05-Apr-2007 -- We did not know it at the time, but this was to be our best ever confluence visit that we have so far undertaken. We have been within 6 kilometres from this confluence point many times in the past, as there is so much to see and do in this part of the Riverland. The area is very rich in history, both Aboriginal and European. Part of getting to the nearest point as possible on the Murray River, was our 4.45 Kilometre Paddle upstream from the Customs House in our Kayak. The Riverland in South Australia is known to have the best places to Canoe and Kayak in South Australia, with many of the isolated creeks perfect to experience paddling at its very best, away from the crowds and power boats and to be the only person on the water.
After reading Paul’s two reports about his ventures, his first unsuccessful attempt and his second and successful attempt on reaching this confluence, my first reference was Google Earth to see if there was an easier way of reaching this isolated Confluence. The resulting research was NO! It does not matter from which direction that you tackle this confluence from; you first must cross Hypurna Creek and then venture onto Hypurna Island to where the confluence is located. This area is in the Chowilla Game Reserve, which in turn is part of the Chowilla Regional Reserve, which is part of the greater Riverland Biosphere Reserve, which is registered under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere program.
In early 1993, the 18400 hector Chowilla Game Reserve and the 75600 hector Chowilla Regional Reserve were constituted as Wetlands of International Importance. The Environmental Values of these floodplains are unique to this section of the Murray Basin, as it is substantially undeveloped and it is the only section of country approaching “Wilderness” status along the lower part of the Murray River. The Conservation values of Chowilla as shown by the rare and endangered species found there and are recognised by its listings as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. Australia has 40 sites of approximately 4.5 million hectors. Worldwide, there are over 30 million hectors of wetlands in approximately 60 countries. Australia was the first Nation to become a Party of the Ramsar Convention.
The Murray River, which is Australia’s longest River system at over 2500 kilometres in length and the 15th longest river in the world, was to be our water Highway for the day. The first white person to successfully row the entire length of the River Murray was Captain Charles Sturt in 1829 -1830, when it took him and his party of men seventy seven days to row down the River in a whale boat. Captain Sturt named the Murray in honour of the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir George Murray. It was not until 1853 that the first Paddle Steamer, the “Mary Ann” built by William Randell and launched near Mannum in South Australia, started a River trade era that would open up the vast inland regions of Australia that were linked to the Murray and its tributaries.
One such port, Port Murthoo, constructed a Customs House in 1884 in impose duties on items being transported by paddle steamer and entering South Australia. Over a 20 year period, 4 Customs Officers served at Port Murthoo. After the Federation of Australia in 1901, free trade was allowed between the States and the Customs Houses were closed along the River Murray. It was from this Old Customs house that we launched our kayak with supplies for a days travel, including the laptop computer. Being mid week, we had the River to ourselves. With a slight breeze and clear skies, we could not have had a better way of travelling than under our own power. Not long after leaving the Customs House, we came to the Border Cliffs. In the photo of these cliffs, you will notice the Native River Red Gum and the imported Willow Tree. Many groups today are opposed to this non native tree along the Murray, and are removing them from the River Banks from where they have lived for over a hundred years. For me it is a very pretty tree that offers more than Shade, they also offer history. In the 1800’s when the Paddle Steamer Boat trade was in its peek times, these trees were planted along the length of the Murray to act as important land makers. When the River was in flood, it would at some places extend for many kilometres either side of the normal river Channel. The River Boat Captains would be guided by these willow trees as to where the true river banks were and not get stranded in shallow water. Not long after the Border Cliffs, we came across our first point of interest along the way, the old wooden state border maker for South Australia and Victoria, which can only be viewed from the River.
When we arrived at my pre determined point to leave the Murray River, we set off on foot for the 2 kilometre walk to reach the Confluence. Our first main barrier to penetrate was the lignum that grows along the Murray. Lignum is a large, very dense wiry plant that is hard to get through and grows well in excess of 3 metres tall. After making our way through the lignum, the landscape opened up to woodland country that was very easy to pass through. In the distance, loomed the giant River Red Gums that indicted our next main barrier to cross, Hypurna Creek. As it was not a hot day, it took a few minutes to get acclimatised to the cool water. The initial water depth was just over 1 metre deep, but reached a maximum depth of 1.4 metres and was 15 metres wide. I made 4 crossings of the creek, ferrying our backpacks and other gear across before helping Fiona over. Within a short distance again, we had to make our way through more lignum, then again into open tree covered country. It was a very pleasent walk in the warm sun, but I was always looking out for snakes that may be sunning themselves in this perfect weather.
Like all Confluence Hunters, it is great to see your GPS showing that you have passed that magic final 100 metre barrier and after the confluence dance, it was down to taking the required photos. I always use a hand held compass to mark the cardinal points, making it easier to get the correct direction for the photos. Rather than retrace our entry steps from the west to Hypurna Creek, we instead headed due south from the confluence and walked along the banks of Hypurna Creek. What we did not know at the time was this was by far a more interesting walk, without the need to pass through the lignum. Apart from the scenery, there was abundant wildlife to also be seen while walking, even startling a pair of sleeping kangaroos on the banks of Hypurna Creek. Arriving safely back at the kayak, it was time for lunch and to sit on the banks of the mighty Murray and admire the serenity and solitude that makes this area what it is, perfect! To make sure that all the photos and my GPS data were all in order, it was out with the laptop to check them on the banks of the Murray, as it would be easier to backtrack now if the need be, rather than finding out when back in Renmark.
Leaving this perfect landing place, it was an enjoyable slow paddle down the River, stopping many times to admire the river scenery. As we continued back down towards the Old Customs House, things were going perfectly until Fiona noticed a moving object crossing the river in front of our approaching kayak. This moving object was Fiona’s worst nightmare, a brown snake! We were lucky that we were reasonably close to the Customs House, as I have never seen Fiona paddle so quick before. Apart from this encounter, we had the most enjoyable 6 hours for paddling and walking, with perfect weather and the most enjoyable scenery.
My advice to any other confluence hunter that intends to log this confluence and have never been to the Riverland before is to allow at lease a week in this most enjoyable part of South Australia. If you do not own a canoe or kayak, you are able to hire them in a number of locations in the Riverland. You will be rewarded with a confluence visit that you will never forget.