Tranquil, the kayak glides effortlessly across the almost still water, the walls of the canyon green with she-oaks and eucalyptus trees…
An almost silent yellow blur rushes past, and then the polo ball splashes down in front of me. I turn over my shoulder to see two double kayaks bearing down in my direction, and manoeuvre out of the way to watch their antics, not fully trusting their ability to avoid crash tackling everything in their path. I then precariously open the waterproof Peli case on my deck to access my DSLR for some photos.
Ahh yes, the serenity.
Ten members of the Australian National University Mountaineering Club (ANUMC) had driven down to Kangaroo Valley for the weekend, following our fearless leader Annika, who had conveniently decided that being in the valley for a wedding should be extended to a kayaking adventure. For us it was an extraordinarily leisurely start: packing the trailer in Canberra at 7:30am. This was followed by some faff at the very cute little township of Kangaroo Valley itself (decorated, predictably but undeniably delightfully, with kangaroo everything) before we finally made it to the get-in at Tallowa Dam. Several beginner kayakers were introduced to the joy of packing gear into dry bags and kayak hatches, and finally—post midday—we were off.
It was a glorious day for a paddle, all warmth and sunshine and only a touch of wind. We skirted around the buoys marking the dam wall and headed up the casually winding river into Shoalhaven Gorge, canoepolo antics en route.
This picturesque and easily accessible dam was created as part of the Shoalhaven water supply scheme, built to supply water for Sydney and Illwarra during droughts. A mere 23 kilometres from the Kangaroo Valley township, it is a popular spot for fishing and kayaking (with local company Kangaroo Valley Safaris offering canoe hire and everything!), though—to ensure water quality—powerboats are banned. The 43 metre high dam wall is situated at the junction of the Kangaroo and Shoalhaven rivers, and we paddled up the Shoalhaven Gorge into Moreton National Park.
With only around 13km to paddle each day, this trip is perfect for beginners. The cruising pace and calm water also gave me the confidence to take out my quite decidedly not waterproof Sony A57 (DSLR camera) from the Peli case strapped on my deck, though I was outdone by the other photographer, who had housed his own Sony in a dive case. Still, I managed a lot more photos than I had on my last, somewhat more intimidating, kayaking experience off the coast.
As we paddled through the gorge we passed the skeletons of trees, reminding us that this was indeed a flooded valley. A few kayakers practiced their turning skills between the bare trunks.
Lunch, treading water whilst throwing the polo ball, and then we were off again. It was a busy weekend, and most of the best spots for camping had been taken, but our fearless leader led us to her favourite spot before the first rapid and we beached the kayaks. We avoided the stinging nettle as we set up the tents, and then retreated to the water once more with the polo ball.
Dinner was a communal feast of Indian curry following fried halloumi, and some chai and mango thrown in as well. A highlight was the cicada nymph in our midsts – although the adult males had been “singing” loudly all day, a nymph is a cicada risen from the ground, before it has shed its skin and emerged as a winged adult.
Whilst absent mindedly brushing my teeth that evening, I noticed a tiny flashing light in the air, and watched it for a time. These “glowbugs” fly down to the river in the evening, and are oddly mesmerising.
The next morning we enjoyed a lazy start before heading back towards the dam. Canoers up ahead alerted us to the existence of a rope swing, and had abandoned it by the time we arrived. Dive-case-photographer Rowan took photos whilst I videoed, with the resulting compilation of shenanigans now on Vimeo. There was also the saga of Rowan’s praying mantis, which variously rode on his hat or his rudder for most of the return trip. And, of course, there was more throwing of the polo ball. (We all owe much to Bobby for bringing that!)
The weekend was finished off superbly by a dedicated visit to the Kangaroo Valley township to eat them out of pies and ice cream, and a stop at Fitzroy Falls (which had very little water falling, but did have a lyrebird). Even the inexplicably long time that the trailer took to return to Canberra was excused entirely, as we’d barely sat down to cups of tea at the boatsheds before it turned up! Ah yes, the serenity of the weekend.
For a fuller selection of photos, check out my Flickr album.
For another excellent (and more detailed) trip description, check out TriHard’s post.
And for a more general look at Kangaroo Valley, check out this travel and photography blog.