A girlfriend of mine sent out an email gauging if anyone was interested in canoeing down the Lower Glenelg River in Victoria over the easter school holidays. I checked out the link she'd sent and it looked great. The kids would enjoy the experience and it would get them off screens for a few days. Perfect!
Prepping for 3 day canoe trip is not unlike preparing for a multi day hike, only you get to carry a few more luxury items. Most of the overnight gear still needed to be lightweight and compact enough to fit in the canoes but things like a stove, pots and pans, wine and some fold up camping chairs could easily added to the list without having to worry about pack weight.
There were 19 of us going on the trip and 14 of those were children ranging from 9 to 15 years old. One token husband tagged along, but the rest of us had left our hubbies at home and were coming with the kids. What could go wrong?
We drove the 5 1/2 hrs from Melbourne up to Winnap which is close to the Victorian / South Australian border. Arriving at Paestan Canoe Hire we could see a couple of tents set up and a caravan, plus a building which looked to be our accomodation for the first night.
Paestan Canoe Hire provides free accommodation the night prior to your trip in a bunk house style dorm. Connected to this is a garage with a heap of extra stretcher beds hanging off the walls if needed. And we certainly did!
Ross & Marg have been running Paestan Canoe Hire for 25 years and were extremely friendly and helpful. They allocated us 4 barrels per canoe and advised we line the barrels with garbage bags to ensure they were waterproof. Before leaving home I had packed our things in a heap of Roll Top Dry Bags so I was confident our stuff would stay dry. As we laid out our gear for the next 3 days, panic set in. How the hell was all this stuff going to fit in those barrels?
The kids tried helping by packing what they could and took off to muck around. This is where the first drama happened. While playing, one of the kids could be heard screaming like a banshie. First casualty - one broken finger. We hadn't even started the canoe trip yet, how the hell was he going to paddle?!?!?
Despite the broken finger it was sensational evening, we had a lovely fire and a couple of bottles of wine whilst discussing some changes to our plans. The weather on day one was forecast 28C and sunny, the day 2 forecast was 18C and heavy rain. Grrrrr !!!!! Ross thought it might be better to plan for the worst and have our cars ready if we need to take shelter. We planned to paddle downstream for the 2 days and paddle upstream only a short distance back to the cars on day 3. This meant we would pass our cars while paddling on day 2 and could get off the river if the rain got too heavy or there were thunderstorms.
Morning came around all too quick and by 10:30am Ross had us all following him down to the river with our cars. Our plan was to drop the canoes and barrels, along with kids and an adult at Moleside Landing Camp. This is where we would be starting our journey. Then drive our cars to our final destination at Sapling Creek Camp. From there Ross would drive us back in his trusty Landcruiser to the start, where the others had hopefully loaded all the canoes and were ready to go.
By some miracle we managed to squeeze all of our stuff into the canoes and at 11:30am we were finally ready to start our river adventure.
It was a perfect day for paddling, beautiful sunshine and no wind. On the water the wind strength and wind direction matter, rather than flow rate or direction of the tide. We had beautiful calm conditions which meant we could comfortably paddle at approximately 4km/hr. Our first camp was 11 km away, it would take us approx 3 hrs.
Nestled along the banks of the Glenelg River are ten canoe camps that cater specifically for canoeists. All camps have toilet facilities and tank water is available. Tank water needs to be boiled or filtered so as usual I brought along the Sawyer Micro Squeeze!
We paddled until about 1:30pm as the grumbles of hunger were getting too much for the kids. We stopped at Pritchards Camp and tried to get out ........ the mud !!! Ohhhh the mud !!!!
Pritchards had a jetty but with 9 canoes not all of us could tie up so we decided to beach them. I was one of the first to get out. What looked like a solid place to step turned out to be disgusting, stinky black mud and I sank up to my mid thigh. Before I could get a chance to warn others many of them had suffered the same fate.
It turned out to be a good excuse to jump into the river for a swim before lunch.
After everyone had had a swim and some lunch we jumped back in the canoes for another 1 1/2hrs of paddling before we reached camp for the night.
The first night was booked in at Skipworth Springs, a canoe only campground. We were all glad to get out of the canoes and check it out. This campground was not what we expected. The whole camp was on a slope and looking around we really couldn't see many flat spots, let alone areas which would accommodate all 9 tents. But it did have a great toilet, a picnic table and a campfire .... happy days!!
As the sun started setting we were greeted by some friendly large possums who didn't seem to be scared of our noise or our presence. It had been a big day and we were all in bed by 9:00pm.
On waking we discovered the rain had started in the early hours of the morning. Everything was soaked but the temperature still seemed relatively warm. By 9:00am we had packed up camp, loaded the canoes and set off for the start of our 17km day on the water.
In the first couple of hours it constantly drizzled but at 11am the heavens opened up and pelted us with such force we could hardly see. The temperature had plummeted and it was freezing. We had our warm clothes safely stored in dry bags in the barrels, there was no chance of getting them out now.The sky had turned really dark and the kids weren't happy.
It took us 4 hrs to reach our lunch spot. We were all shivering and wanted off the canoes!! At Wilson Hill camp we started a fire and tried to get the kids warmed up. There were quite a few tears and cursing about our choice of holiday but once they warmed up and had something to eat we convinced them to climb back into the canoes and push on.
Patersons Campground was only another hour away. It was still raining, everyone was complaining and upset with the conditions. Drama no.2 unfolded! One of the girls, trying to sort out her positioning in the canoe destabilised it and the 2 young girls capsized into the freezing water. It was a mad rush to paddle over to them, get them back in the boat and grab the barrels before they floated away. Lips quivering and turning blue all we could do was get them to camp and in front of a fire as soon as possible.
Setting up camp when you're freezing cold and raining cats and dogs isn't fun for anyone. While we were driving from Melbourne I could feel my throat getting sore and the dull pounding of a headache thumping away in the background. By the time we reached Paterson Campground my fever had set in and I was in all sorts. I did what I could to help unload the canoes and pitch our tent. I was tucked up under my quilt with a roaring fever by 5:30pm and didn't emerge until 7am.
Today was our last day, the morning was stunning with a rolling mist over the Glenelg River. It was freezing but everyone was glad to be paddling home today. As usual we were all packed up and on the water by 9am. I was still fighting a fever and wasn't looking forward to the 5 1/2 hr drive back to Melbourne ..... Panadol you are my good friend!
We docked the canoes at Sapling Creek Camp where our cars were waiting. Ross must have a sixth sense because as we were coming in he turned up to load the canoes back onto the trailer. He was surprised we'd pushed on yesterday in the terrible weather and explained many of his other customers pulled out and sought shelter.
I'm so proud of our group. We had a few dramas and the weather was a challenge but paddling along such a beautiful stretch of water is something we'll never forget. All said and done the kids and I had a great time.
All around this area we could see signs of the Great South West Walk. It has inspired me to load my pack into the car and take off along this amazing walk. The scenery is spectacular and we weren't attacked by bugs ...... a big plus for me.
So until next time Lower Glenelg River ........ I'll be seeing ya!!