28 January, 2013

Lunch at "the break"

"The second break in the Barwon River." This was the Google Images search which greeted me as I took a quick glance at my stats page before starting this post.
I am guessing that someone was looking for pictures of the lower breakwater. I hope they found the first of my kayaking posts from earlier this month, but as it happens, I can add to the collection after another paddle down the river today. In fact, I stopped at the lower break for lunch before heading back to the upper breakwater to catch a ride home.
But first things first. I hit the water just near the Geelong Water Ski Club at the end of Wilsons Road in St. Albans Park and headed downriver, hoping to get a better idea of where that 19th century picnic spot "The Willows" was and also to see if I could access Reedy Lake.
Assuming my reasoning as outlined in my post The Willows is correct, then I was successful in my first endeavour and now have some photos to show for my efforts:
Thicket of elms at the possible site of The Willows, looking upstream
The above shot shows a thicket of elm trees, clearly non-native and well-established. There are no willows to be seen anymore anywhere along this stretch of river or even signs that the area may have been used for picnics and camping. Nor is there any sign of the "cutting" described by James Lister Cuthbertson in his description of The Willows, where the Grammar boys ran the boats up onto the bank.
Thicket of elms looking downriver towards The Willows
In fact the only place I could conveniently get out of the water to have a look around was several hundred metres away....maybe next time.
And so I paddled on. My next aim was to see if I could get inside Reedy Lake for a look around, however I soon discovered that the channel which connects the lake to the river is not designed for boat access.
Channel to Reedy Lake
None-the-less, it is a rather pretty part of the river with farmland on one side and high reeds interspersed with gum trees obscuring any sight of the lake on the other.
Looking downriver, about 2.5km below Wilsons Road
My next stop was the lower breakwater where I hauled myself and the "yak" out of the water, took a few photos and had some lunch at which time a decision had to be made. The weather was mild but increasing winds were forecast for later in the afternoon so I decided to leave a paddle around Lake Connewarre for another occasion and head back upriver.
Above the lower breakwater
Below the lower breakwater
As on at least three other occasions, the trip upstream was wind-assisted and therefore easier than the trip down.
At one point as I drifted quietly near the bank I became aware that I was not alone. As they often do, a number of carp were cruising along the bank looking for food. They were quite confident - provided I didn't move much - and were happily snapping up the grass seeds (we used to call them fairies) which were floating on the surface of the water.
A carp eating a "fairy"

A carp stalking a seed
After spending a bit of time stalking the carp, I got moving again, sloshing my way through the wake of several power boats at the water ski club until I reached quieter waters (and a patch of waterlilies) near "Greenbanks" on the Marshall side of the river.
From there it was an uneventful paddle round the bend to Breakwater and a quick ride home. Not a bad day's paddling and my first solo expedition.

Yellow waterlily

26 January, 2013

Australia Day 2013

With Australia Day and the long weekend upon us, things were busy on the Barwon.
I went out for a run a little before 9am, heading down to Breakwater and back up to Princes Bridge then Moorabool St. It was definitely the morning for it as there were joggers, walkers and cyclists aplenty, not to mention a range of organised events.
Had I been a little more enthusiastic, I could have joined the weekly 5km Parkrun from Balyang Sanctuary, Landy Field was a hive of activity, hosting the Victorian Athletics Country Championships and a little upstream on the rowing mile, the crews were out for day one of the 132nd W.H. Pincott Barwon Regatta.
I survived the run, dodged the crowds and headed home to recuperate. The weather was mild and overcast with a bit of a breeze blowing, but with limited options I decided to drag out the kayaks and hit the river again - steering well clear of rowers of course!
The next item on my "to do list" was to paddle from Barwon Heads up to Tait's Point. Recent experience suggested that upstream would be the easier option, although not having to spend an indeterminate amount of time trying to find the point at which Lake Connewarre drains into the river channel for the final part of the journey to Bass Strait was also an inducement.
So, decision made, Sarah and I were deposited at Barwon Heads for an afternoon on the river. It was about an hour and a half past high tide, but there was still plenty of water flowing upstream and a fairly stiff breeze was blowing in from somewhere near the Apple Isle.
Looking back at Barwon Heads Bridge
Our decision turned out to be a good one as both wind and tide propelled us upriver in a manner that was more like surfing than paddling at times. My first discovery as we navigated through a number of mudflats and shallow sections a kilometre or two upstream was a small group of Pied Oyster-catchers who - contrary to what I have since read - were more than happy to allow me to approach relatively closely. They did however, have their limits, so I didn't get the perfect shot, but this was the first time I had seen them on the Barwon, so I took what I could get.
Pied Oyster-catchers on the mudflats at Barwon Heads
Finding the channel again once we had rounded the corner and were less at risk of being carted off into the shipping lanes of Bass Strait, we made relatively easy progress past the fishermen both in boats and on the shore.

