In 2021 and 2022, Andrew "Robbo" Robertson travelled along Murray River from Summit to Sea in his kayak (and on his bike for the first couple of days). He started at the top of Mt. Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains and finished at the ocean in Goolwa (near Adelaide) in South Australia. The total distance travelled was 2,363 kilometres. The trip was paused in May 2021 due to the closure of the South Australian border, however Andrew continued from Mildura in April 2022 and finished in May 2022.
Time in Boat: 7.5hrs
Total Distance Travelled: 2329km
Distance to Go: 34km
This was going to be an exciting day. It was the day that I was going to start the crossing of Lake Alexandrina.
Lake Alexandrina can be a very dangerous body of the water for a few reasons. Firstly it is very wide (35km across at its widest point). It is also near the southern ocean and surrounded by low, flat land so it can get very windy and the choppy waves can be very big. All the way along the river and during my planning phase I had heard a lot of stories of the many kayakers that have drowned on the lake over the years. So over the last couple of years I have put a lot of planning into the lake crossing and had talked with many experts about it. I had planned a number of options of how I was going to cross the lake that I could choose from depending on what wind direction and strength I would get. Plus, if needed, I was also willing to wait a few days until the weather was suitable.
I was watching the weather forecast for about 2 weeks leading up to this day and it was always looking very positive. About 5 days out, they were forecasting gentle easterly winds which were going to be perfect for the crossing. My plan was always to try and do it over 2 days. Many people cross the lake (from Wellington to Goolwa) in one very long day, however I really wanted to take my time and allow time (and energy) to enjoy it and film it.
Since I was going to have predominately easterly winds, the plan for the crossing was to pretty much stick to the eastern shore of the lake and spend the first night halfway at Narrung Campground (one of the the only campsites on the lake). I would then paddle to the Towatchery Barrage and then to the Murray Mouth along one of the channels.
I wanted an early start to take advantage of the morning’s calmer winds, so Mum and Dad kindly dropped me off at the Wellington Boat Ramp at around 3.45am and I was on the water by 4.20am. My plan was to get to Low Point right on sunrise because I had a 5km section of the lake to cross and I wanted to do that before the winds picked up.
It was a freezing cold morning. My weather app said it was -1 degree in Wellington and I had a strong southerly breeze at the start of the paddle that made it even colder. I had all my cold and wet weather gear on, so I was nice and snug in the boat.
After a couple of hours of paddling in the dark, I arrived adjacent to Low Point right on time. Once again I was treated to a beautiful sunrise. Since the winds hadn’t picked up much I decided not to paddle to the Low Point itself and chose to start a more direct crossing of 8km.
This crossing was spectacular. There is nothing like paddling towards a horizon that you can’t see anything on. As I crossed the lake the wind picked up and the choppy waves increased in size. They ended up being up to just over a foot high which meant they would occasionally break on the deck of my kayak. This was fine because it is the type of water I pretty much always paddle on in Sydney. The wind was a southeasterly which was actually better than having a straight easterly, as it meant the waves were not hitting me side on. I could point the nose of my kayak towards them and cut through the waves.
After about 1.5 hours I made it to the other side near Poltalloch Station and I stopped to have some breakfast on the edge of the lake. At this point the wind and the waves had shifted to be coming more from the East. This was perfect because I could paddle the remaining 10km to Narrung with the assistance of a tailwind and the waves to push me along.
I arrived at Narrung Campsite at around 11.30am. It was a Saturday so the campsite was pretty full of caravans. However I was able to find a quite spot between a couple of vans and spent the sunny afternoon snoozing, sitting on the wharf, chatting to other campers and reading my book.
After watching another lovely sunset, I got into my tent and fell asleep really quickly.
To: The Murray Mouth
Time in Boat: 6.5hrs
Total Distance Travelled: 2363km
Distance to Go: 0km
This was the last day of the Summit to Sea adventure. A small part of me was sad it was going to all be over, but I was mostly excited to get to the end and to have this 2.5 year project finished.
The weather could not have been more perfect for the final day (well, the final 2 days). I had clear skies and there was a gentle northeasterly wind blowing. This was great because I was going to be heading to the south west for more most of the day and it meant I would have the wind and waves to assist me. I got onto the water just before sunrise.
