Author: Ben Cianchi
Water Level: High – 1.29 and rising
Location: Southern Highlands, NSW, Australia
Boat: Dagger Mamba
Kangaroos spotted: 27
Well, this was my first Australian river and consequently I was pretty nervous. I had only briefly met my three companions before the trip. They were unsure of my paddling ability, and I, there’s. Having now paddled the river I can understand my companions concern with knowing my skill level before we set off.
The Wingecarribee river, or at least the section we paddled, is very committing. Not because it’s the worlds hardest water (though there’s some solid, luckily portagable, class V) , but because it is entirely in a canyon. Which you can’t walk out of.
The only way out of the canyon is the air ambulance, or paddling it to the bottom. If you lose a boat (and we did see a couple) its a 16km walk and swim along the rivers edge till its possible to get out of the canyon. If you take too long and the sun goes down the only option is to sleep out in the bush and continue in the morning.
With all this in mind how did the river actually go?
Not bad thanks. The river starts with a section of 4 large distinct grade 4 rapids. These sections are quite steep, fast flowing and pushy. To add to this there are many large boulders and trees in the river to trip you up. On the first of these sections I rolled, and on the second…
I dropped about 2 meters, through a slot to hit the line at the bottom, unfortunately I was slammed into a large central boulder and took my first Australian swim.
In my defence, due to the high water level, only two out of the four of us even attempted this rapid.
After these first four serious sections (and about an hour of our time) the river calms (slightly). We ran most of the river, from here on, blind, quickly picking lines as we went and having to deal with the consequences. The majority of the river is a fast flowing, fairly steep boulder garden. There are more rocks and trees than anything I’d previously paddled and on many occasions paddling over and through fallen trees was the only option. According to my fellow paddlers this is just the ‘Australian style’. This section was mainly Grade III, but with plenty of un-expected grade IV sections to keep you on your toes.
My lack of caution, and the fact the only available eddy before the drop was full of my colleagues, led to an interesting backwards descent through a slot and into a hole, which a managed to side surf until spewed out into and eddy just above a nasty strainer. To get around this obstacle I had to drag my boat up and over a considerable cliff then take a high seal launch back into the action.
This out of boat excursion brings me on to another point about the Wingecarribee; the Portages.
Now like all paddlers I like to have a good winge about portages (but wouldn’t do without them). However, the portages were the most difficult, and possibly dangerous part of the trip. Carrying a 20kg boat full of kit over large boulders and through scrubby trees led to unfortunate falls, frustration and twisted ankles. We were all happy to get back on the water.
The final 5km of the river probably provide the best bang for your buck (or pound for those of you still in England). It’s continuous, fast, fun Grade III/IV, with a great foamy double drop halfway down. Full of small drops, rock gaps to paddle through, and holes to boof, its a fast and enjoyable end to a hard afternoons paddle.
The river ends with 500 meters of slow, scenic, flat water, which allows you to calm down from the river before you get the further shock of alighting into a naturist camp! And yes, this is the actual get out!
To conclude, great river, nasty portages, fantastic scenery, friendly naturists.
If you’re in the area, and its flowing, run it. But be prepared and take a local as there are a couple of mandatory portages that you wouldn’t notice till its too late.
(The cover picture was taken on the final 500 meter flat stretch)