Day 02: rain, hail and shine

31 08 2008
setting off day 2

setting off day 2

On the water by 7.30, we (paddlers Chris, Sacha and joining us for his first leg, Jono) dispatched some mean rapids three strokes after launch. Ten strokes after and a few more rapids  despatched the three of us. It was shaping up as that kind of day. Early on, the riverbank impressed with large original growth eucalypts towering above, with an understory of equally impressive treeferns. With a spot of rain overnight and snow on the hills (Mt Donna Buang had a good covering by all reports), the river was flowing slightly higher than the previous day, giving us good clearance over most rock and shale. Not long after Warburton we came across our first signs of landcare work, riverbank regeneration most possibly the work of the Millgrove Residents Action Group and the Millgrove Environment Restoration Group.

It wasn’t long, however, before we hit the beginning of agricultural land and the story on the riverbank changed dramatically. Goodbye thick native growth, hello erosion, blackberry infestation (some being treated, other patches not), water pumps, rubbish dumps, and agricultural fields (cows) dropping right into the river. The change to the native state of affairs further emphasised a little further downstream with an infestation of willow trees so bad that in sections their matted branches spanned the entire breadth of the river. As if this wasn’t bad enough in terms of their detrimental effect on the environment, they also caused a casualty to our team. Jono got caught by a branch, went sideways, tipped and dislocated his shoulder. Ever the Landcare Hero, he soldiered on after popping it back in.

There were obviously some farmers en route with a strong landcare ethic, with several farms leaving wide strips of native vegetation and keeping cattle from the banks. The benefit was obvious in the integrity of the bank, the windbreak it provided and the presence of wildlife, particularly the birds heard singsonging above. Where landowners had stripped their paddocks to the water’s edge, the silence spoke volumes for the effect on biodiversity.

Next: Sacha saved my life. Moving on…

Welcomed to Healesville by local landcarers

Welcomed to Healesville by local landcarers

We paddled out the day in sunshine, hail then rain, our hypothermia abated by the warm coffee and cake welcome put on by Karyn from the Mount Toolebewong and Don Valley Landcare Group and Maureen from Healesville Environment Watch Inc, along with Kath from the Mail Newspaper Group (who wins the award for most considerate journalist ever for also bringing along chocolate cake). Both Karyn and Maureen explained the work their groups have undertaken in the local area to help improve the health of the Yarra. One such project resulted in the planting of an 800m band of trees along a headwater riverbank. Others have involved revegetation, landcare farming, and recycling programmes involving the local schools and community.

Tomorrow we’re assured no snags on the river (some snags today including trees as thick as four telephone poles blocking our way), and a flatter, smoother run as we head through Yering Gorge toward Wonga Park.

Fresh back from Beijing where he finished fifth in the Kayak Slalom, Warwick Draper is set to join the Landcare S2S team for the last 2hr stretch of Day03. It will be a day of elite athletes as also getting on board for the next four days is top Australian adventure racer Jarad Kohler, fresh back from a race in Foster. Both Jarad and Warwick will be there for the final day on Thursday 04th when we’re hoping the lure of a 14km stretch from Herring island to Williamstown will lure many away from their desks and onto the water in celebration of Landcare Week. If the celebrity paddlers and final day vibe are not enough, at least get down for the free barby. 2pm, Williamstown foreshore. Look for the exhausted paddlers.


Day 01: Yarra no go, no flow

30 08 2008

It started out perfectly: sun shining, nearly to launch site on time at the outflow below the Upper Yarra Reservoir wall, wetsuited and booted. The outflow pipe gushed into a mini waterfall. The gush landing in what is effectively a small shallow swamp. The glimmer of hope was in the crystal clear water that disappeared behind the tee trees and reeds. Surely behind those reeds was our paddling Nirvana. Or not. The next three hours was a test of thighs and commitment. We dragged our kayaks over logs, over sword grass clumps, over unidentifiable clumps, over everything bar water. Underneath our feet slipped, slid and sunk amid rocks and mud unseen, the odd yabbie cheering us along. That, at least, was a sign the river life and water quality up here, quantity notwithstanding.

And so, after roughly three and a half hours, having traipsed (in the harshest sense of the word) only about 3km, and having paddled roughly 30 metres of that, we figured it would take us about three days to reach our supposed first nightfall stop. The decision was made to exit the river and move downstream to paddlable water. Purity of endeavour be dammed – we had a pretty good idea of the flow in this stretch of the Yarra by now. Ian Penrose of the Yarra River-Keepers had told us that for the year-to-date, the Yarra was at a mere 13% of the natural environmental flow. This message hit home with every new ache, new bruise…

A bit of logistical juggling and we finally had water under our hulls at the Big Peninsula, a man made tunnel through rock that was blasted by gold miners wanting cut off the river S-bend to drain it and pan for alluvium (sp?) from the sediments. A bit of history with your adventure never goes astray. The tunnel was tight and as I (Chris) found, not as wide as my kayak is long. Crunch. A swift swipe of the paddle and I was back on course, exiting the tunnel to the billabong below.

