Michael versus the Mighty Murray River

Michael Steele, one of our long time paddling partners has always talked about paddling the Murray River. At 2508km it’s Australia’s longest river and flows through 3 Australian states.

It’s been done hundreds, if not thousands of times, in all sorts of craft, from paddle steamers and row boats to canoes and kayaks. Some people have even swum the distance, but Michael is looking for a record performance.

He’s not worried about the fastest time, oldest paddler or any such nonsense. He’s trying to set a meaningful record for someone his age, by recording the most number of Lawn Bowls games played, whilst paddling the River Murray in a kayak. Michael is an avid lawn bowler and intends to “have a roll” on every bowling green he sees.

I have seen photos of Michael climbing a glacier, paddling oceans, walking the Kokoda Track and climbing mountains so Lawn Bowls shouldn’t be a problem.

A kayak, a Lawn Bowler, the mighty Murray River; what could possibly go wrong ?

Anzac Day. A day to remember.

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping …
Having paddled with a number of veterans and those currently serving in recent years, I  have a great respect for the sacrifices that have been made in the past.
However, as this next piece shows, it was not always a day that I remembered.

“I know that voice”
It was 4 am on a Sunday morning and I could hardly hear the alarm for the beating of the rain on our little cottages’ roof. The wind howled through the trees outside as I clobbered the alarm and fell back into a half sleep.

The last couple of weeks had been poor weather with weak cold fronts constantly passing through South Australia bringing drizzly cool days, and today was no exception with showers expected for most of the day.

I realised that Gavin and Michael would be here soon and contemplated just a few more minutes in bed. I thought they know that I am always late, but then Gavin is always early so I slowly dragged myself from the warm bed.

The mountain of gear stacked neatly in the hallway needed only the last minute additions of fully charged camera batteries and such like, which I dutifully attended to, crossing off each item off my list. All ready to go, just as I heard Gavin’s car pull up out the front. Gavin bowled in, looking just like someone who is always awake before five, which of course he is, followed by Michael who hasn’t seen this time of darkness since our last trip.

The gear was loaded and I found that Michael has claimed the backseat for the trip and I had the duty of riding in the front with Gavin, ensuring that he was awake during the drive. How anyone can stay awake listening to ABC Radio at that time of the morning is beyond me, but duty called.

Sombre music, then marching bands: hell what was this stuff he was listening to? We passed along the foggy highway out of Adelaide to the tunes of the 127 th District marching band or some such mob, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to take eight hours of this.

Passing through Tailem Bend I realised what was happening. It was Anzac Day.

There was a group of 200 or so people gathered at the park, with many spilling onto the roadway, forcing us to crawl past. I remembered back to my only time of being at an Anzac Day dawn service, when I must have been about 10 years old. I vividly remember the service being held in a local park in Parkside where I grew up, but can’t remember who I went with, or what happened afterwards. Just the short service and the music.

Sunday morning on ABC radio is Macca in the morning. I listened to the introductions and then vagued out while staring at the unchanging landscape of the mallee country. Macca had people ringing in to recount their views and memories of Anzac day.

As I rolled along in the front seat, listening to Michael’s snoring in the back I heard a woman’s voice saying that she had just come from a dawn service held with her husband and only one other person. It was a Tasmanian accent, quite distinctive but pleasant to listen to. Sounded in her late 40s or thereabouts, well spoken and confident. I didn’t hear where she was from, assumed Tasmania, but she was talking about their dawn service held on the top of a hill at the site where four RAAF flyers had died in a crash near the end of the war. They had been on a training run or similar and had engine problems resulting in the crash. The bodies had been buried elsewhere but there was still the scattered remains of plane where a small memorial was erected. She spoke of the isolated area that they from, describing the wallabies on the hill and sea views from her kitchen window. Sounded like a great place to me…

Then off we headed. Victoria to Tasmania by sea kayak.

Gavin, Michael and I stood at the base of the cliff, on the tiny windswept beach, looking up at the zig zag track that leads to the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. We had had a long hard day, crossing from Hogan Island to Deal Island, with lightning greeting us just before our dawn departure. The wind was OK before dawn but talking by phone to the duty forecaster in Tasmania I knew that we had only a few hours to get off the island or be there for some time.

