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Shoalhaven Expedition (NERT Trip Report)

The Shoalhaven trip had more twists and turns than any trip I have ever been on. It all seemed so simple back in March when the trip was first suggested. A seven to ten day trip down great rapids and one of New South Wales most spectacular gorges. It sounded great but pretty quickly we were down to the 3 - 4 day trip on the top section as few people could get two weeks off work. Meetings were held, maps bought, enquires made, everything was looking great. Even as a few people started to drop out it still looked promising. As we approached the planned date problems started to emerge, more people pulled out, the farmer was likely to shoot us at the get out point and the main problem "the river was too low". The river level became the main problem and eventually led to abandoning the Shoalhaven, at least for this year.

What to do instead? Greg had already booked a flight to Canberra for the Shoalhaven Trip so we were committed to picking him up on the Monday. With Canberra as our starting point we decided to try the rivers in the vicinity. Right up to the start of the trip (and during) the itinerary and the paddlers were changing. We were down to three main paddlers during the week and who knows who for the weekend.

On Sunday I drove to Canberra and stayed the night at a girl friend's place. Paul was also meant to be driving up to meet me but rang at 9 p.m. to say he was going to leave at 5 a.m. Monday instead. A leisurely morning before heading to the airport to pick up Greg at lunchtime. Paul had rung again. He hadn't left at 5 a.m. in fact it was more like 12 midday. He would meet us in Cooma. Greg emerged from the plane walking a bit gingerly. Greg had completed the Round the Bay in the Day on Sunday and now had a bad case of chafing after the wet conditions. Paddling and chafing certainly don't go together!

Greg and I headed towards Cooma. The plan was to paddle the Murrumbidgee between Bredbo and Colinton on Tuesday. It seemed like a good idea to check out the access points to save time the next day. At Colinton we followed the directions in the guidebook down to the river. We found a spot to park the car with easy access to the river. All looked well but the guide book had mentioned that you should obtain permission from the landowner. Always keen to do the right thing we headed down the road in search of the friendly farmer. We met Jason on the track. He told us that all this land belonged to 'Neville'. Neville was likely to trash our car if we left it at the planned spot. He didn't like people anywhere near his property. Hadn't we seen the sign saying trespassers shot, cut into little bits, fed to the cows and then the police called. We had seen the sign but had taken a different road and thought ourselves safe. We discussed options with Jason. Perhaps we could access the river somewhere else. He suggested another town 40 kilometres further downstream. The 16 k trip was going to be long enough at minimum level without another 40 ks. We could always leave the car and hope Neville didn't see it. We decided to see if any of Neville's neighbours on the other side of the river would allow us to leave our car there. The first property we came to had a locked gate and a now familiar 'trespassers get lost' sign but the second property had no locked gate and no signs. This was looking more promising. Anita turned out to be very friendly and was happy for us to leave our car there. With the 'hard work' done we headed to Bredbo to check out the get in.

At Bredbo we followed the instructions in the guidebook but where there was meant to be a road leading to a ford was a sign saying "Trespasser Prohibited. All previous permission is revoked". What was wrong with these people! We tried different roads but couldn't find any other access point. We ended up back at the sign. Perhaps the landowner would give us permission despite the tone of the sign. We drove past the sign and headed towards the river. Soon another gate blocked our way. While we were deciding our next move some kids on trail bikes rode up. In response to our enquiry they told us they owned the property and were only too happy for us to leave our car there. That was good enough for us. On to Cooma for the night. Paul finally arrived about 10 p.m. after driving a very circuitous route and nearly running out of petrol. "You should have gone via Orbost" was the advice from Rod, after the event.

Our first river, the Murrumbidgee, and it was looking decidedly low. The level was on minimum but it wasn't looking inspiring. Paul was paddling his new boat and didn't want to scratch it. This meant that he walked around ever rapid with scratch potential. That was an awful lot of rapids. The river varied between trying to find the route with enough water to long deep pools and a killer headwind. There were a couple of fun rapids but these were few and far between. Two portages didn't impress us either. Finally Neville's bridge came into sight. Now we only had to negotiate the electric fence before getting out down wind of the aging dead wombat! The Murrumbidgee was scratched from our must come backlist and we headed up into the Snowy Mountains and the town of Adaminiby for the night.

The next river was the Eucumbene. The Eucumbene is a mountain stream. The guidebook described the river as being too narrow for Canadian canoes with a grade 3 gorge. In high water the gorge would be grade 4, 5 or 6! The map showed that the river dropped 100 metres in a 3 kilometre section of the gorge! The start of the trip was at Kiandra an old gold mining area that is covered in snow in Winter. The river was so narrow it was hard to believe it could be paddled.

