Guide to kayaking in Victoria

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

Victoria’s rivers provide canoeing and kayaking experiences for every type of adventurer. Our guide will help you get started.

Kayaking on the Yarra, Melbourne
Kayaking on the Yarra, Melbourne

The Lower Yarra 

You can start your kayaking expedition right in the middle of Melbourne, taking in the city sights away from traffic and at a leisurely pace. Cruise past South Wharf, including the Polly Woodside tall ship, before stopping at Federation Square or Southbank for a coffee or a bite to eat.

Three kilometres upstream from Princes Bridge is the sculpture park on Herring Island. Scattered throughout the park are environmental sculptures, most notably Stone House and Cairn by British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy.

Free barbecues are available and a walking trail that takes in the various sculptures is a perfect way to stretch the legs before the paddle back. But remember, even though it’s flat water, you’re still legally required to wear a lifejacket.

Grade: Easy (Grade I – see river grading system below).
Suits: Kayaks, open canoes.
Best time: All year. 

Kayaking on the Yarra at Wonga Park
Kayaking on the Yarra at Wonga Park

The Upper Yarra 

If you’re ready for a little adrenaline, the Yarra near Warrandyte is a great place to start. Despite being close to Melbourne, the popular stretch from Homestead Road to Wittons Reserve can feel remote when on the river.

First timers should inspect Bob’s Rock and The Island rapids before embarking but everything else is easily negotiated. 

Grade: Easy (Grade I–II).
Suits: Kayaks, open canoes, inflatables.
Best time: All year.

Lower Snowy River

The Snowy is one of Australia’s iconic rivers. Its lower reaches travel through rainforest, farmland and past sandy riverine beaches, culminating in a large estuary in East Gippsland. 

A relaxing two-day paddle perfect for beginners and families, the Lower Snowy route begins at Sandy Point near Bete Bolong. The first half flows past lush forest with plenty of lunch spots on its sandy banks. Finish the first day at Orbost, where there’s a campground and pub.

Kayaking on the Snowy River between Orbost and Marlo
Kayaking on the Snowy River between Orbost and Marlo

On day two, the river widens. Tidal currents kick in and you could be paddling against them. The trip finishes at the jetty of the picturesque seaside town of Marlo. 

Grade: Beginner (Grade I).
Suits: Open canoes.
Best time: All year but sandbars in summer can make it a little trickier.

Lower Glenelg

The Glenelg River in western Victoria has countless swimming and fishing spots, and kingfisher, pelican and sea eagle sightings are common.

Fifty-metre limestone cliffs plunge into the water and change colour throughout the day, providing endless inspiration for photographers. There are a small number of campsites specifically for canoeists. Bookings are essential.

A three-day trip from Moleside, 20 minutes’ drive from the finish at Nelson, captures the best of the Glenelg. You can also visit Princess Margaret Rose Cave.

Grade: Beginner (Grade I).
Suits: Open canoes, sea kayaks.
Best time: Summer.

Murray River

Upstream of Echuca, the Murray passes through the Barmah National Park in no great hurry. Despite a strong current, the river twists and turns, making assessing distances impossible.

One of the joys here is the backwaters, creeks and lagoons. There’s no better way to see water birds, and camping in Australia’s largest redgum forest is a treat. Starting at Tocumwal, allow five days to reach the little township of Barmah.

Grade: Beginner (Grade I).
Suits: Open canoes.
Best time: August to April.


King River

The King River, in north-east Victoria, is a terrific all-rounder. Start at the base of the spectacular Lake William Hovell spillway and the white-water action begins immediately.

Rapids such as the Elevator, the Weir and Cappuccino (a decent-sized drop into a turbulent pool) are immediately followed by a fast, narrow chute known as Lygon Street. 

Five kilometres of continuous, bouncy Grade II–III water make for a fun trip. 

An easy car shuffle means you can paddle the section a few times in one day, or spend the afternoon exploring the King Valley’s many cellar doors specialising in Italian varieties.

Grade: Moderate/difficult (Grade III).
Suits: Kayaks, inflatables.
Best time: July to November.

Mitchell River

Majestic and wide, the Mitchell River in East Gippsland has exciting rapids and long pools.

The standout rapid, for both drama and natural beauty, is the Amphitheatre, which curves around the base of a 150-metre-high red cliff.

In high water the three sections merge to become 500 metres of continuous Grade IV water. A popular section is a two-day trip from Angusvale to the Final Fling rapid at Glenaladale Bridge near Bairnsdale.

There’s free camping at Woolshed Creek, with a short walk upstream to the Den of Nargun, a small cave which Aboriginal legend says is home to half-human/half-stone beings.

Grade: Difficult (Grade III–IV).
Suits: Kayaks, inflatables.
Best time: May to November.

Upper Snowy

The Snowy River is wilderness magic but with some challenging rapids. 

The four-day trip from McKillops Bridge to the Buchan River junction goes through remote gorges with abundant wildlife. Rapids are Grade II-III with the exception of the spectacular Tulloch Ard Gorge where more challenging rapids need to be negotiated. 

The Snowy is a superb trip for those with more time and an experienced guide, and has earned its reputation for being the definitive Victorian river trip. 

Grade: Difficult (Grade III–IV).
Suits: Canoes, kayaks, rafts.
Best time: All year.

Murray Gates

“Have you paddled the Gates?” It’s a question that immediately ranks a paddler. Every feature in this 10-kilometre stretch of white water on the Murray in north-east Victoria has been discussed, named, argued over, and renamed by paddlers in the pub in nearby Khancoban.

South African Swim, Hole in the Head and The Thing are some of the many major rapids to look out for.

Look up to see spectacularly steep hillsides dropping to the water’s edge, with the often snow-capped peak of Mount Kosciuszko looming in the background.

Grade: Very experienced (Grade III–IV+).
Suits: Kayaks, rafts.
Best time: August to November.

 

River Grading System

Grade I – Easy
Grade II – Medium
Grade III – Difficult
Grade IV – Very difficult
Grade V – Exceedingly difficult
Grade VI – Experts risk their lives

Safety

  • Like any water sport, paddling can be dangerous. If you are inexperienced, use a professional guide or group.
  • Wearing a lifejacket when kayaking is mandatory, and, if in white water, wear a helmet.
  • Never paddle alone.
  • Paddle within your ability. If in doubt, walk the rapid.
  • Always tell someone your plans and expected return time.
  • Dress for the conditions. Wet gear in cold weather can bring on hypothermia.

More

For details on how to get started, visit vic.canoe.org.au or transportsafety.vic.gov.au/paddling

Written by Greg Muller. Photos by Anne Morley.
March 05, 2018

You might also like...