From Robinvale to Mildura, I passed through some beautiful country, River red gum lined banks with Mallee country surrounding the strip of riparian vegetation. Hattah-Kulkyne National park houses much of this remainate beauty which became increasingly sparse as I approached the heavily irrigated croplands that radiate out from the rural city of mildura.
I was now paddling a section of river I had paddled before. In the Hattah-Kulkyne NP I have taken school groups canoeing down this before section of the river that borders the Hattah lake wetlands; an amazing environment, where the flooding Murray forms a series of lakes connected by flood feed creeks in the middle of sand dune covered arid country.
This area never naturally floods anymore due to the lock and weirs regulating flow along the river, however there is a large pump that pumps water into the lakes to maintain its environmental integrity. This national park is definitely worth a visit!
Paddling past Red Cliffs, two old fellas caught up to me in small putt putt boats. We got yarning; they were travelling from Robinvale to Lyrup over about 3 weeks. They invited me to camp with them that night and share a roast. I unfortunately already had plans to catch up with my parents and good family friend Lou in Mildura. We got Chinese takeaway… at least the company was good, and I slept under a roof and on a thick mattress for the first time in weeks. The following day, I resupplied in town and cast an early vote. I was back on the river just in time for the next cold front and days of rain. I continued and passed through locks 11 and 10. I was fortunate enough to have Lou come down and see me through the lockage and deliver some warm pies!
From Lock 10 at Wentworth, I was passing into remote country again and wouldn’t see another town for 7 days. The Darling River joins the Murray at Wentworth and at that point the river dramatically changes the colour of the river. From a dark green the river now became the tone of a cup of tea, white with one. The Darling also added a lot of weed into the river, the weed would accumulate everywhere, clogging up the banks and backwaters and is surely a sign of ill river health.
That afternoon I caught up with Peter and Mick, the fellas in the putt putt boats, I joined them that night for a campfire meal and some rainy evening chats. I continued seeing and camping many nights with these friendly and youthful oldtimers. They had done many trips along different sections of the Murray and were old hands at boating and camping alike. I spent several nights sitting around hot fires full of coals and camp ovens exchanging stories of life, adventures on the river and tales from yesteryear. On the river, I would travel at a similar pace to the boats that had been lovingly restored, maintained and altered by these blokes. They would tinker away in their sheds, optimising their vessals for the next trip cruising down the river. I would often drift away from the putt putts, losing myself in thoughts and awe as the rugged and beautiful bush flowed past my eyes. I would then round a bend and be confronted by sheer cliffs of desert red and brown earth, crumbling with countless years of erosion and sun scorching. Red gums cling to the bank as box and native pines grow from nooks in the earth and upon the higher country. Beyond the river channel, the land becomes dry and gives way to arid landscapes.
A week or more floated by, and we did not pass another boat. The occasional homestead and station infrastructure and a couple of locks we passed through were the only things that brought a sense of civilisation back to this wonderfully remote part of the river. Approaching Renmark, some boats began to appear, firstly some small yachts travelling upriver, then tinnies, which gave way to many houseboats and then more houseboats before we knew it we were again in town.