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.