A ripple in time: Kayaking the Glenelg River
Paddling the Glenelg reveals magnificent birdlife and remnants of a simpler Australia.
I grew up in the north-east of the state where we were fully aware nothing could compare to The Murray. So when we put our canoe into the Glenelg in the Lower Glenelg National Park near the South Australian border, I was pretty surprised at the size, beauty and wildness of the river.
This far down the Glenelg it is estuarine, salty, receiving a tidal pulse twice a day. A gentle river, wide and deep and meandering, bounded by impenetrable bush and spectacular limestone cliffs.
The people around here say it used to flow harder before the Rocklands Reservoir was built 300 kilometres upstream at the foot of the Grampians in the ’50s. For locals the Rocklands Reservoir is a bogeyman, brought up in conversation regularly.
Water that once snaked through here to the sea at Nelson is piped out to the Wimmera and Mallee now, and locals talk of the Glenelg as diminished. In Australia it’s pretty common for people living downstream of a dam to regard the thing as a type of larceny.
On our first day canoeing the river we saw only two other people. Musk ducks paddled along half-submerged like Civil War ironclads. White-faced heron groaned when we got close and climbed the ladder of their wingbeats.
And the salt-loving chestnut teal trailed strings of ducklings across the mud making for the shelter of the combungi beds. We saw a little eagle and several sacred kingfishers.
No signs of habitation or civilisation apart from the canoe jetties spaced every five or 10 kilometres along the river through the park. Each leads to a campsite with fireplaces and toilets. These are used by canoeists and hikers on the Great South West Walk. We camped at Pattersons Canoe Camp, by ourselves. We walked only a few kilometres of the trail, but saw emu, kangaroos, wallabies, echidna, and birds and orchids in abundance.
The possums here become gangsters after dark, so you must secure your food. Our provisions were pillaged though my wife fought a running battle with them half the night. I had wisely used a single malt Scotch as a possum-muffler and slept soundly through the hostilities.