Eildon white water, 9-12 January 2024

Eleven ACC members, Greg Watts, Steve Carter, Kathleen Shorter, Charlie and Marina Walker, Anthony Aardenburg and Bella Kosterman, Simon and Anne Langsford, Scott Polley and Steve Wild together with friends Charlie and Heather Yeatman from NSW and Clay Hunter and his boys Asher and Tom from Victoria met at the white water course alongside Breeze Holiday Caravan Park (formally Blue Gums Caravan Park)

There were flooding rains on the Monday as people made their way to Eildon, which resulted in detours and longer drives for most people. We arrived and had to negotiate alternative camping sites to avoid those waterlogged. We were ready to paddle on Tuesday morning. Because of the floods the river level was initially very low but rose continually during the week as Eildon dam was full and releasing water was essential. This gave us very easy conditions for introducing whitewater skills to the new paddlers and then later in the week challenging water which was great fun.

Again this year Scott Polley was the main instructor, with other experienced whitewater paddlers proving coaching, tips and safety for everyone. We all extended our skills, which occasionally resulted in a swim or opportunity to practice rolling and assisted rescues. As the water levels rose there were lots of waves strong enough for surfing and the challenge of getting steady enough to perform a paddle twirl.

First day on the water

Tuesday, our first day on the water was memorable. Scott started the day with most people swimming down the river and some throw bag practice. The swimmers all made it to shore and were sometimes caught by one of the three throw bags aimed at them. Charlie Yeatman had the highest score for saving throws. The rest of us need more practice! The rains made the water very muddy but it was not as cold as usual as dam water was held back. The easy conditions were good for teaching the new whitewater paddlers, Greg and Bella. The afternoon saw us down in the Sump tackling the wave there. Bella made it through twice, looking very confident in the big waves. Simon and Charlie attempted to surf the wave but it only held them for a few seconds each time. However, they did provide lots of entertainment for those of us watching.

The Dam Wall and the Eddies

On Wednesday we planned a paddle from the dam wall. Steve Wild, Scott and Anthony paddled up from the caravan park but the rest of us took the easier option of starting from the top and just paddling down river. There were waves to surf on the way and we stopped to play at the S Bend rapid. Everyone’s skills had improved as Steve Wild commented that he only did two rescues today. Greg was also very impressed with the rescue team as he had three boats next to him helping as he surfaced from his capsize. Scott noted the skill development today of Asher, Greg, Bella and Kath. Dam water was being released and as the river water cleared a couple of platypus were spotted. The extra water also made The Sump wave bigger so Charlie Walker could scare himself again trying to get onto it for a surf.

With everyone confident at breaking into and out of eddies, we headed up to Big River on Thursday. The water level was at 0.85m; higher than anyone remembered from previous years. The rapids had much more water over them so there were faster runs and few rocks to hit. The slalom rapid in particular was great fun.  Everyone successfully negotiated the rocks and turns needed to make it down to the eddy at the bottom. Marina said it was the best Big River ever, and I think we all agreed with Steve Carter when he said it was the best day’s paddling for a long time. There was a rock that gave a bit of grief to Bella and Greg but they got the correct edge upstream and didn’t fall in. Charlie Yeatman discovered that trees are best avoided, even when it looks like a narrow gap to paddle through. For his first time whitewater paddling, Greg was particularly pleased at getting through the Slalom Rapid successfully, looking confident approaching the bottom.

Wrapping up

The last day saw us all back at the top ‘pumpkins’ playing in the stronger water. The second ‘pumpkin’ was completely covered which created a great wave for surfing. Charlie, Anthony and Scott did practice their roll, but only once or twice. By now the release of dam water made the river very cold.

Most of us left on Saturday morning. Charlie and Marina Walker, Anthony Aardenburg and Bella Kosterman headed back up to Big River for another paddle while the water level was so good. They redid the section we had done on Thursday. Then continued down to Burnt Bridge and camped there for the night. The river was, again, lots of fun.

This was a great week paddling white water. Thanks to Scott for instructing and giving feedback and tips on our paddling strokes. We improved our skills and had lots of fun.

Think about joining us next year to experience the exhilaration of white water paddling.