The first couple of kilometres were easy grade 1, 2 rapids then suddenly a twisty grade 3 rapid appeared. It was a bit like paddling a long water slide. You desperately needed to keep the boat straight but didn't have enough room to hold the paddle sideways. If this is what the gorge was like it would be interesting! A quick discussion on the split paddle. It turned out that it had been left in the vehicle. We decided to carry on rather than spend an hour walking back to get it. Paul ominously declared that this would be a "3 jug trip". Back to the grade 2 rapids for a few kilometres before we reached the gorge.

One of the first gorge rapids was a reasonable grade 4 rapid. The gorge was meant to be grade 3. If this is what they call grade 3 then I was going to do a lot of walking. Greg successfully negotiated the chicken shute but Paul and I decided to portage. Even the portage had its dangers. As Paul was getting into his boat he lost his paddle. He attempted to paddle the next drop by hand but the support stroke and the subsequent hand roll weren't successful. Paul's paddle hadn't appeared and it was looking like the decision not to go back for the split paddled was a bad one. Finally Paul found the paddle in the rapid itself. We were back in action.

What followed was one of the most intense paddles I have ever had. I had always avoided steep creeks before and here I was in the middle of one with a Fly (my kayak) that was a foot too long! Lots of drops, pivoting around rocks, leaning back to stop the nose from pinning and wishing we were wearing elbow pads and gloves. Paul's prophesy of a 3 jug trip turned out to be true with him having a nasty looking swim and both Greg and me needing assistance after pinning. Greg and I wouldn't stop for lunch as we didn't want to break our concentration. Finally about 4 p.m. we reached the end at Lake Eucumbene. The lake was actually too low and the river was flowing all the way to the camping spot. We certainly felt a sense of achievement as we finally ate lunch.

After the challenge of the Eucumbene we'd decided to paddle the easy Yarrangobilly the next day. The Yarrangobilly was described as having one grade 3 rapid and lots of grade 2 but it was its spectacular limestone gorge that we were interested in. We checked out the get out first at the Yarrangobilly Caves reserve. The reserve was badly damaged by fire but the rangers were friendly. They offered to drive our boats from the get out point to the car park (saving us a 20 minute uphill walk) but reported that the river was on the low side. We drove to the get in point. The gauge they seem to use a lot in New South Wales, "If you can easily paddle the first couple of gravel races, its O.K.", was looking on the low side. Paul decided it was too low for his new boat but Greg and I decided to give it a go. For the first part of the trip to Yan's Crossing we were wondering why we bothered. We were having difficulty finding a path down the rapids and felt every rock gouging out our boats. After the crossing we entered the park and the limestone gorge. The gorge was dramatic with the river flowing between sheer cliffs studded with caves. At one point the river flows into a cave called 'Natural Bridge'. We portaged around and paddled back into the cave. A section of the roof had collapsed and revealed a mesh of branches blocking access through the cave. The second part of the paddle was definitely worth it for the scenery although more water would have been an advantage. The paddle finished at the thermal pool and here we found Paul.

The plan had been to drive on to Tumut and paddle the Goobrangandra River the next day but a phone call from Marty, who was driving up to join us, advised that the river was too low to paddle. We decided to drive on to Corryong and paddle the Swampy Plain River instead. At Corryong we met up with Marty and Geoff Burkitt and family. We hadn't seen Geoff, Jodie and the kids for a couple of years while they were on Norfolk Island. It was great to catch up and for Geoff to be able to paddle a river again.

Friday and a spectacular day for the Swampy. Paul decided to check out the access for the Indi so that left Greg, Marty, Geoff and me on the Swampy. The river was on the low side (1.34 metres) but we had a great day finding a few waves to surf on the way. The river was so clear it was like surfing on glass.

Here's where the trip turns messy. Due to lack of communication, differences of opinion and sundry other issues, two separate trips were run down the Indi the next day. The first trip with 5 kayakers, Greg, Marty, Geoff, Fraser and me paddled from Grassy Flat to Little Bunroy Creek. The second trip with Walter kayaking and Paul, Rod and Bill in the raft paddled from Grassy Flat to Bunroy picnic ground. The Indi is certainly a great paddle and I'm glad I finally managed to do it after several attempts to get there. The level was perfect with .94 at the Biggara gauge.

Sunday and the last day of the trip saw another change in paddlers and itinerary. The Swampy Plain River was too low for the raft Paul decided to head to Snowy Creek so Martin (from Canberra) and Bill could paddle. I was stuffed after paddling between 16 and 26 ks each day so decided to have a leisurely drive back to Melbourne. Paul reported that the Snowy Creek trip went well with the odd swim.

So that was the Shoalhaven Trip without the Shoalhaven. It would be a shame to waste all the preparations we made for the Shoalhaven, so we'll have to look at it again, when the rivers start to flow.

Alison Boyes