28 January 2013

From Tharwa to Point Hut Crossing on a rubber raft. A cautionary tale

| johnboy
Join the conversation

The facebook invite seemed innocent enough:

Why not ease that Australia day hangover with a float down the beautiful Murrumbidgee river from Tharwa to Point Hut picnic area this Sunday!

This is mainly a flat water trip over a sandy river bed with the odd class one (smallest size) rapid. All you need is an old pair of sand shoes, or water shoes if you’ve got them, and something to float on. Inner tubes will do just fine, but a good camping lilo, or a nylon inflatable boat would be faster and more luxurious if you fancy.

Goosepig went from being unkeen to super keen in the space of a mood swing. I was mumbling about getting inner tubes when I was firmly told.

Oh no, you have to come with me

And so we went to Fyshwick in search of river shoes and an inflatable boat fit for purpose.

I have to say for $20 a throw river shoes are just amazing and would not recommend beginning to attempt this trip without them.

A suitable craft was procured, test inflated in GoosePig’s living room and then left in the car overnight to see if it would stay inflated.

Sometime around this point I did mention to GoosePig that a big hat and possibly the rash vest she bought at Broulee a few weeks ago would be useful things to wear on this expedition. I was ignored.

One of the things about the proposed trip was it’s not the sort of thing you can do without a group of friends lined up. If only because the car shuttling to get everyone and their boats to the top of the river, and then pick up the boats at the end can easily be made into one of those maths questions with which highschoolers are tortured.

After a no more than predictable amount of faffing about we were all in the water under Tharwa bridge around midday and the long, long float began.

I should say now that GoosePig (despite the nickname) is a very beautiful, talented, intelligent young woman and I’m very lucky to have her in my life.

But, like all of us, she is not without flaws.

It quickly became apparent that, despite significant experience kayaking and canoeing, the paddling position of an inflatable boat was not to her liking.

Swimming was also not to be countenanced.

A brief experiment with walking on the river bed produced a serious scare that her ankle had been broken (a lack of subsequent swelling or pain demonstrated this fear had been somewhat overstated).

Which meant I was going to be doing all the pushing.

For 10km.

Those thinking of attempting this trip should be very clear on a few points.

One of these is that the flow of the river is less powerful than the effect of the wind coming up the river bed on an inflatable. Unless you’re putting the work in you’re not floating anywhere.

Another thing to note is that the plastic paddles which come with inflatables are fine for paddling, but will bend and break in seconds should you be foolish enough to try to push off rocks or sand bars with them.

Finally the Murrumbidgee River is not so much a river as a cunningly disguised collection of sharp rocks.

Most of the time I was forced into the role of human outboard motor at the back of the raft.

So a leisurely float became a 10km 6 hour breast stroke swim pushing the weight of another human being and banging my knee on a rock every 10 metres.

Let’s talk more about the banging of knees on rocks.

The first hundred times hardly hurt at all.

But it compounds.

With every blow you feel the pain of every single knock before.

Around the half way mark it stops being fun altogether.

Not far from Point Hut we hit rapids actually worthy of the name and GoosePig was flung from the raft.

This meant the last half hour of the trip was spent in stony silence, which might have been a good thing.

Despite liberal application of sun block, and re-application, everyone got well crisped by the lengthy exposure to the mid-river sun.

I’ve never been so physically exhausted. Giving up and laying down and dying seemed like the smarter option after the 1,000th running aground.

It was notable that we met no other watercraft on this stretch of river.

And yet, and yet.

There is a serious sense of accomplishment in getting from one town to another.

As the hours go by and the signs of civilisation return (first the power lines, then cars in the distance, then they joyous sight of the houses of Tuggeranong) you’ll feel senses of relief you’ve never known before.

The countryside is beautiful and changes, then changes again, with every bend in the river.

There’s a lot of interesting rural architecture along the way that I never expected.

At times the river goes from deep and broad to shallow and broad and then narrows down to a surge not two metres wide through reeds (this is actually the best bit).

The birds and sheep and cows give every impression of complete surprise when a gaggle of motley watercraft comes around the bend.

