The Hawkesbury and more [65]

By Robert Richmond

Some time ago Terry Renford asked me about doing the Hawkesbury race and mentioned going up the Georges River and paddling down the Nepean before the race and then paddling home. I did the Hawkesbury last year and so was very keen to do that and a few weeks later I said I would do the whole trip.

So we put in on the Sunday at La Perouse for a paddle across Botany Bay and up the Georges River. I had not been up the Georges River since I was a teenager so it was interesting to see the development and relive some memories. We did our bit for racial relations towing a young Lebanese bloke on a broken down Jet Ski for about one-and-a-half hours to get him to the boat ramp. He was being ignored by all boats and the whole family was very grateful we came to the rescue.

Our day one camp was great. It was only 300 metres from the M5 but our tents were beside a lovely sandy beach with river frontage and we could have been anywhere.

The next morning we were behind Liverpool railway station climbing our first weir. Being an urban paddler was certainly a new experience and a contrast after having just come back from far north Queensland and wonderful pristine places like the Daintree. On we go paddling through litter to the back of Sefton and the end of our Georges River trip. Terry organised some friends to pick us up and take us to Camden where we could access the Nepean River.

It was an interesting trip down the Nepean, crossing six weirs and paddling past dairy farms and rural properties. This is another river that is getting the “guts” pumped out of it, reducing flow to a trickle, and surely not sustainable for long. Our day was going great, covering some 35km and overcoming all those weirs and then we struck the mother of all weirs at the top of the gorge that leads into Bents Basin. We would have to carry the kayaks over huge boulders for about 100 metres to get to the water. If we knew what we know now, we would have known that this was going to be the easy part.

So we decided to camp and enjoy the scenery at the top of the gorge and just sleep on things and all would seem easy in the morning. Up at 5.30am and all packed up and ready to roll by 6.30am (we could give lessons to many in the club on morning starts, take no offence Mercer and Eddy). Being young 50s and fit we carried the kayaks over the big boulders and onto the water but I wish we had made the decision to turn back. We were able to paddle about 500 meters then we struck walls of rock in front of us with boulders up to three metres high.

“Terry, what the bloody hell what are we doing here?” I asked.

“Don’t worry mate, it will get easier as we go.”

Well that was an overstatement. By 5.30pm we had carried the 5.8 metre sea kayaks with 60kg of gear about two km and we had about two km to go to Bents Basin. It was almost dark and we were lucky to find a level piece of ground to camp on up the hill.

Day three, back to the rocks. “Where’s the bloody water Terry?”

“Don’t worry mate I don’t think we have much more of this.”

It just kept getting worse and while we could see Bents Basin Park and people having a picnic we still had 500 metres of rock. It would be easy to follow our course as it is well marked in gell coat although I think we handled the boats extremely well considering the conditions.

At 4.30pm I paddled across Bents Basin and met a National Park ranger, he said, “Did you come down that gorge in those things?”

“Yes mate, we did.”

He said, “You blokes are legends. It is tough enough just to walk up there with no gear.”

He organised a nice camp spot for us and he told us there were no problems with the rest of the river to Windsor. We studied the map a little harder and, as we expected, after crossing the Wallacia weir we would strike rock again. A quick decision this time, let’s get out of here. So we retreated to the comfort of a warm soft bed at the Wallacia pub, a couple of beers and a good steak and we were now in Hawkesbury Classic race mode.

We were picked up at the pub and taken to Windsor and the pre-race excitement of this great event. 111km of racing down the Hawkesbury, what more could a man want? Terry and I had done the race before and were ready for a big effort. This is a great event with 540 starters there for fun and to raise money for research into leukaemia.

Our start gun went off at 5pm and the sprinters took off. I chose to keep a steady pace and, after about two hours, I was passing those that burnt out to early. Last year I had a quick stop at Sackville but this year I was feeling good so no need to stop. Keeping up a good pace and feeling no pain, this was much better than I expected. I pulled into Wisemans for a quick stop. Terry’s wife Chris and friend Judy were doing the road crew for us both. A quick top up with water and a bit of food and I was off. Feeling so good, so 40km to go I decided to lift the pace and see what happened. Amazingly I was able to keep this pace and it was fun as I passed lots of paddlers, particularly some who were much younger. Some would come back and try to stay with me then I just left them demoralised. I knew after Wisemans I was heading for under 12 hours if I kept up a reasonable pace and was thrilled to finish in 11hrs 41 mins, well ahead of last year’s time of 13 hrs 28 mins.

I only drank about four litres of water this year, much less than last year, had some bananas, flat bread with jam and lollies and that seemed to work. Any rumours of performance enhancing drugs are not true, I was just high on competing in such a great event.

Terry finished a little over 13 hours, also a very credible time. We were a little tired after this tough week so we decided not to paddle home. The moral to this story is it is amazing what can be achieved if you have a go but I will certainly do more homework on maps before venturing into an area like that again. One thing is certain we will be the only blokes to carry 5.8 metre sea kayaks with 60kg of gear through that gorge.

In October next year the Hawkesbury race is on again, so let’s see if we can get big contingent of NSWSKC members to have a go in this great event!