The winds had risen later in the morning as we sailed and paddled our way to Deal Island in the Kent Group. Rising wind and rising seas had made for a rough ride, with worse on the way. We paddled strongly knowing that the sanctuary was only a couple of hours away, however the front grew closer with steadily increasing force. Rising seas and wind from the rear quarter made for interesting times. We eventually made shelter in the lee of Erith Island with a 40kn headwind screaming towards us as the main front hit.
The paddle along the Murray Passage was demanding with the wind coming head on between the Islands, as Michael powered past us determined to land first. Maybe he was just glad to be near a safe haven after having suffered two capsizes whilst sailing that morning, or maybe the lure of a cup of tea and Mars bars had scrambled his brain. He is a legend in the world of chocolate bars, carrying large packets of Mars Bars and the like when we go paddling. Still, you can’t complain when he insists on sharing them out after paddling, but I still think that anyone who calls them carrots is still a little unusual.

We set off fully equipped for the climb up the Deal Island path with extra supplies of Mars Bars and Snickers stuffed in our pockets. Half way up the path we paused briefly to admire the view and call in to our families. The surprise of the caretaker was evident when we strolled up to the cottage, certainly not expecting paddlers in this weather, but as always we were invited in for tea and scones.

It was unsafe to proceed to the campsite and hut on Erith Island so we were able to bed down in the spare cottage on Deal. We had the opportunity of a hot shower and a real bed and that was not to be knocked back. A quick shower and change of clothes and up to the caretaker’s for high tea.

We entered the cosy warm cottage and met our hosts Dallas and Shirley. They are caretakers on the island for three months at a time, with this being their second time here.

Bloody hell, I know that voice!, the soft but distinct  accent coming from the kitchen sounded familiar, but I didn’t recognise the face. Shirley plied us with scones with jam and cream and tea, while I thought about where I knew her from.

When talking to Dallas about the awful weather heading our way it came to me. Have you been on the radio lately? “Yes, twice on the ABC talking about Deal Island”. Did you have an Anzac dawn service here? “Yes just three of us, up near where the plane crash site”. It was her, the voice on the radio that cold rainy Anzac morning. Strange things seem to happen when you go paddling.

We were marooned on Deal Island for eight days waiting for the weather to moderate. The winds stayed at around 60 kn for most of that time with huge seas battering the island group. We did wallaby musters, helped other blow-ins and had many other adventures in those eight days and many more on that 19 day crossing of Bass Strait.

Deal Island looking towards Erith and Dover Islands

Deal Island looking towards Erith and Dover Islands

Now every Anzac Day not only do I remember those who fought in our wars but I think of that lonely crash site on that lonely little island.
Ian Pope

Spring Equinox paddle

Sea kayak Day Paddle –  Seal Island Victor Harbor. Well not so much a day paddle, more like a morning sojourn which can be everything from calm to crazy. Today it was moving towards the crazy side.

It’s the Spring Equinox today and you would think we could rustle up a little spring weather for our Spring Equinox paddle but it was nowhere to be seen. It was another of those strange days you get at Victor Harbor in Spring, where it promises sunshine but delivers cold overcast skies. The forecast was for gentle 10kn SE’ly winds with clear skies but the reality was a 15-18kn SE’ly wind opposing a 2 metre SW swell, overcast skies and a temperature around 13C.

Not ideal conditions for this area today and even under ideal conditions you should have good “sea kayak skills” to paddle this area. However, two of us were standing on the beach with not much else to do except get cold and wet so off we went.

The plan was to paddle from Kent Reserve towards Granite Island, skirting an area of reefy breaks and bommies, then head out to Seal Island, returning via the eastern side of Granite Island.

We headed out getting some protection from Granite Island.

IMG_1445 - Copy

Although the seas soon became confused with wind against swell.

