It’s late afternoon and the tide has almost run out. The mouth of the Pine River always looks fantastic at low tide in the golden colours of the late afternoon sun. People stand on the long sandbars to fish while their dogs play in the water. On the days when I ride home from work across the Ted Smout Bridge and look west to this view I feel happy. Today I have a chance to join them. But not to fish; I am going to packraft up the river in search of a geocache.
It’s been too long since I used my packraft. I seem to have been caught up in the hum drum of day-to-day life. You know that stuff: work, university study, laziness. The former is probably the least of my excuses and the latter the most relevant. As soon as I sit in the boat I feel at ease. I paddle up the river against the last of the outgoing tide with the wind at my back. I have just under three hours until dark but already the sun is sitting low on the horizon, creating beautiful light reflections off the water and wet sand.
I’m in no hurry so I take the time to pull up on the river’s banks. When the tide is high the water covers this entire area and creates a swampy mangrove habitat. But at low tide the sand is hard enough to walk on and there are even a few patches of soft beach sand a little higher up the banks. Those small patches quickly give way to mangrove swamp behind them but they do look pretty all the same.
It’s easy to dismiss Brisbane’s mangrove-lined waterways as ugly, smelly and muddy. But I have come to appreciate them as a symbol of home. I grew up having running races through thigh-deep mangrove mud with my sisters and learning how to walk between the trees’ breathing tubes without them stabbing my foot (they don’t cut but they still hurt when you stand on them). I recently read that mangrove-lined waterways are the breeding ground for over 70% of the fish we eat here in Australia so they are very important despite their bad wrap. That aside, I like the versatility of the mangrove trees and the way they look, both when standing dry at low tide and when submerged with only their leaves showing through the water.
I paddle for an hour until I reach the geocache location. It’s cleverly hidden. I sign the log, replace the cache and log the find online. Then I head back towards my start point. The tide is just about to turn and the wind has picked up, creating small waves to paddle into. I bounce over them as I make my way down the river towards the sandbanks where I started. My shadow starts to grow longer in the water ahead of me and the roar of the commuter traffic on the Ted Smout Bridge starts to fill my ears over the blowing of the wind. By the time I get back the sun has sunk low enough for a sunset photo before I head home.
I’m currently back home in Redcliffe, a coastal peninsula north of Brisbane. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to for the past week.
I’ve enjoyed fish and chips on the beach across the road from our home.
I’ve been running training because I’ve entered the Gold Coast Marathon, which is being run on 5 July. I entered because I need a fitness goal. I’m not a great runner but hopefully I can complete the event within the 6:40 cut off by run/walking the whole course.
As part of my training I have been running up and down these stairs that lead to a small beach that gets inundated at high tide. It makes stair training quite pleasant when the view is like this.
I’ve been combining geocaching with my running training. The geocaching gives me something to aim for on my running outings. It also ends up with me seeing some interesting things, like these twisted and gnarled trees that are in a park near the Morgans fish shop in Scarborough.
It’s also taken me down to the Gayundah Shipwreck, which I’ve been to before but never tire of.
We’ve been walking 5km almost every night; sometimes as late at 11pm. The full moon this week has been stunning. But the winner of most beautiful night photo for this trip so far goes to the Ted Smout Bridge, which we walked across on a windy night. I like the way the lights reflect on the waters where Moreton Bay meets the Pine River.
We’ve been hitting the gym and pool most days the past fortnight doing boxing classes and swimming laps. It’s part of our desire to continue to get fit. It’s led to my body returning to its old rhythm of early starts, which has led to me watching the sun rise from the beach a few times.
While I am loving being home, I find myself getting restless to explore the world some more. I particularly need to get back out into nature so will be resuming my travels from 31 March when I go to Malaysia and Japan. On my return from those trips I will be doing some more long trips here in Australia. So it means that I want to enjoy my next 19 days in Redcliffe before I spend some months away again.
