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January 2022

Gundigai
to Oura

When I drive to Canberra from Wagga, I usually take the Nangus Road, though it takes about the same time. It’s a nicer drive, following the Marrambidya, and just as you get to Gundagai you can see the river and it always looks so beautiful. There is a spot just before you go under the bridge and Hume Highway that there is an impromptu boat ramp and I occasionally stop for a swim on a hot day.

On Sunday 6th February I launched from here. The first section follows the flood plain on the south bank, which is mostly cow paddocks. Much of the trip to Oura was either sheep paddocks or cattle, each with their own distinctive stench. There was not as much of the treed low sections like west of Wagga. And the banks were eroded where the animals access the water. Perhaps explaining much of the flood mud further west. There was not as many poison drums, and only one fridge. There were river gums and river oaks, and willows, but not as many of the other European species as I saw downstream from Wagga. Lots of blackberries though. And often there was little in the way of paddock trees, with animals often choosing the bank slope for the shade it offered.

When I travelled in India in the 80s, I had a policy of asking directions from a few people and then taking an average. Information on the river can be like this. One map I have says that it is 146km from Gundagai to Wagga and on the same page it says 126 km, which is perhaps closer to the truth. Another source has it as 140km. There is Visit NSW webpage that outlines a trip from Nanangroe to Wagga as something you can do in the Riverina (listed in the Glen Innes and Inverell area?). It suggests camps at 25km and lists two campsites Lime Kilns and Greens Flat as being the only legal spots to camp on this section, other than Sandy Beach at Wantabadgery and Oura. It has a total distance of 142km.

Mike Bremer, who has written about two trips down the river, one during covid plagued 2020, paddled the 53km to Wantabadgery in one day. He has a nicer boat that I do, but I think the river is running faster than when he did it, so I thought I'd push through to Sandy Beach as well. It was a beautiful day for paddling, sunny with a slight wind.

One of the points on this section is the Low-Level Bridge where the Old Hume Highway joins the River Road which you can take to Junee. Bremer suggested at high levels this could be a problem, needing a portage so I was anticipating passing it with some trepidation. In the end I fitted under it with centimetres to spare.

As I was approaching the bridge, I saw a jetski (what I call dickski’s because they are invariably ridden by dicks). I saw no further sign of it so I began to think I’s imagined it.  But as I approached Sandy Beach there were two of them, hooning in circles. Fortunately, they packed up soon and left. There are so many snags in the river, often almost imperceptible, I would not like to be moving any faster than I am, and not be able to hear the soft tell-tale rush of water they make.

I set up camp off to the side of the caravans and mobile homes. And decided to go for a walk up past them and check out the campsite. As I walked past the closest caravan to me (maybe 50m) there was a loud crack, and then a whump as a large gum went down, covering 60 percent of the river’s width. People started to walk up to see what had happened and one man asked me if it was the same spot as last night, to which I replied I’d just got there. The previous night, it transpired, a large dead river oak had fallen inwards, crushing the caravan I had walked past without noticing. He said the recent floods had loosed the roots. The river oaks roots and the fallen gum had been entangled and without them there was not enough support. I return to camp and moved my small tent away from all the trees.

I slept from last cockie cry to their first protestations about it being morning again. My pick-up from Oura wasn’t planned for later in the day so I thought I had a lazy day ahead of me (again misunderstanding the distance). I cruised, and filmed, and generally enjoyed myself. The day before there had seemed fewer birds but, in the morning, they were out and about. And fortunately, the cockies were not as raucous as the morning after I camped on the Berembed Weir leg. There were a few Rainbow Bee Eaters which are always a delight to see. One was being chased along an embankment by a willy-wagtail. The avian highlight for the day was seeing a sea-eagle in the distance being hassled by a large hawk. As I paddled towards them, and the eagle flew towards me it, passed a tree and its mate flew out.

Then I came on a bridge I didn’t know existed, a tall one this time. After this the river had long wide stretches and the current seemed slower. At one point, though I usually take the option that has the most current, I tried to avoid a 3km bend by going down a channel. I had not gone far when I realised the folly - there were fallen logs completely across the channel. The V was headed for some chop that I was hoping was not a log. But it was just fast water. There were a couple of other similar points until I reached the main channel, the closest to white water I have been on so far. I know there is much more to come.

I arrived at Oura about mid-afternoon and lazed on the beach until my partner Peita turned up with my ride.

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Before and after from different angles

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Dr Greg Pritchard