This part of the river is quite different from the rest, being mostly a marine environment. The birds we saw were gulls, terns, stints, cormorants, swans, ducks, spoonbills - and of course the oyster-catchers. Instead of the reeds lining the channel through Reedy Lake, the gums and grassland below the Barrabool Hills or even the sub-tropical rainforest of Lake Elizabeth, there were mangroves, moonahs and extensive saltmarsh and even as far upriver as Lake Connewarre, the water is still saline.
The Barwon within the Lake Connewarre State Game Reserve
Once past the inhabited areas and into the Connewarre State Game Reserve, the land was completely flat as the saltmarsh took over from the mangroves. We hopped out for a look around at one point and snapped a few shots, but there wasn't much to be seen so we were soon on our way again.
A small "island" of Red-necked Stints
A little further along we came across a flock of Red-necked Stints, flying en masse just above the surface of the water before landing on a mudflat in the middle of the stream.
From there it was a short paddle and we were winding our way into Lake Connewarre. This was easier said than done as the river at the edge of the lake is shallow and splits around a number of small islands and mudflats.
Walking across Lake Connewarre
Once inside the lake, things didn't immediately improve and at one point, we found ourselves walking across the lake in ankle-deep water across a sandbar before we finally reached some deeper water. At this point, things became a little tiresome.
The sky had cleared and the sun was out, but the southerly had picked up a bit and made the final 2.5km of our journey somewhat of an exercise in endurance, however we made it to Tait's Point and summoned the cavalry to take us home.
Tait's Point
While we waited, we introduced ourselves to some visitors enjoying the view and then I headed around the point for a couple of quick shots before we headed home for a roast lamb dinner - it is Australia Day after all!

20 January, 2013

Beneath the Barrabool Hills

Saturday afternoon we took off for a second paddling expedition up (and down) the Barwon. This time I had the chauffeur paddling with me so an out and back trip was necessary. I decided we would head upriver from Baum's Weir, aiming for the Merrawarp Road Bridge and see how far we got.
At Baum's Weir
This section of the river travels through farmland and the Barrabool hills. The outcropping of sandstone from which it is formed is quite visibly different in its geology to the basalt which lines the river at Buckley Falls and gives a very different look to the landscape. The local Wathuarong clan of the same name lived in the area and gave the hills their name. At least three meanings have been suggested: oyster, a rounded mountain or a slope down to water. Given the nature of the landscape either of the latter two seem a likely possibility although "oyster" seems the better known.
Looking upstream to the Barrabool Hills
The cliff faces which rise up from the river appear to be inhabited by Welcome Swallows in their hundreds and they dart and dive above the river much like the Fairy Martins down in Reedy Lake. However, somewhat at odds with the rural landscape is the continuous traffic noise from the nearby Ring Road.
Looking downstream
The river channel past the Barrabool Hills is somewhat deeper than other sections of the river which I have seen and reminded me a little of the steeper banks of the Leigh and Moorabool Rivers.
As a consequence, it was difficult to see much of the surrounding countryside whilst on the river and the steep banks made it tricky to jump out and have a look.
High banks limit the view of the surrounding countryside
However, this is a very pretty part of the river with gum trees hanging out from the banks, over the water whilst in several places the river was so cluttered with logs, fallen branches and even whole trees that navigation became a little tricky. None-the-less on each occasion we managed to find our way through.
Dead tree  in the Barwon
We made it comfortably to Merrawarp Bridge - I can find no meaning for this name, indigenous or otherwise - in under two hours and decided we would push on and see how far we got. In the end it was probably an extra kilometer or two past the bridge through more dead trees, past a few fishermen (one in a kayak who proudly exhibited a sizable red-fin he'd caught), several pumps, the odd sheep or cow having a drink at the river and a couple of guys in a tinny, also off for a spot of fishing.
The bird life from what I saw was similar to other parts of the river, with the exception of a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles circling overhead as we reached the upper limit of our trip - the first I've seen. Further downstream I came across a Nankeen (any-time-of-the-day-or)-Night-heron. For predominantly nocturnal birds, the local variety don't seem at all adverse to staying up late in the hope of making a catch. I spotted one during our circumnavigation of the lower breakwater on Thursday evening and often see them during daylight hours around Buckley Falls. This specimen however, was perched in a tree well above the river where it wasn't catching anything.
Nankeen Night-heron
Our return journey was reasonably uneventful, although we did stop off at one point to log a geocache which was only accessible by an on-river approach. This was our only landfall and the only opportunity to have a look at the surrounding countryside which was looking quite dry.
By the time we made it back to the starting point the earlier cloud-cover had cleared and I was able to take a few good shots with the sun behind.
The Geoff Thom Bridge on the Ring Road from the west
For the purposes of photography, paddling upstream would be best done in the morning...perhaps I'd better get a little more organised!

