18 January, 2013

The new toy

Yesterday we finally had the chance to put our new toys to the test on the Barwon in perfect summer conditions - the kayaks we bought Sarah and me for Christmas. We'd had a couple of trial runs on Swan Bay while we were away but this was our first chance to get out on the river.
Sarah on the Barwon
My intention was not only to get a different perspective on the river, but to see those stretches which I can't access from the bank. I'm dying to know what I've been missing!
So, with Peter on hand to lug kayaks and do pick ups, we hit the river at Breakwater and headed downstream, behind the businesses along Tucker Street and out through the farms in Marshall.
Farm machinery on the riverbank at Marshall
We headed past a few of the remnant willows and 19th century chimneys of the tanneries which featured in some of my earliest posts.
In the reeds on the Marshall bank I spotted a fox which had emerged via track it had clearly used before to drink at the river. Predictably, it froze and watched us closely as I extracted the camera and then with perfect timing disappeared back amongst the reeds the second I attempted to take a shot.
The aqueduct and Goat Island
Next we had the opportunity to see the aqueduct and Goat Island from midstream before heading around the bend towards Wilsons Road. As we paddled this stretch of the river, I was very mindful that in the days of James Lister Cuthbertson and the boys from Grammar and College this was known as the "Long Reach", a broad, straight stretch used for informal races and training which I discussed in my post The Willows.
Looking down the Long Reach
I suspect that were the boys of the 19th century to visit the Long Reach today, they would find it somewhat changed. Many of the exotic plantings which lined the banks at this time have been removed and the Australian Tannery which Cuthbertson mentions is no more than a low bluestone wall as viewed from the river. Since 1961, the reach itself has been home to the Geelong Water Ski Club who have clubrooms at the end of Wilsons Road and the weather being what it was, there were two boat-owners who had taken the opportunity to get out on the water.
Sticking close to the bank and riding out the backwash, we paddled on into quieter waters, headed for Reedy Lake. I would love to say that as we rounded the bend, all was revealed and the location of The Willows camp which I spent so much time trying to locate became immediately obvious, however this was not the case. The river narrows at this point and in places there were some stands of non-indigenous trees such as cypress overhanging the river, but no willows and no obvious point at which to camp. Nor was it easy from this point to get my bearings with respect to the outside world (so-to-speak) in order to take a guess at the likely location.
Passing through Reedy Lake surrounded by a sea of Fairy Martins flitting around overhead
The river channel is quite defined and so tall are the reeds that it was difficult to tell where the boundaries of Reedy Lake were (they don't call it that for nothing!), however when we arrived at the lower breakwater some 3km further downstream, there was no doubting our location. What was not so clear was how we were to navigate the obstacle in question. The lower break is quite different to that at Breakwater and the water level seemed significantly deeper. Fortunately, Sarah soon spotted a break in the reeds on the south bank where other paddlers had addressed the problem and we were able (albeit up to our knees in mud) to drag the kayaks out and round and then drop them back in the river on the other side.
I took the opportunity whilst on land to arrange our pick up from Tait's Point and to grab a few shots of the lower break before we hit the water for our final leg.
The lower breakwater in Reedy Lake
Whilst the weather was perfect and "Cuthy" spins a charming picture of crews rowing under the twinkling stars, I wasn't keen to navigate my way across Lake Connewarre in darkness, so, with the sun threatening to disappear and an uncertain distance remaining we kept moving.
Gates used to control the flow of water through the break
The first thing we noticed about the river below this second break were the large numbers of dead carp lining both sides of the waterway. A quick Google search turned up a detailed discussion on the management of the complex of lakes and swamps which rely on inflow from the Barwon and recognised  the need to control carp but did not explain what we were seeing, so I am still unsure whether such numbers of dead carp are normal or the result of some "event".
Sunset below the break
Like most of the rest of the channel through Reedy Lake we were hemmed in on both sides by reeds which limited our view of the surrounding land/water until, about half an hour later, we emerged into the tip of Lake Connewarre in time to see the sun setting over Geelong and our ride home pulling up at the boat ramp.
The tip of Lake Connewarre with the outskirts of Geelong on the skyline
Within a few minutes we had made the short trip across to the opposite side of the lake, had a brief chat to a pair of fishermen making the most of the weather, loaded up and made the somewhat longer journey home. All up, we covered about 11km in the boats during a comfortable 3 1/2 hour paddle, a distance by my calculations, a little over 3km shorter than the trip home by road.
The only question now, is which bit to explore next?


  1. As far as I know, Reedy Lake is a shallow rounded area on the north side of where you paddled along the Barwon River. The Field and Game (?) (shooters and fishermen) people keep a shallow channel about 2-3m wide open between the river and Reedy Lake forming a way that water can enter the Reedy Lake from the river, (the shooters want water in Reedy L for the shooting season) and near the lower breakwater is another (usually) maintained channel where perhaps water can leave Reedy Lake and return to the Barwon R. It provides the shooters with boat access at duck shooting season. There is a dirt road behind the earthen levee bank on the northern side of the river as one approaches Reedy Lake from the Breakwater side.

  2. Hi Helen,

    Yes, there were a couple of openings in the reeds and the various tracks are fairly obvious when viewed on Google Earth, however seeing what is where when you are in it and you can't see over the reeds is a pain to say the least! I think I can see the track you describe on Google Earth, but am not sure how to access it from land as it seems to diappear into nowhere between Coppards Rd and Scott's Rd.


  3. I accessed that track from the Leopold side on my mountain bike a couple of summers ago. The bottom of Fitzgerald Road opens out onto the marsh of Reedy Lake and there used to be a track cut through the reeds all the way to the lower break. It looked like it followed one of the small channels and then cut across it to the break via a small rock path that I crossed where the channel was flowing over it. I only rode as far as the break at the time and didn't follow the track any further towards Coppards Rd. Unfortunately the Leopold side to the track is now totally overgrown with reeds and impassable. I'm guessing the few wet winters we have finally had has restricted Parks Vic from being able to maintain the track.

  4. nice pictures ,hard to find photos of the lower break thank you

  5. Glad you liked them! I didn't even know it existed until I started researching the river. Don't know if you saw them, but there are a couple of photos from a few weeks ago in this post: http://barwonblogger.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/to-break-and-back-and-broken-back.html
    The water level is higher at the moment than when I took the photos during summer.


  6. I don't know if I'm writing in the right spot, as I'm new to this side. I happened to read about the dead carp below the second break and that you werent sure why they were all dead. I'll happily explain to you why such a thing happened/does happen. The breakwater as its name says breaks the water, dividing the freshwater from the salt water. The carp, a freshwater fish falls down the break into the salt water, only able to tolerate the salt for a limited amount of time it eventually dies. Hence the large number of dead carp in the water. Although you will notice at the flow controls a large quantity of living carp gasping for the fresh water as it flows into the salt,(these are the smarter fish) although lucky for us they'll eventually die as well. As for other fish such as trout they can survive in the salt for long enough to travel out into the ocean and back up another stream into fresh water. Which is quite possibly the reason why all the streams in the Otways have trout in them..
    -Lachlan de Haan