Two rivers, Two guys, Two Kayaks, Two nights. Unknown expectations
By ALEXANDER MANU and FRANK RIITANO
Raining heavily in Sydney early this morning. Forecast was for two days of rain. The Colo region can experience serious flooding torrents of water as it is fed from the Wollemi region mountain tributaries.
Cautiously we hoisted our Tasman Express sea kayaks onto our 4WD in Brookvale and loaded all our equipment and provisions into the back. After a 95km drive passing through some beautiful countryside, we arrived at the upper Colo River Bridge. During the journey we crossed the Windsor Bridge and my recollections of participation in the 2005 Hawkesbury Classic came flooding back; from excitement, to determination, to pain, to exhaustion, to mild hyperthermia, to throwing in the towel at the 69km mark at Wisemans Ferry. I wondered what would unfold with this trip.
Anyway, here we were at the Colo River! We removed the kayaks and began loading them up; tent, sleeping bags, gas cooker, billy can, plates, drink, food, fishing rods, maps, chairs, torches, money, phones, clothing. Hmmm, I think we had it all.
We dragged the kayaks down the bank and into the river. Climbed in and off we went. The river had a large sandy bottom, water was crystal clear at an average depth of 0.5-1m and the current flow was steady. The river meandered through lush tree-lined valleys and gorges. At times subtropical in appearance with patches of cleared grazing land. We then went through some narrow, fast-flowing sections with the flow slowing in wider parts. Huge cliffs and mountains began to appear.
In parts were areas where it was obvious the water level had been two metres higher during flash flooding as wood and natural debris had been trapped on the upper banks. For the first two and a half hours there was practically no need to paddle as the current carried us downstream. This section was sheer kayaking bliss. At this point we arrived at the lower Colo River Bridge.
NSW government kayaking maps mention a large camping site and cabins here. We beached our kayaks and walked up to the office. We spoke with a janitor who mentioned the camping option ceased over a year ago.
So back into our kayaks and off we paddled. We were now in need of a camping site. After thirty minutes of paddling with thickly wooded and steep banks on either side we finally saw a clearing where we could pitch our tent. We beached our kayaks again, but this time in pure mud. The river bank was steep. We decided to cut and fill the side of the bank so we could pitch the tent about four metres above river level. While digging using our paddles, we discovered witchetty grubs, this was our Man vs Wild moment. We ripped the grubs’ heads off, squeezed out the guts and ate them, mmm, mmm.
We decided to try our hand freshwater fishing. We had a little grub wobbler worm lure. After about five casts – bang, a hit! And after it was all over we had six freshwater bass for dinner.
At about 8.30pm we settled down for the night. Bugs and the noises of all sorts of nocturnal creatures began to sing in chorus for the night.
After a rough night with broken sleep and hard ground it was finally 5am. Rise and shine. After a hearty breakfast we set off at around 8am. We paddled and we paddled. On we went, passing through dense forested areas with pockets of settlements along the banks of the river. We decided to go for a swim and cool off before the Colo became salty and tidal. Besides, we had to experience the famed, freshest, cleanest, natural fresh water river in NSW.
Off we went again, sucking up our Gatorade and Pump water fluids as we went along. The river was now tidal and we found the going slower against the tide. After another two hours of paddling we arrived at the junction of the Colo and famous Hawkesbury Rivers. Noting our phones finally had coverage again. At this point the going was tougher, contending with tides, hot sun and heaps of crazy wakeboarder boats. We paddled relentlessly, passing town after town, one holiday lodging after another by the side of the river, our target was Wisemans Ferry. After two more hours of paddling it was time to stop, rest, drink and eat. Our bodies were telling us we had done some work. Out came the stove and on it we cooked a can of no-frills steak and onions. Practically dog food normally, but we were famished. To us it was five-star rated food. After an hour break off we went again. Paddling bend after bend on the wide river, thinking Wisemans was after each bend.
At about 5pm we finally arrived at Wisemans, at this point we were thinking is that enough? Should we ring for our pickup? Hmmm, the tide has turned, we are now paddling with the tide, we noticed a big advantage. How far to Brooklyn? Approximately 42km. How long would it take us? Six hours? We decided to paddle on and milk the tide the best we could before it got dark. After another hour and a half of paddling we saw the perfect camping spot. We beached our kayaks and went to work to set up camp and get comfortable. After seven and a half hours of actual paddling and some 50-55km, we were pooped but were content with our day’s experience and slept better.
We woke at daybreak. We lit a campfire. This attracted the land owner whose house was some 1km away. He drove down to investigate. We thought he would blow up at us. To our delight he was an obliging gentleman. He had no issues and even invited us up to the house for warm showers. He mentioned the Hawkesbury Classic and how he assists every year.
After another hearty breakfast, we packed up and we set off. This would be a tough paddle. 42km against the tide and expecting the tide to turn at around 1pm. We estimated a 4pm finish at Brooklyn. The countryside was beautiful; cliffs, mountains, mangroves and dwellings perched in some amazing spots.
The paddling slog against the tide was relentless, we were determined. Again bend after river bend, checking our maps, yes we had passed the isolated town of Spencer. After three hours of paddling we stopped, had lunch, refreshed and off we went again. The scenery along the riverbanks was of no consequence to us now, we just wanted to finish. We rang our driver and told him we were ahead of time and estimated a 3.30pm arrival in Brooklyn; come and get us!
The tide must have turned by now but it did not feel like it as we were paddling into fierce headwinds. But as we turned the final corner, there they were in the distance, the Mooney Mooney and Brooklyn Bridges. This just inspired us, switching into paddling overdrive. We noticed on the northern side of the Mooney Mooney Bridge a boat ramp, so we changed course and paddled for it. At 3.30pm after six and a half hours of paddling we were finished.
Could we have paddled onto Palm Beach, another 20km? Two guys in their late forties? Yes we probably could have – next time.
Our driver found us, we loaded up and off we went for the drive back to Sydney, totally content and thrilled with our three day adventure.