Class: Read and Run III / IV, large drops up to 10m with some grade IV
Season: Raining. usually January to May (Easter is often good)
Gradient: Average 45m/km. Up to about 100m/km in sections
Time: 6-8 hrs, very dependant on river levels, scouting time and portage time. We did it with 3 good paddlers in 6 hrs with the alternate put in
Length: Officially 15km for the full trip. The shorter section is about 13.5km. It will honestly feel like 20km
Shuttle: 20 mins each way. Depending on access
Character: Steep Creek with many significant drops to 10m
Suits: Good IV+ paddlers. There are some small eddies that must be caught to be able to scout large drops, and some slippery very steep portages
Thanks to Brian Cork (and Boris) for writing the "Steep Creeks on the Dorrigo Plateau" guide. It allowed us to experience what may well be the best steep creek section in the country.
We put in with a group of 3 at Hernani Station. The landowner gave us directions to access the river over his land (and even a good mud map). He was also nice enough to run us back to our 4x4 at the end of the day as we only had one vehicle able to get in there.
Please respect this farmers land and ensure you obtain access permission. There are a lot of very expensive stud bulls etc. you may need to know about and avoid.
Our put in was about 20-m from the water, which stated out as a trout stream for the first while, lots of grade II / III. It was a bit shallow for our liking at the top and quite bony.
Very paddleable but plenty of low hanging tress and some blackberry. Good idea to take a saw with you in your rescue kit if the water is any higher (which you want) as the branches were hard to duck under in some places.
More of an inconvenience than a danger though. Good paddle losing territory.
The river gradually steepens up, and sits of a reasonable gradient drop for a while. I would guess around 30-50m/km with a fair few 2-4m messy drops that are OK to paddle but there are rocks in irritating places.
We cracked a play boat through here, but the creekers were OK.
You can scout it all if you canít see it, but this whole river has a lot of places where grade II / III lead ups go into IV / V class drops if youíre not paying attention. We did not find any lead ups particularly hazardous, but pay attention.
The river is often 5-6m wide through here, and flows through grass etc. Sections of the river do this the whole way down, and would be easier to navigate with a bit more flow.
I would happily paddle this river with quite a bit more water in creek boats, but some of the portages and scouting would become more difficult as you could sneak along the river bank when we paddled it in a few spots.
The first significant drop is around 8-10m into a nice big pool, with a 4m waterfall after it that may be extremely difficult to scout. If you canít scout it, the whole fall was fairly clean when we paddled it, with the left hand side being the nicest line. It is not a major problem if you canít scout it, but donít blame me if a tree has washed in there since! We paddled the 10m fall, but needed a bit more water, as we were stalling on the top, which caused me to go down it sideways which is not fun.
Canít clearly remember the order of things after that, but the river switched back and forth from steep drops to continuous rapids. There is a 2nd gorge a fair while after the 1st large drop which we portaged a few drops on.
I believe everything on this river would be paddleable with more water, but I felt the consequences (ie death) were a bit high. I would not be surprised it a group of high end creek boaters paddle this whole river though.
Most people would portage 4 drops at the level we ran it at, possibly more depending on the group. The river goes through two area where it is only 1m wide, both of which we portaged. One of these was most of the way through the day, I think at the top of the 2nd gorge. The drop started of looking like a 2-3m small fall turning to the right 90 degrees.
After running a lot of similar sized drops through the day, you may feel that it can be read and run, but it immediately drops into a 20m section 1m wide with a nastily placed rock 1/2 way through it. Straight after that is another drop we portaged that did not look pretty as the river pours over a fall into a wall that could really ruin your day (at least).
So take care with the reading and running. We read and ran over 90% of this creek and had no problems, but we got out, or eddy hopped anything we could not see.
You really need to be comfortable paddling 4-6m drops to enjoy this river, or you are going to be spending a lot of time doing dangerous portages. The best way to portage most of these drops for us was to get past the dangerous section of the drop, and seal launch up to 8m into the water below it. Without this the river trip that took us 5hrs 45mins would have taken 8 and we would have spent the night on it.
