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Canoeing on the Murray River

Canoe adventures on the mighty Murray

Ron Kandelaars explores the River Murray with the help of Kym Werner of Canoe Adventures and discovers some hidden gems.

BY RON KANDELAARS


Summer is a great time to explore the maze of waterways branching off the main Murray River channel and what better way to explore this watery wonderland than by kayak or canoe. We ventured out with Kym Werner from Canoe Adventures, who knows Loch Luna Reserve better than anyone. 


The network of creeks can baffle the novice when you first take in this marvel from the Sturt Highway Overpass near Barmera. The main river channel is easy to make out, although the intricate web of tributaries and creeks is a little harder to read…but before long, we're in among it.


Kym kindly does the paddling in our extended kayak as I strategically place my recorder to pick up the sounds of the Murray for one of my regular radio segments on ABC 891.


“I hate that you’re doing all the work, mate.”


“I’ve got kids, so I’m used to it!”


Within a few short strokes we’ve entered the narrow waters of Chambers Creek, and from here you could lose yourself in the array of small anabranches which Kym has explored extensively since starting his tours several years ago.

Ron Kandelaars and his trusty canoe

Ron Kandelaars with his trusty canoe, courtesy of Canoe Adventures.


"The first half a kilometre is this narrow windy bit which is just lovely. Then it comes to the wider area of Loch Luna and then it makes its way to Lake Bonney, about twelve and a half kilometres.”


For many years, Kym was a chaplain at one of the local schools, but now the wetlands of the Riverland are his classroom and for the uninitiated it opens up a maze of canoeing and kayaking possibilities.


“Our tours we actually do in the Nockburra Creek. There’s quite a system of creeks – about three or four. So we’ll do a little loop around a couple of them.”


“Kym, we’ve got a little bend coming up here with gum trees overhanging the banks of Chambers Creek and the thing that really strikes you on this tour is how everything meanders in on itself. It’s just a relentless snaking of water through the mallee, isn’t it?”


“Yes it is Ron. You can be a little way into the system and it looks pretty dry. And then you wind your way into a place like this and it’s a little piece of paradise – a real gem. A lot of people just don’t know that it exists.”


The Riverland has a suite of creeks off the main river channel like Katarapko Creek, Pike River, Ral Ral Creek, Chowilla and many more as Kym explains.


“In fact there’s a lot more distance in the creeks in the Riverland than there is in the Murray River itself.”


I’m glad Kym knows where he’s going because soon we’re in the thick of it, surrounded by ancient river red gums, dense lignum and thick reed bed, with birdlife springing into action – and Kym has become a bit of an expert on the local birdlife:


“That would be either a darter or cormorant. You’ll probably get about twenty metres away from them. They’ll often do a very ungraceful fall into the water and disappear. You’ll usually see a whistling kite and other raptors around. You sometimes get quite close to them when they’re perched on a nearby branch.”


In the distance we spot one of the local highpoints, a prominent landmark for Captain Charles Sturt on his famous expedition by whale boat down the river.


“That’s Sugar Loaf Hill which is right in the Loch Luna area. Sturt initially saw the hill from a smoke fire. He didn’t realise at the time but there was a signal being put out that there was this strange guy on the water and so he climbed that hill and had a look around as well.”


“So Kym, the local Aboriginal people were certainly keeping an eye on him?”


“That’s right Ron. They had to keep an eye out for other tribes too. There had been hostile tribes from up further north who had come downstream. So that was one of the main lookouts and signalling points."


And you certainly need them when navigating this watery maze. For Kym Werner, the abundance of choice can throw up a canoeing conundrum – where to next for the true adventurer?


“This would be our most popular one, in Loch Luna. For a short overnight tour, Katarapko Creek is very popular with lots of good camping spots. And there’s even a short tour I do through a lesser known area. We paddle into Gurra Gurra Creek, past Bookpurnong Creek and down through Ajax Achilles Lakes. They’re not very well known.”


“I love the names, Kym.”


“Yeah, they were named after two work barges that are just sitting there and rotting and rusting away. You can paddle for weeks around the backwaters of the Murray River. There are new bits to be found every day, every hour, every minute.”


So for the family adventure of a lifetime, Kym Werner from Canoe Adventures is your man. And, like I said, he’s used to doing all the paddling – he’s got kids!

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