So, you want to Kayak the Murray River?
Kayaking or boating the Murray River is an extremely accessible adventure to everyone. It has been our most asked about expedition. We have put together everything you would need to know about planning your own journey down the whole length or just a section of Australia’s longest river. This expeditions is also covered in detail in my latest book 'Vodka and Sandstorms.'
This was a valuable little guide that has been used for generations on the river. It’s fun to mark off where you camped or great fishing spots and to follow the blue kilometre markers as you go.
We have used this duo on many adventures and swear by it. It charges quickly in direct sunlight and it fit perfectly on the front of the kayak. Elise even dropped the entire battery pack in the river and it still worked.
We knew nothing about kayaks when we were looking to buy some for the trip. After searching gumtree for second hand ones we still had no idea what we needed but luckily, we stumbled across Bay Sports.
The guys there were so helpful and together we decided on an Expedition 2 for Luke (who is 6ft tall) and an Expedition Zero for Elise (who is 5'4). They are middle of the range sea kayaks but were perfect for this trip and future trips out around Tasmania with huge storage and a durable make.
This tent was pricey but totally worth it and has seen us through countless trips. The price tag comes with a lifetime guarantee so when the fly started leaking they sent us a brand new one within a fortnight. We have the 3-person version (Trango 3) for a little extra room for two people as 2 man tents are too tight for comfortably having our mats side by side.
For backpacking trips we also have a lightweight Naturehike Cloud Up 3 person tent which is half the weight and self supporting which we could've taken on the Murray if we were short of space.
You could easily get away with something less hardcore as well. Luke's Dad slept in a little $130 one man tent from Anaconda.
We opted for the comfort of swags over sleeping mats mainly because we had the luxury of extra space on the boat and the trip was going to be long. Along with our Snugpak Softie Elite 3 sleeping bags with a minus 5 comfort rating it was more than enough for that time of year.
Handy for when the weather isn’t ideal for camp fires, but you are in desperate need of a brew.
When to Start
We began our six-week journey, which actually ended up being eight weeks on April 16th. This decision was based mainly on the idea of missing the heat of Summer, which makes sleeping in tents miserable, while also avoiding the dead of winter, which makes kayaking miserable. Anywhere from March – June or September - November would be best. We would suggest also trying to avoid major public holidays (like Easter and ANZAC day) as it makes finding camp spots almost impossible in certain parts and dodging wake boats and fishing lines gets old really quick.
How long do you have?
We began at the Hume damn in Victoria. This is the beginning of the ‘navigable’ portion of the Murray but not the technical start (which would be Mount Kosciusko). We had Luke’s Dad in his fishing tinny with us and the upper portion of the river isn’t suited to boats but if you desperately want to do the entire thing you could do so in a white-water kayak.
For the first section of the Hume damn to Lake Mulwala the river had great flow pushing us along at about 3-4km an hour without paddling. But after Yarrawonga damn the flow began to slow down and after Robinvale we had basically lost any support from the river pushing us along. This however would change with the time of year. Often in spring more water is released from the damns for irrigation.
If you only have 1 or 2 weeks to do a portion of the river we suggest going from Yarrawonga weir to Echuca, the Gunbower national park or Barham. We found this the most scenic and enjoyable part of the river with koalas, great fishing, awesome camp spots and easy resupply points. Once you reach the South Australian portion the river has gone from an intimate 20 – 40 metre width to 100 – 150 metres. Although the huge mud and limestone cliffs are beautiful it does make the river more vulnerable to winds and less enjoyable to paddle.
The lakes (Mulwala and Alexandrina) are challenging to kayak on windy days. They get extremely choppy and it is better to avoid them if the wind isn’t in your favour. If you do make it to Lake Alexandria at the end and you have a clear day without wind do the whole thing in one push! Otherwise (like us) you could get stuck in the middle and have to push the last section of the lake in bad weather. It's not ideal.