After listeining to hoons doing donuts outside my tent late into the night, I woke to gray skies and cold weather. With a couple of university assignments due in mid-September I decided the best option for the day was to try to find somewhere warm and dry to do some work instead of moving on. I had heard from the visitor centre in Morgan that Waikerie was a very nice town. Personally, I found the town a bit rough and unfriendly compared to river towns in the Murraylands. But at least there was a powerpoint outside the library in the cold where I could plub in to work (without sun I couldn’t charge my devices any other way) with my fingers slowly turning blue. The council officer I spoke with said that they don’t like backpackers hanging out inside the public library so they have opted to cover all indoor powerpoints and only allow charging of devices outside.
After a long day behind the keyboard (and making good progress on my university studies) I changed camp to stay along the river on the other side of town. The camp was okay and there were no hoons overnight. But before I bedded down I unpacked my packraft and spent a lovely half hour unwinding on the River Murray, just drifting around and dipping in the paddles every now and then for some very slow propulsion. It was the highlight of an otherwise businesslike day. If you are traveling the Murray, I would recommend against bothering with Waikerie. Stop in Morgan or at any town down in the Muraylands instead. They are much more beautiful and friendly.
The sun is shining and it’s a warm day. Well, the maximum temperature is meant to reach 14’C (57’F) and I have become so aclimated that I find this warm. I decide to cycle along the Linear Path to the Adelaide Hills but as soon as I reach the river I change my mind and return to the hostel to grab my packraft. I shove the raft, paddles, water and a softshell jacket all into my 30L pack with my PDF strapped to the outside and walk the 1.5km (1 mile) back to the river.
The rowing clubs have a boat deck that is low enough to allow me to drop the boat into the water and get in without getting wet. I’ve seen a water rat swimming past me and there’s a lot of debris floating downstream from the recent heavy rains so I am not keen to have too much contact with the murky muddy water. But it’s not going to stop me getting out on it; arter-all, this is why I have carted the 5kg (11lbs) of paddling gear with me on my bike.
The Adelaide Crows are playing an AFL match this afternoon so there are crowds of supporters descending on the Adelaide Oval to support their team. The Adelaide Oval is next to the Torrens in the city and I could hear the music, commentary and cheering from the water. It made for quite a carnival atmosphere. I do love the Southern States’ obsession with AFL, even though I personally am more a League kind of guy.
The riverbanks are beautifully manicured and I keep expecting to coxed rowing eights to come past. There are rowing clubs here on the banks of the river but no rowers materialise. That sense off being in a foreign land returns with a rush as I paddle upstream. It’s so beautiful but the stark naked trees, green grass and people wearing scarfs makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a North American movie set.
I watch the people using the Linear Path along the river’s edge. Cyclists pedal. Some race by in full team lycra and I realise just how silly I used to look when I was one of them. No offense to my lycra-clad friends but it actually looks very funny when there are other people riding on the same trails who look comfortable in their trousers and scarfs. I know that lycra serves a purpose but it still looks funny from the outside. Joggers move purposively while groups of pedestrians meander along holding deep conversations. The day has also brought the lovers out of the woodwork with their romantic picnics and sweet nothings on blankets in quiet corners of the park. The romantic in me is a touch jealous.
I pass under one last bridge and the manicured lawns end and I am in a narrower channel surrounded by long grasses and gum trees. The river here flows more quickly and there are a few strainers along the banks. I make a mental note of them so that I don’t allow myself get pushed in to them on the way back.
The current here is strong and I have to work hard to make forward progress. I struggle on for about ten minutes before I decide the effort is greater than the reward and turn the raft around. The current takes me downstream effortlessly. For the next twenty minutes the only time I need the paddle is to keep the boat facing forwards (my packraft always wants to travel downstream side-on or backwards). I unzip the spray deck and hang my legs out on the boat’s edges where they catch some sun. I love this part … drifting along lazing back watching the world from the water.
Back in the city reach of the River Torrens I drift slowly listening to the crowd cheering as the Crows score goals in the footy match. There’s a massive television screen on the outside of the stadium and I can see it from my raft so I watch a couple of goals as I listen to the crowd’s voices rise and fall like a wave. It’s a glorious experience for my senses. Around me families, friends and couples play on the paddle boats that are available to hire as water from the fountain sprays me. I’ve only been out here for a couple of hours but it feels like much longer.
