eye on the board. The Trepid is not valuable but has been customised with many fibreglass hoops for securing the equipment, food and water boxes. After driving for 3 days to get to the river any damage to the board on day 1 would be a real setback.
Mannum to Zadow's Landing
(Friday March 20 2009)
This was the second leg of trip. I did the first leg without the landcrew, who were due to arrive in Manum today. I retained faith in their ability to find me so with this in mind I took off from Mannum, heading downstream, through the Baseby Irrigation Area. I wasn't sure how far I would get, particularly when I reached the idyllic cluster of shacks at Caloote. Caloote was mid-week quiet. Two men dressed in the river uniform of shorts and singlet sat at an outdoor table in the cool shade of some large trees. I joined them for while and soaked up their views on avoiding the rat race, without argument. With some reluctance I left them, heading for Zadow's Landing, which I reached after another hour or so, without incident.
Zadow's Landing has a boat ramp. Many boat ramps have been closed because the river level has dropped so low that there is a stretch of impenetrable mud between the water and the bank. Zadow's was still open, until today, as it turned out. When I arrived a speed boat floated merrily in the water, but the boat trailer would not leave the river mud. No amount of spinning and burning tyres on the tow vehicle would convince it to move. I helped the three men. The trailer wasn't heavy, but it was impossible to lift. I thought the wheels we were trying to lift must be wedged between big rocks. The locals knew better. We used poles as levers, and other forms of ingenuity. With an almighty combined effort eventually one wheel lifted a fraction with a loud sucking sound. The mud was acting like glue to hold the wheels in place. After much more huffing and puffing and smoking tyres the trailer slowly gave up and edged out of the water. Zadow's Landing boat ramp was promptly and officially declared closed from that moment.
True to form my land crew found me at Zadow's. It was good to see them, and to taste the cold drink they brought. We went back to the relative luxury of the Mannum Caravan Park, and a hot meal. No more free camping!
Zadow's to Sunnyside
(Tuesday March 24 2009)
As I left Zadow's Landing the wind was in the north east. This is normally very good news, but not for today's first reach of about three kms. Once I turned the bend, however, I made very good progress. The track head at Wall Flat quickly passed. I only just had time to admire the old and new homesteads at Pompoota, before reaching Woodlane for a rest. In another four kms I reached Sunnyside, the planned destination, making a total of 15 kms travelled for the day.
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Sunnyside to Avoca Dell
(Thursday March 26 2009)
A relatively easy day planned - just six kms. A leisurely late start seemed warranted. Things started off well but the head wind got progressively stronger. After four hours I eventually got to the point where I could see the landcrew pickup vehicle about a km away at the destination, Avoca Dell. I paddled harder and harder but didn't get any closer. I was being blown onto the western side of the river where the banks were covered in impenetrable bushes. Occasionally the wind would drop for a short time and I was able to edge forward with thrashing paddles. This was the seventh consecutive day on the river, so I had built up a modicum of fitness. Every bit of it was now required. In a victory for perseverance I struggled in to shore at Avoca Dell. My landcrew seemed very relaxed, apparently oblivious to the gargantuan tussle out on the water.
Reaching Avoca Dell was a milestone for the project. This connected the current trip with the northern-most point of the previous South Australian trip. Only the stretch between Wongulla and Bow Hill remained outstanding in the quest to join the dots from Blanchetown to Wellington, almost 200 river kms.
(Friday March 27 2009)
We had a day off the water on Friday March 27, after seven consecutive day trips on the water. Time to check out the shops of Mannum, and to experiment with a collapsible mast. This was an attempt to reduce the problem the large mast causes when it is not being used. In strong winds the furled sail and mast make the board unsteerable. The sail has to be furled when the wind gets too strong or is coming from the wrong quarter. With the frequent bends in the river it would be ideal to have a sail that is easily put up and down, and is not a nuisance when it is down. Currently the mast is such a liability that unless I can be sure the weather is good for sailing I leave it behind and commit to paddling.
The main problem is the length of the mast - when it is not being used it lies on the boxes at the front of the board and projects forward like a bowsprit. But it projects so far forward that it catches the wind and takes the board off course. We had been toying with the idea of a foldable mast, or a telescopic mast that could be collapsed when not in use. The problem with a foldable mast is the weakness introduced by the hinge. So I went down the other path and bought an extendable pole from a hardware shop. The pole is designed for cleaning high windows or painting high walls. It seemed to be strong enough so I collapsed it and took it on the trip for further experimentation.
Today was the day. Initially the pole refused to extend. Bob taped one end to a garden seat in the campsite and covered the pole in lubricant. It still refused to budge until we both pulled on it as hard as we could, whereupon it not only extended but flew apart. We picked ourselves up and got it back together again, but the extension would not lock in position. This puzzled us. After a lot of thought my solution, as a city dweller who lives close to hardware shops, was to take it back to the shop and swap it for one that works. Bob, who lives further from hardware shops, was more resourceful. He continued thinking about the problem and started looking in the grass around the garden seat. He found a small but vital piece that had flown out of the pole at such speed we hadn't seen it. Once this was restored to its position the pole worked as planned. We attached the mast foot and sail. Initial testing on the river has been successful so we hope the sailing to paddling ratio will increase.
Birds seen at Lake Carlet by friends of Max and Von, 2nd to 4th May 2008
Pelican, Spiny Cheeked Honeyeater, Black Duck, Singing Honeyeater, Wood Duck, White Plumed Honeyeater, Darter, Plover, Caspian Tern, Grey Shrike Thrush, Silver Gull, Purple Swamphen, Little Pied Cormorant, Spotted Turtle Dove, Black Cormorant, Aust.Shellduck, Great Cormorant, Australian Teal, Intermediate Egret, Sacred Ibis, White Faced Heron, Black Fronted Dotterel, Black Swan, Black Winged Stilt, Royal Spoonbill, Red Necked Auocet, Yellow Rosella, Mountain Duck, Galah, Corella, Adelaide Rosella, Murray Magpie, Noisy Miner, Welcome Swallow, Crested Pigeon, Magpie, Whistling Kite, White Browed Babbler, Willy Wagtail, Pied Butcher Bird, Raven, Peaceful Dove, Kookaburra, Grey Butcherbird
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Greenways Landing (227 kms from Murray Mouth) to Avoca Dell (118 kms from Murray Mouth)
Dates 19 - 29 March 2009
Distance, time: 110 Kms, 11 days, 10 nights camping including in the wonderful Mannum Caravan Park
River height: Controlled by the lock system, although the wind has a local effect. About two metres lower than normal
River flow: Virtually Nil, wind blows water up and down river
River temperature: Warm, fortunately - I fell in several times!
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