A lot of the New South Wales side of the river is privately owned whereas the Victorian side is crown land for 60 metres, meaning you can camp anywhere on the bank. South Australia is the same and you can pull up anywhere you like. If there isn’t a private property sign we considered it fair game, and to be honest if you are respectful and don’t leave a trace there’s no harm done.
For the most part we were sleeping on sandy beaches which is ideal for comfort. Sometimes we were forced onto mud banks which is only a problem when it’s raining as they turn into giant slip and slides.
Food and water
The Murray River charts were such a valuable resource for fuel and resupplies, but we also had Optus cell reception for the majority for the trip to find where we could get our next food and clean water from. Google maps is a glorious thing and once you hit a town you can guide yourself there or just ask a local. We never had to walk more than 1km for supplies with IGAs and Woolworths grocery stores in most towns on the river. Because we had a boat following us we kept 2 x 20 litre jerries of fresh water on board, but when we ran out a few times we did just boil the river water and it was fine. You could also just take some water filter tablets or use a filter like Katadyn or Sawyer, which we have done in the past.
We had a gas stove with us which was subbed out for a fire with a cheap grill early on in the trip. Unless there is a fire ban on you are permitted to light small fires for cooking the whole length of the river. Just be sure to stick to the guidelines to protect this beautiful area.
Fires made life so much easier and we only used the gas when it was raining. We mainly used a fry pan and pot for cooking and had Alfoil for throwing our delicious Murray cod and potatoes into the coals to cook. We would suggest figuring out a few go-to meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner that you can easily cook, fit in and resupply for.
The locks are a way of controlling the amount of water in the river and begin at Torrumbarry. This particular one was under maintenance when we were there, and we had to be shuttled around by truck, which is fairly common. Our first lock experience was at Robinvale. The locks open on the hour going downstream and take about 15 – 20 minutes to get through. However, when it’s not a busy time period, like public holiday or summer, the lock controllers are accommodating and would let us through when we arrived after giving them a quick call.
The one place that you cannot get through on the water is Yarrawonga Weir. We had a cousin that lived near by give us a lift in his car around the weir (getting out at the boat ramp at Yarrawonga foreshore Kiosk and back in on the other side at Yarrawonga Holiday Park boat ramp). If you had a little kayak trolley you could walk the streets around to the other side which is around 1km.
How fit do I really need to be?
We came into this trip with no more than 4 hours total kayaking experience under our belts. Although our overall fitness levels were high the hardest part we found was adjusting to being seated in a kayak for hours.
We would paddle around 6 – 8 hours each day with breaks in between. Early on in the trip this would mean around 40 – 55km would be covered, but as the river slowed and winds hit us head on the same amount of time only covered 30 – 40 km.
There is no white water on the river, so you don’t need any skill, you just need to be able to sit in a kayak for long periods of time. You aren’t pushing hard at any point (unless you really want to) so you won’t need strong cardiovascular endurance. Mainly you just want to be generally fit and healthy, so your immune health is high, and you don’t get run down on the trip.
The fishing in the NSW and VIC section of the river was better than we thought it would be. We only had hand reels but often caught beautiful eating size (55cm – 75cm) cod on nothing more than a bit of tasty vintage cheese cubes. We didn’t even really dedicate much time to fishing but can only assume that because we were camping at places that weren’t usually fished we had more luck. Clive caught a 1.2 metre cod on a Kmart rod with a bit of yellow belly liver! (pic below).
The people along the river were so helpful, often driving us to get fuel or letting us shower at the caravan parks. The river is only remote when you travel through the national parks and so you are never far away from food, water or help.
This is such an easy expedition to plan and an enjoyable trip that should be on every Australians list. If you are planning to head down the Murray and have more questions, feel free to email me or touch base on social media. My second book ‘Vodka and Sandstorms’ has a detailed chapter on our journey. You can grab it HERE. Or shoot me an email with any questions. I'm always happy to help a fellow adventurer!
One Life One Chance.