I put out near a pretty gazebo and naked tree that must look amazing in spring. I slowly deflate the boat, pack everything back in my bag and walk into the city to buy a few groceries and listen to some buskers.
I liked Morgan the instant I rode into town yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t just relief at being able to stop after a long day in the saddle. No, this was an actual deep sense of liking the place and so I decided to stay here two nights to rest, relax and allow my body to recover from the demands of five days on the road. I set aside the whole morning for work (I work 19 hours a week writing online training courses). I find that I am efficient and focused when I am relaxed and the sunshine in the town’s riverfront park was conducive to said relaxation. The hours passed by quickly and, before I knew it my laptop battery had died and it was already lunchtime.
After a trip to the museum, with it’s funny male manekins dressed in women’s garb (I doubt it’s intentional cross-dressing and more a feature of necessity), I couldn’t resist a visit to the old morgue. Apparently, this is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the whole town. We humans are such morbid people 🙂
Morgan used to be a major centre on the Murray River. It was so big that it became a railway town in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a former railway worker myself, I have a thing for railway towns. There’s something kinda cool about trains and the way they can travel almost anywhere – so long as there are tracks for them to follow. The railways always conjur up an era of prosperity, adventure and industry. I think that I would have liked to have been a railway man in days gone past. And visiting railway towns also brings up fond personal memories of the men I worked with when I was myself a railways man.
Naturally, as a prosperous river town, Morgan was also home to a lively shipping industry. The local community are currently bringing life back into the PS Canally, which sank near Morgan many years ago. I hope one day to return to see her once again making her way up and down the river as the Murray Princess does today.
And then there were the houses from various periods of Morgan’s history. I think we all know by now that I like derelict stuctures, especially those built from stone. But I do also like structures that are still alive. There’s something about the stories that their walls must be able to tell about all the souls that have passed through the rooms, whether as residents, guests or maybe even thieves. There are countless little historic houses in town that trace it’s links to times long gone.
My final day on the Murray wouldn’t be complete without launching my packraft. My campsite didn’t really have a good launch point and I didn’t feel like wasting time searching the area for a better spot so I made do and got myself safely into the boat without the need for a swim (I am a strong swimmer but it’s not an activity that I enjoy).
The effort was worth it and I was soon paddling my way on the river’s greeny-brown waters looking up at the burnt orange cliffs on the opposite bank. I know I will miss those cliffs that I have followed north these past few days when I turn north-west away from the river’s path.
There is a gorgeous recurring burnt orange theme to the Murray’s banks in these southern reaches. Where cliffs rise on one side, burnt orange grasses grow in gay abandon on the other. If someone painted it with oils you’d say they were using artistic licence. But it really does look like this.
The pelicans are still here, swimming away and catching fish. But there are fewer of them than there were further south. Perhaps we’re starting to get too far away from the sea for their liking. Or maybe there’s not as many fish for them to eat up here. That’s not to say they are rare here because I still counted about 25 of them on my paddle. They seem to like being in pairs and I saw some swim quickly away when a third tried to join them. It was rather like seeing two lovers interrupted by an unwanted dinner guest.
The strangest thing I saw was this toilet stuck way up in a tree. Someone must have gone to a lot of effort to get it up there because it was very high. You’d need to park a houseboat under the tree and then probably still climb a ladder to get there. However it got there, it made me chuckle – for I am someone who finds these random sightings amusing.
After paddling upstream for almost an hour, I turned my raft for home and allowed the wind and current to carry me partway back while I basked in the sunshine. Don’t let the short sleeves and shorts confuse you – the maximum temperature today was only around 10 degrees celcius (50 degrees farenheit) but I seem to be aclimating quite well now.
Back at camp I laid my packraft out to dry while I cooked up some dinner and watched the sun drop down behind the cliffs. It was so quiet and peaceful watching the pelicans and listening to the kites calling. I have thoroughly enjoyed my week on the Murray. Perhaps one day I will be back to ride her waters by packraft or canoe. For now, the time has come to explore new territory. But I will enjoy one last night of listening to the water lap against the shore knowing that I am here sleeping beside Australia’s Mighty Murray River.