The plan had been to stick to the eastern shoreline for the first 10km and then cut across the lake (about 4km) to the small hand operated lock on the western end of the Towatchery Barrage. However, as I was paddling along, I found that the wind and waves were the perfect direction to allow me to just cut straight across the lake to the lock. It ended up being a 13km crossing and it was fantastic. The wind was gentle and the waves were very small. I was able to get the drone out and get some nice video and photos of the lake crossing.
At around 10am I arrived at the lock at Towatchery Barrage. It was pretty choppy there because the waves were bouncing off the lock gates, so getting onto the small ramp next to the lock was a bit messy. I was worried that I would end up putting a hole in my kayak because it kept bouncing against the various posts and railings. There were lots of seals lounging around and on the lock. I had to keep shooing them away to I could get to the various lock winches. There was also a lot of seal poop around which stank and was pretty hard to not keep stepping in.
I basically had two options at the lock. I could carry my kayak and gear up the ramp, over the road and then down the ramp on the other side. This would have probably been a 15 minute operation. The other option was to put my kayak through the lock. I decided on the latter because I thought it would be an interesting exercise.
The first thing I had to do was tie a couple of long lines (my clothes lines) to the front and back of the kayak so I could guide through the gates from 2 metres above. I then had to wind the first winch that opened the upstream gate. It was pretty hard work winding the winch, but luckily I only had to partially open the gate to get my kayak through. After guiding the kayak into the lock, I then had to wind the winch again to close the gate.
The next step was to wind another winch that swung the road bridge to the side so that I could guide the boat past it with my lines. This was not so successful because the bridge got stuck half way, so I had to climb down the side of the lock and pass my lines under it to get my kayak through. Once I had done that, I could wind the winch to put the bridge back and then wind the winch to open the downstream gate. Once the kayak was out of the lock, I was able to shut the final gate and get back into my kayak.
The whole operation ended up taking nearly an hour. It would have been a lot faster and less effort to carry my gear over the road, but it isn’t often you get to single handedly put yourself through a lock.
The final 10km of the paddle to Murray Mouth was great. It was a beautiful sunny day and the flow in the channel was quite fast, so I ended up doing about 10-11kmh.
The Murray Mouth is often closed off by sand and when it is open, it can be very dangerous due to unpredictable rips and waves. Mum and Dad, who were waiting for my on the other side of the channel from the mouth (on Hindmarsh Island), told me that the mouth was open. I had decided that if it looked ok when I got there, I would paddle out the mouth and into the sea.
It was amazing approaching the mouth. There were plenty of pelicans, seals and even an emu on the beach. Just as I got the mouth, a seal started jumping and spinning in the air right in front of my kayak. It was like it was excited for me to have finished.
I could see that the waves outside the mouth were not very big or messy, so I was able paddle straight out to the sea. I had a quick surf on a wave but I didn’t want to push my luck as I had a kayak full of camping gear. I then pulled up on the beach and got out go my boat.
It felt amazing to have made it to the end. The ending could have not been more perfect. The lake crossing was amazing, the weather was great and the conditions (and the seal welcoming) at the Murray Mouth were just ideal.
I spent a little bit of time on the beach, trying to soak up the moment. I had just travelled a total of 2,363km from the top of Mt. Kosciuszko.
I then paddled across the channel to Hindmarsh Island and joined my folks for a lunch of Fish and Chips at the food truck next to the boat ramp.
As we were sitting there, waiting for our lunch, I heard someone call out “Andrew Robertson”. It was another Murray River kayaker, Brenton, who has a shack on the island and happened to be down there for lunch. We had a quick chat and he and his wife, Donna, ended up taking us to breakfast in Goolwa the next morning.
The following morning, after breakfast with Brenton and Donna, we had an appointment at 11am at the Goolwa National Trust museum with the team from the IRNMR (Inland Rivers National Marathon Register). The IRNMR maintain the official records of all people that travel down the Murray River. At a minimum you must travel from at least Hume Weir to Wellington to be added to the register. Ghislain, who had arrived in Goolwa the day before, was camping at the museum and had received his certificate the day before. However he joined us for my registration which involved a bit of paperwork and an interview to validate that I had indeed met the criteria for the certification. The IRNMR don’t officially recognise Mt. Kosciuszko as part of the Murray River, so I am recorded as having paddled 2,263km from Biggara to the Murray Mouth. After the paperwork was done, we headed out to the park where they had their photographer take some official photos.
I spent the rest of the day editing my final video episode and started packing all the gear ready for the 3 day drive back to Sydney.
