Katarapko: Murray river backwaters 19-21 November 2021
Six brave paddlers ignored the weather forecast of “showers with possible heavy showers” to drive up to Katarapko in the Murray River National Park for a weekend of camping and kayaking the backwaters of the Murray River. Fortunately the weather forecast was wrong, there were no heavy showers, just showers! Most of the group arrived Friday lunchtime, slightly delayed due to road closures and new roads that didn’t quite seem to agree with what the map showed.
After setting up camp quickly we all jumped into the kayaks for an afternoon paddle. The river level was probably 2m higher than normal, due to strong flows in the Murray and an artificial flooding event that was in progress. As a result some normally dry creeks were now navigable. We took the opportunity to spend a few hours exploring Piggy creek before returning to camp. Highlight of the evening was waiting for Abelardo to arrive. Everyone was curious to see if he would navigate the route in the dark, never having been there before. Fortunately he arrived safely, having benefited from some last minute instructions.
Saturday morning arrived overcast, but no rain to speak of. We headed up Katarapko creek to the junction with the Murray river, and then into Sawmill creek which was very navigable thanks to the high water levels. From there we turned right into Eckert creek and followed that up into Eckert Wide Waters Lagoon. By this stage the rain had increased to a steady drizzle. It was not unpleasant and we kept up a good pace as no-one wanted to stop and get out of their kayaks. We found the northern entrance to the Wide water with no problem, and kept paddling up Eckert creek.
The increased water helped with this, but also made it hard work going up the current. We reached the Murray and, since no-one wanted to stop for a break, immediately started on the downhill run back to camp. We made good time with a strong flow in the Murray helping us along. After a very scenic shortcut through the Ajax Achilles Lakes we arrived at Lock 4. Due to the good pace we had been making, this resulted in an enforced lunch stop as the Lockmaster was having his from 1 to 2 o’clock.
After a hasty lunch (still drizzling, and everyone was starting to get cold) we passed the time warming our hands on a public electric barbecues. Eventually the Lockmaster arrived and gave the bedraggled paddlers a bemused look. After remarking that he could think of better things to do that day instead of paddling in the rain, he let us through the lock. From there it was a short paddle back to the camp and a warm cup of coffee and soup, just as the rain started to ease up followed by a glorious sunset.
Sunday morning dawned with no rain in sight and none forecast. After rapidly packing up, we eagerly paddled back up Katarapko creek, and Sawmill creek back up the Eckert creek. This time we turned left to head towards The Splash, an area which is normally narrow, but due to the low lying banks, spreads out into a large floodplain when the waters are high. First problem was a road bridge which we normally paddle under, this time we had to get out and do a short portage due to the water levels. Not much of a problem now that the weather was cooperating.
The Splash did not disappoint, as the creek spread out and we were soon paddling amongst flooded gum trees and bushes, admiring all the bird life which was now making the most of the sunshine after a few days of rain. Too soon we re-joined Katarapko creek, and had a stiff paddle back up to the camp-site, and a long drive home, broken by the customary bakery stop.