I wonder whether I will ever become efficient at packing my bike in the morning. It seems that I just seem to spend a lot of time slowly putting my gear away and leaving camp in mid-morning. This happens whether I wake early or late. Actually, when I wake early I seem to take longer to get going. But maybe that’s a sign of my having lots of time so fitting more in. Who knows. Either way, it’s a good thing I have plenty of time to work out a system. Not that I’m in a rush. But it would be nice to be on the road at 8:30/9 instead of 10/10:30 because it would give me more time to cruise along enjoying the scenery.
Today I traveled about 32km (20 miles) north of Mannum to Walker Flat. The first section of ride followed the Murray but with grey clouds hanging overhead and loads of private land along the river, it wasn’t as scenic as I had hoped. It wasn’t until I hit the Pellaring Flat, about 5km into my ride, that things started to get interesting. I love the way grasslands flow with the breeze. The sound of them rustling is gentle on the ear. To some it might seem boring to see miles of nothing but flowing grass heads, but to me it’s magical.
I followed Purnong Road along the river for ages. A stiff breeze blew towards me, making the going slow. But that just gave me more time to take in the grasses and the river. A stiff climb up to the top of a cliff took me to the Walker Flat turn-off where I left the river behind. I entered Mallee forest almost immediately. The low-growing gums lined the road and filled the space between the earth and sky. I felt like I was way out in the bush. Old derelict stone farm houses just added to the atmosphere of isolation.
The cut-through road climbed relentlessly. It wasn’t a steep twisting climb like an alpine road, but rather a long straight rise that took me from the river to a high ridge that runs along the inside of a big river bend.
As I climbed I left the mallee scrub behind and rode through emerald green fields of crops. Some smelled like onions but I’m not sure whether that’s what they were. All I know is that I felt like Dorothy, Toto, Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man might pop out of nowhere to look for the Wizard in a castle somewhere amongst this emerald land.
I was so cold when I arrived at Walker Flat that I didn’t care what the shop sold, so long as it was hot. So I scoffed down a meat pie with sauce before riding the final short distance to a free camp along the river. The Swamp Hen camp has covered picnic tables, electric BBQ, flush toilets (with paper), fire pits and boat launching facilities. It’s quiet, pretty and right on the banks of this majestic waterway.
After pitching camp I launched the packraft. It was cold and I didn’t want to get my one set of warm clothes wet. So I wore my full wet weather kit over the top despite it not raining. This waould prevent the paddle splash from wetting me. A novel experience for someone from the subtropics – dealing with cold.
The paddle was amazing. The river is so vast and wide. Not far upstream from camp were these amazing cliffs that dwarfed me in my little raft. They were so imposing towering over the river.
I drifted a while, letting the current try to take me downstream as the wind opposed it with equal force. With my feet out on the deck and my paddle out of the water, my little boat just spun in slow easy circles. I could have dozed off if that wouldn’t have brought a risk of capsizing into the cold water.
It was soon time to make my way back to camp before the evening cold set in. I still needed to collect some firewood (though there’s not much around this well-used site) and wanted to get into my warm gear before the sun dropped too low in the west. As I paddled gently downstream I reflected on two truths of the Murray River: houseboats and pelicans. Houseboats are a common mode of transport while pelicans abound more than in any other place I’ve traveled.
So here I sit, beside a tiny fire warming my body and contemplating whether to bother cooking dinner or just eating the sausages I cooked up last night. I suspect the latter option will prevail before an early night snuggled up in the warmth of my tent.
The first stage of my travels was a wonderful success and confirmed for me that I definitely on the right path. The week-long motorbike trip to Central Queensland had everything I am looking for in my new nomadic lifestyle:
I travelled through rural areas where I could buy delicious fresh produce direct from the producer.
I spent time out in my packraft exploring some magical waterways.
I enjoyed the simple pleasures of seeing a butterfly sitting on the water and kites hunting for prey.
And the bliss of being welcomed into my friends’ homes.