At Morgan the river turns south, diverting from its original westerly heading that it has been following for thousands of kilometres from the river’s headwaters in Kosciuszko National Park. Tectonic activity millions of years ago caused the river to be diverted south along the Morgan fault. The cliffs continue guiding the river through the landscapes. In this section of the river the ‘river shack’ has begun to be the dominant inhabitant, growing on all the low lying river banks, often covered in bright green lawn, retaining walls and jetties. No two shacks are the same, and seem to project the socio-economic background of the community and aesthetics of the individuals.
As I headed south, the river began to run in a more direct path, meandering slightly and beyond the banks, lakes had formed with the flooding and changing of the river over millennia. The weather also began to change. A sizeable low-pressure system was moving across the state and onward to Victoria and NSW covering the river catchment in snow. This system brought rain and strong winds which roared through the Murraylands, soaking this usually dry country. Paddling through this intensity of weather required vigour and determination. As the wind travels along stretches of the river, it builds up fetch, creating rolling waves that grow and tumble, turning into whitecaps with water spraying off the peaks. These waves were travelling upstream and hitting me head-on when the river would turn southwest. Which was apparent most one afternoon when I rounded a bend, having just floated for a while drinking coffee on a somewhat calm river. The waves rolling up the river reminded me more of ocean swell than the river currents I was accustomed to. Head down, and hat strapped on, I charged my way into the headwind. I paddled up the faces of waves and then crashed into the following wave, the bow of my sea kayak often plunging underwater. Luckily everything was secured to my kayak well. The caravan park and hot shower I was aiming for that night had been flooded by the previous nights rain and was partially closed for upgrades, so I found the most sheltered river bank and bunkered down for another wet and windy night.
The weather stabilised a little over the following days. The mild autumn days that I had been greatly enjoying and was gratitious for, were gone. Winter had arrived! I continued on my journey towards the ocean, paying a lot of attention to the weather forecasts and timing my days around the fluctuating wind speeds and direction. There were not too many boats out on the water, however, the ones that did pass by were massive paddle boats; four levels high and ploughing down the middle of the river, with tourists perched on the balconies or behind the windows in warm cabins. One of these boats produced a series of breaking waves behind the paddle wheel. I attempted to surf these waves with some fun rides but also got wet sleeves and lost a water bottle and thermos off my deck, which I had to paddle back up river to retrieve. Worth it!
Approaching Mannum, I left my campsite early that morning before sunrise, to beat the increasing wind that was blowing up the river to meet me. After sunrise, I bumped into a friendly kayaker on the river who was returning home from her morning paddle. We had a short quality chat before I continued to the long awaited caravan park visit. I hadn’t stopped at a caravan park since Robinvale, about 1050km up river. It felt weird being at a caravan park again, surrounded by roads, cabins, caravans and a bunch of three wheel pedal bikes. I managed to get a spot next to the river, so I could easily access my boat and all my gear. However, I was on a caravan powered site, with shade cloth covering the ground and a motorhome and four wheel drive/caravan combo as neighbours. The shower, laundry facilities and camp kitchen were pure luxury. After a visit to club Mannum for a warm dinner, a few beers and classic bar side yarns with a couple of local blokes, I settled down for a night of rest in my tent, and luckily the severe winds didn’t blow me away.
As I approach where the river meets the Murray lakes, I watch the long-range weather forecast to time a weather window to cross Lake Alexandrina and then find my way to the Murray mouth. Even though the blue signs along the river that indicate the distance to the ocean have been a constant reminder of how near the end I am, it is only now that I plan the dates to cross the lakes to find the sea, that I feel the conclusion of the journey is near.