Yesterday I canoed the Macalister Gorge (from Basin Flat to Cheyne’s Bridge). This is probably my favourite section of this wonderful river, and I confess I have completed it many, many times. One of the best bits about this section is that you can do it entirely by yourself as i did yesterday (everyone begging off for trifling reasons such as work), as you can always drop your boat off then return to Cheyne’s Bridge, perch on the bonnet of your car and stick your thumb out. usually (as yesterday) the first car will stop and give you a lift back to basin Flat. Yesterday I did not even have time to lock the car before i had a lift!
Basin Flat is 20 minutes by road above Cheynes Bridge (on the main road to Licola (Gippsland, Victoria, Australia). The road climbs up over a Mountain range (Burgoynes) then descends again to where it rejoins the river at Basin Flat. You have to climb two fences in about 70 metres to put your boat in the river, then off you go.
I have included a lot of photos to give you a reasonable idea of what the whole trip looks like. Yesterday it took me 5 3/4 hours (at age 68) but with frequent stops to take photos, have a look around , meal beaks etc. I used to be able to do the trip in under 4 hours – but that was before the fires and floods made the river wider and shallower, as well as stealing most of its summer water, so that it is difficult now to get a 30C day with enough water (above say 1.63 on the Licola gauge – yesterday it was 1.72 = perfect).
The river is canoeable (at least) from the Caledonoia Confluence downstream though the section down to the Barkly (4 hours of Grade 2 and 3) would best suit packrafts (locked gate.) From the Barkly Bridge down to Licola is a great section of closely-spaced Grade 2 rapids which takes about 4 hours. You would probably need about 1.8 metres at the Licola gauge to do this which would be hard to find in the warmer months these days. From Licola to Basin Flat is mostly flat water through farm land with some pebble races and the odd Grade 2 rapid and takes about four hours. From Cheynes Bridge to Paradise Valley or Lake Glenmaggie is mostly Grade 1 and very pleasant and takes another approx six hours. Of course the river is canoeable downstream from Lake Glenmaggie and is almost all flat water taking a number of days.
Ready to begin at Basin Flat:
This trip is a great canoe training trip as it begins with a long flat section with just a few pebble races, gradually you encounter the odd grade 2 rapid. After Burgoynes track there are two grade 3 rapids and quite a number of Grade 2 as well. The last hour is once again on reasonable flat water with mainly just pebble races. There are many, many wonderful spots to camp, swim etc along the way. It is really ideal as a very leisurely 2-4 day canoeing/fishing/hunting trip.
The first Grade 2 rapid at just about the end of the flat (after nearly 1/2 an hour has an overhanging tree at the moment. You could chance being able to duck under it I suppose. I didn’t.
About 3/4 of an hour from the start (on the true left bank – at the end of a large flat) there is an old pioneer hut which someone has lovingly restored lately
They have done such an excellent job. I particularly admired their bush ladder.
About an hour in the river splits. I took the right fork with this entertaining drop. The left fork used to have a fun chute, but there may not be enough water going down it now. At the bottom of this drop there is a vast swimming hole on a right hand bend (complete with this turtle). A lovely spot to camp.
Swimming hole: this is the spot whee someone stole my paddle many years ago: http://www.theultralighthiker.com/canoeing-the-macalister/
If you are going to camp overnight I suggest you bring all your gear up off the river and out of sight. Strange people sometimes camp at Cheynes Bridge and may decide to canoe the river. Mind you I have only that once encountered anyone else.
There are lots of grassy flats along the way.
The one on the left bank after the large hole is quite vast. There used to be the remains of an old shepherd’s hut underneath an ancient quince. Since the fires it is no more. I came down the river just after the dreadful fires. At this spot there was an old doe who had given her life to save her twin fauns who were lying by her side under the quince where her body was quite mummified; they had so dehydrated her. They ran away as I approached, but quietly crept back again. I hope they survived.
I usually stop for lunch (after about 1 1/2 hours) opposite it at a place I used to call ‘The Willows’ where you could sit in the shade and enjoy your lunch plus a cold beer or two.
Yesterday I had to chase half a dozen sambar deer off the sandbank before I could sit down, the descendants of that old doe perhaps. They did not stay long enough for a photo though I did see them.
Dingoes had been busy here having killed a black wallaby.
Lunch over, I am off again.
You have to watch out for snags (and rocks). Stick to the inside curves. If in any doubt, get out and walk. Lots of people have died on this section of river over the years. Do not get side on to a log (this can easily mean death), or to the current in general. Generally follow the centre course in rapids, but on bends try to stay on the inside of curves so you do not get forced onto the outside edge and overturned. Rocks will often try to tip you out; you often have to lean in towards them to prevent this.
The straight just above Burgoynes, and a lovely valley on your right. Burgoynes Track off the Licola Rd. A popular place to camp if you have a serious 4WD. Many intrepid folk cross the river here to camp further downstream. Don’t do this unless you are sure of what you are doing. You can also come down from the other side (off the Black range Rd, or the Green Hills Road near Mt Useful)
Just below Burgoynes you come to the first Grade 3 rapid. it has had a log stuck in it for some time making it even more dangerous. i portaged it on the right hand side.
There are a number of lovely campsites below Burgoynes (if you are vehicle camping). If you are canoeing you have many other choices – and greater privacy.
Another spot: you can drive right down to the beach.
Just below is an entertaining one metre drop on a right hand bend. Many folk have had an impromptu swim here.
This is the ‘Morning Glory’ Hut – quite a palatial establishment, even boasting a bar and hut book!
This beautiful cliff on the right bank follows soon after. This is about half way through your trip. Keep an eye out here. A Grade 3 rapid is just around the left hand corner. Stay on the left hand side to check it out or portage it if you have any doubts about your ability:
You can see it needs to be approached cautiously. I once fell out here and lost my 30:06 in the rapid. It must have taken me an hour to retrieve it from where it was lodged amongst the rocks in the bottom of the rapid.
This goes on for a long way. If you fall out here you can be swimming for a while particularly if the river is higher.
Shortly after the Mt Useful Creek comes in on your right. It is a very large, steep valley rising on the eastern side of Mt Useful
There are some pleasant Grade 2 rapids along here.
A couple of promising gullies come in from the Black Range on your right. Good spots to camp too. There is a large cave on a ridge somewhere along here. I missed it yesterday. I climbed to it once. It was full of bats.
There are fine beaches and lovely swimming holes.
And the odd entertaining drop.
The locals peer out at you as you drift past.
Somewhere along here I stopped for a snack and a spell yesterday. And to admire the view upstream.
And downstream. No-one else in sight for 10 km either way. That suits me just fine.
This is the last straight (and beautiful valley on your right) before Warabinda (a ‘wilderness’ youth camp). There are two dwellings here built with the help of the street kids being helped here: the first on your left just around the far bend, the second on your right.
I saw lots of ducks and shags. The river has many giant carp. You often see a sea eagle eating them. But also it has excellent trout, eels as long as your legs and the occasional redfin perch.
The Warabinda ‘Flying Fox’. It is 45 minutes from here to the bridge, mainly on flattish water.
One of the last rapids.
You are into cattle country now.
This is the very last rapid. Surprisingly I have fallen out more often here than anywhere else!
And the very last straight
Then here you are at Cheynes Bridge where there is a large camping ground.