Murraylands Drive January 2011

Sunday, Jan 09, 2011 at 13:40

Stephen L (Clare) SA

The words on everyone lips, both here on the forum and on all news services right around Australia was the unseasonal rainfall that was devastating many parts of Mainland Australia. The Murray / Darling basin had for years been gripped in severe drought and now in a few short weeks of constant rainfall, the complete turn of the circle with swollen and flooded waterways pouring millions of litres of water into Australia’s largest river system. The next guess was how much water would find its way south and into the waters of the Southern Ocean through the Murray Mouth at the Coorong.

Hearing many contradicting reports, there was only one way to find and that was to take a trip to the Murraylands of South Australia and witness first hand just how much water was making its way down the Murray River. We chose the Murraylands for one main reason, and that was that nearly all of this section of the Murray River was below Lock 1 and would show the greatest contrast in river flows.

Between Lock 1 and Lock 2, even in times of drought, the pool levels were maintained at a reasonable stable pool level so that water can still be pumped from the Murray River at Morgan and sent hundreds of kilometres away to the Iron Triangle towns via what is known locally as the Morgan / Whyalla Pipeline.

Making the most of the predicted 29° perfect low summer daytime temperatures, we were on the road by 7am and headed down through the Barossa Valley. A quick stop at Nuriootpa and we wished that we has brought warmer clothing, as it was still only 13° at 8am with a cool wind adding to the cool conditions. My next intended stop was only a short distance away at the quaint town of Springton – to get digital pictures of a very important local old River Red Gum known as the Herbig Tree and as luck was with us, the tree was flowering.

Between 1855 and 1860, Johann Friedrich Herbig made this hollow River Red Gum his home. In 1858 he married and this tree then was the birthplace for the first two of their 16 children. After the birth of the second child in 1860, he built a small pine and pug dwelling 400 yards from this tree. Across the road from the tree is a hand made trough, also from a very large Red Gum branch, which he used for watering his stock and the well where the water came from.

Back on the road, we made good time and were soon at Mannum, where we went straight to the Mary Anne Reserve. This was the perfect spot for our morning smoko and while we were there, the big tourist boat “Murray River Expeditions” came in after taking a bus load of tourists on a cruise on the Murray River. The river levels was well up at the wharf and was now only about 30 cm below the top planks, so with the expected peak to still be some time off, the wharf in Mary Anne Reserve will surely be under water soon. As Mannum is quite close to Adelaide, the main street was full of tourists and there were very few spare places to park the car. After a good look around the town that kindled many fond childhood memories when we would spend weeks staying here as kids, it was time to cross over to the other side of the Murray River on the first of our ferry rides and start to head slowly north following the Murray River and its wetlands. Crossing over on the ferry, it was very clear to see that the fast flowing Murray River was having an effect on the ferry and the force of the current was making the ferry go around a metre down stream before straightening up as the cables tensioned near the other side. Once over the eastern side of the River, we took the scenic road to Bow Hill which for most of the drive hugged the now flooding swamps and finally gaining high ground just before Bow Hill. From here we went to Purnong where we again crossed over the River on the ferry and then took the dirt road to Walker Flat.

Arriving at lunch time, we found a small shelter and seat and had lunch by the River at Walker Flat. After lunch, we visited the small store and purchased a couple of ice creams and had them on the banks of the River before again crossing over to the eastern side of the Murray on yet another ferry crossing. We made a number of stops along the way, stopping at the marked lookouts that give great views from the towering clip tops overlooking the Murray and the wetlands before arriving at Swan Reach. From here we again crossed back over to the western side of the River on our fourth and final ferry crossing for the day. The dirt back road from here to Blanchetown as in very good condition with many flowering Eucalypts along the may. Our first stop in Blanchetown was Lock 1. The volume of water passing through here was quite evident and the flow rate dial gave a good indication of how much water was entering South Australia everyday from Victoria. The anticipated peek inflow when we did this drive was estimated to peak at 90,000 Megalitres per day around late January to early February 2011. It has since been reported on the radio that due to higher than expected evaporation rates at Lake Victoria, the authorities have now down graded the peak inflow rates to 80,000 Megalitres per day, again in either late January to early February. Leaving Blanchetown, we crossed over the Sturt Highway and took the dirt road to Morgan.

Arriving at Morgan, we intended to head up to Waikerie, but decided against that and instead spent the next couple of hours walking to the old wharf and then just sitting by the River, watching the many power boats and water skiers on the River and the swiftly flower Murray River passing by. It was now 5.30pm and time to head home via Burra. We will monitor the flow of the Murray and will post any major changes to what can be described as the best inflows into the Murray / Darling River system for decades.

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