Seal Island in the distance

Seal Island in the distance

It then became impossible for me to take photos as I was tossed in the steep waves from the wind driven SE hitting the SW swell and also being thumped by occasional large clapatis waves from Granite Island. “BHOP time” (both hands on paddle)

We worked our way out around the various reef breaks .Seal Island is protected by a number of reefy breaks and today all of them were savage.

Nearing Seal Island

Nearing Seal Island

We reached a small protected area near Seal Island.

Reaching a calmer area

Reaching a calmer area

Even the seals decided it was too rough to come out and greet us.

Too cold and wet even for the seals

Too cold and wet even for the seals

Steve was a very happy boy to find a little sheltered spot.

A short respite from the wind

A short respite from the wind

After our short visit with the seals we headed back towards the eastern side of Granite Island with a large lumpy following sea. Again photos were a little difficult to get.

Riding the crests

Riding the crests

Once around the breakwater we were in calm water.

Rounding the breakwater

Rounding the breakwater

Calm waters

Calm waters

Then onward past the jetty.

The boat wharf.

The boat wharf.

Under the causeway

Under the causeway

We watched the tourists on their way onto Granite Island aboard the horse drawn tram…..


…and then spent some time playing amongst the rocks.

Protected waters

Protected waters. Encounter Bay township in the distance.

Getting up close and personal with granite boulders

Getting up close and personal with granite boulders

Sliding on the swells

Sliding on the swells

A great morning of paddling to celebrate the Spring Equinox. Now where’s my mountain bike ? I’m heading north to where it’s warmer.  Ian…Paddling South.

Starting point. Kent Reserve Victor Harbor

Distance. 8.5km

Seal Island Victor Harbor paddle

Seal Island Victor Harbor paddle

Hazards. A number of dangerous rocks are charted as well as reefy areas. Clapatis from Granite Island can make for a very confused sea in some places. Swell may break near Granite Island. Consult marine chart before attempting. Avoid paddling close to south side of Granite Island due to large swells breaking and dangerous currents.

Chart AUS 127









Paddlers and photographers

Ian                                              Steve

Sea kayak day paddle. West Island Victor Harbor.

 Some of my favourite paddling areas are along the coastline, south of Adelaide.  Accessible for paddlers with appropriate “kayak sea skills” and a properly fitted out sea kayak the West Island of Victor harbor is a perfect day paddle…. Ian “Paddling South”.

I had been invited to join 3 paddlers who were spending a beautiful spring day exploring the area of West Island, just offshore from Victor Harbor, which is 83km south of Adelaide.

This is a great place to paddle in calmer conditions and can test your ability in fresher conditions due to the prevailing swells from the Southern Ocean and clapatis from the granite headlands.

Shauna, Steve, Shaun and myself set off in what was predicted to be a 10-15kn Northerly wind , but was actually a 10-12kn South Easterly. That’s fairly typical on this southern coast where things rarely go to plan, and there is always the possibility of sudden and sometimes severe weather changes.


Shauna leaving the Davenport anchorage

Leaving Kent Reserve in the Davenport Anchorage our plan was to pass on the inside of Wright Island, head out through Shark Alley which is the passage between Wright Island and the mainland Bluff, then head along the coast to West Island.

Steve on his way to The Bluff

Steve on his way to The Bluff

The SE wind made for good time to Wright Island where we passed close to its’ small beach.


Wright Island beach.

I was able to pass very close to its’ western side.


The western side of Wright Island. Calm today but normally hit by SW swells.

As we cleared the wind break of the island the winds and opposing  swell, combined with clapatis from the Bluff to give us a bumpy ride. (If you are not totally comfortable here, turn back now !!).

We were able to get in quite close to the south side of the bluff and could see a group of rock climbers on top of a large granite slab.

Spot the rock climbers?

Spot the rock climbers?

We could see West Island ahead of us.


West Island ahead


King Beach on the right as the cliffline starts


Steve spotting wildlife

West Island is a 10 ha granite island that rises to a maximum height of about 40m in the south-west. Its main conservation value lies with its seabird colonies and small marine research station.


