Summer flooding makes Darling River’s 10-year dream a reality for kayakers
At a campground on the banks of the Darling River, the sun rises as 23 paddlers prepare to pack their tents into kayaks and push downstream.
They are halfway through a 10-day journey along one of the world’s greatest river systems, an adventure that will take them 205 kilometers from Bourke to Louth in western New South Wales , through Gurnu-Baakandji country.
The journey took 10 years and is only possible due to flooding upstream in Queensland.
“We were so, so lucky,” said paddler Ken Jeffreys.
“We haven’t had to haul the boats around rocky obstacles, the water takes us where we want to go, there’s no mud on the banks because the river is rising, there’s no no mosquitoes or gnats or flies; this is probably the dream race.”
to be darling
The River Darling flows nearly 1,500km through western New South Wales, stretching between Brewarrina and Bourke in the north of the state, to Wentworth on the Victorian border, where it joins Murray River.
Its tributaries flow from southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, where there has been major flooding since late 2021.
Floodwaters moving downstream in the Darling made this adventure possible for the Suncoast Seniors Recreational Kayaking Club group, with an average age of 71.
Their journey began with a 1,000km journey from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to Bourke, complete with sea kayaks and camping gear as well as enough food and water for 10 days on the river.
The group, aged 59 to 82, descended the river at a breakneck pace, covering 96km in the first four days.
Their loyal support team follows them through the road, meeting at specific points along the way, bringing cold drinks, watermelon, and first human contact for days.
Winding through the New South Wales hinterland, the Darling River captured the imagination of Henry Lawson, one of Australia’s most influential poets, and Mr Jeffreys understands why.
“You walk 50 meters from the river and it’s just dry. But on the river it’s beautiful and healthy. [The contrast] is so austere.”
The story that the river conveys is a major concern for paddler Bruce Nicholson.
“Paddling the river, thinking of the pedalos coming in…and the English in their suits and their women in their finery coming to this harsh land, it was definitely a bit nostalgic,” he says.
The sinking oasis is a habitat for extraordinary birds, sea eagles, pelicans and cormorants, martins and swallows, and huge flocks of corellas, galahs and Major Mitchell’s cockatoos.
The stars align
It was in 2012 when Kayaking Club Chairman Mr Nicholson visited Louth with his wife that the plan to paddle the Darling River began to take shape.
“The river was in flood, and I borrowed [a] kayak and I paddled upstream against the deluge, and I was just amazed that there was a river here that was going to crest in six weeks…and it was traveling so slow you could paddle against the current,” he says. he.
“I was intrigued by the river, and I thought, ‘One day I’m going to paddle from Bourke to Louth’, and for the next 10 years, when there was water in the river, I couldn’t go, and when I could go, there was no water in the river.
“This year, all the stars have aligned.
One journey ends, another begins
It was the trip of a lifetime for many of these paddlers, and as Mr Nicholson floats under Louth’s truss bridge, the end point of the journey, his emotions are mixed.
It’s only a small part of the Darling River, but it looks vast.
“Certainly, I would love to do more on the Darling,” Mr. Nicholson said.
So what’s next on the list for intrepid paddlers?
“Look, the Menindee Lakes are attractive,” says Nicholson.
“There is always a new place to go.