With total respect to Brian and Boris for their guide, there are a few things I disagree with:
-Most of the river is reasonably wide for a creek. Possibly a really long slalom boat length, but I was expecting 2m wide most of the way which is not the case. Short sections can be narrow but a lot of the river spreads over a 5-10m river bed and can split in to multiple shallow rivulets as it works around rocks, trees etc. Similar is style to the Wingecarrabee River, the upper Bielsdown, or a small, small version of the lead-in to the upper Nymboida (where it splits up into multiple bits)
-I did not see any drop on this river that could not be portaged without specialist gear. Some of the portages would be a bit hideous and long if you choose not to run the drop (or seal launch halfway through), but it is all walkable.
-Most of this river is a grade III / IV standard, but there is definitely grade V section when it goes into the gorge. We did not run anything we would call grade V, but there were some technical grade IV rapids we paddled. Most of these would become easier and safer with more water (unless it is over the river banks as mentioned in the guide).
-Up to 12 portages? We portage 4 drops, and many people may choose to portage the 1st 10m drop at the same water level. This drop would be a lot easier and safer with more). If you are going to portage 12 drops (this would be almost every drop over 3m on the river), I would suggest paddling a different river, as you are portaging almost all the nice drops (or the level is way wrong).
This would have to be the best creek I have paddled. Really fun, heaps of big drops, lots of read and run grade 3, and enough challenging sections to keep almost any group nervous about whatís around the corner.
There were 3 places where trees made a section unpaddleable or dangerous. Two of these we removed, but the may be there next flood. The other is on river left and is really obvious as you approach it. We could have ducked under it and run the drop anyway but we felt it was a bit risky (which sucked, as without the tree this drop would be the cleanest, nicest, most enjoyable double 4m drop I have seen in Australia). You can seal launch next to it anyway.
I am currently chasing up with Department of Lands to find out if the takeout is legal access (we heard a rumour it was). I will get this post updated if it is, but assume you need permission (it is polite anyway).
When we paddled it, people have been getting into and out of the river here for 15 years, and we were unlucky enough to catch a farmer in a grumpy mood that locked us in.
Again, we thought it was a legal easement and we were not able to find out who owned the land.
The farmer has now put a keep out sign on the gate with his phone number (02 6657 8170), and after a lengthy phone conversation with him we believe there will be no problem for future paddlers as long as people give him a ring (and treat his land with respect). If you don't have reception, drive to the store 3km up the road and use their phone.
Comments: Not a great place to waste time or go with an over sized group. 3-6 paddlers would be ideal, and more than 4 will make very good river communication a must to ensure there is eddy space for scouting.
This river is best in creek boats, but short play boats can run it if your careful. We did not find any play spots on this river though, so there is not really any point unless itís your only boat!
You want a group who are happy to read and run, have footwear for the portages, bring rescue gear (with extra throw bags if your into running creek grade V as there is not anchor points for a rescue anywhere near some of the drops) and get on the river early.
This is a very time consuming run. Plan for 8-10 hrs of light at least if you can, as itís not a good place to spend a night.
We did it with 3 in 6 hrs and we were not spending much time scouting or taking pictures.
Putting In: There are two options here. The guide suggests putting in at the Hyland Rd turnoff. We put in on a private property
Taking Out: A private access track located on the North side of the road about 4km along the Armidale Rd heading West past the Tyringham Rd turnoff. This access track goes through farm paddocks (high clearance needed, preferably 4x4). The land owner MUST be contacted. If any more paddlers go in there without permission we may lose access forever. If access is lost, there is a 4x4 long access road to the other side of the river at the same point, but it becomes a very long shuttle. There is also other farm road access about 1.5 - 2kms upstream, but we have not investigated this further.
Map: Merango 1:25000, Dundurrabin 1:25000
Camping: Platypus flat is a good base camp for the area, on the Nymboida
Entry Date: April 14 2009
Verified by: Brian Cork
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