Rivers the Arteries of Land and Life
Launch Site Denman NSW
Forward is the only option
Not knowing what lay ahead beyond every river bend, this could very well turn out to be a grueling adventure to say the least, so you block those thoughts from your mind and adapt to overcome the obstacle obstructing the river flow when necessary.
Appreciation and realization of what our early explorers and settlers experienced became apparent within the first few of hours navigating the river flow.
Who on earth can resist the serenity of a misty sunrise when it is your day on offer to spend how you like the way you plan? Not me, that’s for sure.
Your nerves and anxiousness always subside the second day with the rising of the sun for some reason. Pack up and shove off is now the order off the day being “Keen as mustard” if you know what I mean to tackle whatever lays ahead for the days to come.
When spending time in the wilderness your senses become more acute tuning into sounds, movements and smell. These senses certainly enhance the adventure experience when stimulated.
With no idea of where the day may end, the days travelled distance will be governed by the sweeping curves and bends of this glorious river’s secrets.
As the river flow immerses you into a state of bliss it is easily imaginable that possibly, you are exploring deep into the jungles of Borneo or leisurely drifting along an English canal, but no this overlooked jewel has carved its own ancient course through Australia’s Hunter Valley NSW.
The scenery and wildlife on display is exquisite with the river system boasting wide opened sections, tight narrow fast flowing channels, the occasional entry grade rapid as well as hosting steep vertical cliffs rendering it almost impossible to disembark the Kayak to explore.
Forces beyond belief
|Dead Carp tangled in river vines during flood|
Settling into the days ahead you become very vigilant on the ever-changing river course viewing scenes of fallen mature Gum Trees and She Oaks ripped from their foot hold along the banks, then tonnes of river rock and gravel dredged from one section and laid in another.
With line of sight being limited your hearing becomes the No1 sense as you listen for the change in water sounds to guide the decision making whilst navigating, most importantly on blind bends and areas obstructed by draping vegetation.
Too my naivety, an unbeknown hard learnt lesson will be taught today on being lured into a false sense of confidence and ability.
After tackling various obstacles along the river, I had become comfortable making judgment coercing any obstructions ahead.
Already on the previous day the kayak had been swept sideways then capsized in an instant without causing much disruption or concern.
Paddling quiet comfortably around a curve, the river straightened then forked harshly with both sides choked, one side heavy debris, the other thick hanging vegetation and protruding branches.
Hanging back before entering the surging water line judgment has to be decided on which route to commit.
Left side, hanging vegetation with protruding branches rendering the line almost impossible to paddle. Right side, heavy logs and debris damming the flow creating a barely visible undertow current.
Looking through the right-side line, the main log obstructing the flow dipped down in a concave fashion protruding the surface around 10cm high.
At this point an almost fatal decision is made.
The intended plan, enter the surging water line paddling at an aggressive pace, bounce the nose of the kayak over the lowest point of the log, lean forward then let the current do its job pushing the kayak through.
Upon impact, the nose expectantly gripped the log causing the stern to slew sideways, then in turn with the kayak rolling, water gushed the cockpit capsizing the kayak completely.
Instantly I am sucked from the cockpit by an undertow much greater than estimated tumbling and rolling seemingly downwards into a bottomless hole.
Fortune has it even though disorientated I felt my feet drag the bottom, then with a maddened thrust I torpedoed to the surface for a gasp of breath.
Now clear of any pending dangers, give oneself a good hard slap, gain composure and retrieve the kayak.
Time for a cup of tea and biscuit.
Setting camp is a fantastic way for keeping a busy mind especially when utilizing minimal equipment.
She Oaks grow prolific along the Hunter riverbanks making it easy to harvest branches for building supports to pitch your Hutchie tarp shelter.
Adding to the trees versatility it is easy to whittle anchor pegs from the sticks they cast as well.
By harvesting selectively, the trees will regenerate and provide again and again. This is a lesson that can be learnt from Indigenous people who inhabited this country for thousands of years prior to our footprint.
Yesterday’s lessons are never to be forgotten and from this point on any obstruction will be scouted and surveyed in greater detail.