I am now back in Sydney and I have just finished washing all my clothes and packing away the camping gear. It is great to be back home with the family and the dog. Apparently it has been raining for weeks here in Sydney but, now that I am home, the weather has cleared up. Perfect timing.
This adventure has been amazing. I haven’t really stopped to reflect on it all. However I have a lot of photos and videos to sort out over the next few days, so I am sure that will help kick start the reflection process.
People keep asking me what the next adventure is. Well it is time to switch from kayaking mode to ballooning mode. In a few weeks we are heading up to Burketown (in NW Queensland) to do some adventure ballooning. We are then heading to Europe in September to fly in the Austrian National Ballooning Championships and then the World Championships in Slovenia a couple of weeks later. So there is plenty of more adventures on the horizon.
However, in the meantime, I think I will go for a paddle in a couple of days. I am already missing being on the water.
Thank you everyone for following my crazy adventure and all your support and encouragement over the last couple of years. I have made a whole lot of new in persona and virtual friends during this process.
The final leg of the Summit to Sea Journey down the Murray River from Wellington to the Murray Mouth.
Day 71 – 35km – Murray Bridge to Wellington
Day 72 – 33km – Wellington to Narrung
Day 73 – 34km – Narrung to the Murray Mouth
Total Distance for the leg: 102km
Total Distance from Summit to Sea: 2,363km
Note: Day 72 at the 8:38 mark should say Wellington not Murray Bridge. Sorry it was my token typo.
From: Murray Bridge Marina
To: Wellington Pub
Time in Boat: 6hrs
Total Distance Travelled: 2309km
Distance to Go: 65km
My body clock is really messed up now. I went to bed last night at about 7.30pm after falling asleep on the couch in my cabin. I then woke up this morning at around 3am and tried to snooze for a couple of hours. At around 5am I gave up and decided to get going. I had 35km to do today down to Wellington and I wanted to get the by lunch time.
My parents were going to meet me at the pub around noon, so getting on the water at around 6am was the perfect time. Mum and Dad drove from Binalong (near Yass) to Mildura yesterday. They picked up my car and then this morning they drove from Mildura to Wellington. They are going to hang out on Hindmarsh Island (which is near the Murray Mouth) and wait for me to finish the paddle.
It was cold this morning. When I paddled out of the marina it was about 2 degrees. There was a lot of mist on the water and it was very pretty.
I knew that today’s paddle was going to be pretty boring, because it was going to be similar to the paddle into Murray Bridge. So paddling in the dark for an hour was one way of making it a bit more interesting.
I really wasn’t wrong about the river being boring. It was very wide, straight and there really wasn’t anything on the banks to really look at. Plus the highway runs very close to the river, so there was pretty much a constant drone of truck noise. The only point of interest was passing the town of Tailem Bend and even that was not particularly interesting (sorry if any readers are from there).
At almost exactly 12 noon I arrived in Wellington. Wellington is considered to be the official end point for people paddling the Murray River. If you travel from the Hume Weir (near Albury) to Wellington, then you have officially paddled The Murray. This is because the Lake Alexandrina crossing can be hazardous and should only be attempted by experienced paddlers, with the right gear and in the right conditions.
Mum and Dad arrived at the pub about 10 minutes before me. So as I arrived they were standing at the pub chatting to Ghislain, my new found French paddling buddy. He is staying at the pub (camping on their lawn) for a couple of nights. He decided yesterday that it was not going to be possible to cross the lake with his sit on kayak in the forecasted conditions. It is a shame he can’t do it but I think it was the right decision. Mum and Dad are going to take him down to Clayton Bay tomorrow (after I have left), which is on the other side of the main part of the lake. This will allow him to paddle the final 12km to Goolwa on one of the channels.
So tomorrow I am starting my crossing of Lake Alexandrina. The weather is looking really good for my planned route. The forecast is for Easterly winds tomorrow and North Easterly winds on Sunday. So my planned route (see map below) will be to stick to the eastern side of the lake so that there is more shelter and so the waves don’t have as much room to grow. I plan to camp at Narrung tomorrow night and then head down to the Murray Mouth the following morning. The plan is to get on the water tomorrow morning at around 4am so that I can take advantage of the calmer winds of the morning when I get to the main part of the lake.
So in two more days this will be all over. Amazing. On one hand I am sad it is over, but on the other hand (with my aching body) I am ready for this to be finished.