So it can be done. And you will look back on it with a sense of pride and achievement even if in patches you wished you were dead.

Some tips for those considering doing this:

1) Take water and muesli bars your blood sugar will be shot to hell by halfway.
2) Hat and t-shirt and hourly sunblock application or you will regret it
3) The river is generally deepest at the outside of the bend. If in doubt head towards where the plants on the bank are densest and greenest.
4) River Shoes will pay for themselves.
5) Inflatable rafts these days are tougher than they used to be.
6) A proper aluminium kayak paddle could save a lot of trouble.


Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

This story cracked me up. It has all the hallmarks of my own “adventures” over time;
a) a seemingly innocuous invitation – check.
b) a female accomplice who will not listen to advice – check.
c) the buying of various gear, some of which was really useful, and some of which was not – check.
d) the seemingly inevitable consequence of having to rescue the accomplice in some shape or form, due to hazards real (or, more usually, imagined) – check.
e) The “and yet, and yet” bit; despite all of the above hassles, somehow you feel pleased for having done it!

Good to see a sense of adventure is still alive and well. Thanks, Johnboy! 🙂

I think this is the best thing I’ve ever read on RiotAct. Very enjoyable.

thebrownstreak69 said :

Sounds like an awful lot of effort just to get laid.

I’d do it and go for a curry afterwards… 🙂

MIght be quicker if you tried it today

You have great legs JB….. 😛

thebrownstreak6911:01 am 29 Jan 13

Sounds like an awful lot of effort just to get laid.

Some friends of mine did this trip a couple of weeks ago. They had three boats, one with kids in it. They set off at 4.00pm. At 9.30pm, they realised one of the boats was missing and set off with one person walking/swimming back up the river and another person parking a vehicle crossways on a bridge lighting up what they could to try to find the missing guy. The coppers came along and asked why the vehicle was parked so, and contemplated whether to initiate a search. In the meantime, he had apparently decided to give up and camp on the riverbank overnight. Once located, they convinced him to finish the trip and they did so at 11.30pm before an official search was started. The party included two kids that can’t swim. Utter madness.

I’ve done a few floats down the river and I had a boat get punctured and had to swim in the last half kilometre in deep water. It is fun, but you do need to have a think about safety. JB raises the issue of becoming exhausted, dehyrated and burned, and those things can prevent you from thinking clearly.

What I love most about rivers is:
You can’t step in the same river twice
The water’s always changing, always flowing
But people, I guess, can’t live like that
We all must pay a price
To be safe, we lose our chance of ever knowing
What’s around the riverbend
Waiting just around the riverbend…

(7) Be quite fit.

Picnic one day, Bear Grylls the next…

I could have told you that JB, bloody thing needs more water in it.

Pork Hunt said :

Do readers know what right of access the average Joe has to rivers in such areas?
For eg, if one was to paddle downstream, can one make land fall and camp on the river bank?

I don’t believe so. As long as you’re on the water you’re fine, the banks if attached to a property would be private.

Thanks Grrrr.

Girt_Hindrance2:51 pm 28 Jan 13

Awww man, I woulda been there with bells on. Also, surprisingly, one can swim breaststroke quite well with a sombrero on.

Pork Hunt said :

Do readers know what right of access the average Joe has to rivers in such areas?
For eg, if one was to paddle downstream, can one make land fall and camp on the river bank?

Apparently the answer is very much “depends.” For the most part private ownership of the waterways is not the case, but there may be some places where it occurs. Beyond the immediate bank is probably private property:

If you can’t recall an activity being mentioned, let alone getting many votes, in the Like Canberra survey there’s probably a reason for its exclusion.

Sounds like an adventure and a half.

My post Australia Day adventure was a drive to Dartmouth Dam from Khancoban. The road followed the Mitta Mitta river for quite a way through farm land. It is a fast flowing, crystal clear waterway and I had a swim at one of several rest areas.

Do readers know what right of access the average Joe has to rivers in such areas?
For eg, if one was to paddle downstream, can one make land fall and camp on the river bank?

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.