West Island research station

During the 1880’s it was quarried for granite to construct the foundations of Parliament House, Adelaide. From 1913 until the mid-1960s it was zoned as a Reserve for Government Purposes and, for a short period, was used by the Adelaide University Regiment as a target for gunnery practice during field exercises. In 1966 it became a fauna reserve. It was declared a Conservation Park in 1972 and in 1973 and 1975 Pearson Island rock-wallabies were introduced to the island. I am still to spot one of the wallabies on the island so maybe they have not fared well.

The island has a number of NZ fur seals who were lazing on the granite boulders or swimming around our kayaks.

seals west islan 4d

Seals coming out to greet us

seals west island 1

…and coming in for a closer look

seals west island2

Shauna tries to capture this guy on film

Breeding seabirds include Little Penguins, Silver Gulls, Caspian and Fairy Terns. The Little penguin population has suffered a dramatic decline since the 1990’s. In 1992, the population was estimated to be around 4000 penguins. In June 2011, the population was estimated to be less than 20 penguins.The decline echoes the decline of the colony on nearby Granite Island and many other island in the southern ocean and the cause is still largely unknown.


Shaun investigating where granite has been mined in the past

With the wind abating for a short period we circumnavigated the island……


Western side of the island where the water is 30m deep


Granite boulders in strange stacks


Shaun having a closer look at the coastline

It's getting a little bumpy now

It’s getting a little bumpy now


Granite seascapes

………….with Steve playing for a while in “rock gardens”.


Now be careful Steve


Having FUN

We then steered a course back to Wright Island and its’ small beach as the wind started to swing to the predicted NE direction. A great spot for lunch.


The predicted wind finally arrives.

Lunch on the beach ……….


….followed by a head wind paddle back to our starting spot made for a very enjoyable day.




This is an excellent place for exciting paddling especially as the swell and associated clapatis increases. It should only be paddled by those with the appropriate sea skills and of course a properly fitted out sea kayak.


Starting point. Kent Reserve Victor Harbor

Distance. 13km

Hazards. A number of dangerous rocks are charted as well as reefy areas. Clapatis from the headlands can make for a very confused sea in some places. Swell may break in some parts of Shark Alley. Consult marine chart before attempting. Avoid Petrel Cove, west of Rosetta Head due to rips and dangerous rocks.

Chart AUS 127

Paddlers and photographers

stick shauna







Shauna                      Steve                      Ian                        Shaun

Surf Kayaking – FUN at any age

Surf kayaking is my greatest kayaking pleasure; well at the moment anyway. I have been returning to some surf breaks that I first tried to board surf at when I was about 16 and then haunted when I was in my thirties. Now a few years later, or maybe that’s decades, I’m still here with an even greater sense of FUN.

Late 1980's. Bells Beach Victoria. 1 car 3 skis 3 white water kayaks

Late 1980’s. Bells Beach Victoria. 1 car 3 skis 3 white water kayaks and lots of FUN. That’s me in the middle.

I owned and surfed many specialist surf kayaks over the years as well as a whole swag of wave ski’s during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Small day at Pondalowie Bay South Australia.

Small day at Pondalowie Bay South Australia. Marty Williams at play.

As we are the driest state on the driest continent there’s no white water paddling to be had and certainly no playboats in kayak shops, but luckily I was able to borrow a Jackson FUN from a friend interstate . Now this is very much a white water playboat and I am a little heavy for it at 88kg but it is certainly comfortable.

IMG_3291 IMG_3296

First paddle. Nice wave peaked up, paddled to take off, dropped down the face and threw my weight into a bottom turn. The FUN spun 180 degrees, I screamed backwards, lent back too far, dug the rear deck into the wave, back flipped and airborne as my head kissed the deck.  Cleaned out the sinus anyway !!!.
Hmmm…. this kayak needs a little more finesse than I used with a finned surf kayak.

Another hour or more in some pretty choppy waves but lots of FUN. I’ll write a review of the Jackson FUN, for surf kayaking, after I get it a little better under control. We shot a little footage but the camera malfunctioned, however you should get the idea.

Cheers…Ian Pope
“The best surfer out there is the one having the most FUN”… Duke Kahanamoku.