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?

16 January, 2013

The aftermath

Well, the smoke has cleared and the fire trucks have departed so I thought I'd have a look and see if I could see what the damage was.
So, after a short drive round to South Barwon Reserve and a quick stroll across the ovals we were at the scene of the crime - and yes, as the Geelong Advertiser told us, authorities are treating the blazes as suspicious.
Below are some shots taken from the edge of the reserve:
A burnt fencepost at the edge of the reserve
The rail bridge across Waurn Ponds Creek June, 2011

Burnt reeds and grass looking towards the rail bridge across Waurn Ponds Creek

Looking towards Breakwater
Waurn Ponds Creek running to the Barwon

15 January, 2013

Fire! Fire!

Well, it's certainly summer. At around 2:30pm this afternoon, the sun was shining, the cyclists were out, along with the waterskiiers and the golfers at Barwon Valley and over everything was a thick pall of smoke.
My first hint that something was up came when I looked out my south-facing back window to see great clouds of smoke billowing up from the South Geelong area. A quick check of CFA website informed me that there were several small grassfires burning along the banks of the Barwon between Breakwater Bridge and the boat ramp in town.
Now that I had to see! (Assuming it was safe to do so.) After a quick trip to the backyard to snap a few photos, I headed down to the river.
Smoke over South Geelong

As far as I could tell, all the action seemed to be happening on the Belmont side of the river and the authorities seemed well on top of the situation so I thought I'd head up the path on the opposite bank towards Breakwater to see what I could see.
Smoke rising over South Barwon Reserve
The first thing I noticed was the ash which was floating across the river and landing on the ground, occasional bits here and there and then more as I headed towards Breakwater. The smoke was heaviest in that direction and appeared to be emanating from the back of the playing fields at the South Barwon Reserve.
New Breakwater Bridge and surrounds bathed in orange
From the old Breakwater Bridge, I could see a couple of trucks at what appeared to be the edge of things with another patrolling on the golf course, possibly looking for spot fires - of which I could see none.
Fire truck on the scene at Breakwater

View from the old Breakwater Bridge
Having seen all there was to see from that part of the river - lots of smoke, a few fire trucks, the odd police car and a circling helicopter - I headed back to the car and did a drive around but could not see where the other reported fires might have been. As I headed over the new Breakwater Bridge, I did see an arial firefighting unit filling its bucket in the Barwon below the Breakwater and dumping it on the reserve.
Arial firefighting unit taking water from the river below the breakwater
Now, as I type, the news is telling me that police are looking for an arsonist in relation to these fires. I can't say I'm surprised. Multiple fires along the river within a few kilometres all in parklands adjoining suburban areas? Hmmmm....
Ironically enough, this time two years ago some of my earliest blog posts showed ducks paddling on Landy Field as the Barwon flooded.