The next tunnel came and was conquered by Sacha. Mental note when kayaking tunnels: reccie the entry by all means, but also ensure you reccie the exit. Sacha’s screams of delight in holding on turned more suprising as she exited over a larger drop than the first. Kudos…she made it.

Finally we were on a water course where we didn’t have to set foot on the riverbed – the difference in travel time being that we covered more than double the morning’s distance in about a sixth of the time. So Day 2’s 43km is suddenly, from looking impossible, within the realms of possibility.

That is unless you listen to Alan, the owner of Wild Thyme Cafe, the best little joint in Warburton to refuel tired bodies (steaks are actually half cows). Upon hearing our itinerary he just shook his head. “Buckleys”. Still, he has plans to do the entire length not in a light, plastic kayak, but in heavy, wooden Viking boats (look out for two of these viking boats joining us for the last leg of the paddle!). In the meantime he introduced us to the local Greening Australia group, who just happened to be in the restaurant. They’ll be seeing us on the river for the final day’s paddle, Thursday from 11am at Herring Island. Or was that the last glass of red speaking? Greening Australia, you’ve been challenged by the Challenge.

Every Morning With Red Symons on 774 ABC Melbourne

29 08 2008

Throughout the challenge i will be on Red Symon’s morning show so to listen to it via webstream

Landcare Heroes

29 08 2008

Landcare is about the people working on the grounds and taking the time and effort to bring our country back to live, they have been hard at work all across Australia. In both rural and urban cities. For too long they have gone unrecognised, its now time we show them our apprecation, support and admiration that they have got up,raised they hands, got on the ground and got dirty. So go on and visit to read their stories. You might be inspired to do something.

The support for Landcare S2S grows

28 08 2008

Jennifer Singfield, Moreton Baykeeper gets out onto the Yarra with Ian Penrose, Yarra Riverkeeper

Jennifer Singfield, Moreton Baykeeper gets out onto the Yarra with Ian Penrose, Yarra Riverkeeper

The Yarra Riverkeeper Association is pleased to support Chris in his Source-to-Sea challenge” says Riverkeeper Ian Penrose. “Our Yarra is suffering not just from pollution but also very low flows. Its total flow over the last year was only 13% of what it would be under average natural conditions. The combination of low rainfall and over-extraction has put our river under significant stress, and Chris’s kayak will at times be scrapping over the rocks. His momentous journey will draw much-needed attention to the plight of the river. But it will also highlight the Yarra’s special beauty and importantly celebrate the valuable work of the many community groups like ours in looking after the Yarra River, which is arguably Melbourne’s greatest natural asset.”

Environment Victoria shares the passion

28 08 2008
Environment Victoria's Leonie Duncan

Leonie Duncan

Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers Campaign congratulates Chris and the S2S team for taking on this great challenge. “Community concern for the Yarra’s health continues to grow . It’s great to see another passionate expression of that concern,” said Environment Victoria’s Leonie Duncan.
The Healthy Rivers Campaign looked forward to hearing tales from this unique on-river journey and hoped the recent extra rain would mean Chris could could stay paddling rather than having to walk. “Recent rain has given a bit of boost to our city’s great river system, which has been suffering badly from low flows. Over the last 12 months flows in the river have been just a fifth of the long-term average due to a combination of dry conditions and high levels of water extraction.”
Ms Duncan was also delighted by the S2S team’s offer to use the challenge as an opportunity to raise awareness of the Go Yarra Flow campaign, a joint initiative of Environment Victoria and the Yarra Riverkeeper Association. Go Yarra Flow aims to send a strong message to the Victorian Government that the people of Melbourne value a healthy Yarra River and that means we need Premier Brumby to deliver the river’s promised environmental flows.
“While the people of Melbourne have worked hard to save water, so far we haven’t seen any environmental benefit in terms of reduced extraction from the river. Many people aren’t way that the Yarra is the source of up to 70% of Melbourne’s water, which puts a big strain on the river’s health. We need the Brumby government to come good on it’s promise and deliver the Yarra’s promised environmental flows.”
For more information on Go Yarra Flow click here

Freediving marine biologist joins Landcare S2S challenge

26 08 2008
Sacha Dench

Sacha Dench

Australia’s top female freediver and marine biologist Sacha Dench, will join the S2S team to tackle the upper reaches of the Yarra River.

A leading member of Coastcare group Ecodivers, Sacha’s passion for all things above and below water is beyond argument.  Sacha currently holds the Australian record for depth and competed at the World Championships in Ibiza 2001 and Hawaii 2002. Impressively she can hold her breath for 6 minutes and 22 seconds.  Sacha trained in the UK and in France with Loic Leferme (deepest man in the world) and his team. Check out her freediving in the video here.

Despite her competitive bent, Sacha is particularly interested in freediving for leisure, be it shallow, deep, scenic, wrecks, and wildlife. Sacha has also developed an ongoing interest in rivercare after a stint working on both coast and river sites with turtle projects in Surinam, South America and the Kimberley.

Sacha joined Landcare Australia just over a year ago and will add to the team a scientific bent as we track down the river looking at the biology of the waterway. Sacha will also man the cameras and with her extensive knowledge of water safety, act as just that – safety officer! My life is in your hands Sacha. No pressure. – Chris