The flood waters have enforced change along the river uncovering old ruins, gouged deep scares into the water course then in other places moulding the landscape for the generation of new growth creating a picturesque scene.
Uninterrupted flow is seldom the case paddling the subsiding flood waters along the current stage, overcoming the likes of shallow rapids bottoming out, dragging the kayak over land lochs between river forks when the river course is simply impassable has become the daily cycle.
Being unable to anticipate the changing river conditions you simply immerse yourself and adapt to the environment.
Besides numerous irrigation footings along the banks you are hidden from civilisation whilst enduring the river, then without thought, a bridge appeared spanning the river.
Within an instant that familiar connection with modern living permeates your thoughts concealing the feelings of serenity and freedom from days spent.
Travelling further downstream numerous signs of man’s footprint appear in the way of highway bridges, sheds, a greater number of irrigation footings, houses built to capitalise on stunning views etc.
Downstream a large concrete structure is visible on the bank, the structure turns out to be a pump station for servicing the power station.
That’s all good but a downside has been presented, a man-made weir built from giant boulders damming the river is ahead leaving no option but to straddle the wall head on.
How on earth can this be achieved without incident. At the start of the journey, it became apparent the easiest way to manoeuvre the kayak over obstacles when wading through the water is to attach a one-piece bridle rope as I called it to the bow and stern of the kayak, this now enables the ability to steer the kayak from front or back from any position and push pull it when dragging across land Lochs.
Now the tricky part, approach side on to the boulders then without capsizing exit the cockpit balancing on top of the rocky dam wall partially submerged by flowing water whilst trying to maneuver the kayak over and down traversing the boulders.
This all took place not realizing a gentleman was sitting among the willow trees with his dog relaxing then yelling out,
“I was wondering how the bloody hell you were going to manage that, and by the way you have another wall to deal with shortly downstream”.
I would like to say that I am filled with excitement and anticipation about negotiating the next wall to come but I would be lying.
At this time-of-day fatigue is setting in, but with any solo adventure you just soldier on, no ifs or buts “make it happen is the motto”.
With much relief the next weir is built from concrete. The downstream wall is quite slopy and smooth pending only one problem, it is covered with a slimy weed, making it impossible to stand on and lower the kayak as before.
This leaves no option but to “Solo man the situation” for those who can remember the TV commercial back in the day.
Maybe not as dramatic nor as handsome as the gentleman depicted, the weir had been dealt with nevertheless, frantically paddling to gain as much momentum possible, attacking square on directly over the wall at speed sledding down to the water below.
Reflecting back, I committed an unforgivable rookie mistake.
Focusing intently on passing over the first weir, a decision is made to remove the cameras and store them safely in dry bags preventing loss or irreparable damage if the situation turned disastrous.
With all the excitement and uncertainty, recording the scenery on film wasn’t given a second thought until too late. Once a shot is lost, its lost for ever. Inexperience at its best,
The next 2 days of paddling are as pleasurable as the first navigating long open stretches of water with wet weather settling in.
There is something gratifying about trekking in rain, yes it can be uncomfortable but if you adapt to the conditions it brings a whole new dimension of smells and animal behaviours.
During periods of rain your personal presence bubble shrinks down to a bare minimum washing body scent to the ground instantly as well as muffling sounds of movement enabling you to interact with the wildlife within a closer proximity than usual.
Nearing Luskintyre Bridge NSW the river became noticeably shallower making it quite difficult to pick a deep line through the muddy water.
Soft silt deposits are rapidly accumulating now with the kayak frequently bottoming out.
Wading is almost impossible as each time the cockpit is exited you sink thigh deep in silt rendering it impossible to gain necessary distance on the river forcing Luskintyre to be the final leg.
Exploring a river by kayak restricts your vertical peripheral vision and by doing so easily sets the scene to experience detachment from day to day living enhancing the pleasurable feeling of freedom.
What can you say, the Hunter River is alluring, majestic, a silent storyteller, challenging and stunning to say the least.
From the beginning, she fills your mind with intrigue, imagination and curiosity by the hour throughout the duration of the adventure, ultimately the entire river must now be explored.