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Cobram to Morgans Beach
This stretch of the river twists and turns through a dense native forest and has a spectacular array of beaches. Almost every kilometre there is a shady sandy camping spot. My visit to the area coincided with the Victorian holiday weekend for the Melbourne Cup. Every beach was dotted with tents, cars, blow-up rafts, caravans, boats and people. A riot of colour. It was great to see so many people enjoying the river.
I hadn't been on the river for some time so packing took for ever - checking lists and hunting for necessary items. The essentials include sunburn cream and sun protection, charts, drinking water, tent and bedding, and of course the board and rigging. I take multiple backups of the essentials, and store them in different containers. This means that if one container 'escapes' overboard and heads for the bottom like a streamlined brick I don't lose everything.
Cobram and Barooga are twin towns separated by a few kilometers and the river in a pastoral, fruit and wine-growing district. This is a popular tourist area with scenic spots and walks along the river and a resort style golf course. I reached Thompson's Beach at Cobram after a couple of day's drive from Sydney. Then I searched for a place to leave the car. Steve James, a local, recommended Brian's Cobram Apex Caravan Park. I couldn't find Brian but Kevin, a caravan park resident, assured me it would be OK to leave the vehicle. So I did, and left a note for Brian.
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Thompson's Beach is a very pretty departure point. I did a short sprint upstream to reach the previous trip's end point and then loaded the board and set off into the sunset.
I had checked the river level before leaving Sydney, and wasn't disappointed. The water level was high, with a strong current. Snags would be less of a problem, and the current would assist even when I was studying the charts or having a rest on the board.
The afternoon trip down the river was enjoyable and uneventful, until I reached Dead River Beach. This beach arrived at the right time for the first overnight stop. As I pulled in I put my foot onto the sand and immediately felt a sharp stinging pain. As I leapt off the board and fell to the sand to check my foot I broke my sunglasses. I had stepped on a bee. Bad luck for the bee but also for me. I'm allergic to bee stings and wondered how bad the effects might be. Luckily as it was holiday weekend there were some other people on the beach with a vehicle should I need to be evacuated. I waited to assess the situation. Once I realised the inflammatory reaction wasn't going to spread beyond my foot I got on with setting up for the night.
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Then I noticed that one of the fibreglass loops on the board was loose. These loops anchor the occi straps that secure the on-board luggage. If they 'let go' at the wrong time essential equipment and supplies can be lost overboard. To have a loop failure at such an early stage in the trip was not good news. I used my repair kit to re-glue the loop. Then I opened the bedding barrel (which I tow along behind the board) to find my sleeping bag and other bedding was wet. The barrel lid had leaked. Fortunately it was a warm night.
The next morning there was more bad news. Some of my drinking water bottles had leaked. The water had been frozen and some of the bottle tops could not cope with this. I carry water purification tablets and a meths burner in case I have to sterilise and drink river water, but with the current state of the river this is a last resort. I am now collecting better tops - from ice coffee and orange juice bottles. These superior tops have "38-SL8" stamped on the inside. I only mention this in case you come across one.
In spite of the minor set backs the second day on the river was superb. Huge river red gums and simmering beaches slipped past as the current did most of my work. People everywhere, many floating down the river on colourful inflatable devices. I made good progress and reached Tocumwal's Town Beach in the late afternoon. A pleasant bush track leads from the beach camping area to the town of Tocumwal. I walked to town for a pub meal that evening. I eat very little on the river but make up for it when I hit a town!
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The next morning I packed up and paddled into Tocumwal on the board. Tocumwal is a thriving rural town with 25 beaches nearby. Visitors come to bushwalk, swim, ski, fish and play golf. I had a leisurely big breakfast in the bakery, then called in on the Tourist Information Centre.
Having cunningly avoided three hours of exposure to the sun I pushed off on the day's journey. Once again the river had many beautiful beaches, but now a new rivercraft appeared - speed boats! I counted up to seven buzzing around on the same reach as me at the same time. I like water skiing so I hold no animosity towards skiers, and the boat drivers were very considerate (with only one notable exception). However the wash came at me from all angles most of the day, making the board feel like a bucking bronco. Several times I thought the board would capsize but this was narrowly avoided. I did get stuck of an underwater pipe, and hit a few other unseen obstacles, sometimes with force. However the recently repaired fin held up, unlike the recently repaired fiberglass loop which gave way again.
I pushed myself to get as far as possible so that the trip's destination, Morgans Beach, would be within reach the next day. After resisting the temptation to stop at Forest Beach, Breens Beach, Long Beach, Groutches Beach, Pump Beach, Wide Beach and Point Beach, I pulled in to Doctors Beach. A helpful camping neighbour from Finley lent me a hammer and helped get the tent up. He was surprised that I didn't leave at the crack of dawn next day, preferring a sleep in and a 10.15 am launch.
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There was some variety in the river today as it winds through the Barmah State Park. After Faraway Beach (yes that's right!) the river splits into two channels. I called out to some fishermen for navigational advice. Unfortunately I learnt that the short cut channel is impassable so I took the longer route, through Thornley State Forest. It is unusually narrow. Further down the river Ulupna Creek re-enters the River, after leaving it near Tocumwal. The loop creates Ulupna Island. I was told koalas were re-located to Ulupna Island, thinking the Island would provide a confined environment for them. In fact they have propagated really well and are very tame. Many have found ways to leave the Island.
About mid afternoon I arrived at another well populated beach. On asking a water skier if I had reached Morgans Beach I was advised 'Not really, but this is a better place to stop as there is a kiosk and caravan park nearby.' I was keen to be at a place that offered a chance of hitching out in the morning. This sounded like the spot. Morgans Beach was just down river but was 'just a bit of sand' I was told. I rushed up to the kiosk - after a river diet of tins of cold tuna it was like an oasis in the desert! I was worried it would be closed! I was in luck and enjoyed a hot chicken roll.
I hadn't realised that the beach was about 10 kms from the main road as I trudged up the unsealed road, on the way to retrieving the car. (See middle photo above.) It looked shorter on the map! Fortunately a vehicle stopped and gave me a ride most of the way. Once on the main road it wasn't long before another car offered me a ride, with a convenient bakery gap at Strathmerton.
Having collected the car from Brian, and driven back to collect the camping gear and board, I drove downriver as reconnaissance for future trips. I loved the paddle boats and museum in Euchuca. A highlight was a visit to the Yorta Yorta Koori Cultural Centre and the Viney Morgan Aboriginal Medical Service at Barham and Cummeragunja respectively. You will recall that this charity project is raising funds for the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, which has strong links with the Aboriginal Medical Services.
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Cobram (1914 kms from Murray Mouth) to Morgans Beach (1853 kms from Murray Mouth)
Dates 30 October - 2 November 2009
Distance, time: 60 Kms, 4 days, 4 nights camping on the banks of the river
River height: High: 2.16 metres at Tocumwal
River flow: Over 9 000 ML/day
River temperature: Refreshing - warm enough to stay in
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